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Fight and Win

Fight and Win

In a recent Globe and Mail column Jeffrey Simpson makes a series of points, including:

1.   Canada became involved in Kandahar without, at the highest levels of government, thinking things through. Now there is no easy way out;

2.   No NATO country will replace us, but we cannot leave Kandahar: to do so invites a national defeat;

3.   Canada is fighting a counterinsurgency war – but not, necessarily, the way most experts think it ought to be fought;

4.   We must win the “hearts and minds” of a people we barely know and who barely know us;

5.   The enemy can escape into the hills and over the border to Pakistan when the fighting is not going well;

6.   The enemy has too easy access to too much money from the drug trade, extortion and sympathizers elsewhere;

7.   Time is on the enemy’s side and it works against our success – it’s a “double whammy;” and

8.   Some of our allies in the Afghan government are corrupt; some of our allies in NATO are craven.

Many Canadians, including those in government and academe, would agree with Simpson.
Unfortunately, Simpson goes on to repeat the nonsensical new political narrative that suggests that, starting in 2002, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Bill Graham and a platoon of other ministers, very senior bureaucrats and political operatives suddenly stopped thinking and followed Gen. Rick Hillier in mindless lock-step. That was stupid, apologist propaganda when former Liberal political insider Eugene Lang first advanced it and it is claptrap now. In fairness, in his recent book The Unexpected War (coauthored with Janice Gross-Stein) Lang makes it clear that Hillier’s vision and enthusiasm were just what Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin wanted, and that vision was fully in line with their aspirations for Canada in the world. The fact, document by Gross-Stein and Lang, is that most politicians, bureaucrats and political operators were bereft of ideas and Gen. Hillier was pretty much the one and only “man with a plan” in Ottawa in 2005.

Another key fact is that we backed into a war for which we were, and in many respects still are quite unprepared.

After the infamous “decade of darkness” (we believe Gen. Hillier should have said “decades”) the Canadian Army was unprepared for a counterinsurgency campaign. Arguably, in fact, it was unprepared for much of anything except the sort of peacekeeping which is no longer done in the world. In Kandahar Canada has found itself obeying two foreign dicta:

1.   “ go to war with the Army you have.  They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” - Donald Rumsfeld, 8 Dec 04; and

2.   “...established organizations and weapons systems are constantly being put to new, unforeseen uses ...” – Gen. (Ret’d) Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

There is blame aplenty for Canada’s difficulties – almost all of it must be shared by Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien. To suggest, as Simpson does, that our very real problems in Afghanistan are, in any way, related to Gen. Hillier’s desire to have us in Afghanistan as “the testing ground for [his] vision” is nonsense.

Simpson has some solutions. “Canada” he says “is fighting a counterinsurgency war – against almost all the rules of that kind of combat. Our soldiers are undoubtedly brave and skilled, but there are too few of them, as there are too few NATO forces for the entire country. The ratio of troops to insurgents needed to “win” such a conflict is too low; the ratio of military to development deployment is too large.” In other words we need to stop talking about withdrawal – we need more soldiers throughout Afghanistan, not fewer, and we may even need more Canadians – even if we are already doing more than a full and fair share of the fighting.

Canada helped create NATO, even if France, Germany and Italy are acting in a craven manner we ought to do all we can to help NATO succeed, or, at the very least, if NATO must fail, to prevent ignoble defeat.

Canada is a rich country, but Canadians are, usually, reluctant to send their hard earned money overseas to people who are, too often, ungrateful and corrupt. In a counterinsurgency campaign we need the national government to screw up its courage and face down the spendthrifts and make more and more aid money available to make the 3D (Diplomacy, Defence and Development) strategy work as designed. We will have more to say on this matter in a future article.

Jeffery Simpson says that “Canada cannot stay [in Afghanistan] with any reasonable assurance of success.” The Ruxted Group does not agree. The situation in Afghanistan is difficult; there is no question about that, but we have been in difficulties before and we have fought our way to victory. Counterinsurgency warfare is difficult and, for Canada, foreign, but counterinsurgency campaigns can be won – we know this because they have been won. Canadian soldiers are more than just “brave and skilled,” they are also smart and adaptable. They know how to learn to fight and win.

The Ruxted Group does agree fully with Jeffrey Simpson when he says: “Now there is no easy way out.” We urge Prime Minister Harper, after he is in receipt of the report from the Hon. John Manley’s commission, to commit us to fight and the long, tough, expensive and above all 3D counterinsurgency campaign. Forget about 2009; forget about 2011; focus on the victory conditions which The Ruxted Group offered to Mr. Manley and his colleagues.


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Josh McJannett on :

I thougt you had some good things to say in your post.

We're launching a new, non-partisan campaign called 'Canadians for Afghanistan' to raise public support for a continuing Canadian commitment to the Afghan people.

We've got a blog up and running and new content all the time. Please check it out and leave your thoughts.

Josh McJannett
Canadians for Afghanistan

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