Friday, April 04, 2008

Theatre. Pure theatre.

It should be filmed and sent to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Ever since the Manley Report was issued the question was out there. Would Canada receive the 1000 troop reinforcement the Manley Report demanded as a condition for continuing the Afghanistan mission past 2009?

The answer had to be "yes".

Harper is making a big deal about how he spent, well, days on the phone talking to the leaders of NATO allies looking for the magic 1000.
Harper said that he never doubted Canada would get the support it was seeking from its allies. He began a round of telephone diplomacy directly to world leaders in late February after the report of the independent panel led by John Manley recommended that the prime minister lead the diplomatic push for more military help.

"I've never been in any doubt of this ever since my very early discussions," Harper explained. "Not that I had been given precise commitments since Day 1."

No precise commitments, however, there had already been word from the Pentagon that they were planning an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan. Harper and company are trying to feed you a line. This is pure spin designed to make Harper look like an international man-of-action and a tough negotiator who gets results.

First though, one has to ask where Manley came up with the magic 1000? Manley says it was based on advice from Generals Rick Hillier and Guy LaRoche. That's quite likely, but in the Manley Report the number "1000" is an approximation. The actual recommendation in the Manley Report is a Battle Group. That would suggest a mixed tactical force of infantry, artillery and armour built around either a full strength infantry battalion or armoured force. What Manley never specified in his report is what that battle group is supposed to be. In short, it's nothing without further definition. And Canadians have been led around with the magic 1000 figure as the government translated the approximation into a final figure.

Manley never footnoted his report but he did include lists of persons he spoke to. Given that he actually spoke to several highly placed NATO commanders, coming up with one battle group to reinforce an area with high-intensity fighting seems a little skimpy. Those same NATO commanders are calling for reinforcement across Afghanistan ranging from 4 brigades to 4 divisions. They say Afghanistan can't be won with piecemeal troop increases.

What is even more curious however, is the fact that Manley never spoke to the Commander US Central Command. Why not? Central Command is responsible for prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

Canada maintains a liaison staff at Central Command known as Task Force Tampa on Operation Foundation. Manley never spoke to any of them according to his list. In fact, there is no indication he even set foot in the offices of USCENTCOM. That's a little strange considering the prominence that USCENTCOM has in relation to Operation Enduring Freedom and the fact that the commander of Task Force Tampa is charged with keeping USCENTCOM apprised of Canadian activities and intentions in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

The fact is, the Bush administration has been talking about a troop increase in Afghanistan since January. In fact it extended the tour of the 10th Mountain Division by 4 months as a part of a visibly permanent increase.

Things don't happen in a vacuum.

Today the US announced a significant increase in US troop levels in Afghanistan. No one is yet sure what the numbers will look like.

Gates said he believed it was too early to decide how many additional combat forces the United States should plan on sending in 2009. He said it would depend on several things, including the extent of U.S. and NATO success on the battlefield this year, as well as the impact of a new senior U.S. commander taking over in coming months. Gen. David McKiernan is due to replace Gen. Dan McNeill this spring as the top overall commander in Afghanistan

McNeill has said he believes he needs another three brigades — two for combat and one for training. That translates to roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional troops. The Bush administration has no realistic hope of getting the NATO allies to send such large numbers.

McKiernan on Thursday told Congress that while he can't yet say how many more troops he would want there, he believes he needs additional combat and aviation forces, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and training and mentoring teams.

In remarks to reporters after Bush made the statement at the summit Thursday, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said any extra U.S. combat troop deployments would be in southern Afghanistan, where fighting is heaviest.

Gates said he believed that was a logical possibility but that it was too early to say they would go to the south.

That's today. This was yesterday.

Harper confirmed that France's proposal — which would free up U.S. soldiers to go to Kandahar — along with "considerable" progress in acquiring unmanned surveillance drones and large helicopters, met the demands Canada had set out to extend its mission to 2011.
Ambiguity, meet Steve Harper.

Any US troops redeployed in Afghanistan, regardless of what banner they are operating under, would come from USCENTCOM's order of battle. Just planning it would be a detailed undertaking. If the US is really planning on moving troops, the idea was spawned months ago and it would have been the result of some serious and tough negotiations. Canada would have been screaming about the disproportionate casualty rate being endured before the last rotation.

And why didn't Manley visit CENTCOM? We may never know for sure, but consider that if Canada had been raising hell in Tampa about combat losses and a force stretched to the limit, there is a very real likelihood that the Americans had already agreed, once there was a reduction in the number of brigades in Iraq, to bolster the Canadian force in Kandahar. The caveat the Americans would likely have attached is that every attempt be made to find troops in NATO. In any case, a discussion with the Commander USCENTCOM would likely have revealed a commitment in principle to provide an equivalent battle group.

Of course, the American commitment depends entirely on somebody other than Bush and his administration. The final decision will rest with a new US president.

In the meantime, the best we can do is sit back and watch the theatre.

No comments: