International Doubts about the Afghanistan Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 10 months ago

The Canadians are having misgivings about the Afghanistan campaign, even as Canadian Brigadier General Denis Thompson is preparing to take over head of NATO forces there.  The disagreement is over the very nature of the mission and how to ensure the departure of Canadian forces as soon as possible.

Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan was looking murky as the week began. On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier told news reporters that Canada felt it was time to replace Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid, who has been linked to persistent reports of torture and corruption.

Then, on Tuesday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier announced his retirement after three years as Canada’s top soldier.

By the end of the week, opposition MPs were calling for Bernier’s resignation. “The minister still doesn’t understand that he put the government of Afghanistan in an impossible situation,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Nobody articulated it, but Bernier was acting and talking like he worked for the U.S. State Department, not Canada’s Foreign Affairs department. Americans have no hesitation about telling other countries what to do and how to do it. Their meddling is renowned, right down to plotting coups and takeovers and attempting assassinations. Bernier was, indeed, trying to influence an internal Afghan matter, albeit in softer tones.

Many feel that his leadership made the Afghanistan mission possible. In his three years as chief of defence staff, Hillier skilfully changed the perception of the Canadian Forces among Canadians. Their first job, he told us, was to kill. He boosted morale among the troops with his unreserved support and respect for them. He got them the funding and equipment they needed to be, for the first time since the Korean War, full-fledged combatants.

Between the foreign affairs faux pas and the general’s departure, could Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan collapse? That’s not likely, according to journalist and author Linda McQuaig, who was in Kingston this week to talk about how Canada, since marching into Afghanistan, has become complicit in U.S. militaristic designs.

McQuaig says we’ve made a big mistake trading in our famous blue United Nations peacekeeping helmets for the khaki desert camouflage of a U.S.-led NATO conflict. She believes Canadian troops will always be viewed by Afghans as an invading force and, as such, will always be held in suspicion and subjected to attacks.

The political reality of the mission’s future, McQuaig argues, is that even should the Liberals oust the Conservatives in an election, the deal the Tories struck agreeing to extend the mission to 2011 will be honoured. Liberal leader Stephane Dion, she says, was “bullied by [MPs Michael] Ignatieff and [Bob] Rae” into cutting a deal with the Conservatives.

The deal cut between the Liberals and Conservatives calls for the pullout of Canadian soldiers by the end of 2011. But will we be able to do that in good conscience knowing that the vacuum left by a withdrawal would be filled by either the return of the Taliban or the warlords who have historically divided and conquered the nation? Of course not. That’s why Canada must open the way for negotiations between the current, democratically elected Afghan government and the Taliban. Detente is the only hope for peace and progress in Afghanistan after 2011.

The solution, it is claimed, it to negotiate with the Taliban.  These calls for negotiations are well worn and not limited to Canada.  The new Pakistani regime has been negotiating with the Taliban ever since taking authority.  These negotiations, or jirga, may soon reap rewards, but not for the Pakistani government.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Wednesday claimed a breakthrough in talks with the government for restoration of peace to the restive tribal areas and militancy-hit Swat valley.

“Our talks have entered into a crucial phase and there is a possibility of signing a peace accord next week,” remarked Maulvi Omar, a TTP spokesman.

The TTP is an association of all the militant groups operating in the seven tribal regions as well as 24 settled districts of NWFP.

The TTP is a conglomeration of tribal warlords and fighters led by Baitullah Mehsud, whom we profiled in Baitullah Mehsud: The Most Powerful Man in Waziristan.

Talking to ‘The News’ from an undisclosed location, he avoided disclosing identity of the jirga members brokering the deal between the government and militants.

Omar said both sides had forwarded their respective demands and proposals to the negotiating team for restoration of peace in the region.

“We have been showing maximum flexibility in our stance and strictly stand by the ceasefire that we announced earlier for success of our talks,” the spokesman said.

About some of their demands forwarded to the jirga members, Omar said they wanted an end to military operations, which according to him caused numerous hardships to the common tribes people including release of their people being held during military actions and compensation for those suffered losses.

Sounding optimistic about their negotiations, he claimed the talks could make a breakthrough next week and could pave the way for signing a peace deal.

About the government’s stand for not including foreign militants in the negotiation process, Omar strongly denied presence of foreigners in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and alleged that government had killed innocent people in the name of war on terrorism and foreign elements as, according to him, all the important al-Qaeda members like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubeda were arrested from Islamabad and Faisalabad.

“There is no need for foreign militants in the tribal areas as we have the strength to fight our common enemy which is the United States and its allies,” said the militants spokesman.

Omar, however, made it clear that their war against the US-led forces would continue till their complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“US forces’ presence in Afghanistan is dangerous for the entire region in general and Pakistan in particular. They must be forced to leave the region at all costs,” Maulvi Omar said.

Asked that Baitullah Mehsud’s name had appeared in the Time magazine’s list of world’s 100 most influential people, Omar said Baitullah got worldwide reputation by his love for Islam and spirit for jihad.

Like every year, Time magazine is inviting reader to vote for leaders, artists, entrepreneurs and thinkers who shape the world and deserve a spot on its annual list. There are currently 207 finalists and the list will be published in the magazine’s next issue.

“Baitullah Mehsud got this reputation because of his services for Islam who played crucial role in uniting all Mujahideen factions in Pakistan and bringing them under the single banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan,” explained Maulvi Omar, who was not aware that Baitullah’s name has been published in the magazine.

The pathway of negotiations is even being pursued within the Afghanistan administration.  Counterinsurgency campaigns have an ebb and flow.  Timeliness is critical, as is convincing the population that those who wage COIN are committed to the effort.  The commitment has been evident in Iraq where negotiations with Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha occurred from a position of military strength in the Anbar Province, thus leading to continuing peace and alliance with the U.S. in Anbar.

The Pentagon is showing an understanding of the need for force projection in Afghanistan with the recent deployment of Marines to the theater.  However, the mission for the Marines involves a bit of myth-telling.

More than 1,000 American troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit will take control of the border between Helmand and Pakistan later this month. They will concentrate on providing the firepower to kill Taliban leaders as they cross the border from their base in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The US marines will work with the British Special Forces Support Group and Special Boat Service commandos who are tracking Taliban crossing the border. They will use the firepower of their M1A1 Abrams tanks and AH-1W Cobra helicopter gunships to launch a frontal assault on the hardliners.

Note the focus on “hardliners” and border region crossings by “Taliban leaders.”  The presuppositions are that [a] the leaders are all crossing the border on a regular basis and are subject to interdiction, and [b] those who are not so-called “hardliners” are amenable to negotiations, a British tactic utilized since the failure of the same at Musa Qala.

Being missed in this strategy is that without the appropriate force projection within Afghanistan itself, there would be a reason for the balance of the Taliban to negotiate with the administration.  The jirga in this region of the world has never and will not in the future lead to results that are helpful to the war on terror.  One final example serves as an exclamation point.

We had previously noted that the Khyber agency would become a focal point for insurgent actions, being a vulnerable pass through which NATO supplies passed.  Law enforcement in Khyber has proven almost impossible due to the jirga.


A jirga of Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel elders and Taliban leaders from Waziristan succeeded in arranging the release of four detained Taliban commanders on bail, participants said.

The Taliban commanders from the South Waziristan Agency had been held for destroying tankers carrying oil for coalition troops in Afghanistan, and abducting their drivers.

In exchange, the Taliban commanders handed back 50,000 gallons of petrol and two oil tankers to complainants in Landi Kotal (Khyber Agency) and released two abducted drivers.

Sixty people were injured and 40 oil tankers burnt after two explosions near the Torkham border four weeks ago.

Javed Ibrahim Paracha, chairman of the World Prisoner’s Relief Commission of Pakistan, headed the jirga at his residence. He told Daily Times he had been directed by Interior Affairs Adviser Rehman Malik and Interior Secretary Kamal Shah to organise the jirga to resolve the issue peacefully.

He said the jirga consisted of Waziristan’s Taliban commanders Mir Qasim Janikhel and Ishaq Wazir, and Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel elders including Nasir Khan and Khyber Khan.

Paracha said the Zakhakhel and Qambarkhel tribes had charged the four Taliban commanders from the Janikhel tribe, including Khalid Rehman, for destroying the oil tankers and abducting the drivers.

He said Karak police had arrested the Taliban commanders a few weeks ago and charged them with terrorism.

Paracha said the jirga had ruled that the Qambarkhel and Zakhakhel tribes would take back their testimony against the Taliban commanders in the anti-terrorism court of Kohat, to allow their release on bail.

Force projection is needed quickly in the Afghanistan campaign.  Force projection includes military action, but the greater the force projection, the less need there will be to exercise that force in the long run.  Turning to the jirga means failure of the campaign.

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You are currently reading "International Doubts about the Afghanistan Campaign", entry #1047 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Featured,Force Projection,Pakistan and was published April 20th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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