Monday, March 9, 2009

Afghanistan...a defense of history

Its sad what passes for op-ed's these days in Canada's largest newspaper The Toronto Star. Last week's article highlights everything that is wrong with people who not only ignore history but are defiant in the face of what lessons it can teach us about occupation, insurgency and exporting democracy.

Canada has over 2000 troops in Afghanistan, one of the largest contingents after the United States. President Obama has pledged more troops to the region as focus shifts away from Iraq to Afghanistan, in recognition that things are getting worse for the current expeditionary force in the region and Afghan citizens.

4 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the past week. Over 100 troops out of a force of just over 2000. This map highlights the home town's of each fallen soldier. An almost %5 death rate, which would translate to approximately 15,000 dead American soldiers in Iraq. There are many forces at play in the current Afghan conflict. For Canadians there is a constant need to temper analysis with homage and respect for the soldiers in the field, but we do them a disservice when we choose to portray our mission in grand terms which generations of Afghans have heard before from different colonial masters. And generations have not only fought back against Western nation's so-called "good judgment" of how the region should be governed, they have been successful in deterring the worlds largest armies.

Yes of course Canada is not Russia. Yes our soldiers do not treat entire populations like the Russians did and continue to do in other Caucus states. But for many there is little difference among uniforms, invaders are invaders. To ignore this fact, and to whitewash our mission as a unique almost divinely sanctioned act is to be the biggest fool of all.

Afghan past wars not a harbinger

March 06, 2009
Rosie DiManno

Whenever I hear or, more frequently, see published the lament "Has history taught us nothing about Afghanistan?" in relation to foreign intervention there, I know instinctively that the speaker or writer has precious little knowledge about Afghanistan.
(your instincts are that sharp that the mere suggestion that history could teach us something allow you to rush to judgment? J)

They've never read the history texts, the military archives, the memoirs or the poetry. They've probably never been there.
(i dont have to go back in time to the 18th century to study the French Revolution or consider how the collapse of a state from within could be replicated in modern times. There are many who have traveled and lived in Afghanistan who hold contrary and varied views from the North American mainstream, they are not granted full authority because of their passports. J)

It is found wisdom, most likely a repetition of superficial commentary digested from elsewhere, a circular axiom that invests in the ill-informed a phony patina of insight. More disapprovingly: "Did we learn nothing from the Russians?

(a circular axion...a phony patina of insight?... great grouping of words that tell us nothing other than the presupposition that people who refer to Afghanistan's history of foreign occupation not only lack insight but have probably never traveled to the region.... quite a leap of intellectual faith. J)

Or, to quote our own prime minister: "We are not ever going to defeat the insurgency. My reading of Afghanistan's history is that they've probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind." Stephen Harper may have a big brain for economics – that's debatable – but he's talking through his hat here. More likely, because he's singularly lacking in communication skills, Harper was attempting to make contextual observations about the Afghan dilemma and sank under the weight of his own leaden language.

A further 17,000 US troops are on their way, dispatched by Obama. Despite the torque in some quarters by those who claim Obama is going to shift the focus by emphasizing diplomacy and reconstruction, combat troops don't do d├ętente.

As Americans discovered in Iraq, nothing can be done to smother an insurgency without first protecting the populace and then making allies with regional militias.
(A sad over-generalization, they fought regional militias for year and still are in many respects, its a blanketed statment to suggest you cannot defeat insurgency unless you protect the populace make allies with local fighters. Each situation calls for a different approach. The line between "populace" and "regional militias" is often a grey one, making the writer's prescription all the more untenable, and ill-informed. J)
Afghanistan isn't Iraq, or Vietnam for that matter. There is no nation-wide, grassroots guerrilla war. Even with the Taliban now at its most powerful since its 2001 ouster, on-the-ground polling shows they have only 10-15 per cent support among Afghans – and zero among Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras, Turkoman or any other Afghan ethnic group beyond the Pashtun.
(On the ground polling? is Ipsos-Reid conducting polls in Kandahar and Kabul? No source is provided for these polls, and it is difficult to expect open and honest answers from Afghans if we dont know the circumstances of the polls. Even if we accept the %10-15 amount, we neglect to appreciate how few people are required to initiate and maintain an insurgency in a state like Afghanistan with a sparse population base outside of Kabul and weak infrastructure.

If %10-15 support the Taliban, they are quite effective thus far in battling the International Security Assitance Force or ISAF in the region. More troops are being promised by member states because as it stands the mission has not succeded in stabilizing the country. Be it by account of more troop deaths, lack of democratic progress or development and ongoing strife in the border region with Pakistan we have nothing but propaganda that tells us "all is well" simply because Canadian boots are on the ground bringing democracy. BS. J)
It is far from a lost cause, except among the defeatists, entrenched isolationists and jihadist sympathizers. More crucially, the NATO mission – about to have its chestnuts pulled from the fire by the U.S. cavalry – is not remotely similar to what the Soviets attempted in the '80s.

In support of a teetering Afghan Communist government – and these were made-in-Afghanistan Marxists, who'd unleashed revolution against religious fundamentalists in the early 1950s – Moscow went in with gunships blazing. Where the indigenous Communists had already plunged Afghans into social upheaval – instituting land and marriage reforms, liberalizing attitudes toward women, removing dedications to Allah from government statements and replacing Islamist green with socialist red in the Afghan flag – the Soviet occupiers were even more ruthless and terrorizing.

Their helicopters pounded villages. They used chemical poisons in the form of short-duration gas bombs, littered the land with butterfly bombs – often camouflaged as children's toys and designed to maim rather than kill, a far more disruptive outcome for guerrilla forces on the move – and anti-personnel mines dropped from aircraft. They killed livestock, ruined wells, blew up mosques.

The mujahideen favoured sabotage operations. The more common types of sabotage included damaging power lines, knocking out pipelines and radio stations, blowing up government office buildings, air terminals, hotels, cinemas, and so on. From 1985 through 1987, an average of over 600 "terrorist acts" a year were recorded. In the border region with Pakistan, the mujahideen would often launch 800 rockets per day. Between April 1985 and January 1987, they carried out over 23,500 shelling attacks on government targets. The mujahideen surveyed firing positions that they normally located near villages within the range of Soviet artillery posts, putting the villagers in danger of death from Soviet retaliation. The mujahideen used land mines heavily. Often, they would enlist the services of the local inhabitants, even children.

(Yes the Russians did do this, but their enemies, the mujaheddin were known for large-scale destruction of civilian and military targets, including bridges, major roads, attacking convoys, disrupting the electric power system and industrial production. On September 4, 1985, insurgents shot down a domestic Bakhtar Airlines plane as it took off from Kandahar airport, killing all 52 people aboard. Lets not engage in military dick-swinging when discussing the Russian-Afghan war. J)

Worst of all, for deeply religious Afghans, they tried to impose godlessness on a nation that lives and breathes Islam. That, more than anything else, bound Afghans together in the ultimately successful mujahidin resistance: It was their collective duty to fight the kafirs.

NATO troops have done none of this, at least not by design, and neither will the incoming Americans. Every armed outsider bends over backwards to accommodate religion and tradition and consultation with elders. Arguably, NATO has been too respectful and self-restraining as the Taliban reconstituted under its watch.
( I am dumbfounded at the revisionist ramblings of the Russian-Afghan conflict presented as fact before the conclusion that NATO and other member states havent done anything similar and have given no reason for the populace to fight back against their occupation. The audacity to somehow qualify the rebellion against Russia as "the collective duty to fight kafirs" and assume this very same logic wouldnt be applied to any and all invading forces, because thats exaclty what many who took up arms against "kafirs" see the current NATO invasion as. J)

There is no aim to destroy Afghanistan in order to reinvent it in whatever dim echo of democracy, Islamic-style, the citizenry favors. The vast majority of Afghans understand this. Too many Canadians don't.

In reality that is exactly what the current mission in Afghanistan is meant to do; dismantling the remnants of the Taliban government, install a President (a former chief of an American-based energy company operating in Central Asia at the time) who only "won" an election by way of voting in the only remotely secure region in the nation: Kabul. Sadly the majority of soldiers being killed or injured are occurring outside the city, in regions less sympathetic to their hand-picked leader.

I find it ironic that this article begins with a generalization about anyone who suggests we attempt to learn something from history and proceeds to end their story with a larger generalization about what "the vast majority or Afghans" understand. To suggest we or any other nation knows what the majority of Afghan's understand is no different from the Russians, decades ago who believed communism and Russian rule was best for the region.

Too many Canadians probably have a better idea that this author is willing to ascribe to them. Not only are historians accused of misunderstanding the Afghan war, so are most "too many" Canadians. Only Rosie Dimanno and those who agree with her narrow and ill-informed world-view seem to know and have proceeded to tell us.

Its a sad day when we turn our backs on history and drink our own state-sponsored kool-aid on why our troops are deployed in a nation that never attacked Canada, that has never posed an identifiable threat to our nation, only elements that operated within its borders, and continues to show signs of defiance after 7 plus years and over 110 dead Canadians to show for our efforts.

What exactly do we intend to do other than pour in more troops in the region?

Even Wikipedia gives us a glimpse of whats to come... or what has already started:

In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled: "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would...That secret operation (to support the mujaheddin) was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap...The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War."
March 1980-April 1985: Soviet offensives

The war now developed into a new pattern: the Soviets occupied the cities and main axes of communication, while the mujaheddin, divided into small groups, waged a guerrilla war. Almost 80 percent of the country escaped government control. Soviet troops were deployed in strategic areas in the northeast, especially along the road from Termez to Kabul. In the west, a strong Soviet presence was maintained to counter Iranian influence. Conversely, some regions such as Nuristan and Hazarajat were virtually untouched by the fighting, and lived in almost complete independence.

Mark Twain once said "history does not repeat itself, it rhymes".


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