It's been quite a while since our last War in Afghanistan report so we've got a lot of catching up to do before we can get back into the rhythm of our weekly reviews of events.
So let's start with the broad strokes.
1. Victory in Iraq.
Even the most ardent defeatists now admit it. We won. We, as in the West, but particularly the United States and its allies in the Coalition.
Al Qaeda was sent packing. Their terror tactics failed. A new Iraq is climbing out of the rubble left behind by Saddam Hussein and the Islamic terrorists who saw in his defeat an opportunity to confront and humiliate the United States. Instead, it was they who were humiliated by being forced to run for their lives, run back to Afghanistan whence they came.
It's important to collect the names of those who wanted to quit in the darkest days, who wanted to surrender to the terrorists, who wanted to give up the fight for freedom and democracy once the fight got hard. We need to know whose judgement is bad, whose opinion not to respect because of their track record of failure.
We'll start with someone we flagged one year ago---
War in Afghanistan 2009 Week 13
"This war is lost."
It was April, 2007, almost exactly two years ago. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking for the Democratic Party, declared the Muslim terrorists had won the war in Iraq.
"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and - you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows - (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything...," said Reid.
2, There's been another successful election in Afghanistan.
The Taliban did their best to derail the election and the Americans did their best to defeat incumbent President Hamid Karzai (What do we know about Afghani politics? We're depending on the analysis of Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, writing in Asia Times Online http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KI01Df02.html)
You can tell this was a real contested election because one presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani-- Afghanistan's finance minister and, according to pundit Bhadrakumar, America's favorite -- even hired U.S. political consultant James Carville to help his campaign.
Ghani came in third, there was going to be a run-off election until the second place contender dropped out and Karzai was declared winner, again. The election was followed by a barrage of complaints about fraud. (We did say Democrat adviser James Carville was involved in the election, didn't we.) But...so what? There was an election. If somebody thought it was important enough to fix some ballots, that's a sign of progress. It shows that the seed of democracy has been planted and has taken root.
Elections are now part of the Afghan landscape, replacing the guns of warlords. That part of our mission has been successful.
If legitimate elections were the bottom line for legitimacy in backward, third-world countries, then we would have to expel three-quarters of the U.N. Let's give Afghanistan points for trying.
3. The United States has taken over the major fighting, with the British as their right hand and Canadians right behind.
No more nonsense about a multi-national NATO mission. U.S. troops are flooding into Afghanistan and by August there will be 30,000 more than last year. They've taken over the mission in Kandahar, where the Canadians are stationed, and there's no hiding the fact that now the war is on in earnest.
With Al Qaeda retreating to their hideouts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they've brought their war home and the U.S.has stepped up to take them on again. The ferocity of a real war is showing in the death toll.
- In 2009, 318 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan, more than double the 155 in 2008.
- 2009 was the bloodiest year yet for international troops. 519 were killed, a 75 per cent increase over the previous year.
- Britain, with 264 dead, had the second highest death toll, while Canada had the highest in proportion to the size of its force; 29 Canadians died in combat-related incidents, one committed suicide and two died in an air accident.
We must have blinked and missed it because it's May already and nobody is talking about the "feared Taliban spring offensive." Remember how the mainsteam press would salivate every year at the latest prediction of Taliban victory over U.S. and NATO forces? This year---nothing.
4. And here's probably why. Pakistan has engaged the Taliban at last.
For the better part of the decade, Pakistan refused to fight Taliban insurgents who fled Afghanistan every winter to rest and rebuild their strength for the next spring offensive. Then along came Baitullah Mehsud, the fresh young leader of the Pakistani Taliban who decided that the government was weak enough to overthrow and replace with a fundamentalist Islamic regime. He launched a campaign of terror against the government including a wave of suicide bombings of cities that killed hundreds of Pakistanis. Finally, the government said "enough." They launched military excursions into the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan last year, devastating the Pakistani Taliban strongholds.
And one day, a U.S.drone zeroed in on Baitullah Mehsud and blew him to pieces. His successor Hakimullah Mehsud tried to pick up the pieces (of the insurgency, not Baitullah) and was, himself, blown up by a drone earlier this year. He apparently survived, but the worse for wear.
5. The drone war has Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders stymied and scurrying about in constant fear of sudden death from the skies. The terrorists in terror. What irony.
Over the past five years, Predator and Reaper drones that are operated by the CIA have killed at least 15 senior Al Qaeda commanders, plus top Pakistani Taliban leaders and more than 500 fighters.
The Long War Journal, a website that uses news reports and security sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan, estimates that more than 1,100 insurgents were killed last year in drone attacks while civilian deahts were 43.
Pakistani Taliban leaders have demanded an end to the drone overflights and Pakistani politicians complain the drones are unacceptable intrusions into national airspace.
But a survey of 550 tribal area residents last year conducted by an independent think tank based in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, found that while people would prefer their own government would drive the insurgents out, they accept the drone attacks, even when innocent people are killed accidentally.
The Los Angeles Times carried a report on drone attacks Sunday. (U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan get mixed response, May 2, 2010, Los Angeles Times.)
"Many of them told us they would like these bastards to be killed, but would like the Pakistani state to do it,'' said Khadim Hussain, coordinator at the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. "They say they're unable to dance their traditional dances, or assemble without the permission of the local militant commander. These things trespass on their honor code, their lifestyle and their culture."
58% said drone attacks did not foster anti-American sentiment. Fifty-two percent said the strikes were accurate, and 60% said they damaged insurgent groups. Farhat Taj, an anthropologist who grew up in the area, said residents of some tribal areas aren't concerned about drones violating Pakistani sovereignty because Pakistan doesn't exercise control there, anyway.
In some tribal areas that have not been targeted, such as the Malakand district of the North-West Frontier Province, residents have requested drone attacks against local militants, said Samina Ahmed, project director for the International Crisis Group in Islamabad.
Some analysts say that not all civilians are equally mourned. The strike that killed Taliban leader Mahsud, for instance, also killed his wife and her parents. Family members perceived as helping militants are not much mourned, particularly if they are Arabs or other outsiders, some researchers say.
5. Canada has found the limit to its military commitment
We spent 30 years doing "peace-keeping" on Cyprus. But three years in a real war is long enough.
- We don't have enough soldiers. We can't keep rotating the same bunch in and out forever.
- The equipment is breaking down from constant use in a hellish environment. There's a limit to how long you can mistreat even mechanical objects.
- There's a limit to how much money this country can devote to a mission that seems to have no end, or an end so far down the pike it may as well be forever. And the public's support is getting tested and testy. It's one thing to win or lose in a battle or a series of battles, and another to see soldiers die in roadside bombings without any apparent goal to measure achievement by.
- Canada lived up to its reputation as the Cinderella army. Thrown into the cauldron, the very heart of Taliban country, the enemy saw Canada in 2006 as the weak link of the NATO mission. We were "peacekeepers" with no fighting experience for 50 years, ever since Korea (our Yugoslavia combat was kept secret by the Liberal government for reasons of their own). We had no helicopters, no tanks, no UAVs (again thanks to the Liberals Party). The Taliban saw Canada ripe for the plucking.
But Canada's soldiers refused to fail. They fought--- and won. They forced the Taliban to retreat, saving Kandahar City--- and the NATO mission.
But three years later, it was enough. We were tired, and happy to see the Americans come in last year and take a load off. We're still there, and will be for at least another year and a half, but at a speed we can handle.
Same, for us at The Black Rod. Boys and girls, we're back