As luck would have it, the Canadians would be the lead country in Kandahar province, the virtual heart of Taliban country. The insurgents couldn't believe their luck. They expected to impose heavy casualties on the under-rated Canadians, breaking their will to fight and forcing them to abandon the NATO mission. This would cause a split in NATO and the eventual withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.
Instead, the Canadians stood their ground, took the fight to the insurgents and drove them out of the Panjwai district in a humiliating public retreat. The victory, which still hasn't been given the recognition it deserves in Canada, destroyed any illusions the Taliban might have had that they could defeat NATO in open battle for territory.
The defining battle in 2007 is being fought by the British in Helmand province. It is the battle for Kajaki Dam.
Kajaki Dam is nothing less than the largest reconstruction project the West has planned for Afghanistan.
Successfully completed, it will bring electricity to two million people, taking them on a great leap forward from a fourteenth century lifestyle into the twentieth century.
But its shaping up to be a modern-day equivalent to the epic Labours of Hercules.
- First the British have to clear Taliban fighters out of the valley where the Kajaki Dam is located.
- Then they have to build a new road up the valley from the main road that links the major cities of Afghanistan (it's like the Trans-Canada Highway only circular) to the dam.
- Then they need to drive two 12-tonne transformers and a 26-tonne turbine into the mountains.
- Then they need to provide security for the work crews while they install the new equipment.
- After that, they have to build a transmission line which will eventually stretch 118 miles from the dam to Kandahar City.
It's hoped electricity from Kajaki's repaired turbine can be flowing by early 2008. But the Taliban understand that the Kajaki Dam project will be the turning point in the Afghanistan insurgency, and they're doing everything they can to stop it.
This spring the British began a series of rotating offensives centred on the Kajaki Dam project. They drove Taliban fighters out of the Kajaki valley. They drove them out of Sangin, a village at the other end of the valley, and where British forces had been under a virtual siege most of last year. Starting Tuesday, they've started an offensive to drive the Taliban out of the Gereshk district which is where the existing dirt road meets with the main ring road.
Time is not on the side of the British. To achieve the goal of electricity by 2008, they have to start work on the road to Kajaki Dam within a month.
Taliban fighters continue to harass British troops and create instability to deter work crews. NATO forces are playing whack-a-mole with the insurgents who show up almost daily to lob mortars at British forces. U.S. and NATO aircraft are continually on the lookout for these Taliban forces and bomb them into oblivion whenever they catch them. But they've kept coming.
Still, the British have only to look to neighbouring Kandahar province to see what the fruits of victory look like.
The Panjwai district, a war zone last year, is universally seen as a relatively peaceful area now. Residents who fled the fighting have returned, the markets are open and a variety of aid projects are underway.
The Taliban concentrate their attacks on ambushes, roadside bombs, rockets (two a week, according to Thursday's National Post), and suicide bombers.
IEDs, the roadside bombs, have killed 19 Canadian soldiers in the last three months. The Canadian military has issued a $1.8 million contract to two B.C. based companies to adapt the police technique of geographic profiling for use in Afghanistan.
Developed by former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, geographic profiling in combat is being used in Iraq. "Quite successfully," said Major Dave Waller, a project director with Defence Research and Development Canada, the military's research arm.
If there's one black mark in Kandahar, it's still the footdragging of CIDA, the agency that's supposed to be financing most of Canada's reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. CIDA has transported its stultifying bureaucracy to Afghanistan to the point where Canada's reconstruction effort currently consists of endless meetings, consultations, discussions, planning, and announcements. Everyone knows it; nobody wants to admit it.
So where does the Afghanistan mission stand after a year and a half of NATO involvement?
The Education War is won.
As we wrote in The Black Rod in the very first War in Afghanistan piece, http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2007/01/war-in-afghanistan-2007-week-one.html ,
education was always the Taliban's weak link.
Mainstream reporters periodically write or broadcast stories about the Taliban's attacks on schools, teachers and students. They paint a picture of chaos in the education system as a result of these assaults. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Yes, insurgents are burning schools, killing teachers and threatening parents who send their children, especially their daughters, to school. They occasionally murder schoolgirls in cold blood to intimidate villagers.
But they've ultimately failed.
What the MSM stories always leave out is that Afghan parents are defying the Taliban by the millions. They are sending their children to school even at the risk of death. The Taliban cannot stop it and cannot co-opt it. A generation of literate Afghans is being created, one which will never accept the medieval lifestyle of the fundamentalists.
The Electricity War has started
As we said, this will be the tipping point. If the British and their allies can bring this to a successful conclusion in the next year or even two, the insurgents will not be able to recover. What inducements can they offer two million people who will have power to their houses, electric lights, irrigation for their fields, satellite TV, radios, everything we take for granted, but which is only a dream to the Afghans.
The Opium War
This is where the mission will end successfully or falter. International forces will eventually have to join with the central Afghan government in a full-scale eradication of the poppy fields.
The drug lords provide the Taliban with fighters and the bulk of their financing in exchange for protection of the poppy fields and help during harvest.
The Taliban wiped out the opium trade when they were in power, and the world did not come to an end in Afghanistan. It can happen again. And if the Taliban is to be defeated it has to happen.
The seeds have been laid.
Roads are being built to cut the time to markets from days to hours. Electricity will bring irrigation for land which can now grow poppies and little else. The poppy farmers won't want to shift to alternate crops. That's not the point. Farmers in Canada would grow marijuana if they could without too much hassle from the authorities.
To defeat the Taliban, the opium trade will have to be destroyed to starve the insurgency of its main source of funding.
Done successfully, Afghanistan can foresee itself as the Israel of the East. It will be a sovereign country surrounded by other countries (Pakistan, Iran) which will work to keep it weak and subservient. It will likely have to fight a low level insurgency for decades. But, like Israel, it can thrive, providing its citizens a better life with each generation.
Well, we said the sands are shifting almost daily in Afghanistan.
Since Sunday, U.S. forces have been fighting in the Musa Qala district. More than 160 insurgents are said to have been killed, including 50 on Thursday in a 12-hour battle.
Is this the long-awaited push to retake Musa Qala?