Saturday, September 02, 2006

Afghanistan's opium harvest at highest levels; so who's in control?

Can anyone tell me what Canada is doing in Afghanistan? Obviously nobody is "in control" given the latest NY Times news:

Afghanistan'’s opium harvest this year has reached the highest levels ever recorded, showing an increase of almost 50 percent from last year, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said Saturday in Kabul. (whole story)

Maybe good news for a neo-puppet like George Bush, being able to fight two wars with one rock. But not so good when you consider that most of the money of these cocaine operations is used for, exactly, supporting terrorism (February 2005):
Doug Wankel, Counter Narcotics Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said the opium industry in Afghanistan is financing terrorism in an interview with USA Today. "It's financing subversive activities. It's financing warlordism. ... And if it's a threat to the government of Afghanistan, it's a direct threat to the national security interests of the United States."
We fought the war for almost 5 years; about 10,000 people died sofar and, given the latest news, no real solution is in sight soon. Highest levels of opium harvest translates in highest financial gains for terrorism. This can fuel the renewed Taliban insurgency for a long time to come.

Jack is right, it's time to do something about it.
We have to change our strategy.
Normalize (remember the effect of Ostpolitik?) the situation with the Taliban (yes, start talking, duh).
And bring our troops home.
We owe them.

9 comments:

Walks With Coffee said...

A sense of proportion and perspective is needed here.

On the one hand there are signs of failure: Four (4)years in Afganistan and opium levels are up; in contrast WWII took 6 years to fight and then it ended. There is nearly zero signs of an end to the current approach any time soon... that is the definition of failure.

On the other hand there are signs of success: The Soviet Union slaughtered a million in Afganistan and accomplished its own demise. In contrast 50,000 Taliban have died in the current conflict (although the countryside is still controlled by warlords) the major centers are under democratic control - not the same result as the Soviet Union. Positive change is the defintion of success.

So which is it, success or failure?

We should not be fooling ourselves; our troops are in serious danger and both under manned and equipped to face the kind of insurgency that they might face. The majority of Afganistan is under the control of either warlords or drugloards. Also, the many hundreds killed on both sides does not change the status quo but does antagonize the local population. We are not winning.

Yes, an assessment of the mission is justified.

There are constructive roles Canada can play in Afganistan such as building and protecting major centers of democracy. We, and our alies, can win that war. However, reckless use of our troops as the pointy end of the spear is unwise and likely to lead to many deaths of our own with little improvement in Afganistan's countryside.

Erik Abbink said...

"There are constructive roles Canada can play in Afganistan such as building and protecting major centers of democracy."

What do you mean? How do you do this while you're being shot at?

Walks With Coffee said...

Erik ask re construtive roles: "What do you mean? How do you do this while you're being shot at?"

Walks responds: We can continue to secure crossroads, facilities, and essential civilian infrastructure to the benefit of Afgan civilians. We would be shot at while doing so and would shoot back; nevertheless we could - with our allies - continue to secure critical civilian infrastructure and government instituations i.e. we can be military police and a military defence force at critical moments.

On the other hand, we cannot be the pointy end of spear roaming the countryside nor engage in antagonising the local population, which is what we are now trying to do under the leadership of Steve Harper. We will take large casualties and not make a positive difference Steve Harper's way.

Erik Abbink said...

I do appreciate a positive take on the Afghanistan invasion, but most people who know the situation best tell us things are not improving. On the contrary.

Lieutenant General David Richards, commander (NATO) and General Sir Mike Jackson have both made clear that, unless we get a lot more "resources", we will not win this war.

This is not World War II. It's naive to think that a six (6) year old war with Taliban in a relatively small area (Afghanistan, compared to the full out World War) can still be won "the military way" when military specialists tell us those chances are slim at best.

It's time to do something constructive. It's never too early to negotiate.

Erik Abbink said...

that should have said "five year old war (5) :)

Walks With Coffee said...

Hi Erik,

You quoted, "Lieutenant General David Richards, commander (NATO) and General Sir Mike Jackson have both made clear that, unless we get a lot more "resources", we will not win this war."

The quote is muttled. The meaning and reference to "this war" is unclear. There have been three phases to arguably different Afgan wars:

1). Displacement of Taliban and Osama Bin Laden's control of government.

2.) Securing of civilian infrastructure and centers of government

3.) End to Taliban, warlords, and druglords in the countryside and mountains.

Step one was 50% successful. The Taliban was moved out of the major cities. In my opinion, Osama Bin Laden was killed. However, no major impact was made on Taliban and warload control of the countryside or mountains. Additional success is not possible without local support; warlords have local support in the mountains and can scatter and regroup easily. We would need tens of thousands of troops for a decade to win this war... if it can be won. Canada cannot take this war any further.

Step two was 50% successful. Democracy is in control of the major cities and civilian infrastructure but those still need protection. i.e. they need military police to maintain and protect them as hostilies are present. Protection can be done without antagonizing the local population. We can help here and contribute without sending tens of thousands of troops.

Step three is a 100% failure. Taliban, warlords, and druglords are growing in the countryside and mountains. We would need tens of thousands of troops for a decade to attempt to win this part of the war. Canada cannot take on this task directly. We might be able to attack some of the drugload during the growing season... that would be about it.

As I said in my previous post, we are not winning "the war" i.e. under Steve Harper we are attempting war '3' - being hte pointy end of the spear- when we should be attempting '2' - building and protecting civilian infrastructure and government.

Erik Abbink said...

The three descriptions give a fair representation, thanks for that.

However, following your analysis, I think it is very unlikely that step 1+2 will gain much more momentum than your stated 50% as long as step 3 (the essential reason why step 1+2 is still only 50%), is left alone.

In other words, we're treating symptoms, not the actual problem.

Since the international community does not seem to have the political will to deal with step 3 properly, I don't think it is fair to suggest that any effort we put in it now will ultimately lead to a victory.

Walks With Coffee said...

Eric writes: "The three descriptions give a fair representation, thanks for that. "

Walks responds: tx...

Eric writes: "However, following your analysis, I think it is very unlikely that step 1+2 will gain much more momentum than your stated 50% as long as step 3 (the essential reason why step 1+2 is still only 50%), is left alone."

Walks responds: I agree... no "however" needed :=)

Eric writes: "In other words, we're treating symptoms, not the actual problem."

Walks responds: I agree and add that more boardly the entire war on terror has deteriorated into reactions to symptions (other than some good police work here and there)

Eric writes: "Since the international community does not seem to have the political will to deal with step 3 properly, I don't think it is fair to suggest that any effort we put in it now will ultimately lead to a victory."

Walks responds: I agree in this way. Most of the international community does not have the *means* to deal with it properly. I suggested what it would take in order to show readers that countries like Canada (and most of our allies) just don't come close to having what it takes to do it.

In contrast, the US has the might to do it right but is lost in a dangerous fog and is the one that does not yet have the political *will* to do it right... instead attacking the wrong targets the wrong way.

Stated otherwise, Steve Harper is diluted in believing that Canada is some sort of military super power capable of being the pointy end of the spear in Afganistan (and that Canadians want that, which we don't). In contrast, I suggeted that we should do the positives that we can (be military police and secure the peace) and avoid sending our own to die in battles that are just "treating symptoms" to no real lasting postive end.

Erik Abbink said...

I agree, the US is lost in a fog, but needless to say, it's self inflicted. Should our troops suffer because of bad US foreign policy?

It takes extreme ignorance not to see how the military industrial complex (MIC) together with Big Oil are the only real beneficiaries of stretching the war in Afghanistan by starting a new war.

Iraq was not an immediate threat, as we all know now. However, the MIC and Big Oil are making a killing out of the killing. And no end is in sight, regardless which war you pick.

We lost another four (4) people today, only because the US does not have the will to finish the job, immediately; starting a new one seems to be more important than finishing an older one.

For the Canadian government there can only be one solution; only conditional help to Afghanistan. Canadians (and all other parties in this war) deserve ALL the political will and means that the US has avialable for the Afghan mission. And that means a plan for all the three points that you so clearly put forward.

If we (the international community) cannot get guarantees that ALL means will be put forward ASAP, I strongly believe it's time to stand aside and let our southern neighbours fight their own wars from now on.

We don't want to be part of a scenario were the selfinflicted mess (regardless if it was deliberate or plain stupidity) on the account of the US becomes the problem of our troops; our troops deserve better.

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