April 19, 2009

He's baaack...

Safe and sound in Toronto. Thanks for all who've sent best wishes over the last 7.5 months. (Six month tours, yeah, I can't believe I fell for that, either).

My end-tour thoughts from my time with the Afghan army are yet to be written, at least in non-militarese or at a shareable classification level. My mid-tour thoughts, for those that missed them, made a recent issue of the U of T Magazine, here.

Update: Mark C. says I'm depressed, neglecting the past-present distinction I make above. It's fair to say halfway through my tour I was feeling a little overwhelmed. As for my feelings now, I'd say it's just as easy (and wrong) to be overly optimistic about Canada's commitment to the Afghans as it is to be overly pessimistic.

I think when the history books are written they'll say that Canadian soldiers, particularly those on my rotation, most of what we did was holding part of the line and helping keep hope alive, holding a situation in stalemate until sizable forces capable of winning the war could finally arrive. That was our country's strategic role in two world wars as well, so we shouldn't be ashamed to repeat it today. And it's no shame at all to say that in retrospect we had little chance of bringing a lasting peace with only the numbers of forces that had been committed to the security of Kandahar Province before I arrived. Now, as in 1917 and 1942, those numbers are changing in our favour, thankfully.

The lure of excessive optimism is perhaps hardest to resist in the area I learned the most about, the Afghan security forces. There is SO much still to do there: we are still years away from having an army or a police force that can fight independently alongside us, let alone in our absence. The most that should be said of what we've been able to accomplish there to date is that the signs so far are promising. In my tour, we helped keep them at their posts, and certainly some of them are alive today who wouldn't be because we were there. But the rate of loss among the police is still appalling, and there still aren't half as many soldiers as we need.

The idea we will leave in 2011, with the Afghan security forces anywhere near where we want and need them to be before that date, is... unrealistic, I'm afraid, and because of that ongoing capacity shortfall, all the other lines of progress we might wish to pursue may well remain dependent on Western military guarantees after that date, as well. What we need to decide as a nation is how we come to terms with that. And we don't get any closer to any kind of a smart decision by getting all pie-eyed about it. More on this at some later date.

Posted by BruceR at 04:35 PM