Monday, February 11, 2008

Afghanistan - What Next?

Now that we're at a crossroads on the Afghan question, maybe we can start taking a more objective look at the possible solutions. A lot of people have put up the idea of Canada moving to more of a "peace-keeping" role. Abdicating responsibility to the US is another possibility. Still another is to have other UN powers "rotate" through the combat-intensive roles.

The key item of importance here is that Afghanistan NEEDS the West's help - if not for anything else other than to clean up the schmozzle we helped create with the US - leaving a vacuum after bombing them further back into the stone age. The Taliban has to go. I don't think the Liberals and Conservatives are far apart on that one. There still remain questions as to whether the NDP want to defeat the Taliban, or "negotiate" with them. Not sure where the Bloc stands, since they don't exactly register outside of Quebec.

Canada in a peacekeeping role is the best solution - as long as we can fill the void (and NATO - with the US's leadership must). Our senior General Staff were all field officers back through decades of Canadian peacekeeping missions. They are at their best in that milieu. Having said that, we are also adept at "real" battlefield ops. We (even with less superior machinery) routinely trounced the US in simulated conflicts and exercises. British Commonwealth soldiers simply are better fighters than American armies - and we've seen that down through the past few hundred years - after the American Revolution, of course. Still, we are best "exercised" at peacekeeping - and we've tooled our army for that. To decide to start building our forces for frontal combat in a complex warzone is folly. We would need to spend billions $$$ just to retool our forces. Then the training - for counter-insurgency would be required. This would take years. This is probably we Liberals had a deadline for the time spent in the Khandahar region by our troops.

So who in the world is best suited to fighting insurgents? One thing needs to be kept in mind when considering this: insurgents - if representing the feelings of a particular community, in a particular region of the world - tend to win out. It may take decades, and even outside help, but it is hard to oppress people and keep them down. The Taliban represents a vast swath of Afghani tribal areas. It is their home - even if some of their commanders/advisors are outsiders. You don't easily whoop someone in their own back yard. So who would best be suited to such a role? Here are a few nations which could take on a combat role, letting Canada get back to our area of expertise in peacekeeping and nation-building (not saying these nations would agree to go along with it):
1) Russia - The Russians have fought insurgents around the world (during the Cold War), including right in Afghanistan. They have mercilessly pounded Chechnya. They have a hardened experienced core of soldiers who know how to survive an insurgency. Even with all the experience, the Russians have experienced one bloody nose after another fighting the insurgencies.
2) Columbia - America's allies in South America. This army has been fighting FARC to a standstill for years. They aren't exactly winning, but with US military aid they are at least surviving. The US should easily be able to buy a small force from the Columbians after all the help Bush gave them.
3) South Africa - Although it's been years since they were seriously involved in places like Namibia, they still have the tools and the training to take on insurgencies. Their entire army was built to take down tribal insurgencies, rebels in neighboring propped-up states, and civilian uprisings. Their older general staff would have pretty clear recollections on what to do.
4) Indonesia - The Indonesian Army is large, well-equipped, and well suited to counter-insurgency measures. Forget about them coming out though - they have enough trouble stomping out civilian unrest in their own back yard.
5) India - India has fought an Islamic insurgency in Kashmir for years. They have also fought several other insurgencies (Sri Lanka, Assam, Punjab, Tamil Nadu) over the years. Indian counter-insurgency forces are seasoned, well-trained, and capable. We're not sure they would want to get involved in a regional dispute that may not have a "friendly" conclusion - especially with nuclear Pakistan and Iran closeby - both of whom have covertly or overtly supported the Taliban.
6) Blackwater - Can they fight a war? Damned straight! They're doing it in Iraq right now. As far back as March of 06 Blackwater has been ready for real combat operations. According to Cofer Black (Vice-Chairman of Blackwater) at a 2006 military fair: "We're low-cost and fast, the issue is, who's going to let us play on their team?"

"Unlike national and multinational armies, which tend to get bogged down by political and logistical limitations, Black said, Blackwater could have a small, nimble, brigade-size force ready to move into a troubled region on short notice."

"Black's remarks were reported by Defense News, a military publisher that sponsored the conference where he spoke, the Special Operations Forces Exhibition."

The "two forces" idea is one I advocated over the past few years: one engaging the enemy, while the other "builds the nation". There are some problems in involving Muslim nations: Most of them are concerned about Al Quaida sympathizers in their own back yards, and won't do anything to agitate them (see Pakistan). Even the Muslim nations more likely to support world peace-keeping operations (Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco) have to be really worried about their own "home grown" sympathizers. For them to tread ground in Afghanistan won't happen too quickly.

Apart from this, nations like Pakistan have always benefited from the existence of the Afghan militants. These very same forces - along with Pakistan's ISI - have worked together to destabilize India's Kashmir region for years. The Saudi's have a lot of internal problems. Remember how they jumped to help in Gulf War I? Where are they now? They won't help chase after one of their native sons (Osama). Remember the Saudis bankrolled the whole Osama gang. The Egyptians won't risk domestic instability to venture into this quagmire.

It will be very hard to get Muslim nations on the ground in that land. And remember - there are some former Soviet Republics helping now (who happen to be predominantly Muslim). These nations could have been involved on the ground, but chose not too... and Al Quaida hides out in their back yard - in those countries - in the mountains.

The most practical solution may be for us to save $billions by hiring Blackwater - with US help and NATO financing - for the frontal role (they would train Karzai's army quite well), then use our forces to secure the main cities and the Khandahar Airport, while beginning the human process of rebuilding, and winning hearts and minds. Of course, then we'd have to contend with Blackwater's "collateral damage" every day.

Afghanistan will most likely end up being sub-divided after a civil war which the UN will be hard-pressed to stop. We have to hope the old "Northern Alliance" will reign supreme - although this kind of war will really come down to who wants it more. Already Karzai is doing everything he can to appear not too close to the West. The last thing he wants is to appear to be a Western puppet. We all recall what happened to the old regime the Soviets tried to prop up...

Harper has painted himself into a corner on this one - and it can only get worse. The longer we wait, the more Canadian casualties, and less world interest in jumping in feet first. Too bad theres no oil in Afghanistan. Only Karzai's opium.


Mushroom said...

Thanks for this perspective. What I have been advocating in a previous blogpost.

I support moving to peacekeeping. This does not mean not fighting insurgents that threaten UN troops whether they be warlords or the Taliban. The UN fought warlords in Somalia and did well, even though Black Hawk Down proved to be a PR disaster for Clinton.

Every NATO country has commandos ready to do special operations. Only the US is reluctant to put these forces under UN command. Maybe the problem is not NATO but the US.

WesternGrit said...

Definitely agree with your views on this. Peacekeeping includes offensive actions. I think (neo-Cons specifically) like to cast a disparaging eye at peacekeeping, as they think it isn't as sexy as full-scale invasions and such. In order to keep the peace our forces would have to - in certain situations - pursue and engage the enemy. We would also want to continue to have other nations rotating through the "war-zone" - so our forces wouldn't have to be targets at all (as the Conservatives seem to be saying). We could spend our time in the city of Khandahar - securing the airfield, helping the civilian population, and helping establish the security infrastructure needed to ensure the city does not come under attack. That includes training local security forces to protect their cities.

Love watching the Cons fear-monger over this issue.