From our Kandahar mission’s beginning back in 2006 it was always a battle of hearts and minds, a long grinding struggle to win the trust and allegiance of the Afghan population.
I can hear the voices of so many Canadian officers telling me that the situation in Panjwai is “fragile but improving,” that “two steps forward and one step back” is simply the pace of the war. They may have been right. But that’s past tense, because NATO just took 16 steps back in Panjwai, and that may well be enough to sear this mission to an early end.
That a U.S. soldier went berserk and killed 16 innocent people — many of whom were children — is a bizarre tragedy. But the repercussions of the tragedy may be even more tragic. The long effort to build trust in Panjwai, for which so many Canadians died, now appears imperiled.
Even before the slaughter, there were increasingly insistent calls by highly informed observers that things are going wrong, going badly, that things will not turn out well. The plan of training Afghan security forces to a size of more than 300,000 and then leaving them to it? Even if there was some way to pay for it (which there isn’t, the Afghan government can’t pay more than a small fraction of the bill for such a force, and expecting a yearly $10 billion payout from NATO or the U.S. in the post-2014 period seems, well, increasingly unlikely) the prospect of the ANA standing as a cohesive force and defending the Afghan government has been thoroughly questioned. The net effect of all this training, some say, will be “half a million gunmen on the loose.”
It’s time for a new strategy. It now appears Canada’s military and political leadership made a prescient decision by withdrawing our troops from counter-insurgency operations (ie; combat) last year. It’s time for the U.S. to reconsider if anything more can be accomplished by western military force in places like Panjwai. The new strategy should be based upon independence for Afghanistan — and that’s a euphemism for ‘we should leave.’