Monday, December 07, 2009

Clear, Hold, Build: The End Of The Beginning In Afghanistan.

We're not quite on the home stretch, but still. When you look back at where we've been, and you look at the distance we've managed to travel over these long and bloody years, the picture looks anything but grim. Every inch of progress is precarious. We win ground and we lose ground. But we're winning, and anyone who can't see that just hasn't been paying attention.

This is now true even in Kandahar. With the exception of Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, Afghanistan's Kandahar province contains what is arguably the nastiest stretch of lawless and bandit-infested territory between Tehran and New Delhi. It is in Kandahar that Canada has made its greatest efforts and sacrifices in the UN-mandated, 42-nation effort to bring some semblance of peace, order and good government to the Afghan republic. It really is the "pointy end of the stick." But even in Kandahar, we're finally starting to see what the end of the tunnel looks like.

A couple of days back I had breakfast with Brigadier-General Daniel Menard, who recently assumed command of Canada's 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, along with another few hundred American soldiers from the 1st battalion of the U.S. Army's 12th Infantry.

Long before U.S. President Barack Obama's long-awaited troop surge announcement, American soldiers had been pouring into Kandahar, allowing Canada's soldiers to focus their efforts on securing an area of about 1,500 square kilometres around Kandahar City, which contains about 85 per cent of the province's population.

During our conversations, Menard was confident enough to say that to clear and hold Canada's area of operations, he didn't even need any more American soldiers.

"We need to marginalize the Taliban, to make it irrelevant. And I think that during our tenure, up to September of next year, we can do this. I certainly believe that by September of next year we can create an environment and identify a population that understands that there is another way of living. And it's not they don't want to. It's just that they'e been terrorized for so long."

After Obama's announcements, Menard found himself with another several hundred American soldiers at his command, this time from the 82nd Airborne Division, which will allow for an expansion of the Canadian area of operations into the upper reaches of the critical Arghandab Valley. This wasn't a big surprise.

But our "combat role," whatever that might mean, is supposed to come to an end by 2011, and it's still unclear just what Canada's military and civilian contribution in Kandahar is going to be after that. This is inexcusable. What Canada does next in Afghanistan should be the subject of an open, vigorous debate among Canadian parliamentarians, and especially among ordinary Canadians. Nothing of the kind is happening. Nobody knows what's going on.

Talking to Canada's senior military and civilian officials in Kandahar, as I've spent the past few days doing, what was clear is that they had a far more precise understanding of what to expect from Obama's long-awaited announcement, before Obama made it, than they have, even now, about the implications of the House of Commons resolution from way back in March, 2008. The resolution ordered the "redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar" by 2011, by which time Canadian soldiers are somehow supposed to be replaced by Afghan soldiers.

The Canadian-led Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team is likely to carry on after 2011. But training up the new Afghan National Army - a work in progress, to put it delicately - will require seasoned Canadian soldiers, and that's not within the PRT's purview. We've already established a track record building some basics of Afghan military capacity with the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams; do we want to just chuck that hard-earned expertise? There are about 1,100 Canadian soldiers in the battle group, and only about 170 in the OMLTs. Wouldn't it make sense to at least redeploy some battle-group troops to the OMLTs, or did the House of Commons resolution really anticipate that we'd just down tools and walk?

The long-overdue and welcome attention the United States is now paying to Afghanistan has changed everything about the context that prevailed in March, 2008, when the Liberal-Conservative consensus was forged. It's a new day. Canada's political leaders should be talking about this. They should be showing some leadership. That's what they're there for.

But they're not.


Blogger Bernard said...

Interesting interview, I would like to read more about what you are seeing in Kandahar. More posts soon please!

5:31 PM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/08/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

Interesting interview with Murphy re detainees. Couple points: firstly, it seemed that you were suggesting that Canada doesn't turn over detainees, NATO does. Would you care to elaborate what you mean by this? While NATO has overall command of the mission, Canadian troops follow detainee policies written in Ottawa, not Brussels. Secondly, you can't understand why this is a newsworthy story. It's pretty simple, Terry. Turning detainees over to torture, or substantial risk of torture, is both immoral and a war crime. That's newsworthy. The government trying to cover up a war crime is newsworthy. Are the laws of war something to be used only against those with whom we disagree (Sudan, Yugoslavia, Karl Donitz, etc), and we should be exempt from their dictates? And we are not talking about "boxing ears" here. We are talking about ripping out toenails, electrocution, beating bruised and bloody with electrical cables; even summary execution (Canadian soldiers have rescued Taliban prisoners about to be executed by the Afghan army) . Some of those subjected to such treatment were likely innocent. That's what the story is about. You may not care about such things. Most Canadians probably disagree. And note, this has nothing to do with blaming Canadian soldiers on the ground, who behave with exemplary professionalism towards their enemy who shares no such compunctions. Detainee policy was written by Ottawa and the military high command, and it is a red herring to deflect criticism of the high command onto our brave footsoldiers. Disclaimer: I have a personal (family) interest in this matter. Jonathan Colvin

5:41 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"While NATO has overall command of the mission, Canadian troops follow detainee policies written in Ottawa, not Brussels."

Wrong. Canada follows NATO policy on detainees. Ottawa has no say in the matter. No Ottawa politician can tell the Canadian commander at JTF Af'stan to detain a prisoner, or release a prisoner, or set any conditions in these matters. The JTF commander follows NATO rules. That's Canadian policy.

Is Richard Colvin your dad or something? Maybe you should consult with him first. And maybe he should thank me for deleting your ridiculous defences of Hamas, elsewhere.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

Ottawa has no say on detainee policy? How then do you explain Ottawa's suspension of detainee transfer, which came "as a surprise" to NATO's secretary general, and which he asked Canada to explain?

"OTTAWA -- The Afghanistan prisoner controversy exploded Friday on the Harper Conservatives with Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's revelation that he was briefed weeks ago that Canada had stopped transferring battlefield detainees to Afghan custody.

Mr. Dion's disclosure came as the Afghan detainee affair rippled overseas to NATO headquarters, where Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has asked Canada to explain its Nov. 6 decision to quietly suspend handing over detainees captured by the Canadian Forces to the Afghan government.

That detainee policy shift -- publicly disclosed this week in a Justice Department letter -- appears to contravene NATO's guidelines that Afghan detainees must be transferred within 96 hours, Canwest News was told Friday.

"This came as something of a surprise to us," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said from Brussels.

"The policy that we have was developed with a very clear idea in mind and that is: this is a sovereign country in which we are invited guests. Therefore, it is not for us as NATO to create a separate parallel detention system." Clearly, Ottawa can, and has, told the Canadian commanders at JTF to suspend prisoner transfers. You appear to be misinformed.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

"Earlier Thursday, Brig.-Gen. Joseph Paul Andre Deschamps told court that Canada's second-in-command in Kandahar decided to suspend detainee transfers Nov. 6, one day after the incident came to light. Col. Christian Juneau took the decision after consulting with Defence Department headquarters in Ottawa because his boss, Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, was away on leave." So JTF suspended transfer "after consulting with Ottawa". That's "Ottawa", not "Brussels". ISTM that the Govt's quibbling that detainee policy is an "operational matter" is merely an attempt to deflect blame from Ottawa (where it belongs) onto the Military. And anyway, this is all a red Herring; the debate is about Ottawa's policies (or lack thereof)on detainee *follow up*; policies indisputably written in Ottawa, and who's failings have put our soldiers at risk of committing war crimes.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I'm not misinformed. Read the story you just sent, which is a two year old story in which an opposition politician alleges that government politicians knew about a suspension of transfers - not about whether politicians in Ottawa ordered the JTF commander to suspend transfers.

"Ottawa can, and has, told the Canadian commanders at JTF to suspend prisoner transfers."


Read the article you sent.

It's the JTF commander who handles detainees and makes these decisions, directly; every detainee transfer goes through him, and politicians in Ottawa have no say on the subject because it's not their job.

Is that clear?

Our brief suspensions of transfers in fact came as a surprise to NATO, which was worried we were striking out on our own. November 5, 2007, a monitoring team found "a credible allegation of mistreatment." The very next day, the CF brass suspended transfers.

I expect you'll now accuse them of committing war crimes by being overly attentive to abuse allegations.

Canada follows NATO rules. The 96-hour rule we follow is a NATO rule.

I don't know what is it about this that you don't understand.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

I didn't say politicians ordered it. I'm not sure if this will come as a surprise to you, but Defence Headquarters happens to be in Ottawa. Detainee transfer was halted after the commander on the ground consulted with headquarters *in Ottawa*. Again, that's *Ottawa*, not Brussels (NATO). Did Defence Headquarters in Ottawa consult with the Minister for final approval before OK'ing the halt? I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't, on such a sensitive matter, since the Minister is ultimately in charge. Trying to shift the detainee issue onto NATO isn't going to fly, Terry; particularly since Great Britain and Holland (both partners in NATO) did things very differently.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"Did Defence Headquarters in Ottawa consult with the Minister for final approval before OK'ing the halt? I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't, on such a sensitive matter, since the Minister is ultimately in charge."

Wow. What a scandal.

Throw the bums out.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


"Trying to shift the detainee issue onto NATO isn't going to fly, Terry."

What a ridiculous thing to say. I'm not trying to "shift" anything anywhere. I'm just relaying the facts. I couldn't give a damn about the politics anof of this. I find the whole thing utterly boring.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


Brigadier-General Daniel Menard's exact words to me last week:

"The sole authority, the only authority, is me. Nobody in Canada can direct me to release anybody. Nobody. The sole authority is me. The task force commander is the authority for releasing, for transferring, or to keep them. We normally keep those people for up to 96 hours. . . this is the NATO policy. It is a Canadian policy, but it is also the NATO policy."

12:32 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

Then I'm still not sure why you felt (in Rex's interview) that NATO's role in all this was so "important for listeners to know"...and why this implied that making a big deal about detainee treatment is such a "disgrace". For something that bores you so, you seem to have formed a surprisingly strong opinion.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

That's just another thing you're not sure of, or you don't understand, or you just can't figure out. I'm tired of trying to explain simple facts to you. You should go away now before your dad has to call you and tell you to stop. I'll do him a favour be deleting any further comments you leave here.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

3:53 AM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

JC sounds like Mikeal redux. g'riddance.

9:07 AM  
Blogger RadicalOmnivore said...

Jesus, Terry. Next time I'm talking out of my arse I hope you'll be a little more merciful when you slice and dice me.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home