Thursday, June 14, 2007

Afghanistan is worse than a year ago - Red Cross.


The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a report on the conditions in Afghanistan including an assessment of the humanitarian situation. To say it's not good would be a gross understatement.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is worse now than a year ago with "civilians suffering horribly", the International Committee of the Red Cross said today.

In a bleak assessment, the agency said the conflict had significantly intensified in the south and east of the country and was spreading to the north and west. The result had been a growing number of civilian casualties.

"Civilians suffer horribly from mounting threats to their security, such as increasing numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks, and regular aerial bombing raids," said Pierre Krähenbühl, the director of operations at the ICRC.

This, despite assurances from Harper's government that Canadian involvement in Afghanistan is making positive changes.

The updated assessment comes amid growing fears in the US and Britain that Nato forces have lost the initiative against the Taliban, which has gained momentum, particularly in the south.

Some 50,000 foreign troops led by the US and Nato are in Afghanistan, propping up the government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul, which is increasingly beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The ICRC has no political axes to grind. The assessment it provides is based on its "on-the-ground" experience and observations. This interview with Reto Stocker, the ICRC's Head of Delegation in Kabul spells out one of the more serious problems.

The conflict has both intensified and spread to the north and west of Afghanistan since 2006. The humanitarian situation remains extremely tenuous. Civilians are highly vulnerable to an escalation of the conflict and recurrent natural disasters. It remains very difficult for humanitarian organizations to have safe access to victims, especially outside major cities. Indiscriminate methods of warfare, including attacks that, while aimed at military targets, can be expected to cause many civilian casualties, or which are otherwise carried out without taking the precautions needed to spare civilians, have also increased the risks faced by the common people.
That's not pointing a finger at either side. That's a statement that says both sides, the insurgent fighters and NATO/US forces are using methods which put unarmed civilians at great risk. Whether it is roadside bombs or less than precision air attacks, civilians not involved in the fighting are being killed. And, since NATO and the US are clearly unable to contain the fighting, zones of relative quiet outside the engaged areas of Helmand and Kandahar are becoming no less dangerous.

One of the benchmarks to determine progress against the insurgency and a demonstration of significant reconstruction is the repair of the Kajaki Dam. The dam and its turbines would provide hydroelectric power to approximately 2 million people. Combat operations this spring were intended to force the Taliban out of the Kajaki Valley. However, villages in the area have become more sympathetic to the Taliban in recent months, owing in no small part to the civilian casualties created NATO and US operations and the destruction caused by air strikes. While NATO may have forced the Taliban out, the commanders on the ground know they can't prevent them from coming back.

Using the Kajaki Dam as a meter for major reconstruction yields a telling result. Zero.

The area around the Kajaki Dam is not considered secure enough to allow workers to go in and install the turbine.

The Afghanistan mission was botched from the early days of the US led assault. Too much reliance on the Northern Alliance to capture Al-Qaida and Taliban forces led to an escape which perpetuated their existence. A rush by the Bush administration to create the appearance of a democracy and hand over security to NATO led to a new force taking over a country that was anything but secure and far less stable than NATO commanders had been led to believe. There was a hasty shift by the US to focus on the invasion of Iraq which compromised Afghanistan stability.

In short, NATO, including Canada, was sold a bill of goods in an international con job perpetrated by the same neo-con regime which lied its way into war with Iraq.

I recently had a conversation with an old friend from my service days. He's still in the Canadian army regular force and has extensive experience resulting from many peacekeeping missions and reconnaissance operations. We pulled a few missions together to some pretty nasty places over the past couple of decades. He's a captain; not a general. He has held every non-commissioned rank in the army including an appointment as a regimental sergeant major. His assessment of the conditions in Afghanistan is bleak. He told me that while he was there he initially felt he was doing some good. As his tour wore on, however, he came to the realization that Afghanistan was an incredible mess and the current efforts of both NATO and the US weren't going to change that. He summed it up neatly using a familiar line:

"Go in big, or just stay home."

Exactly. The force that NATO now provides was intended to take a relatively secure place and make sure it stayed that way. The existing security, however, was mythical and not consolidated. And, given the strength of current forces in Afghanistan, it never will be. As my friend said, "We can win this, but not the way we're doing it now. This is just spinning our wheels. We're not changing anything."

It's time the Harper government came clean with its employers. Admit that, under the current structure, the Afghan mission is doomed to failure. There has been no progress.

The government has an obligation to the troops to ensure they are on a mission they can complete successfully. There must be a tangible measure by which to determine the mission is complete. Platitudes don't count.

Clearly, to secure Afghanistan is going to take a much more serious effort. If NATO is to remain in place, the forces there need to be strengthened by a factor of 10. The government of Hamid Karzai is little more than a puppet regime rife with corruption. It should be removed from the process of making final decisions.

Afghanistan needs to be occupied properly and have the instruments of self-government slowly introduced. Those were the things that were not done in the past. Afghanistan was treated as a rush job, akin to slapping a single coat of paint on dry, untreated wood and hoping it will last for 20 years.

If that isn't being considered then NATO, including Canada, needs to review the entire mission and produce an assessment of the projected results of their force capacity. No rosy speeches about how we could do so much good. If we're not changing things now, five years into this, we've already met with failure.

I've always supported the Afghanistan mission with serious reservations. I continuously question the worth of our presence.

The Canadian mission to Afghanistan needs to change. Either find a way to do it properly and effectively or withdraw. And that decision needs to be made now - not two weeks from now. The evidence is already there.

In its present form, I cannot support the current mission and Canadian contribution to NATO in Afghanistan. Get it changed or get out - now.

Update: The Globe and Mail's Alan Freeman has detailed a report issued by the International Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office. It was produced in November 2006 and, had it not been written before the ICRC report, it would echo the same findings.

What stands out, however, is that Harper and O'Connor were issuing statements which ran counter to the findings of the International Assessment Staff. The IAS found that Afghanistan, particularly in the south and west, was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with, that reconstruction was not proceeding, that the rule of law was not being enforced, that warlords, drug-lords and politicians seemed to be immune from the law enforcement process and that pervasive opium cultivation was linked to the increasing insurgency.

It is telling that the report was dated 9 November, 2006. It would have been delivered immediately. The question is why Harper and O'Connor delivered speeches and op-ed columns after the delivery of the report which suggested that the situation in Afghanistan was different than the truth which had been delivered to them?

There is no question that O'Connor either has no clue as to what is actually transpiring in any of his ministry's files or he is a bald-faced liar. Either way, O'Connor should be summarily dismissed.

I won't give Harper the benefit of any doubt here. He is dishonest and he lies.

Another reason to withdraw from Afghanistan revolves around the political situation in Ottawa. We have never gotten the truth out of Harper with respect to the Afghanistan mission. The failure of the government to be forthright and honest with the Canadian population as to the actual state of country where our people are being killed and maimed is sufficient reason to demand a withdrawal.

Unless Harper and his ministers can produce honest evaluations of the state of the mission they should not be permitted to endanger Canadian troops.

In short, they knew. And then they lied about it.

Hat tip reader Cat for the Guardian link.

Hat tip Dana for the G&M link.

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