There are days you can sift through your local Canadian fish-wrap and not know that there are Canadians at war on the other side of the planet. When you realize that Canada has been in Afghanistan longer than they were in the European theatre in WWII and no one can as of yet readily define what victory will look like -- you have to ask yourself why our forces remained there for such a long stay?
At the very least Canada's media could engage in more than just perfunctory coverage. I took a look through today's Montreal Gazette and found two items on Afghanistan - one a short article on Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai seeking help in the fight against insurgents from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And the other an even shorter piece, on an issue that should be of concern, about security fears shutting down more than 900 polling centres before Afghanistan's parliamentary elections next month. There is mention of the upcoming election being a litmus test and that it will be against a backdrop of increasing violence as the Taliban-led insurgency has spread out of the traditional strongholds in the south into the rest of the country. That is not a sign of progress -- are Canadians aware?
So let's take a look at the under-reported news from the very unsexy war over just this last week. The above mentioned increase in violence is undermining the hope that Karzai can deliver security and a legitimate government. The US is expecting heavy fighting around the key Afghan city of Kandahar through this fall, one Pentagon official said Wednesday, dimming hopes for big gains in the war ahead of U.S. elections and a White House review of its war strategy. And so the US military is apparently urging Barack Obama to slow down the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which was planned to start next year.
General Petreus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said in an interview, "The timetable of U.S. troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan will be driven by situation on the ground," providing a ready-made excuse for not leaving next year. With unsettling reports like the following from the Washington Post: With most Afghan and NATO troops stationed in the country's south and east, villagers in the path of the Taliban advance into the once-peaceful north say they are powerless and terrified, confused by the government's inability to prevail -- and ready to side with the insurgents to save their own lives -- how can anyone believe that they'll be able to declare victory and withdraw like they've just done in Iraq? Keep in mind the Iraq withdrawal involves leaving 50,000 troops behind.
In fact, General Petraeus has stated his belief that the July 2011 drawdown date, set by President Obama in December and quietly disavowed by virtually everyone in his administration, was not something that would bind him either. So even though the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates has put himself at odds with the country's top commander in Afghanistan by ruling out any delay in the start of troop withdrawals next year, who are you going to believe? Where's the analysis in the MSM?
It's a very complex situation that in all likelihood won't be resolved by next year -- Four members of the House of Representatives held talks last month in Europe with leaders of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities opposed to President Hamid Karzai and his U.S.-backed initiative to open political negotiations with the Taliban. There was acknowledgement by Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., after the meeting about the nature of the problems faced: "None of the people of Afghanistan except for the crooks at the top are interested in a central government with all the power," Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview last week. "That's the model that we have been trying to force with our military ... on the people of Afghanistan." And that widespread corruption has not been dealt with in a timely fashion in spite of repeated warnings from the Americans to Karzai to clean it up.
Karzai has declared that he wants to do away with the 52 security firms, both foreign and domestic operating in Afghanistan. They employ more than 24,000 guards who work mostly for Western entities. Karzai, who calls the independent fighting forces "thieves by day, terrorists by night," has set a four-month timeline to dissolve the companies and bring their workload under his government's control. That may not sound like a terrible idea but in the unstable environment that currently exists the fear is ...transit routes will be impassable, foreign companies will leave Afghanistan, the economy will suffer, and -- perhaps most ominously -- unemployed security guards will turn to the insurgency.
Lastly, some numbers that should give everyone pause and deserved scrutiny from the media, in less than two years the US has suffered more combat deaths in Afghanistan under President Barack Obama than it did during the two-term presidency of George W. Bush.
That's just a week of cherry picked news from Afghanistan and it didn't include this week's civilian deaths or the protests over same. None of this augers well for our Canadian troops who are there until July of next year, and collectively this all points to a dramatic and expensive failure for the NATO forces in Afghanistan.