(Thanks to the Globe&Mail - Canada's National Newspaper [note gratuitous plug] - for this image).
While Stephen Harper didn't exactly get what he wants from John Manley, he got what he needs. Harper would have liked a rubber stamp on the Afghan mission. Instead Manley gave him some choices.
What it amounts to, however, is exactly what Harper needs to continue the mission. Now he steps onto the public stage - pre-election - and praises the report, indicating he will accept the recommendations.
What Harper got, was this: Indefinite extension of the mission - with the one "parachute" any "war-time" leader needs - an "opt-out clause". That's right. Harper got what LBJ didn't have in Vietnam - the ability to luck across conditions which would let him pull the plug without losing face. In Harper's case he can call his American Overlords to drop in some Marines, pretend that the helicopters that come with them are for our use, and stay as long as he looks good. Harper the "war-time PM". We know he just loves that image. If Harp sees things start to go badly, he'll just "cut and run" - of course, then he'll call it a "calculated withdrawal".
The one thing the Manley Report seems to miss the plate on, is this: NOTHING replaces troops on the ground. That is classic military doctrine. The public - and especially our non-informed media - seem to think the troops will just magically fly over those nasty insurgents and road-side ambushes. Yup - that's just great. Especially when we are looking to actually WORK ON THE GROUND and win the hearts and minds of the locals. Helicopters are great when coordinating an invasion to take out a fixed enemy and points of control that are clearly defined. The typical modern blitzkreig of jets, gunships, artillery, and overwhelming land force works well in these traditional scenarios. Afghanistan (or Afghanisnam, as some bloggers have called it) is not such a textbook campaign. We are fighting insurgents who are intimately familiar with the terrain, and have fought numerous campaigns there - against even better armed enemies (the old Soviets came with a huge force - bigger than anything NATO has brought). I hope that the Manley group made this recommendation on their own accord - and not at the advice of our generals, as this would show some deficiencies.
Our job in Afghanistan is to ensure we "secure the ground", and flying over potential trouble spots won't do it. Sure the choppers will help move troops around quickly, but don't let the media - or Harper's gang - tell us that the added helicopters will miraculously stop casualties from ambushes and roadside IEDs. We need to engage those threats DIRECTLY and ensure the security of both our troops and innocent local civilians. That will require continued ground action, and continued jaunts across the deserts, through mountain passes, and treacherous city streets.
One more thing: I support a UN-sanctioned action in Afghanistan. I'm not happy that NATO is carrying the load, as it causes a perception of "the WEST" against the locals. A real UN rapid reaction force (of the kind that is needed in a lot of world hot spots) would include forces FROM that part of the world - maybe even Iranian, Pakistani, and Uzbek forces. People who hail from the region are useful in two ways: 1) they understand the conflict and the locals better, and 2) they help keep the mission from looking like a "Western invasion". We need to help the Afghani people find peace, but we need to do it the proper way, rather than a random NATO mop-up force riding in on the coattails of an unsuccessful US man-hunt.