November 08, 2010

Afghan deployment pt 4?

Interesting news coming out of Ottawa today, as the Canadian government seems to be reacting to considerable Opposition and foreign pressure to extend its Afghan mission.

Actually, if extended, this would really be the fourth Afghan mission: 2002 in Kandahar, 2003-2005 in Kabul, 2006 to 2011 back in Kandahar, and 2011 to 2014 (?) back in Kabul again. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, or something, I suppose.

The proposed mission would seem to involve a significant presence, of a size almost certainly without precedent in Canadian military experience, at the Afghan police and military training facilities in Kabul. Two weeks ago in a speech, the head of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan identified a shortage of 900 personnel for mid-2011 in his organization, half of them "specialty trainers... gendarmes, pilots, doctors, and other key enablers". This is presuming the manning bill that Canada's evaluating filling, albeit some months later than the general's looking for them for.

The Canadian public's line in the sand on this currently seems to be "behind the wire training," as opposed to the combat advisory mentorship role that was the greater part of the mission in 2006-2009. It's not clear from Caldwell's statement how much of that manning delta of his would accommodate those sorts of provisos. It's worth noting that any insistence on this is a "caveat" of sorts on our participation, something we once used to complain about our NATO allies doing in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Posted by BruceR at 09:44 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

Matthieu Aikins in the Walrus, "Last Stand in Kandahar." The cover photo(s) of Canadian soldiers in dress greens* are a little misleading as the article is less about the Canadian presence than it is about the effects of the ISAF presence as a whole on Kandahar and environs. Aikins talks about a lot of things that few other commentators have been noting about the situation, like the drain of any talented Afghans into support roles for ISAF:

As an internal ISAF assessment of Kandahar City noted, “An ironic side-effect of the American civilian surge in Kandahar is that, because we have hired many of the best educated and motivated Afghans to support us, fewer talented Afghans are available to work for the Afghan government itself in Kandahar City.”

More below the jump:

This is largely, as Aikins takes pains to explain, a result of the inflation which now pervades a Kandahar City flush with American dollars, making it irrational to do anything but short-term profit taking. The ISAF mission, as it turns out, has made it largely unaffordable to be an honest Afghan. This applies nowhere so much as it does to the Canadian model village of Deh-e Bagh:

The upsurge in foreign aid over the past year, most of it targeted for Deh-e Bagh, had created new resentments... [district leader Amadullah] Nazek had grown rich off the model village program. In a tag-team set-up classic to post-2001 Afghanistan, his brother, Fatay Khan, who ran a construction company, had become the primary contractor for Canadian and American projects routed through the district’s leadership. As an internal ISAF report published last March pointed out, “Working solely through Fatay Khan allows Nazek to control every aspect of development contracting, and to maximize his own profits.”

He talks about alleged waves of persecution by pro-government Afghans against those traditional rivals they could finger as pro-Taliban:

After the fall of the Taliban, Sherzai and other strongmen launched a campaign of persecution, kidnappings, and harassment against their rivals, often aided and encouraged by international forces, who were content to take their allies’ word that the houses being raided belonged to Taliban members. “We have a saying: if someone tells you the dog stole your ear, you should check your ear before you run after the dog,” a Kandahari friend commented to me. “The Americans were never doing that.”

One observer alleges that oversight of ISAF expenditures is significantly worse now than it was a couple years ago:

Furthermore, Nisar Ahmad Rashedi, a mid-level contractor who has worked for both the Canadian and US militaries in the province since 2004, told me his experience was that as the volume of contracts increased, oversight decreased. “The Canadians were making small contracts for $5,000, and they were checking,” he said. “The Americans are not checking, and they’re paying $50,000, $60,000 or even $100,000 per contract.”

The inflation has been crippling:

The torrent of easy money has unleashed bizarre market forces and affected every level of Afghan society. Once the Americans arrived, the most lucrative activity for a smart, connected person in Kandahar City, hands down, became to get a cut of the pie. Construction companies and development agencies were paying drivers and interpreters five to ten times the salaries of teachers or civil servants. For those with access to contracts or subcontracts, fortunes could be made. It was irrational to want to be a member of the government or the army — an honest one, at least. Inflation became so rampant that the few hundred dollars a month those jobs offered could barely provide for a small family.

With the local ANP now charging businesses $250 a month per officer to provide their 'security', and "Given the perverse incentive system ISAF has created, powerful Afghans now have a strong interest in perpetuating the conflict," Aikins reports:

Under ISAF, international money — along with income from drugs and smuggling — has eaten through Afghan government and society like a universal solvent."

His conclusion:

...the successes of Deh-e Bagh, such as they were, were no less bound up in the virulent network of corruption that has brought stability to a few other parts of Kandahar while alienating the rest. This network has grown alongside the Western forces since they created it in 2001, and it gets stronger with every bullet or meal consumed by soldiers and development workers brought in for the surge. Nation building, as practised by the military in Afghanistan, has become self-defeating.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that this is the largest, almost unbeatable problem with large scale non-host nation counterinsurgency, and for that matter, how we Canadians once saw "responsibility to protect" missions in general. For western countries to deploy sufficient numbers of their own troops to thoroughly pacify a "failed state" requires the injection of so much economic and social distortion that any positive effects of the troop presence risk being completely negated. It is not irrational to conclude that "nation-building" in the worst parts of the world can only be done with a much lighter footprint. Which comes with its own set of problems of course (see also Congo, Democratic Republic of).

*And while I'm at it, since when did we start taking our dress uniforms to Kandahar? I sure didn't. Where and when were these photos taken, exactly?

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM