Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Mark Collins – Canada and UN “Peace Operations”: Letter of Mine in Globe and Mail

November 8 in print edition–scroll down to the third letter at “War and peace” (links added):

Your editorial recommends that Senegal be the focus for renewed peace operations by the Canadian military (Start In Senegal, For The New Peacekeeping, Nov. 4). But the government has made it clear that the point of such missions is to support UN-led peacekeeping operations; unfortunately, there is no such UN operation in Senegal to support.

It seems much more probable that the government will commit some military personnel to the UN mission in Mali, with Senegal serving as a logistics hub to support both them and the UN mission more broadly.

The editorial also states that “a counterinsurgency in a chaotic, arid country such as Mali … would be outside the experience of most members of the Canadian Armed Forces.” That “arid country” sounds like Kandahar province in Afghanistan where thousands of Canadians fought a counterinsurgency against the Taliban from 2006 to 2011.

How soon we apparently forget.

Recently:

RCAF Chinook Helos for UN Peacekeeping Mali? Canadian Army?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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Mark Collins – ISIS, Islamism and Pakistan’s CT Failure

The very knowledgeable Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid (pieces for the NY Review of Books here) excoriates his country’s government:

Viewpoint: Pakistan’s Quetta attack blame game

The attack that killed 61 police cadets in Quetta has once again been followed by a government-led blame game. But the government has not faced up to its own failure to conduct a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy against all extremist groups.

Within a couple of hours of the attack on the Quetta police college on the night of 25 October, and even before sifting through the bloody evidence or taking statements from the 120 injured, government ministers immediately accused Afghanistan of helping the militants, who according to the government, belonged to an extremist anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

A few hours later, several groups claimed they carried out the attack but the most believable was the claim by so-called Islamic State (IS), as it also issued a photograph of the three heavily-armed assailants, who blew themselves up in the attack.

The authorities however are in a state of denial about the presence of IS on Pakistani soil. After IS released the photograph, the government claimed that IS had ”outsourced” the attack to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

It is not the first time the government has dismissed a claim by IS. In August, IS said it carried out the suicide bombing of a hospital in Quetta that killed 70 lawyers and patients – a claim that was ignored by the government.

Convenient scapegoat

The government claims to have eliminated LeJ in its two-year-long counter-terrorism operations. But the LeJ is still a convenient whipping boy when Islamabad is trying to deny that IS has political support in Pakistan.

Accepting that IS is prevalent in Pakistan would make a mockery of the government’s claims to have eliminated all terrorist groups that attack Pakistani citizens.

Denying that IS is in Pakistan has become standard operational procedure for the government.

However IS has a powerful presence just across the border in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. This week IS militants killed 30 civilians in Ghor province in central Afghanistan…

The government has also provided no evidence of its second major accusation that Afghanistan, with help from India, is involved in arming and training LeJ so that it can launch attacks in Pakistan.

Afghanistan is hardly in a position to orchestrate such attacks. And there is no evidence of any direct Indian involvement, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made no bones about his desire to see unrest in Balochistan in a tit for tat retaliation for Pakistan allegedly fuelling unrest in India-controlled Kashmir [see “Indian PM Modi Pours (RAW) Fat on Pakistan’s Baluchistan Fire“]…

For Pakistani authorities, passing the buck has become the standard response to any terrorist attack. Yet the government and army promised two years ago that its first task would be to cleanse Pakistani soil of terrorism, that it would set its own house in order.

The military has eliminated many groups that have threatened the state but two sets of extremist groups remain untouched.

Comprehensive strategy

The first are the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, whose leadership is settled largely in Quetta and Peshawar and now partly in Iran.

The Afghan Taliban come and go at will between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year Islamabad made serious efforts to persuade them to open talks with the Kabul regime but that effort has collapsed.

However, the real threat is that many militant groups receive protection and sanctuary from the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. These include multiple Pakistani groups, including the highly toxic Pakistani Taliban as well as al-Qaeda and groups from Central Asia, China, Chechnya and elsewhere…

The second grouping is the plethora of Punjabi groups that live in Punjab province along the border with India. Their significance has risen in recent months with their repeated attacks on Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir that have created a heightened tension between India and Pakistan.

It is unclear if these attacks were carried out by militants already in Indian-administered Kashmir or from the Pakistani side. The Indians believe the latter, while Pakistan insists there are no cross border attacks [see “Oh, Oh! Indian Troops Raid Pakistani Kashmir“].

Pakistan clearly needs to deal with these two sets of groupings in a more mature, realistic and believable fashion…

Mesdames et messieurs, faites vos jeux.

Earlier and very relevant:

Pakistan: What Can’t Be Said [Mr Rashid one topic]
Carlotta Gall [more here]

Pakistan’s Monster
By Dexter Filkins [more here]

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – ‘The U.S. did not “invade” Afghanistan’

A letter sent to the NY Times and not published:

Paul Theroux [website here] writes (“Pardon the American Taliban“, Oct. 23) that “after Sept. 11, the United States invaded Afghanistan on a punitive mission.” That is repeating a myth unfortunately but firmly fixed in most people’s minds.

After Sept. 11 the Afghan Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban did receive American air support and assistance from special forces, both U.S. and British; that, however, is no invasion as the term is commonly understood (e.g. the Soviet attack on Hungary in 1956).

It was not until after the fall of Kabul to troops of the Northern Alliance in mid-November 2001, and the subsequent collapse of the Taliban regime, that there was any continuing regular U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan. That began with a force of over 1,000 Marines which arrived near Kandahar in late November with the agreement of the Northern Alliance (which was still the UN-recognized government of the country).

In fact the support given in October and November 2001 to the Northern Alliance is a very close analogy to NATO’s support of the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya with air power. Yet no one refers to an invasion of Libya–while the myth of the invasion of Afghanistan lives on.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – How the US Army Went Wrong in Afghanistan

One simple thing: a personnel promotion system for officers that undermined effectiveness locally. Is the Canadian Army any different? Excerpts from a must-read post by a retired US Army officer at Tom Ricks’ blog The Best Defense:

Our generals failed in Afghanistan


The United States military failed America in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a tactical failure. It was a failure of leadership.

The ascent of David Petraeus and the Army’s rediscovery of counterinsurgency doctrine led many to believe that the military had dramatically adapted itself for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately the transformation was only skin deep. Petraeus was a myth, and the intellectual father of the Army only in the eyes of the national media. The institutional inertia of the military bureaucracy never caught up with the press releases. The result was a never-ending series of public pronouncements by senior leaders about the importance of counterinsurgency, accompanied by a continuation of Cold War-era personnel and rotation policies that explicitly short-changed the effort…

Taking the lessons of unit cohesion from Vietnam, the military has followed a policy in Afghanistan where entire units rotate in and out of country every seven, nine, or 12 months. This model, more than the policy of individual rotation in Vietnam, ensures both tactical proficiency and unit cohesion at the soldier level. But it also is completely ill-suited for a counterinsurgency campaign. It makes sense to limit the time soldiers spend conducting tactical operations, but leaders attempting to establish the kind of relationships and understanding necessary to be effective in counterinsurgency must be kept in place much longer. By changing out entire units so frequently, our policy has guaranteed that military leaders rotating through Afghanistan have never had more than a superficial understanding of the political environment they are trying to shape.

The shortcomings of this rotation policy in counterinsurgency have been further reinforced by an institutional culture and personnel management system that places a low priority on the advisory mission. From the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan the advisory mission was promoted publicly but given a low priority in execution.

The premier example of this mismatch between what military leadership said we were doing, and what the bureaucracy was actually prioritizing, can be found in the story of the AfPak hands program. The program was launched by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, and lauded as the key to shaping Afghanistan by creating a cohort of expert officers from across the services that would have the language skills and experience to build the kind of long-term relationships needed to build an effective Afghan security apparatus. While a priority for the Chairman, the effort was never embraced by the services.

Despite the fanfare and stated importance of the program, mismanagement and mis-utilization were rampant as this specialized cadre encountered personnel systems unable to support non-traditional career paths. Caught between career managers that saw the program as a deviation from what officers “should” be doing – leading tactical units – and a deployment system that often led to random staff assignments instead of partnered roles with Afghan leaders, the program quickly became known as an assignment to be “survived” if not avoided altogether.

A leaked briefing from the Army G-1, the service’s head personnel officer, to the Chief of Staff of the Army in 2014 confirmed that the AfPak Hands program had become a dead end for military careers…

In discussing what the Afghans need to be ready to fight the Taliban, a senior Pentagon official recently said, “The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics.” Yet, unaddressed by this official, and largely unasked by anyone, is why the Afghan military needs these capabilities when the Taliban have been able to achieve such success without them [WHY ARE THEIR AFGHANS BETTER THAN OUR AFGHANS?]?..

Our current exit strategy entails the creation of a massive security force designed for a nation with neither the effective bureaucracies nor functioning civil society that are required to sustain and control such a force…

Jason Dempsey retired from the Army in 2015, last serving as special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as the operations officer to an infantry brigade and again in 2012-2013 as a combat advisor to the Afghan Border Police. He returned again briefly in 2014 to assess the advisory mission. He is the author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations. He currently serves as an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security and Director of the Military and Veterans Initiative at Columbia University.

One wishes retired Canadian Forces’ personnel might engage is such institutional soul-searching. We had similar rotational policies in Afghanistan and one imagines promotional practices are not dis-similar. How many officers were fluent, or even somewhat competent, in Pushtu or Dari?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Afghanistan “Worth It”–Don’t Lose it

And keep in mind the truly nefarious role of miscreant Pakistan–excerpts from a major NY Times article, by a reporter with great Afghan experience, that is a clear message to the next American president (the current one really doesn’t care much):

15 Years in the Afghan Crucible
By CARLOTTA GALL [more here]

KABUL, Afghanistan — There is an end-of-an-era feel here these days. Military helicopters rattle overhead, ferrying American and Afghan officials by air rather than risk cars bombs in the streets. The concrete barriers, guarding against suicide attacks, have grown taller and stronger around every embassy and government building, and whole streets are blocked off from the public.

It has been 15 years since American forces began their bombing campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on Oct. 7, 2001, and sometimes it feels as if we are back to square one, that there is nothing to show for it.

The recent American military drawdown has been drastic — from over 100,000 troops a few years ago to a force of 8,500 today. Thousands of Afghans have been made jobless as bases and assistance programs have closed. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Taliban are on the offensive in the countryside, threatening to overrun several provincial towns and staging huge bombings here in the capital…

For Afghans, and for many of us who have followed Afghanistan for decades — I have been visiting the country since the early 1990s — the times are reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. The Communist government and army that the Soviets left behind survived only three years before they were overthrown by the mujahedeen in 1992.

The Taliban, supported by Pakistan, seem intent on repeating that scenario, hoping to seize control of a section of territory along the Pakistani border and declare once more their Islamic Emirate. Since the Taliban temporarily overran the town of Kunduz last fall, many Afghans have lost confidence that the government can protect them…

Despite years of denials from Pakistan, it is now widely understood that the Taliban has all this time been mentored and equipped by the Pakistani intelligence agency. Yet President Obama has failed, as did his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to end Pakistan’s long flirtation with Al Qaeda and its brand of terrorism.

Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, is still believed to be living in Pakistan, alongside the top Taliban leaders — and continues directing mayhem through his adherents across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. American Special Operations forces have been raiding Al Qaeda groups infiltrating back into Afghanistan over the last two years.

And the Pakistani military is ever more brazen in its support for the insurgents, even flying in retired military officers to train the Taliban by chartered helicopter — one crash-landed in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan in August bearing six retired military personnel and a Russian pilot.

Watching so many deadly attacks continue over the years with little done to prevent them at their source has been one of my hardest experiences as a reporter. And it is increasingly difficult to answer Afghans when they wonder how America could have been so blind or careless to ignore Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terrorism [see this interview with Ms Gall about a book of hers: “Pakistan, The Taliban And The Real ‘Enemy’ Of The Afghanistan War”]…

Reconstruction was frustratingly slow at first — even now, most of the country still does not have electricity — but has grown steadily. For years the roads were an agonizing trial of bumping and jolting, but these days journeys that used to take several days can now be completed in hours. In the provinces, administration buildings, schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations and even prisons have sprouted.

Over time I began to notice a new generation of trained professionals working in government offices: Young men with degrees in charge of district offices, teenage women teaching classes to the younger students, female graduates working in private universities, and officials in the ministries and embassies returning from abroad with master’s degrees and doctorates.

…Afghan friends and acquaintances rarely hesitate when asked whether the American intervention was worth it: “No question” is the usual response. There have been many painful mistakes, of course, but the building, the education, the defense and diplomatic support have all helped Afghanistan rise from the ashes.

Women especially have gained confidence…

Most Afghans say they will need American support in defense and diplomacy to counter the continuing threat of terrorism and to protect them from predatory neighbors beyond the 2017 deadline that President Obama has made for the drawdown. There is a real danger the Afghan Army could collapse next year if the fighting and casualties remain as intense, and so a continued United States military commitment will remain essential…

Peace will be a tall order and require a high level of American commitment for years more. But the result would be welcomed overwhelmingly by Afghans who have endured decades of war, and serve as a lasting tribute to the families of the American soldiers who died there.

Carlotta Gall, a senior foreign correspondent for The New York Times, spent nearly 12 years reporting in Afghanistan since 2001.

Meanwhile Canadians have essentially washed their minds of Afghanistan save for a wide-spread acceptance that it was not “worth it“. Fie on them; they should read Ms Gall’s entire piece.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Let’s Not Be Beastly to an Afghan-Canadian Cabinet Minister

A retired senior Canadian diplomat makes a heart-felt case:

Monsef’s place of birth shouldn’t have ‘serious consequences’
Ferry de Kerckhove is a Former high commissioner of Canada to Pakistan [now a CGAI Fellow]

Many people have expressed sympathy for Maryam Monsef, the federal Minister for Democratic Institutions [official webpage here], since the disclosure that she was born in Iran, rather than in Afghanistan. But there have been criticisms – which I simply can’t fathom – from MPs such as Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, who talked about “serious consequences” if the minister’s birthplace had not been accurately represented on her refugee and citizenship applications.

Do these people have any idea what region we are talking about? Does Ms. Rempel have any understanding of how volatile, porous and border-inconsequential the region was, where even dates of birth, when registered, between Muslim and Christian countries don’t match up? Does she, and those who chime in with her, realize that many Afghans sought refuge in Iran during both the Soviet occupation and the subsequent civil war culminating in the rise of the vicious Taliban regime?

The Afghan city of Herat (where Ms. Monsef’s parents married and where she believed she was born) and the Iranian city of Mashad (where she was actually born) are historically and geographically close. So Afghans would travel back and forth to Iran in times of duress; although they might have not been warmly welcomed, they were at least in a safer environment than in Afghanistan.

As a former Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan, from 1998 to 2001, I believe Ms. Monsef. Her family’s story is similar to the ones that my wife, who was an immigration officer responsible for refugees at the High Commission, heard many times. By the late 1990s, the city of Peshawar, where I had lived as a child, had mutated into a mini-Kabul, with millions of Afghan refugees, including a number of Taliban fellow travellers. People were travelling at great risk by bus, donkey and on foot for hundreds of kilometres from Afghanistan to Pakistan to try to persuade our immigration office to give them a visa while they waited in UN refugee camps.

My first diplomatic posting was to Iran, and I have a lot of sympathy for the decision of Ms. Monsef’s mother to seek refuge there…

Read on. And this would be ridiculous:

Maryam Monsef could be stripped of her citizenship without a hearing after revealing she was born in Iran

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – NJ/NY Bombings: How a Young Afghan-American Turned to Jihad

Ahmad Rahami’s sad story of a terrible inability to reconcile a clash of cultures–excellent in-depth reporting at the NY Times:

Journey From Class Clown to Suspect in Chelsea Bombing

If there was one child Mohammad Rahami had to worry about bringing shame upon the family, it was Ahmad. In the fifth grade, his teacher complained to Mr. Rahami that Ahmad acted like a king in class. In junior high, he broke a friend’s nose. Even worse was high school — after Mr. Rahami arranged for Ahmad to marry a good Afghan girl from Kabul, Ahmad dated a Dominican girl, getting her pregnant in his senior year.

The shame. They had falling-outs, so many of them. In the beginning, because Ahmad was just becoming too American for his conservative Afghan parents, who had moved to New Jersey after Mr. Rahami fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets as part of the mujahedeen in the 1980s. And then, in the last few years, they fell out over much darker fears. Ahmad spent hours watching videos on the internet espousing violent jihad, embracing some of the most prominent purveyors of that message: Bin Laden, Awlaki, Adnani, the men who in that world needed no first names. Mr. Rahami said he asked Ahmad to stop.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Rahami recalled telling his son, one of eight children. “You don’t know if they are real Muslims. You shouldn’t watch them. You have nothing to do with them.”

But nothing stopped Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, who now stands accused of bombings in New York and New Jersey and a string of other attempts

pool.jpg
Ahmad Rahami in high school. He is seen third from left, with Maria Mena hugging him from behind…

[In high school] Maria Mena, whose family was from the Dominican Republic, became Ahmad’s sweetheart. A photograph shows the couple in a swimming pool, with another couple and three friends, a diverse group, Maria smiling broadly and hugging Ahmad from behind. Mr. Rahami was furious at the relationship. The family had arranged for Ahmad to marry a woman in Afghanistan. He told his son that he could not have a girlfriend while he was engaged to someone else.

No surprise, but Ahmad did what he wanted. By senior year, Maria was pregnant. The teenagers were excited, holding hands in the hallways, grinning and touching each other. In a prom picture, Maria is pregnant, wearing a shy smile and a white dress. Ahmad seems happy, too, wearing a shiny pink vest and a matching tie over a white shirt.

His father had had enough. One day, Ahmad came to school upset, Ms. Podhradsky said. His parents were forcing him to move back to Afghanistan after graduation.

In early July 2007, just after Ahmad graduated, he was put on a plane — to Pakistan, it turned out — leaving behind his girlfriend, who would give birth to their daughter without him…

Please read it all.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Eagle’s India Full Court Press (unhappy Paks)

Further to these posts:

US SecDef Carter in India Pushing Military Cooperation
(note link at last para–tous azimuts)

Indian PM Modi in Washington–Goes for Defence Cooperation

the SecDef and the SecState are hard at it–Paks will certainly be most unhappy about 2):

1) Indian Defence Ministry Seeks Greater US Industrial Ties

As a sign of tightening bonds between the US and Indian militaries, the Indian defense minister this week will sit down with the top defense technology minds from both inside and outside the Pentagon.

Manohar Parrikar is in the US for a three day visit, starting with Monday’s meeting with his US counterpart, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and in comments Monday made it clear he intends to come away from his visit having increased ties between the US defense industry and that of his home country.

On Tuesday [Aug. 30], Parrikar will have a sit down with top US industrial companies, and in comments to the press Monday, the minister was not shy about his goal to “encourage” future tie-ups between US and Indian defense firms…

Very relevant:

Future F-16s Built in India, Including for Export?

2) United States, India Agree to Boost Anti-Terror Cooperation

The United States and India agreed Tuesday to boost counterterrorism cooperation by expanding intelligence sharing about known or suspected extremists and terrorist threats.

Speaking after conclusion of the second U.S.-India strategic dialogue in New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said the two countries also renewed their commitment to track down and prosecute perpetrators of several terrorist attacks on Indian soil, including the 2008 strike in Mumbai that killed 172 people and a January 2016 attack on the Pathankot Air Force base. India has blamed Pakistan-linked groups for the attacks [see “Pak Miscreancy vs India, or, ISI“].

Swaraj, speaking at a joint news conference with Kerry as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and her Indian counterpart, said the two sides had agreed on the “urgent necessity for Pakistan to disable safe havens and terrorist networks” and “on the need to Pakistan to do more to bring the perpetrators of (the two attacks) to justice quickly.”

She said she and Kerry had had a “meeting of the minds” on cross-border extremism that India and its neighbors face from militants in Pakistan. “We both agreed that nations must not maintain double standards, such as the categorization of good and bad terrorists, nor must they act as safe havens,” she said.

Kerry said the U.S. “stands with India against all terrorism no matter where it comes from.” But, he did say he had spoken recently with Pakistani officials about “the need for Pakistan to deprive any (terrorist) group of sanctuary.” He specifically named the Haqqani network that operates in Afghanistan as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been blamed for attacks in India…

Tuesday’s talks were being held against the backdrop of rising tensions in the disputed region of Kashmir, long a flashpoint between India and rival Pakistan [see end of the post]. They came amid some of the largest protests in Kashmir against Indian rule in recent years. At least 68 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the Himalayan region, mostly by government forces firing bullets and shotguns at rock-throwing protesters since early July.

On Monday, Indian authorities lifted a curfew imposed in most parts of India-controlled Kashmir as part of a 52-day security lockdown. But they re-imposed the curfew in the region’s main city after anti-India protests and clashes erupted in several neighborhoods.
Swaraj said India remained ready to open discussions with Pakistan but that such dialogue was difficult while India remains a target of Pakistan-based groups.

The U.S. has consistently urged dialogue between India and Pakistan on the dispute and, in a meeting with Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval, Kerry reiterated that position, according to U.S. officials.

The two countries also agreed to restart a three-way dialogue with Afghanistan over its future [earlier: “Afghanistan needs more Indian military aid: US”; meanwhile the Indians have their own plans well in play including gasp, Iran: “Indian Great Game to Bounce Paks in Afghanistan (take that Dragon!)“]…

Recently:

Bloody Weekend in Indian Kashmir (Canadian media ignore)

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – The Western Way of War Doesn’t Work in the GWOT

A very perceptive post I think at Milnet.ca:

Quote from: Thucydides on Today at 09:07:46

The issue here is 4GW [fourth-generation] warfare. So long as the enemy does not lose, they are winning, and so long as *we* are not building and supporting alternative structures and institutions to undermine the sort of structures and institutions *they* use to build and nurture support for their cause, then they have a distinct advantage. Playing “whack a mole” is a good short term solution, and expedient, but unless the hard work of nation building (or some acceptable substitute) is being done, then you simply need to go back and do it again.

Case in point is the US experience in the “Banana Wars” The US marines with a force of @ 3000 took the entire island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) as part of their larger strategy to control the approaches to the Panama Canal. The Marines were there on and off until 1934, and during that time they built roads, hospitals, ran the post office and instituted a tax collection system to keep things funded. However, since they apparently believed that the local would adopt American practice by osmosis, they did little to train locals and indoctrinate them. The results were predictable; one the Americans left, everything that wasn’t nailed down was stolen and everything else was left to deteriorate. Max Boot’s book “The Savage Wars of Peace” outlines much of this story.

You are correct that *we* in general have a very poor record of nation building and lack both the experience and patience to do so. Until we are willing to either go “all in”, accept and tell the public this is a short term expedient or apply the Roman solution (“They create a wilderness and call it peace”) then we may end up with a legacy of Afghanistans, where the job never seems to be finished and few people are satisfied with the results.

That I believe that 4GW is just a new, western interpretation of styles of warfare that have existed throughout history notwithstanding, the difficulty in applying our, western, style of warfare is problematic for many reasons. First, western nations view warfare as being a set of events that take place within a set period of time with clearly delineated periods of war and peace. Culturally, our opponents in the GWOT don’t see such distinctions, so are more inclined to take a long term approach to warfare and view it as a semi-permanent state of struggle rather than specific periods. As western nations view war as a distinct period it has led to a cultural desire to restore peace as quickly as possible leading to problem 2, being our style of warfare.

Western warfare, as indicated in US and western doctrine and the writings of Clausewitz and Jomini, emphasizes the destruction of the enemy military as the pre-eminent intent of a military. In Clausewtiz’s trinity, the destruction of the enemy military is critical as it allows the political element to establish the terms of peace. Where this is problematic is that our enemy views warfare more from a political than fighting standpoint, so the main point of western warfare, the decisive battle, is incongruent with them.

The problem with the GWOT is that we don’t have clear political aims for the war. “destroying terrorists” is simplistic and does not speak to the nature of the war in which we are fighting, a key issue in the Clausewitzian trinity. Further, as we are culturally indoctrinated to our style of war with it’s focus on the enemy and war being a specific period of time, we design militaries to engage in decisive battles to restore the political elements to create peace. In this way, we create a military that is akin to a “hammer”. As such, when we evaluate military manners we lean towards the problem of, “when your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails”. This leads us to try to solve all problems military by hoping we can engage and destroy the enemy, which isn’t feasible in our current conflict. Finally, as society views war and peace as separate entities, and war as a condition to be avoided or dealt with quickly, we tend to shy away from prolonged conflicts.

These are the key factors to why A-Stan wasn’t a “success” in the traditional sense. Over the long haul it could be but not now.

I wrote this earlier:

What to Do About the Bloody Middle East?

Poor bloody locals. If the West is truly willing to sort things out right now, are we then willing to rule–one way or another–for some decades or so to try to ensure things work out wellish? Triple double HAH! Given no willingness for, or today in the West intellectual acceptance of, such a prospect, then let us just face things honestly…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Stephen Saideman – The Afghan Mission: Canada’s military is willing to learn, but has it done so?

This post was originally published on July 21st, 2016 on OpenCanada:

Like most modern militaries, the Canadian Armed Forces consider themselves to be a learning organization. The risks are too high to not engage in extensive efforts to learn from past and on-going operations—people will die and missions may fail.

While researching Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan, I found that, of all of the parts of the Canadian political system, the CAF adapted the best, as they systematically engaged in lesson-learning exercises and as their leadership continually sought out expertise from within and beyond the military.

Indeed, not only do they learn lessons, but they share them. This distinguishes the CAF from the non-military decision makers – in 2011, the Harper government commissioned a report on lessons learned and then subsequently buried it. It is not just academics who cannot read it; the report has not been circulated within the government. A key step in lesson learning is dissemination, but the previous government apparently was afraid to admit mistakes.

Perhaps one reason why the CAF can learn is that the organization’s officers understand that it is not so special. One of the challenges in Canada during the time of the war in Afghanistan was that many actors focused on the Canadian experience and kept forgetting that the war was an allied effort. The CAF was aware at all times that what they were doing was not that different from what the British and Danes were doing in Helmand, what the Dutch and Australians were doing in Uruzgan, what the Americans were doing all over the place, and on and on. By constantly comparing and drawing upon the experiences of other countries engaged in the same effort, the CAF could figure out what they were doing well and what they could do better.

One challenge that the CAF could not overcome was how to be positive about the mission without setting unrealistic expectations. The Canadian military is much like its brothers and sisters in arms elsewhere: they are a can-do outfit. When asked to do something, they say yes and tend not to complain about it. Officers would come back from each deployment and tell everyone how well the Canadians were doing, and how well the war effort was going. Yet Afghanistan remained a deeply problematic place, and the mission was, alas, deeply flawed.

This relentless optimism might have been good for morale within the CAF, but it created a credibility gap between the CAF and the political world. We kept hearing how great things were going, and then we would watch the news and see that Afghanistan’s progress was slow and fragile at best. In future missions, the leadership of the CAF is going to have to talk plainer to the politicians and to the public about the challenges they face. Otherwise, they might find people will begin to simply doubt much of what they have to say.

This leads to the second big challenge: how to respond when asked to do something on the cheap. The biggest problem for the CAF in Kandahar was that they were always too small and under-equipped for the task they faced. When Paul Martin authorized General Rick Hillier to plan the mission, he provided a strict limit on how much it would cost. This forced Hillier into making a variety of difficult tradeoffs. The small size of the force meant that the CAF could not complete the counter-insurgency strategy of clear/hold/build as they did not have enough troops to hold territory that had been cleared until the Americans showed up late in the game.

The limited envelope also meant that Canada could not bring along helicopters, and thus became dependent on the allies to provide transport. While the U.S. and UK were very dependable for medical airlift, they did not have enough spare capacity to always transport the Canadians. This meant more convoys on Afghan roads seeded with landmines (improvised explosive devices, or IEDs) and, as a result, more Canadian casualties. Of course, the CAF will salute and say yes when ordered to deploy, but their leadership will need to learn how to advocate within channels for more resources when given risky tasks. This is not easy, but is a key lesson to learn.

Finally, the CAF, like the rest of Canada and the rest of our allies and partners, must learn about the limited utility of force. Canada and the rest of NATO could not kill their way to victory. To win these conflicts, the key battlegrounds are inherently political: who governs, how do they govern, on whose behalf, and so on. The job for the CAF and their allies was to provide as much security as possible while the politicians “fixed” the system and provided governance. This required reliable local allies, which are almost always in scarce supply (they naturally have their own agendas). It also requires the civilians at home to figure out how to do the political and development side of state-building. The results thus far of the most recent wars suggest we have not figured that out.

So, we all need to learn some humility. There is only so much we can do, which might mean saying no when asked to do the impossible.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs