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Afghanistan: Why we should be there (or not), how to conduct the mission (or not) & when to leave

The following story from the Toronto Star is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provision of the Copyright Act. I am not sure if it has no theme or if it has too many themes.

Since 9/11: Winning Canada, losing Afghanistan

Published On Sat Jul 23 2011

By Mitch PotterWashington Bureau

Yours and mine weren’t the hearts and minds Canadian soldiers were aiming for when they first landed in Kandahar amid the stratospherically high hopes of early 2002.

But as the last of our combat troops trickle home nearly a decade later, few would dispute it is Canada they won. Death by death, injury by injury, the hard slog of the longest war transformed not only the Canadian Forces, but the way Canadians see them.

Afghanistan remains, at best, an open question. At worst, a lost cause.

But the “new” Canadian army — bloodied, battle-hardened and better equipped than at any point since the Cold War — occupies the Canadian consciousness in a way old hands can’t remember since the 1950s.

It’s not just a question of resources, though the money has freely flowed. Canada’s annual military spending has surged by half since 9/11 — we now rank 14th globally in military outlay, with a 2010 infusion of $22.8 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

But arguably more significant, the national embrace of the dust-encrusted rank-and-file: the Highway of Heroes, the Red Fridays, the yellow stickers on cars; the lone bagpiper at the ramp ceremonies that accompanied 157 soldiers’ coffins home.

“Our soldiers are not outsiders anymore. They are embedded in Canada’s consciousness in a way we haven’t seen since the Korean War,” said Col. (Ret.) Brian MacDonald, senior analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations.

“That connection was lost around 1966, when the military dropped its presence on Canadian campuses. The Forces lost contact with the people, to a large extent.

“But now we have a Highway of Heroes running into the heart of our cities. And when the motorcades go by, people line the bridges. It’s a striking change.”

As they come home, the Canadian Forces also find themselves kitted as well, or better, than many of their NATO peers. A self-contained, modernized army, replete with the once-missing pieces —Chinook helicopters and a fleet of four massive CC-177 Globemaster aircraft — for whatever comes next.

What might that be? And what sort of work might they do when they get there? It depends on whom you ask.

To the military’s sharpest critics, the legacy of these last 10 years includes an acute absence of debate as the army shed its “peacekeeping” image.

“I view it as a fight for the soul of Canada and the way we view the world — and the fight continues,” said Steven Staples, who has locked horns with Canada’s military brass from his perch as president of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, an independent research and advocacy group.

“The abandonment of peacekeeping arguably started pre-9/11, but it has certainly been stuck in the basement ever since.

“But the massive increase in Canada’s military spending has come with a massive expansion of the military’s political power in Ottawa. . . There is plenty more money and power in play, but not nearly enough questions about what we want the Canadian Forces to be doing on Canada’s behalf.”

Staples readily acknowledges Canadians are now “more aware and supportive of soldiers.” But he suggests the transformation came about, in part, by design, courtesy of the Department of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.

“I’m not saying it is a façade. There is a very real increase in people attending Nov. 11 ceremonies. But the military spends millions in pubic relations campaigns and that, in part, is what delivers its political clout. So how much of this is a legitimate shift and how much of it is very well-crafted emblems for the media to cover. I’m not sure.”

One especially outspoken critic is Col. (Ret.) Pat Stogran, who led the very first mission to Kandahar in 2002. Today, he doubts the Canadian Forces have actually changed as much as some believe. Neither, he says, has Canada.

When Stogran landed in early 2002, the Kandahar Airfield that would eventually grow into a veritable NATO city, with Tim Hortons double-doubles and a ball-hockey rink, was a burned-out wasteland mired in ankle-deep dust.

But nearby Kandahar City was then a place where foreign journalists could tread unhindered, even after nightfall. One encountered grinning Pashtun tribesmen everywhere, not only delighted to be free of austere Taliban rule but anticipating their lives were about to be transformed for the better by these welcome outsiders.

Stogran, who was ousted from his later position as Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman for being too adamant on behalf of vets, returned to Kandahar three months ago as a civilian. He came away with deep misgivings — convinced Canadians have effectively “lost” the war, yet immensely proud of what rank-and-file soldiers made of the impossible task they were handed.

“The units on the ground did tremendously well — they never lost a single tactical engagement. They truly are worthy of every scrap of praise Canadians can offer,” Stogran told the Star.

“But in my view, the generals let down the troops with a flawed strategy. Instead of focusing on building up Kandahar, economically and diplomatically, we ended up just blindly going in and started whacking Taliban.”

Canada’s charismatic former top soldier, Gen. Rick Hillier, is widely regarded as the key to the Canadian Forces rebranding. The shoot-from-the-hip Newfoundlander seemed, midway through the 9/11 decade, to have achieved a rare fusion with Canadian popular opinion.

But Hillier’s hawkish rhetoric — like his famed denunciation of the Taliban as “scumbags and murderers” — came with a battle posture that “did more to disadvantage Canadian Forces in the longer term anything else,” said Stogran.

“Hillier lost the war with Vietnam-style tactics. We should have been there like a police force. We didn’t need tanks, we needed to hound CCM to build a bicycle factory and create some jobs. Instead, we ended up clawing over and killing a lot of Afghan civilians in the rush to get at the bad guys.

“The U.S. will declare victory, undoubtedly, and pull out in 2014. And by 2016, probably, the bubble will break like Saigon. It’s a travesty.”

There was a time, Stogran admits, when he resented the “Canadian peacekeeper” label, because the frontline-troop reality in past missions to places such as Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda never matched the myth.

“I hated the word ‘peacekeeper’ when I got back from Bosnia because it implied some sort of bloodless offering with no real danger.. . . It was war, and yet a soldier injured in the line of duty was supposedly no more than an industrial accident,” said Stogran.

“But when I left Afghanistan, I found myself with a new appreciation for our ‘peacekeeping’ legacy because what we were facing in Kandahar, I would submit, is not really all that different.

“That’s where the lessons learned are going to be important. Because in this new security environment we live in, if the future is about winning hearts and minds, Canada has the potential to be a superpower. As long as we don’t believe in flexing our muscles to kill people.”

The other paradox throughout the 9/11 years has been access — an unprecedented flow of journalists to the front lines, even as the flow of information tightened with each passing year.

Simple questions that once prompted immediate answers began to drag out into multi-day delays, as public affairs officers on the ground passed the query up the food chain for approval from Ottawa.

It’s a dynamic familiar to Sharon Hobson, one of Canada’s longest-serving defence correspondents, who has written for Jane’s Defence Weekly since 1985. Hobson, who sits on the advisory council of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, says the information flow from DND HQ has tightened to a trickle.

OPSEC — or operational security — is often cited when reporters get shut down on basic queries. But unlike many of Canada’s NATO allies, the long shadow of OPSEC extends to the wounded, with the extent of injuries in recent years a de facto state secret.

U.S. forces, by contrast, update casualty counts once a month, while the U.K. freshens its tally of killed and injured in Afghanistan every two weeks. Canada is not expected to reveal its number of wounded for 2011 until early next year. And we may never know how badly the survivors were hurt.

OPSEC also stretches like a blanket over Joint Task Force 2, Canada’s special forces, a unit that is widely believed to have seen more action since 9/11 than any other. But the elite team, which doubled in size to approximately 600, has never been glimpsed in the field. Or rather, those among us who’ve seen them have never been allowed, under the terms of embedding, to write about it.

Says Hobson: “Of course we all understand the obvious need for secrecy when it comes to special forces. But what about six months or a year later, when the mission is long over? We should know the kinds of things they are engaging in. It can be done because other countries do it. We just don’t do it here.

“Now with the embedding program, the irony is there are more reporters than ever getting to know something about the military — but you can’t get detailed information like before. You rarely get interviews. Instead, what you get is an email with bullet points approved by the Privy Council Office and very general. We used to be let in on the big picture. Now you just get fragments.”

Which, argues Hobson, is not merely an occupational annoyance. Our ability as citizens to weigh in on Canada’s military future is at risk.

“The Canadian public needs to know what the Canadian military is doing in its name. We, as citizens, have a responsibility to make decisions,” she says.

“But that depends on getting the information. If Canadians don’t even know about it, they can’t think about it, let alone ask questions.”
Thucydides said:
The American approach (?):


1.  Nothing new to this approach - we started doing that in 2007 with the establishment of the COP line in Panjwayi district.

2.  The oft-flouted phrase "separate the insurgent from the people" has no meaning in this - anyone who has been to Zharei district knows that separating the two is like separating water from water.  That district, for a whole bevy of reasons, is quite restless.

3.  Talk of the "surge" as a success in Iraq is debateable - there is some literature out there that presents the case that the violence was dying down before Patraeus and "The Surge".  Thus thinking one can surge anywhere to stamp out insurgencies with bike stores is a fools errand.

4.  Of course there is a change in the situation when you garrison every hamlet in a restless Kandahar district - but is this a feasible operational concept?

5.  As for "nobody can look you in the eyes" Stogran's opinions on Afghanistan in the following article, I'll chalk those up to the usual blah from the twice-cashiered attention hound.  For him to insuinate that we should have ignored the conventional insurgent threat outside of KC and focused on bike production indicates to me his level of knowledge on this....
Highlights mine - shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office was so seized with controlling public opinion of Canada's shooting war in southern Afghanistan that even Defence Minister Peter MacKay wasn't always in the loop, says a new book about the conflict.

"The Savage War," by Canadian Press defence writer and Afghanistan correspondent Murray Brewster, paints a portrait of a PMO keen to preserve its tenuous grip on minority power and desperate to control the message amid dwindling public support for the war.

MacKay, who took over Defence from Gordon O'Connor in August 2007, was blindsided by the Harper government's decision later that year to set up a blue-ribbon panel to review the mission headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, Brewster writes.

"It wasn’t discussed with the broader cabinet, no," the minister says in the interview. "I didn’t know all of the specifics."

Jack Layton knew even less. In interviews before his death earlier this year, the late NDP leader confides to Brewster that Harper never once tried to engage him in an in-depth discussion about Canada's deepening involvement in a deadly counterinsurgency effort.

The revelations emerge at a time when MacKay suddenly finds himself at the centre of a brewing controversy surrounding his use of government-owned Challenger jets — 32 times since 2008, at a price tag of more than $2.9 million.

He's also in hot water over a 2010 vacation at a Newfoundland fishing lodge owned by the federally appointed chairman of Crown corporation Marine Atlantic, during which he was picked up by a Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter.

In the book, MacKay also suggests Canada signed on to the Kandahar posting without a clear grasp of how enormous a challenge the mission of beating back the Taliban on their home turf was going to be.

"I don’t think there was a true recognition on just how difficult it was going to be to turn back the wave of insurgency," he says.

His first phone call as foreign affairs minister in early 2006 was from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The topic was Afghanistan.

MacKay also suggests the decision to go to Kandahar was borne in part of a sense of guilt — on the parts of both the previous Liberal government and the new Conservative one — of Canada not having participated in the U.S. mission in Iraq.

"The deployment down to Kandahar, my understanding from the briefings, came after much consternation within the department and within the previous government about not having gone to Iraq," he says.

There was "almost a sense of, 'We have to do something more significant than we have thus far.'"

The book documents how Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apparent need to keep communications on a short leash was fuelled, in part, by sagging public support for the war and the hardening opposition of the New Democrats, who ended up advocating for an immediate and total withdrawal.

Throughout the conflict, Harper never once had an in-depth discussion about the war with Jack Layton, whose fierce opposition to the mission earned him the nickname "Taliban Jack."

"Whenever the topic was brought up, Harper would just smile and say, 'We’re going to have to just agree to disagree on that, Jack,'" Brewster writes.

For Layton, who died earlier this year after a battle with cancer, it was an appalling break from governmental custom in times of war: co-operation, consultation and a sense of everyone in Parliament, be it in the government benches or the opposition, being on the same side.

"Most governments, when you’re in a war context, the structure of the relationship changes and there’s this kind of understanding that we’re at war," Layton is quoted as saying.

"They could have shared certain kinds of information. There was none of that."

From the outset, the NDP felt misled about the intent and predicted consequences of Canada's move to Kandahar, a decision that was made in 2005 without any input from the party or debate in Parliament, much to Layton's dismay.

Paul Martin, the Liberal prime minister at the time, depicted the Kandahar mission to Layton as relatively benign, not unlike the country's deployment in the capital of Kabul to the north, which began in 2002.

"He generally characterized it within the ambit of the mandate that had been ours to date, except that it would involve more troops and in a different location," Layton says.

"I was concerned because I felt that it wouldn’t be possible to go to Kandahar and have the same kind of role that we had previously. I told him I was concerned."

That concern continued to mount over the course of 2005 amid the increasingly aggressive anti-Taliban rhetoric coming from Gen. Rick Hillier, then the chief of defence staff, and Defence Minister Bill Graham's public warnings that casualties were likely.

"Layton and his handful of MPs went from concerned to uneasy to fidgeting in their seats," Brewster writes in describing how the NDP ended up being such staunch opponents of the war.

"The fact that they couldn’t square what was being said made them suspicious."

In 2006, with Canadian casualties mounting, some of Hillier's people were frustrated with the fact the government was saying little about the war, allowing the NDP to fill the void with anti-military rhetoric and robbing the mission of public support.

That frustration "boiled over" during a meeting between Defence Department officials and the PMO on Sept. 6, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of bloody Operation Medusa, Brewster writes. Hillier chastised Harper's staff for what he considered a lack of moral support.

Insiders later attributed the silence to the PMO's difficulty in crafting a suitable political message.

"It was always a crisis," the book quotes one anonymous PMO official as saying.

"I think the reason there was so much silence was because we were trying to figure out how to transition the communications politically from a hard terrorism message to, you know, about women voting and all that stuff.”

That's why, Brewster writes, "there was no consoler-in-chief during that awful summer.

"The country that had not been at war in half a century was left to figure out for itself why its sons and daughters were coming home in caskets."
The Canadian Press, 2 Oct 11
Kids, this is what they call "revisionist history." From the article posted above, note how Jack Layton is a now central character, even though the NDP were practically meaningless in 2005-2010? Note how the pathetic "news" of current CF flight use by sitting Parliamentarians, which conveniently ignores the facts about even greater usage by previous governments, is used desperately to market this tabloid book?

From Amazon.ca
From the Inside Flap
Canadian combat troops have returned from Afghan-istan. Ten years, 157 dead, many more seriously wounded. Canadians are asking if the sacrifice was worth it. What did our efforts actually accomplish? Is the future of the Afghan people any more secure or hopeful? For most, the war in Afghanistan remains one of the most remote, misunderstood and mysterious events of their lifetime.

Murray Brewster, award-winning veteran defense correspondent for The Canadian Press, has covered the war in Afghanistan from Kandahar and forward-operating bases, the corridors of power in Ottawa and Washington, and NATO headquarters. He is courageous and tenacious, a journalist whose hard work resulted in interviews with Canadian troops, officials and warlords alike. He broke the story of Ottawa's attempts to silence whistle-blower Richard Colvin's story of tortured Afghan prisoners.

The narrative in The Savage War tackles the latter five years of the conflict. Brewster elicited first-hand commentary from the troops and senior members of the forces. Mandarins in Ottawa also gave Brewster face time, and he rigorously followed debate and parliamentary inquiries as the war ground on.

At the heart of the book are the Afghan people, whose land is a war zone. They are the human face of this conflict, and Brewster travelled to their villages and won their confidence to get their stories.

A superb story-teller, Brewster adds a dimension to the book: his own insights and hard-hitting criticism. His eyes and ears are those of every Canadian who has a desire to better understand a war half a world away that at times divided the nation, galvanized government controversy, cost hundreds of millions of dollars to wage, and cost lives.
Wow, I sure hope Vin Diesel plays Murray Brewster  ::)

I'll pass  ~yawn~     :boring:
SUM UP!! We neither won or lost this war.Only time will tell if we made even an ounce of difference.Yes I have grown skeptical from 2006 until now
Working for peace in Afghanistan - Toronto Sun , online edition.


KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - “It will be looked back upon that the Canadians got it right,” — ISAF Gen. Carsten Jacobson, of Germany.
Who says Canada is no longer contributing in Afghanistan?
Many assume that just because Canada has pulled out combat troops our work has been completed.
It’s not what I witnessed.
In fact, Canadians are everywhere and making a difference.

More at link

I agree.
Defence Minister says, "Was NOT":
Embattled Defence Minister Peter MacKay is under fire again, this time over accusations that the prime minister kept him in the dark about the Conservative government's decision to review Canada's Afghan mission.

MacKay took over as head of the Ministry of Defence in August 2007 and the government undertook an independent review of Canada's role in the Afghan war later that year.

According to a new book by Murray Brewster, an Afghanistan correspondent with The Canadian Press, MacKay was blind-sided by the decision.

On Monday, the defence minister denied being kept out of the loop.

"According to a release by the Canadian Press, the defence minister was kept out of key decisions about Canada's role in the Afghan war," New Democrat MP Tarik Brahmi said during question period Monday. "This was our top defence priority, and yet the prime minister was calling all the shots. The prime minister could have used some advice. Most agree our efforts should have focused more on peace talks and diplomacy. So Mr. Speaker is he still making foreign policy and defence decision on his own or does he now let his cabinet room?"

MacKay rose to answer the question, saying: "We have always worked together with the prime minister and cabinet." ....
CTV.ca, 3 Oct 11

For the record, here's a transcript of the exchange from Oral Questions yesterday:
Mr. Tarik Brahmi (Saint-Jean, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, according to a release by Canadian Press, the defence minister was kept out of key decisions about Canada's role in the Afghan war.  This was a top defence priority, yet the Prime Minister was calling all the shots. The Prime Minister could have used some advice. Most agree our efforts should have focused more on peace talks and diplomacy.  Is Prime Minister still making foreign policy and defence decisions on his own, or does he now let his cabinet in the room?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, we have always worked closely with the Prime Minister and with cabinet.

However, it is interesting to hear the hon. member talk about somehow reaching out to the Taliban or improving coordination inside Afghanistan. Even the Afghanistan government and the president himself have said that as a result of the assassination of Rabbani, it is back to business as usual. This unfortunately belays the fact that we cannot work with a terrorist organization that does not respect human rights, that does not respect women and that refuses to disarm.  I will take no advice from the member opposite.

Mr. Tarik Brahmi (Saint-Jean, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's Office wants to control public opinion so much that it kept even the Minister of National Defence in the dark about the mission in Afghanistan. However, Canadians wanted a different approach. They wanted an approach like the one proposed by the NDP. This government only cares about its own interests, which are not those of the Canadian people.  Conservative ministers do not even know what is going on in their own departments. So how can Canadians expect any transparency from this government?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, once again, that is false.

I am very proud of the efforts the Canadian Forces have put forward in Afghanistan in conjunction with our other government departments. CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs have created an environment where there are now seven million Afghan children going to school. We are immunizing children. We are working with all of our international partners and the Afghanistan government. However, the New Democratic Party opposite has consistently voted against those efforts.
Afghanistan And The Culture Of Survival
October 6, 2011
Article Link

Afghan soldiers and police have a major morale problem, and it's more cultural than anything else. Traditionally, Afghans fight in clan or tribal groups. That means you are going into battle with people who know you, or at least know your family. Whatever you do in combat, will become known to your entire family, neighbors and so on. In other words, you will live with it for the rest of your life. This does wonders for morale and performance. But take away all those connections, and your morale and effectiveness take a big hit. This is what happens when someone joins the Afghan army or police.

In many parts of Afghanistan, the police and soldiers are recruited into units with people from the same clan or tribe. Western advisors often discourage this, because all that familiarity makes corruption easier. But it's been found that the corruption is there no matter what you do.

But even when you have company or battalion size units from the same clan or tribe, you still have the problem with how armies fight, versus the methods tribal warriors (and the Taliban) traditionally use. While the tribal warriors appear reckless and careless, they actually put a lot of emphasis on avoiding defeat, and casualties. In other words, they favor the ambush over the frontal assault. Retreating quickly and frequently is a standard procedure. While the Taliban preach the virtue of dying as a holy warrior, most Taliban gunmen seek to put off death as long as they can. Not that the Afghans are wimps when it comes to fighting, but they live in an area where the average lifespan is about half of what it is in the West. There are far more ways to die in Afghanistan, even if you are not in the army, or some militia or criminal gang. One survey found that 15 percent of people living in tribal societies die violent deaths, which is five times the rate for people in non-tribal cultures.

With so much danger around them, Afghans adapt, and fighting the same way as westerners do is not attractive. Not unless they have all the tools the Westerners  possess. Not just the body armor, but the on-call air and artillery support and high quality medical care (including prompt helicopter medevac flights.) The Afghans also want the expert and highly trained leadership, all the way from sergeants to senior generals. If they get this, they will more willingly "fight like the foreign soldiers." But in the meantime, the Afghans tend to be less aggressive and enthusiastic when fighting. One exception is when foreign troops are involved, at that point the Afghan feel compelled to be competitive.

The problem is, the Afghans will never have all of the stuff foreign troop's use, not for a few decades anyway. Too many Afghans are illiterate, and there are a not enough technical skills in the population to supply all the support services Western troops have. So the Afghan troops appear, to Western forces, as hesitant and not-very-enthusiastic. The reality is that the Afghans are just trying to live longer under much more adverse circumstances than Western troops face.
An interesting, albeit, given the author, suspect review of a brother journalist's book (which I have not read) on Afghanistan, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail:

Setting the record straight on the war in Afghanistan

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Published Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011

Early in his book The Savage War, Murray Brewster says war and the blood spilled in it are too important “to be left to a cyclone of spin.”

Mr. Brewster, a Canadian journalist who regularly reported from Afghanistan, then proceeds to yank away the propaganda cover. His book is an attempt to set the record straight – straighter at least than we’ve seen up to now. On war, governments everywhere tend to engage in sugar-coating. With Mr. Brewster’s riveting, close-up reportage, we discover the extraordinary extent of that sugar-coating.

It was the Liberals who initially took Canada into the Afghan war. In Mr. Brewster’s book, we find out via briefing notes from their time in office that we got into it for the most tawdry of reasons. It was essentially because we had to appease the Americans for not having joined hands with them in their fraudulently conceived war in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, we find out that our politicians made the classic chest-pounding mistake of overestimating their chance of success. Peter MacKay, who served as both foreign and defence minister, tells the author: “I don’t think there was true recognition of just how difficult it was going to be to turn back the wave of insurgency.”

In other words, if the Harper Conservatives knew the history of Afghanistan, they hadn’t learned much from it. Their political heart was set on military glory. “The Liberals had medicare and the CPP,” an insider tells Mr. Brewster. “We chose the military.” For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it was “ideological,” another insider says. It was damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. There’d be no cutting and running.

When it was clear the war rationale of fighting terrorism wasn’t working, we find out how the Conservatives decided to try to sell the war on the basis of it being a humanitarian mission. We discover how that effort was badly misguided. It was focused on what, for the Afghans, weren’t top priorities: things such as schools, polio vaccinations, women’s rights, toys for boys and girls. But “in surveys stretching back to 2007,” Mr. Brewster reports, “Afghans clearly listed their biggest concerns as unemployment, an absence of electricity and high prices.”

He adds: “When you drilled down into the numbers, you saw that almost everything we were doing for them was tailored to our tastes.” Issues such as education and health care were “easily understandable to people back home and, most important, politically sellable to a public that had already turned away from the war in droves.”

The Brewster account of the war, vivid, fast-paced and seductively written, finds the author looking and hoping for encouraging signs but usually coming up empty. He moves back and forth from the flames of Kandahar to the war coverage in Ottawa. We get a blow-by-blow exposition of the Conservatives’ paranoia over allegations they turned over captives to Afghan authorities for torture. Mr. Brewster finds “a hypersensitive, über-secret government and bureaucracy gone wild.”

Canadian soldiers were fighting their best fight. But based on dozens of examples in The Savage War, the impression is that all the politicians and bureaucrats cared about was the political impact. The amount of infighting over whether returning bodies should be accorded media coverage was just one extraordinary instance. In Kandahar, journalists such as Mr. Brewster were repeatedly offered bogus feel-good war stories to sell back home. They were often berated by military commanders for not writing more positive stuff.

There were the vile put-downs of NDP leader Jack Layton and others who saw the lack of progress and the deaths and who wanted an early withdrawal. They were pilloried for being unpatriotic. But as Mr. Layton told the author, “Patriotism involves trying to make sure your country is doing the right thing.”

The fighting for Canadians in Afghanistan is over now. Only peacekeepers and trainers remain. What also remains is a lot of spin to the effect that our mission succeeded. In The Savage War, there’s a far different story.

It is probably true that journalists get to write "the first draft of history," along with a few generals and politicians, and fifty or one hundred years from now Mr. Brewster's book will be a source - one among many. But Mr. Brewster, whose book I have yet to bother reading, is not a historian and his book is not, I can 100% guarantee it, a valid historical account of anything except his personal perceptions of what he read, saw and heard. Martin, quoting Brewster tries to make "schools, polio vaccinations, women’s rights, [and] toys for boys and girls" unimportant compared to or, at least, less important than "unemployment, an absence of electricity and high prices." Clearly, or it ought to be clear, they all matter to varying degrees in varying times and places. If Brewster really believes what Martin thinks he said then I am less and less inclined to bother reading his book. Finally, Martin says, "Brewster finds “a hypersensitive, über-secret government and bureaucracy gone wild.” If the government and its bureaucracy was even slightly secret, let alone "über-secret," then Brewster, journalists in general, busybodies and assorted commissioners would not have found a bloody thing. That Brewster found anything was because the whole mess was 'conducted' out in the open, with too little regard for security or the needs of history.

It is my fervent hope that 35 years from the archives will be opened and we you (I'll be long dead and buried) will discover that some good politicians, bureaucrats and generals lied like sidewalks and misled the media and the enemy - who might be mistaken for one another.
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail, is an insightful article by David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein:

Afghanistan’s lessons weren’t just military

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Oct. 17, 2011

Canadian troops fought in Afghanistan for a decade, and the Canadian Forces suffered substantial casualties. The country’s military and political leadership learned on the job about the costs of war, the intractability of counterinsurgency warfare and the difficulties of managing an increasingly unpopular conflict through a prolonged period of domestic political turmoil. But what did Canadians learn?

The first lessons can be derived from the Canadian military’s experiences in Kabul from 2003 to the beginning of 2006. Here, Canadians played an important role because they had capable officers in command of substantial numbers of troops able to act with force at a time when Canada’s partners were not. And the Canadian Forces’ intelligence resources were as good or better than any others in the theatre, America’s excepted.

Simultaneously, able diplomats ran the newly created embassy and directed the country’s aid program. At a time when NATO’s International Security Assistance Force was only just being established, this confluence of abilities and power gave Canada a more prominent voice than it usually achieves in coalition operations.

As ISAF expanded over Afghanistan, and the U.S. took on the director’s role, Canada’s influence shrank. But because the Canadians fought in Kandahar with great skill, this influence was not completely lost. Soldiers who perform well in action always matter. The training system in Canada from the first rotation to the last produced well-trained battle groups able to adapt to changes in Taliban tactics.

Very simply, the battle groups put into the field were as well prepared, well led and, over time, well equipped as any Canadian soldiers have been. Their record, and the record of the governments that supported it, looks very good.

But Ottawa must be very wary of future alliance operations. Canada will never conduct a major operation abroad on its own, but, at the same time, can’t escape the conclusion that NATO did not function well in Afghanistan. The alliance went to war, but its members hamstrung ISAF’s operations with caveats that made military success ever harder to achieve.

Canada initially imposed its own caveats but lifted them early in 2006; many allies retained theirs. This greatly affected Canadian commanders and soldiers in Kandahar, inflicted unnecessary casualties and forced them to rely on U.S. resources, the only ones that could be counted on. At the same time, most NATO members were unwilling to commit troops to Kandahar, even when a single battle group of Canadians faced a major Taliban offensive in 2006. Unconstrained military commitments will be essential if Canada should ever again wish to place its soldiers and treasure into a major NATO operation. Anything less will call into question Canada’s membership in the alliance.

Public opinion during a war is a critical component of national will, but it’s fragile. If Americans and NATO were unclear why they were fighting in Afghanistan, then Canadians were similarly confused. If Canada’s political leaders were inconsistent in their aims, and if there were no clear strategy behind the nation’s actions, then no one should be surprised that public opinion turned against the war.

At the same time, the political manoeuvring over the war during a succession of minority governments also weakened public support. Politicians always strive to gain advantage, but they need to realize that their posturing will have a deleterious effect on support for any war we choose to fight.

The Afghan war was a just one, and Canada was right to participate. The Canadian Forces served with distinction and, though our soldiers paid a heavy price, they fought with honour and courage. The military forged its leadership for the next generation in Kandahar, and learned significant military lessons. But unless our politicians also grasp the lessons of Afghanistan, the price will have been too high.

David Bercuson is director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. Jack Granatstein is a military historian. The authors’ paper Lessons Learned? What Canada Should Learn from Afghanistan is on the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute’s website www.cdfai.org/.

To answer the question in the opening paragraph, I don't think Canadians, per se, learned much of anything. A more pertinent question is: what did politicians and senior bureaucrats and senior military folks learn?

The answers are, or should be:

1. Numbers matter and we, Canada, in 2011 do not have enough. We have too few ships and too few sailors; we have too few soldiers, too few tanks and guns, too little service support and so on; and we have too few aircraft and too few men and women to fly and maintain them. We have a sufficiency of admirals and generals and, probably, of "captains and majors and half colonels, too; hands in their pockets etc."

2. NATO is not a good organization to conduct a complex military operation out of its own area. It is too big, too cumbersome, too political and too bureaucratic. There is an old saying that the maximum span of control for a leader or manager is 10. Maybe it is the same with alliances and operational management - maybe some sort of standing (permanent) forum with, say, at least five but less than ten members is needed to manage and conduct coalition military operations.

3. While Canada ought not to try to conduct unilateral combat operations, low intensity - maybe involving some combat - operations must be within our capabilities and we, Canada, must be prepared and willing to conduct them. That calls up strategic planning, strategic transport and logistical capabilities that we do not have (enough of) right now.

4. Military operations are never going to be very popular - we had trouble sustaining public support for Wold War II after five years, and if there was ever a "good" war that was worth the price, that was it. Governments must find ways to manipulate public opinion (yes, I know, I'm justifying Noam Chomsky, but we can, do and should manipulate opinion) to weaken the opposition to military operations.
Not Afghanistan - but it goes to the conduct of future wars......

Globe and Mail

....But Mr. Harper, slow to embrace the first Arab Spring rebellions, was forceful in responding to Col. Gadhafi’s repression: He dispatched a frigate March 1, weeks before intervention was certain, sent a pointed Canadian force when only eight allies joined strikes and committed to stay through months of stalemate.

Mr. Harper’s argument that Canada needs military power and the willingness to deploy it could be boosted by victory in Libya, said Christian Leuprecht, a Queen’s University and Royal Military College professor.

But it might also crystallize the Libya mission model – brief, conducted by air strikes with no ground troops risking casualties, as the muscle Canadians will support. “We’re not going to be doing an Afghanistan mission again, the kind of long-term massive troop commitments,” he said. “I think they’re going to be elements like this where we might be there for a few weeks or a few months.”

The "Libya Model" would also be "The Northern Alliance Model"  and arguably the "Sierra Leone Model"  or even the "Oman Model".

Lots of technology and a light footprint working with the locals.

Whoever wrote that "Mission Accomplished" banner had it right the first time.  Fire and Retire.... and let the locals sort it out.

Edit: - Oman is the wrong analogy - The foot print was light and the locals were engaged - but the campaign was protracted, perhaps in part due to the lesser technologies available.
Post mortem of the political issues:


The CBC helped destroy the Afghan Mission

Posted October 28th, 2011 in Afghanistan and tagged Afghanistan, Canada, CBC, Harper, Harper government, media by Adrian MacNair

The CBC’s Brian Stewart has an introspective piece about Canada’s role in Afghanistan, and although we haven’t officially left the country yet, it’s a post-mortem of sorts. I don’t have a problem with much of his article, including his commentary about the lack of communication about the real war in Afghanistan, the problems within the government and the bureaucracy, and the lack of real understanding about the culture and history of the country.

I’m also inclined to be more lenient on Stewart than I would a lot of CBC journalists, since he made the same media familiarization tour I did, directly before me, which means a great deal more than simply writing about it from Ottawa. Stewart is also fair in his dispersal of the blame of mission failure on both the Harper and Martin governments, particularly the latter, who made decisions about Afghanistan quietly and before the Canadian public’s attention was really on the mission.

Indeed, Martin carries much of the failure for Canada’s miscommunication on the mission, including but not limited to the dreadful handling of the detainee agreement with the Afghan government. Originally drafted by Martin’s government with General Rick Hillier, it was the lack of oversight within the arrangement that led to the catastrophic media coverage, which in turn sapped all vim and vigour for the mission. The Harper government hurriedly overhauled the agreement in 2007, but also did so quietly and in secret, leading to the false appearance of torture complicity and cover-up.

And yet, what Stewart’s article is really missing is a fair appraisal of his own employer’s role in destroying the country’s morale, when from 2008 through to 2010 it wrote innumerable articles hinting at, digging for, and alleging the Canadian military was playing a complicit or even direct role in torturing Afghans. The tenacity with which the CBC attacked this issue was unparalleled by any other media source, releasing documents like it was some kind of publicly funded WikiLeaks, heedless to the implications of its allegations.

The media assault on the Canadian Forces and the Harper government led to a fairly predictable and blatant blackout on the issue, which Stewart refers to as “cabinet secrecy.” This is surely unsurprising. When the CBC diverted attention from reporting on the war itself and invested the tremendous weight of its resources into broadcasting the great torture scandal, it closed any door it might have had on open and transparent leadership.

And the more the media attacked the Harper government on the issue, the less inclined it seemed to want to fight the political battle that the predatory and purely hypocritical Liberals and NDP were happily exploiting. It could be argued that the CBC’s wanton sabotage of the moral integrity of the Afghan mission led to the opposition being forced to cast itself as the official voice for the “torture-rendition-war crimes” movement, which led to the capitulation of the Harper government on this political issue.

The odious hypocrisy of the NDP in the Afghanistan mission could not be more apparent or more collusive with the CBC either. The same people who called for the open release of all and any information related to the mission in Afghanistan in the hopes it could politically destroy the Harper government, have protected the CBC in its refusal to release documents to other media who have made freedom of information requests. I do not go as far as Sun Media in referring to it as a state broadcaster, but it’s certainly a public company that has no right, no excuse not to release any and all documents to us, the taxpaying shareholders.

The NDP never had a dog in the Afghan fight anyway. Jack Layton suggested we simply make peace with the Taliban from the first day and after successfully helping to self-sabotage Canada’s effectiveness in its mission, took credit when the NATO leadership began murmuring about a potential peace deal with the terrorist organization. This is surely like Brutus casting the last, lazy stab wound into a dying Caesar.

It’s preposterous for Stewart to say that Harper fed the Canadian public as little information for “reasons still unknown.” The obvious answer is that the media vultures, led by the CBC itself, was less interested in the war itself and more sniffing for any blood in the water at all that might lead to a political feeding frenzy. This led to the PMO clamming up on the mission, which saddened both opponents and proponents of the mission there, but the PMO can hardly be blamed for not wanting to aid and abet its own destruction.

There are many lessons to be learned about the Afghan mission, but we would be remiss to ignore the media’s role in distorting the importance of events there. And though torture has surely taken place in Afghanistan just as ubiquitously as it happens elsewhere in the region, Canada did not go to Kandahar to rid the country of torture. We went there to provide security to the people that they would otherwise not be able to receive on their own.
Thucydides said:
Post mortem of the political issues:

Good piece - thanks for sharing.

Brian Stewart's come some way since his 2007 piece (PDF transcript here) on suspicions by un-named sources that Canada had some mysterious influence with the Afghan government via the Strategic Advisory Team.
milnews.ca said:
And Steven Staples' response to the piece (via Twitter)?
Don't open it....don't open it......~d'oh~....why do I do that to myself?  :facepalm:

(Speaking of trying to create an anti-Harper political feeding frenzy, while completely ignoring the war itself...  ::) )
Stephen Staples and his ilk neither know nor do they care about Afghanistan or the Afghan peoplel nor are they interested in Canadian foreign policy or even in the welfare of the world. What they believe about which they do care is what Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada might do to The Entitlement Party of Canada.
Some interesting speculation about why we went to Kandahar, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail:

Note: the piece is interesting despite the anti-military/anti-mission spin the author (Saunders) applies.
Canada picked its Kandahar moment


London— From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, Jan. 07, 2012

What on earth were we doing in Kandahar? Now that it’s all over, that question hangs in the air. Decades hence, students will be stumped by that question in much the same way I was when my high-school textbook opened to Canada’s place in the Boer War. It was full of sound and fury, but signifying exactly what? How did we pour five years, more than $18-billion and 158 lives into something so large and nebulous? How do we avoid repeating the mistake?

The process that led from Canada’s modest 2001 participation in the Kabul operation into the five-year semi-colonial Kandahar odyssey that began in 2006 remains something of a mystery. I’ve heard diplomatic and military officials of very high rank tell me they don’t really know how Canada became embroiled. Al-Qaeda had already been banished from Afghanistan by the time we entered the south. Our soldiers were professional, extremely courageous, calmly civilized and never quite sure what had caused them to be there.

We now have some surprising answers. A team of analysts with London’s Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank, gained unprecedented access to the confidential documents and British official records of the decision by NATO members in 2003 and 2004 to expand the Afghan war. Matthew Willis analyzed the Canadian decision, which was deeply entwined with Britain’s. His paper, to be released this month, describes a decision made in secret by senior Armed Forces officials, without the knowledge of NATO or probably of Canada’s prime minister.

“The Canadians and the British,” a senior NATO official told Mr. Willis, “hammered out the whole thing without NATO’s assistance, behind closed doors. … We were not aware of the details.”

While Canada was ostensibly fighting as one member of the 42-nation NATO International Stability and Assistance Force, the decision to establish a base in Kandahar, the most dangerous province, was negotiated in London without the knowledge – and against the advice – of the Brussels-based military alliance. NATO had been pressuring General Raymond Henault, then head of the Canadian Forces, to set up a mission in the provinces of Chaghcharan or Herat.

But Canada’s military officials had other ideas – and most were rooted in Canada’s experience, five years earlier, in Bosnia. They had come to dislike fighting with some other countries – Mr. Willis writes of “the Canadian leadership’s aversion to partnering with the Italians or certain other European nations.”

The generals also felt that the Bosnia and Kosovo missions hadn’t won Canada much international fame or recognition. Those had been real coalitions, and Canada had blended into the background.

“The reason went well beyond a Canadian desire to be patted on the back,” Mr. Willis writes, citing his interviews with Canada’s military leaders. “It was about being able to make one’s voice heard in the political and military fora where mission-defining decisions were being taken, including, not least, plans for the use of Canadian soldiers. It was thus also about improving Canada’s ability to exert its influence in accordance with its interests and values.”

Prime minister Paul Martin must have known that Canada’s troop commitment, just shy of 3,000 soldiers, was the most it could muster, and might not have been enough for a large and deadly province (it did prove to be inadequate). But the generals pressed ahead. Part of it, they told Mr. Willis, was a desire to please Washington.

He raises the “contentious question why the senior Canadian military leadership, and the defence and foreign affairs departments, persisted in pushing the mission forward. Ostensibly, the military was seeking redemption after a decade of unremarkable performances in unremarkable (read: peacekeeping) theatres; or perhaps it wanted to show the U.S., the Canadian public and other key allies that it really could do combat if called on.”

“Implicit and sometimes explicit in all of the above,” he concludes, “is the idea that Canadian planners were pursuing a principally national agenda divorced from the NATO plan and heavily conditioned by beliefs about what would go over well in Washington.”

It is discomforting to think that this dangerous war was prolonged beyond the ouster of al-Qaeda in order to further interests of organizational pride and stature. But this was a big part of the decision.

This may well be the reality of modern war, as we saw in Libya this year, where a handful of countries forged an ad hoc alliance in confidential meetings far outside of NATO’s vision and without all its members – a cafeteria NATO, if you will. It is a less formal process, but one whose miscalculations can cause years of damage.

Ignore the first and last paragraphs - they are utter, complete crap.

Focus first on the comments by Matthew Willis of the RUSI. They, especially the parts about the "lessons" about allies learned in the Balkans, squares with rumours I heard in demi-official Ottawa.

Focus also on the penultimate paragraph. Saunders says: "It is discomforting to think that this dangerous war was prolonged beyond the ouster of al-Qaeda in order to further interests of organizational pride and stature." No, it isn't - national stature matters, it is a big part of "soft power" (real soft power not the soft headed soft power envisioned by e.g. Pink Lloyd Axworthy and the other Trudeauistas) and national stature is a compilatin of the statures of those actors, like the CF, that matter in the world.
Quite an interesting spin, which seems to be slanted to get Paul Martin et al off the hook. The story, however, is a secondary source based on the writer's interpretation of Mister Willis' yet to be published paper.

Was not the move to Khandahar seen to have been a result of dithering at the highest levels in Ottawa until the safer billets were taken? At least that was the interpretation at the time circa 2005-2006. That is not quite what the story implies, which has a more sinister explanation of machinations by British and Canadian officialdom. One could also put a more positive spin on the plan: the key to control of Afghanistan was keeping the Taliban at bay, and their power base was in the south. Therefore the vital ground is the south, and that is where the Brits and ourselves went, and that was were the Americans later largely surged.