October 12, 2009

Finally, some post-2011 clarity

This was the clearest statement we have yet seen from our government in terms of a residual military role in Afghanistan after 2011:

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, told CBC News there will be Canadian troops in Afghanistan after 2011, though "exponentially fewer."

"I would caution you against saying dozens or hundreds or a thousand, there will be exponentially fewer," Soudas said. "Whether there's 20 or 60 or 80 or 100, they will not be conducting combat operations."

Soudas said the government will shift its focus from combat operations and in-the-field training of Afghan police and soldiers to a development and reconstruction mission.

The military's training mission will continue in protected facilities, he added. Canadian troops' combat-mentoring role would end.

"You can do training in training facilities," Soudas said. "And when I say training, I mean Canadian soldiers will not be doing combat training of Afghan soldiers in harm's way."

Speaking in Welland, Ont., on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters the government would not seek to extend the mission authorized by Parliament in 2008.

"Well, let me be very clear " Harper said, "Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011."

That certainly seems "very clear" to me.

Posted by BruceR at 01:31 AM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Hands down, Tom Ricks' description of the battle of COP Keating.

It was tempting at first to write this off as the latest in what looked like an annual attempt to overrun an American outpost in Konar-Nuristan (Ranch House, 2007, Wanat, 2008, now this*), but this one is actually more troubling than those others.

Ranch House was by all reports a hell of a fight, but fatalities were relatively light and the Afghans never got inside the post itself. As the recent Cubbison report, linked here, describes in detail, Wanat was costly, but it was an attack on a new combat outpost literally at its most vulnerable time, within a couple days of its being established and before it was anywhere near fully fortified: tragic, but excusable.

COP Keating, however, shows major improvements in insurgent effectiveness. As the piece above relates, this was an attack on an established base housing two full platoons of Americans plus ANSF, a significantly larger force than those other attacks. The base that the attack helos supporting the COP were refuelling from some distance away was shelled through the day, showing a coordinated attack in two locations. And as at Wanat before, the initial attack/fire knocked out most of the COP's heavy weapons and mobility, electrical power and communications in the first minute.

The complete rout of the ANSF in location reported in this piece would be unfortunate, but not unexpected. We need to be absolutely clear: there is nothing, nothing we have created or will likely be able to field in any corner of the Afghan army in the next two years, or even longer, that could have withstood an attack as determined as this on its own. Only resolute and highly trained infantry backed up with nearly unlimited precision-capable artillery and air assets, could have confidently remained in this position as long as they did.

The only hope for Afghan military leadership if a foe of this quality were to remain undiminished at the end of our time in country (assuming that were any time soon) would be to adopt tactics and operational doctrine significantly different from what we've been using and teaching them to hold the eastern mountains, because these tactics will demonstrably lead to their deaths in large numbers; and/or to hope that in the absence of Western troops, the enemy wouldn't be quite as determined as this crowd clearly was to seek their adversary's annihilation.

We should also be realistic given an enemy that's this good in terrain this favourable for them about what we hope the Pakistani army could possibly achieve in the way of lasting effects against them on the eastern side of the same mountains, with their supposedly coming offensive in Waziristan. It should give us some idea why the Pakistanis clearly loathe to establish any permanent positions to control that area: they would not have fared even as well as Keating did, one suspects. And given that they seem to have had some difficulty retaking their own army headquarters from militants this weekend, one couldn't already help but feel Pakistani military abilities may be somewhat lower than we'd liked to have hoped, as well.

UPDATE: In case you missed them the first time, there's been some great war reportage on American forces in the Korengal area as the situation in this region deteriorated: Sebastian Junger from January 2008, and again from last October, and Elizabeth Rubin from February of last year.

*Also the overrun of COP Bari Alai, held by a US-Latvian OMLT company mentor team and their ANA charges, on 1 May of this year.

Posted by BruceR at 01:18 AM