OxBlog

Friday, February 23, 2007

# Posted 9:22 AM by Taylor Owen  

AFGHANISTAN OP-EP: Apologies for the light posting of late, it has been a hectic work month. I have an op-ed in today's Toronto Star (written with friend and colleague David Eaves), the slightly longer and unedited version of which is below:

Getting Back on Track in Afghanistan

Success in Afghanistan remains as vital today as when the government first sent troops, aid workers and diplomats to Kandahar in August 2005. Many Canadians, however, feel unsure about the mission and want to be assured that our government has a strategy. On February 6th, Prime Minister Harper promised as much, stating his government will table a report summarizing the progress and challenges to date, and will make a significant announcement about our next steps. This is an opportunity to clarify our strategy and to unite both Parliament and the country around the largest deployment of Canadian forces since the Korean war.

First, let us be clear. Canada has an unambiguous purpose in Afghanistan. Failure to secure and rebuild will leave the country as a failed state, a neo-Taliban led fundamentalist regime, or a training ground for terrorists. Any of these would fundamentally threaten Afghan human security, regional stability, and our Canadian national interests.

Prime Minister Harper must reaffirm our commitment and clearly articulate our way forward. We suggest that his report must address three critical areas that if left unchecked, will cause the mission to deteriorate and could cause it to fail.

1. Return to a strategy that complements counterinsurgency with reconstruction and the imposition of the rule of law. Over the past year Prime Minister Harper has increasingly relied on failed US policies and rhetoric, compounding existing problems and creating new ones. In a battle for the hearts and minds of southern Afghans, an aggressive approach will do more harm than good.

Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them.

We need to rethink our counterinsurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions. As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction. The Liberal cabinet deliberately chose not to deploy Leopard tanks and CF-18’s, prioritizing interpersonal contact with Afghans over brute military might. The Prime Minister must explain why we deviated from this strategy.

Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance. Support for the Taliban derived, in part, from their capacity to impose law and order. Many felt a draconian but predictable governance structure was preferable to chaos and anarchy. Afghan’s desperately want the stability and freedom that comes with the rule of law. If we want to win their hearts and minds we must enable them to establish a just and fair system as quickly as possible.

Diplomatically, the Taliban resurgence in the south remains unchecked. Our problem starts, not from lofty negotiations with Pakistan, but from our own polarised view of the Taliban. Like the failed de-Baathification of Iraq, categorising all who support the Taliban as “against us”, both radicalizes and creates enemies out of moderates whose political support could help stabilize the country.

2. Align Domestic and Foreign Policies. Support for US-backed counter-narcotics tactics endangers the Afghan mission. Poppy eradication destroys the livelihoods of many Afghans and fuels Taliban recruitment. Forcing farmers to shift from poppies, which generate $5,200 per acre, to wheat, which generates $121, is unrealistic. Farmers need a viable alternative. One that curtails the influence of warlords and reduces the global supply of heroin.

Internationally, the Canadian government should ally with the British to develop a regulatory regime that legalizes the purchase of Afghan poppy crops. These crops could be used in the legal production of codeine and morphine, which are scarce in the developing world.

The Canadian Government should also support the Afghan mission by curbing demand for opiates the one place it can – at home. In our globalized world there is a direct link between the poppy fields of Afghanistan and overdose deaths in downtown Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Domestic policies that reduce demand for illegal opiates – such as renewing Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site – diminish the market for these illicit crops and make it easier to shift Afghan farmers to alternatives.

3. Provide clarity of mission. Canadians must be provided with the necessary information to judge our strategy and progress in Afghanistan. When Canada agreed to the Kandahar mission it sought to balance development, military and diplomatic components. Prime Minister Paul Martin outlined this strategy on February 22nd, 2005 when he described how Canadian Forces “…will be assisted by aid officers, who will identify key assistance projects to help to reduce tensions, and by diplomats, who will work with the provincial and local authorities in building confidence with the local population.” Are we still implementing a 3D strategy? If not, why not? If so, what are the benchmarks with which we can measure our success and evaluate the balance between our defence, development and diplomatic efforts?

Transparency is particularly important for effective humanitarian assistance. Critical questions remain unanswered. Where is our development money going? How much are we spending, and on what? Are these programs symbiotic with our military and diplomatic operations?

The Government would be well advised to establish a development measurement framework with clear milestones, based on the Afghanistan Compact, enabling projects to be evaluated and held accountable. Canada could also appoint a Director of Reconstruction to serve as a counterpart to our military commander and charged with achieving our development objectives. Combined, these initiatives would enhance security by ensuring those programs that most positively impact the lives of local Afghans are prioritized and monitored.

While we are but one partner of a large coalition, smart, targeted Canadian policies can make a substantial difference. Because the Afghanistan mission is difficult and, at times, dangerous it continues to test our leadership. Harper's report is timely, but will only be valuable if he addresses head on the critical challenges we face. Canada needs a clear strategy for success – one that builds trust, engages in development and reconstruction, and ensures the rule of law, simultaneously. Without such a strategy we risk defaulting to a US-style military approach, neglecting development and diplomacy. This is Canada’s mission – let us ensure we tackle it Canada’s way.

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(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
"Return to a strategy that complements counterinsurgency with reconstruction and the imposition of the rule of law. Over the past year Prime Minister Harper has increasingly relied on failed US policies and rhetoric, compounding existing problems and creating new ones."


AFAIK the US in Afghanistan has emphasized reconstruction throughout, and emphasis on the rule of law.

" In a battle for the hearts and minds of southern Afghans, an aggressive approach will do more harm than good.

Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them."

The US has been quite aware of the need to avoid civilian casualties. I think you are creating a strawman.

"We need to rethink our counterinsurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions. As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction. The Liberal cabinet deliberately chose not to deploy Leopard tanks and CF-18’s, prioritizing interpersonal contact with Afghans over brute military might. The Prime Minister must explain why we deviated from this strategy."

Presumably because larger concentrations of Taliban who entered Afghanistan were overwhelming local police outposts, and larger amounts of conventional force were needed to defeat them, and create an opening for reconstruction to take place.

"Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance. Support for the Taliban derived, in part, from their capacity to impose law and order. Many felt a draconian but predictable governance structure was preferable to chaos and anarchy. Afghan’s desperately want the stability and freedom that comes with the rule of law. If we want to win their hearts and minds we must enable them to establish a just and fair system as quickly as possible."

So at the same time you want a softer military policy against the Taliban, you want to interfere more radically in the workings of the sovereign Afghan govt?

"Diplomatically, the Taliban resurgence in the south remains unchecked. Our problem starts, not from lofty negotiations with Pakistan, but from our own polarised view of the Taliban. Like the failed de-Baathification of Iraq, categorising all who support the Taliban as “against us”, both radicalizes and creates enemies out of moderates whose political support could help stabilize the country."

The Kharzai govt has been willing to take in ex-Taliban from fall 2001 on. Negotiating with those who have continued to take up arms since then is something else again. It is also likely to alienate the large elements of Afghan society in Northern and Central Afghanistan who are dead set against the Taliban. Im not sure how you will manage to impose this soft on the Taliban policy on the Afghan polity.

"2. Align Domestic and Foreign Policies. Support for US-backed counter-narcotics tactics endangers the Afghan mission. Poppy eradication destroys the livelihoods of many Afghans and fuels Taliban recruitment. Forcing farmers to shift from poppies, which generate $5,200 per acre, to wheat, which generates $121, is unrealistic. Farmers need a viable alternative. One that curtails the influence of warlords and reduces the global supply of heroin. "

And where is this alternative to come from? The US hasnt engaged in eradication because we are stupid, but because there is considerable international pressure not to let Afghanistan be a source of heroin, and because the money for it is destabilizing, and because no one has proposed an alternative that works.

In fact, IIUC, the Liberals in Canada are proposing withdrawing from Afghanistan after the next planned rotation. Perhaps they realize the problems are intrinsic, and not a result of mistaken US policies.
 
None of your comments hold up.

There is a big difference between trying to minimize civilian casualties and going to great lengths to avoid them at all costs, including not using heavy artillery and air strikes in populated areas. As US planners have learned in Iraq, it is better to sustain higher casualties than to inflict them through heavy force. This is slowly working its way through counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq.

“Bombing, even with the most precise weapons, can cause unintended civilian casualties. The benefits of every air strike should be weighed against the risks, the primary danger being collateral damage that turns the population against the government and provides the insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Even when justified under the law of war, bombing a target that results in civilian casualties will bring media coverage that works to the benefit of the insurgents.” US Doctrine on Counter-Insurgency June 2006

“Every time the foreigners attack and kill civilians and do not do anything to help the locals, we lose more support. But the international armies don’t listen to us. They keep on doing all of these bad things and the situation is getting worse and worse.” Police intelligence officer, Helmand province

Yes, if by interfere you mean fully supporting and pressing for the emergence of a legal system, properly trained and equipped police and support for tribal Jirgas. None of which we are appropriately doing.

The idea of pan Pashtun Jirgas has been supported by Karsai and is largely rejected by the US. The US has cancelled the British program of bringing Taliban into the governance process in the South. The majority of experts now say that the key to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces is winning the support of moderates who are quickly moving to the Taliban in return for physical and economic protection. Tactics that attack insurgents in populated areas and spraying their only means of income is the worst possible thing that we could do to fuel this.

The poppy plan is the Senlis Council plan for the legal exporting of opiates to feed into the global shortage of medicinal codeine and morphine. Very similar to what was done in Turkey. The Karsai government has already put the legal infrastructure in place to facilitate it. http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/publications/012_publication/documents/integrated_social_control_afghanistan

"The poppy crops are the elephant in the room... We're in complete denial of the power that the crops have on the nation as a whole, and the tactics of eradication are simply not working. Last year we spent $600 million on eradication and all that resulted was the biggest-ever export of opium from the country. - Tobias Ellwood, British Tory whip 24, 2006

I won't even start to get into why the Liberals are calling for a 2009 withdrawal, but the reason you state is not one of them.
 
Taylor, if success in Afghanistan is vital for Canada's national interests yet your own political party wants to withdraw, I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to discuss that. Are you having trouble figuring out how to blame America for the Liberal position?
 
oh bgates, you're so cutting. the truth is I didn't endorse current Liberal policy, I simply said that libhawks reason was not a significant factor in the development of the latest position. As for blaming the US for everything, utter nonsense. I work closely with a wide range of US military professors and strategists. That label is as ignorant as the knee jerk anti-Americanism that is regretably all too prevalent in Canada.
 
I see. I apologize for judging you based only on what you write on this site rather than compiling a dossier of your known associates to give me a more informed perspective. I notice you describe every tactical mistake you think Canada is making in terms of drawing closer to US policy. On the larger strategic question of whether to stay in Afghanistan at all, you seem to be closer to the Republican Party than to the Liberal, but somehow there's no space in your column to mention that (nor space in the comments in your own blog to discuss why the Liberals are mistaken about something that Bush has right.) I'm glad to learn that your steadfast refusal to credit the US even when it agrees with you has nothing to do with anti-Americanism.
 
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