|Not quite an "out of their rucksacks" job|
With the announcement that Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan will be extended out to 2014, the usual cast of characters took to the airwaves to praise the Conservative government for this decision.
Afghan Ambassador Jawed Ludin was one of the first to fire off a press release proclaiming his support for Canada’s provision of up to 1,000 military trainers for another three years.
I know Ambassador Ludin from having interviewed him and from our mutual rounds on the Ottawa diplomatic reception circuit.
He has always been open about the fact that his goal is to keep Afghanistan as the number one recipient of Canadian aid money. This has been the case for the last five years, and Ludin knows that this is directly linked to the high profile of our military commitment.
No one was more anxious about our previous July 2011 pullout date than Ludin, and this three-year extension will, no doubt, have been welcome news at the Embassy of Afghanistan.
For the tub-thumpers and Colonel Blimps of the pro-war lobby, the continued commitment of such a sizeable number of troops so overjoyed them that they forgot their previous public opposition to transforming our troops from combat soldiers to training instructors.
Just a few short months ago, they had actively lobbied to keep Canadian troops in theatre, and it was their suggestion that this be labelled as an initiative to train the Afghan army.
However, as the record stands, these experts were all of the collective opinion that training could not be done from “inside the wire” and our soldiers would have to mentor the Afghans in actual battle if we were to ever bring them to a proficient level of self-sufficiency.
Harper may have flip-flopped on the pullout date, but he is still astute enough a politician to know that he had to remove the word “combat” from the equation. Thus, it was insisted upon, at every opportunity, that the proposed 1,000 trainers would conduct their classes inside the wire.
There was literally no other specific detail announced besides the no-combat caveat— they still have not specified the location or even the nature of where this training will take place, but, by god, it's going to be done inside the wire.
If Harper could reverse himself, well then the tub-thumpers proved they, too, could rapidly march to the rear and call it an advance.
Contradicting their previous professional assertions that combat mentoring was required, suddenly the Colonel Blimp brigade told any and all that classroom training would be both safe and a meaningful contribution.
When asked to comment on what specific requirements might be involved in switching from combat to training, retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie opined that training Afghans was something Canadian soldiers could do “out of their rucksacks.”
Such a flippant quip hardly reflects the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent establishing the necessary lodgings and infrastructure—including the wire behind which these trainers will conduct classes. The cost of moving the Tim Hortons from Kandahar to Kabul will also need to be factored into the equation. You can’t make a Timmies double-double in your rucksack.
Also dusted off and circulating on the interview circuit was my old friend Chris Alexander, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Upon his return to Canada, Alexander announced that he will run as a Conservative candidate in the next federal election. Anxious to curry favour with Harper’s caucus, Alexander happily tells his audiences that the mission extension is the correct choice.
What was an interesting admission from Alexander was that the international community did not get serious about training the Afghan army until 2006—and that no real serious effort was initiated in terms of police training until earlier this year. As such, Alexander explained, it will still take several years to make the Afghan security forces self-sufficient.
Admittedly, Alexander has no military training, so it is unfair to question him as to what he means by getting serious about establishing the Afghan army.
In January 2007, when I visited the NATO-run Kabul Military Training Center, the vast majority of the Afghan army recruits were illiterate. The focus was on churning out sheer numbers and the tenweek rudimentary course was spitting out some 1,200 “trained” soldiers per month.
The kandaks (battalions) were then sent straight to the front lines. I was told that this (obviously flawed) system was a great improvement over the previous attempts to establish police and army units with virtually no training whatsoever.
While hindsight is 20/20, one would have to be wilfully blind or mentally incapacitated to think that putting uniforms on untrained, ignorant thugs would have the desired result of providing a secure environment.
As one would expect, this flawed policy of trying to do things on the quick and cheap created a monster that subsequently preyed upon its own civilians. Even with a dedicated, long-term program to actually train and educate a functional Afghan security force, one of the biggest challenges they will face will be to win back the trust of the public.
In other words, Alexander isn’t just verbally in support of this new, extended mission; his blunders as one of the international architects responsible for the security force fiasco are some of the reasons such a lengthy commitment is still necessary.