Thursday, March 29, 2007

Afghanistan: Reality and Stoned Policemen

An anti-opium billboard in Kabul (photo credit: AFP)

I don't why the National Right-Wing Post editors let this depressing anti-Afghanistan war propaganda appear in their paper (maybe they're starved for readers?) but, nevertheless, here it is:

OTTAWA — Two leading experts on Afghanistan painted a sobering picture of the conditions there Thursday, arguing support among Afghans for NATO forces is plummeting, the U.S.-driven policy of poppy eradication is wrongheaded, and the war might not be winnable in its present form.

U.S. scholar Barnett Rubin and Gordon Smith, Canada's former ambassador to NATO, delivered their withering comments to a parliamentary committee only days after Canada's top military commander, Gen. Rick Hillier, touted the progress being made in Afghanistan.

Hillier, the chief of defence staff, this week predicted Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan should soon see a rise in attacks from the Taliban. But he insisted on using the term "surge" rather than "offensive."

surge, where have I heard that before?

Rubin, who has been to Afghanistan 29 times and followed it for more than two decades, said Thursday that many Afghans are growing frustrated with the pace of Western efforts to stabilize the country.

"They're not at all happy. Support for both the international presence and the government has plummeted in the past year or so," he told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

He said Afghans aren't seeing the results of promises by the United States and NATO, which took over the mission in 2003, to increase security, establish democracy and improve the economy.

"The main complaint that I hear from Afghans is not that we're imposing something on them that we don't want, but that we haven't delivered what they think we promised."

Gee...that sounds familiar too...

Smith, meanwhile, threw cold water on Hillier's suggestion that Canadian troops are facing a weakened enemy.

There is evidence that al-Qaeda-affiliated militants, who often fight alongside the Taliban, are actually gaining strength, said Smith, now executive director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria.

"The al-Qaeda problem has not gone away," he told the committee. "It's important that we not forget the original motivation for going to Afghanistan, and that was to deal with al-Qaeda."

Smith recently released a critical report of his own, entitled "Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working?" He questions whether NATO can achieve its stated goals, even within a period of 10 years. Canada has committed to maintain its military presence until 2009.

"If we're serious, and we've got to be serious, we'll be there for a long time," he said.

And the so-called "new" Conservative government has even budgeted for that possibility while trying to make everybody believe we're only in this until 2009.

And about that opium issue...:

MAIWAND, Afghanistan (AFP) - Colourful ribbons tied to their Kalashnikovs and opium flowers decorating a van, police in flip-flops meet with Canadian soldiers about a new anti-Taliban operation in southern Afghanistan.

Well, at least our troops were greeted with flowers.

The Canadians, part of a NATO-led force, had been on time for the rendezvous with the district police chief at a highway checkpost in Kanadahar province's Maiwand, known as a through route for Taliban and drugs traffickers.

Three scruffy policemen were on duty, lounging on wooden beds and watching the cars pass. "The boss is not here. He is in Kandahar. Didn't you know?" said one, Abdul Wassi, with a smile.

He was wearing a long traditional shirt because his uniform "is being washed."

Wassi put in a call to the deputy of the district, named Gulali.

The "commander" arrived in a whirl a few minutes later at the wheel of a van with opium flowers attached to the bumpers at the front and three teenagers on the back, green, blue and yellow ribbons attached to their guns.

"They have just come back from an operation to pull up opium poppy," Wassi explained.

Canadian officer Alex Ruff, nearly twice the size of Gulali, told the deputy the evening's operation was to disturb Taliban expected to move through the area to flee offensives in neighbouring Helmand province, further west.

"We are going to reinforce this post and I need all your men," he said to Gulali, whose eyes were lowered.

"We do not have enough vehicles," the Afghan replied, still not looking at the Canadian. "Do what you can," was the reply.

There are about 250 policemen in Maiwand, a Taliban stronghold. Among them are "auxiliary policemen" who are recruited by tribal chiefs and receive a gun and a uniform after two weeks' training.

The Canadians do not really expect this small post to do much to stop the Taliban. "Two or three guys in a hut, armed with rifles, could not do much if they were attacked. They could not even stop a vehicle," said one soldier.

Wassi said he searches two or three vehicles a night and about 10 in the day.

"I am not afraid even though the Taliban captured and decapitated four policemen from this post a few months back," he said.

Night fell and Canadian armoured vehicles discreetly took positions around the post, ready to intervene should anything happen.

"There will be no clashes. The Taliban know you are here," one Afghan policeman said.

In the meantime, about 20 policemen had blocked the road for a few hours, "high after smoking opium and searching everything that moves," a Canadian soldier said.

There was no incident apart from some trucks turning back after seeing the roadblock.

Ruff, the Canadian officer, said he does not have much confidence in the police in a district where the governor himself is suspected of being involved in the trafficking of opium, of which Afghanistan is the world's top producer.

Poppy-induced freedom is definitely on the march.

Yes, DynCorp has sure done a heckuva job in Afghanistan of (not) training the police there. Give that company the Medal of Freedom!

No comments:

Post a Comment