Canadians Enlisted in New American-Style Afghan War

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

We recently discussed the first combat engagement of the Marines in Afghanistan, involving a town named Garmser.  The Marines are fully prepared and will push the operation through to success.  However, false doctrine dies hard in war, and the problems associated with the Afghanistan campaign become clearer with passing time and attention.  The Canadians are concerned about the recent addition of the Marines.

Bush has come to shove in southern Afghanistan (Editorial note: This is a pitiful pun – TCJ). The U.S. commander-in-chief has sent in the marines.

It’s reported that this has made NATO forces operating there uneasy.

It’s not that the Canadians and British and the rest of them don’t appreciate the extra manpower the 3,500 U.S. marines will provide, or the extra aircraft and light armoured vehicles they’ve brought.

But the other NATO forces have been told they have to learn to operate in what’s called “the American way” alongside the marines, and they’re not quite sure how this is going to make the job of winning hearts and minds any easier when the Americans have left in seven months when their “mini-surge” is over …

The United Nations envoy, Kai Eide, has just warned that everything won in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was overthrown seven years ago is in danger of being lost because of the fragmented international approach to securing and rebuilding the country and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The president himself had to be hustled away from the scene of an attack by insurgents near his palace in Kabul on Sunday while all those Afghan soldiers ran for cover.

And in the eastern part of the country yesterday, 19 members of a poppy-eradication team under NATO guard were killed in an attack.

Gen. Dan McNeill is the U.S. army officer who commands NATO troops in Afghanistan, and it’s he who says things must be done there, now, the American way.

Specifically, he wants the Canadians and other forces to deploy their soldiers for longer periods, make more effort to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppies and get more involved in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

The marines are under McNeill’s direct command and seem to have the same gung-ho approach that they exhibited in Iraq, where many of them served. McNeill himself has said they’re in the southern part of the country to “stir things up.”

In March last year, about 100 marines, it was reported, were sent packing for responding to an ambush using “Iraq rules” that violated the less violent rules of engagement that were supposed to be in place in Afghanistan.

It looks as if the Afghan war, at least for the next seven months, is to be played by Iraq rules, which don’t seem to have endeared a lot of people in that country to the American invaders.

Restoring security and rebuilding a country is a long, slow process. First, a region has to be cleared of insurgent fighters, then it has to be held to provide the security under which the third stage, rebuilding, can take place.

The marines might be in Afghanistan long enough to rout the insurgents where they are concentrated.

They might even be able to stop or reduce the traffic in fighters, arms, opium and money.

But when they have gone, someone else is going to have to hold what they’ve gained and someone else is going to carry on with the rebuilding.

When the marine mini-surge was announced in January, a Pentagon spokesman said it was to be “a one-time deal — that’s it.”

Maybe we should hope it’s not. Maybe we should hope that the Americans will be persuaded — if only because their allies aren’t up to the job — to stay long enough to finish what, after all, they started.

The Captain’s Journal has been critical of General McNeill, but we appreciate his sentiments and applaud his perspective with the deployment of the Marines.  He has a tough row to hoe because of the strategic differences within the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Canadians seem to assume that they couldn’t adopt a posture like the U.S. Marines on the one hand (such that they would be rather lost without the Marines in place), but on the other hand, seem to criticize the Marine posture as if it somehow cannot be successful because of failing to win hearts and minds (which begs the question why the Canadians want the Marines to stay?).  The Canadian narrative is so confused and contradictory that it brings into question just what the Canadians themselves would propose.

That question is also recently answered for us.  The Canadians want to talk to the Taliban.

Canadian troops are reaching out to the Taliban for the first time, military and diplomatic officials say, as Canada softens its ban on speaking with the insurgents.

After years of rejecting any contact with the insurgents, Canadian officials say those involved with the mission are now rethinking the policy in hopes of helping peace efforts led by the Afghan government.

The Canadian work on political solutions follows two separate tracks: tactical discussions at a local level in Kandahar, and strategic talks through the Kabul government and its allies. Neither type of negotiation appears to have made progress so far, though efforts are still in the early stages.

The Afghanistan campaign has faltered and proceeded haltingly when negotiations are pursued with the Taliban, most recently when the British used this approach in Musa Qala.  What affect has this approach had on the recent Pakistani negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban?  In this instance, Baitullah Mehsud has used the stand down in combat operations to his advantage.

Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, based in the South Waziristan tribal area, has ended peace talks with the Islamabad government, just a week after ordering a ceasefire against security forces. A spokesman for Mehsud is reported to have said the talks broke down because the government refused to withdraw troops from the tribal areas, the strategic backyard of the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan.

Under a well-orchestrated program, the Taliban “switched off” their attacks on politically vulnerable Pakistan this month and they patiently allowed the Western-sponsored game of carrots and sticks involving tribal peace accords to play out, even letting anti-Taliban politicians into their region. For the Taliban, it was just a matter of buying time until the end of April to put the finishing touches to their spring campaign in Afghanistan.

It should be pointed out again just who the U.S. engaged in negotiations in the Anbar province.  The peace accord involved the tribes and muktars, not the more religiously motivated al Qaeda or Ansar al Sunna fighters.  Again it bears repeating: negotiations were never engaged with al Qaeda.  Not a single time.  Negotiations with the Taliban will not redound to success in the campaign any more than they would have with al Qaeda.  Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan doesn’t refer to the Taliban.  It refers to everyone but the Taliban.

It should also be remembered that between the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only province where major combat operations have ceased and the enemy has been vanquished is the Anbar Province where the Marines were assigned.

Even if confused by the more aggressive posture of the Marines, the Canadians appear to be concerned not about the fate of the Taliban, but of themselves.  The Marines might have a long term Afghanistan presence in their future.  A one-time seven month deployment may not be nearly enough.


  1. On May 2, 2008 at 2:31 pm, Mark Stewart said:

    Two things, one stylistic, one strategic.

    First, the stylistic: Where is the capitalization of proper nouns in the Canadian piece? Marines refers specifically to members of the United States Marine Corps, rather than a generic reference to land forces specializing in operation from the sea, and therefore Marines should be capitalized.

    And now, the strategic: I do not think there is much future in seeking friendship with the Taliban. While developing good relationships between NATO forces and the Afghan population is beneficial, it is very important to remember that it is the Taliban, and their draconian interpretation of Islam, that provided a haven to al Qaeda. Islamism is no more suitable for Western tolerance than fascism or communism are. Islamism is the engine that produces riots in response to cartoons. It is what drives men to murder thousands in hijackings. It is what supposedly justifies the use of mentally-disabled persons as human ammunition. But not only is Islamism repugnant for what it does, it is irreconcilable in its doctrine. Islamists do not seek lasting peace with the West. It is a violation of their core beliefs to accept any such thing. The Islamists consider enmity against non-believers to be required by their faith. They consider non-believers to include not only non-Muslims, but also those Muslims who do not share their particularly aggressive beliefs. If anything, they reserve their greatest hatred for this latter group, accusing them of apostasy.

    The West is at war with a culture that prefers death to peace. The Islamist enemy inspires and directs attacks committed by people for whom an act of terror is not a means to an ends so much as it is an ends of its own. They will not stop their attacks when faced with evidence that their victims are nice people. They don’t care if their victims are nice people. It is completely irrelevant to them. They see their duty as suppressing, and eventually erasing, all competing belief systems. In their eyes, if Western societies do something kind, such as by providing humanitarian assistance, then they do it as temptation. To the Islamist, Satan, that most popular title for all that is American, is first and foremost a whispering, taunting, sweet-talking master of temptation, seeking to lure believers from their faith. It is through this lens that the enemy sees us.

    Obviously, the enemy finds himself a minority, even in the remote wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Were this not so, there would be a hell of a lot more stuff blowing up. Efforts to “win the hearts and minds” may then yield substantive results among those who do not truly subscribe to the belief system of AQ and the Taliban, but I don’t think it will achieve much with regard to the die-hard enemy.

    I think Pakistani efforts to “negotiate” with the Islamists are similarly doomed to failure.

    There is not room enough in this world for both Western republics and Islamist fanaticism. Somebody’s gotta go.

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You are currently reading "Canadians Enlisted in New American-Style Afghan War", entry #1067 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps,NATO,Taliban and was published May 1st, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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