Perhaps one of the main reasons that the mission is failing is that the Afghans really do not take kindly to occupation or occupation promoted governments. Ask the Russians or earlier occupiers.
Thursday » February 15 » 2007
Think-tank claims lack of trust behind Afghan mission's failure
CanWest News Service
Thursday, February 15, 2007
CREDIT: AFP/Canada and its allies in Afghanistan are waging a losing war against the Taliban that's killed thousands of innocent civilians, harmed the reputation of coalition forces and fuelled support for the insurgency in the past year, says a new report on the conflict by the Senlis Council.
The council is an independent, London-based think-tank specializing in security and development issues. A team of researchers led by the council's president - Canadian Norine MacDonald, who lives in Afghanistan - interviewed more than 500 ordinary citizens in the war-torn south over the past two months.
The results of that research were released on Wednesday in a 186-page report titled, "Countering the Insurgency in Afghanistan: Losing Friends and Making Enemies."
The report is a withering indictment of the war's conduct by NATO governments, especially through 2006, the first year of Canada's mission in the volatile province of Kandahar.
In particular, it says coalition governments have failed to heed the fundamental rule that a counter-insurgency can't be won at the point of a gun, but rather with policies to win the trust and confidence of local people.
Instead, the council says failed coalition policies - such as the bombing of villages, the poppy eradication program and the lack of school or hospital construction - are directly responsible "for the rise of the insurgency."
MacDonald says coalition governments have shown a "blatant disregard for established counter-insurgency theories," and their ongoing mistakes have generated an army of "resentful and poor young men who cannot feed their families.
"Through these misguided policies, the international community has turned southern Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban."
Officials at both the Defence Department and Foreign Affairs declined comment on the report Wednesday.
The council is particularly critical of the use of aerial attacks in southern Afghanistan, where it says NATO carried out more than 2,000 bomb attacks in 2006, leading to the deaths of an estimated 4,000 civilians.
Senlis officials, however, support NATO's military presence in the area and are in favour of calls for increased troop numbers.
Last fall, MacDonald appeared in Ottawa before the House defence committee, where she praised the courage of Canadian soldiers in the battles around Kandahar.
Canadian troops frequently called in air strikes during those battles last year. Air strikes are used not only to intimidate and destroy the enemy, but also to shield and protect troops who have come under Taliban fire.
MacDonald says the bombing is the result of having too few troops on the ground. When coalition forces become overwhelmed in a firefight, they call in an air strike to clinch the battle.
But because the Taliban live and hide among local populations, bombing also destroys villages and kills and maims civilians.
The Senlis report says while coalition forces whisk wounded soldiers off to sophisticated army field hospitals, NATO makes no effort to provide medical care to wounded civilians - a violation of the Geneva Conventions on minimizing the suffering of civilian war victims.
"Why did the Canadian government and CIDA not say, 'let's get some assistance to people who are being injured by air strikes,'" said MacDonald in an interview Wednesday. "It's a complete lack of either concern for local people, or a complete lack of understanding of how to fight a counter-insurgency."
The report includes a photograph of the mobile Burger King trailer at Kandahar Airfield, where NATO troops can buy fries and burgers. It says such a trailer "would make an excellent mobile surgical clinic for civilian victims of war."
Worse, the report says coalition governments have done almost nothing during five years in southern Afghanistan to build basic health facilities for the local population.
In an accompanying case study, the council says hospitals in the capitals of Kandahar and Helmand provinces remain "dilapidated, barren and filthy," and lack "basic war zone trauma treatment, medical diagnostic equipment, medicines, oxygen, and trained staff."
The council says such oversights are typical of the coalition's failure to mount an effective campaign for the hearts and minds of Afghans.
While a hard core of the Taliban are religious jihadists that can only be defeated by force, the report says many insurgents are recruited because of grinding poverty, or because of resentment bred by coalition actions on the ground.
These people represent a "grassroots insurgency," the report says, which can best be solved by serious efforts to develop the economy, build local infrastructure, schools and hospitals, and rid the Karzai government of corruption.
"The Taliban are a very competitive employer, offering wages with which no other employer can compete," says MacDonald.
An average Taliban fighter is paid the equivalent of $400 US a month, compared to $60 for an Afghan army soldier and only $50 for a doctor in an Afghan hospital.
To succeed in Afghanistan the international community must "urgently reassess" its strategy before an anticipated Taliban offensive this spring, the report says. Its recommendations include:
- Ending the U.S.-sponsored poppy eradication program, which hurts farmers and breeds resentment in rural areas. Instead, a pilot project should be started to license the production of opium, thereby legalizing the poppy crop, taking its profits out of the hands of the Taliban, and producing essential medicines such as morphine for local hospitals;
- Instituting a program of widespread food aid in the south;
- Compensating civilian victims of air strikes and sending mobile field hospitals to help civilian casualties;
- Increasing the coalition aid and development effort at least to the level of the military effort.
© CanWest News Service 2007
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