The Globe and Mail reported Saturday that the Department of National Defence Center for Operational Research and Analysis began studying the 10-year Soviet nightmare in Afghanistan in 2006 – 5 years after Canada and its NATO allies began hostilities in that godforsaken country.
A report based on the study apparently found its way onto the desks of the Canadian Defence Department brass in 2007. It is entitled 3-D Soviet Style: A Presentation of the Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan. An executive summary of the work done to date says, “The project was undertaken for the purpose of determining whether this history offered any lessons to be learned for the Canadian Forces.”
Think about it. It took the Department of National Defence five long years after we sent our troops into combat to begin a study of the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan to see if we could learn something from it. A war which, by the way, took the lives of 14,500 Soviet troops and destroyed 120 Soviet-built tanks, 300 helicopters and 118 planes. That’s not all. It was a war where as many as 120,000 Soviet troops served together at one time, and a total of 620,000 troops had been rotated in and out of the country during the war’s duration.
According to the Globe and Mail report, the study project on the Soviet catastrophe has revealed information that the Canadian military has learned from bitter on-the-ground experience since 2001. Jeez, do you think that if we had that info in 2001 maybe we could have avoided the bitter experience? For instance, the study concluded that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was a significant problem for the Russkies because the enemy – the mujahedeen – used it as a supply route for arms, resources and insurgents. Wow! Just what our enemy – the Taliban - is using it for today!
The report also states that Afghanistan would never be stable until the country had a growing stable economy so that it could provide for its own security. Well, I’ll be!! The Soviets, the study said, focused too much on security. But isn’t that what NATO is now doing there? Focusing exclusively on security – bolstering the police, the army, fighting the Taliban, and providing protection for very modest redevelopment?
If the Globe story is reliable – and the Globe is the only Canadian newspaper that has been consistently reliable on the current Afghanistan war – the Canadian taxpayer sure didn’t get his money’s worth from the report. Much of it is quite trite. In a section that could have been written by Dick Cheney himself (given the way the Harper government looks up to the neocon crowd in D.C., Cheney may very well have been the author) the study says that it was high time that Afghanistan developed its oil and gas industry to benefit the country’s economy. We also learned from the report that “successive battlefield victories do not guarantee strategic success” when dealing with an insurgency. Shocking, indeed! There was even more lightweight stuff, such as the observation that “engaging and enfranchising local populations and power centers is of critical importance.” Yes, yes, empowerment is always good for the people.
What monumental hubris, arrogance or stupidity or combination thereof, would lead our military to overlook for so long something so relevant to the lives and safety of our troops as the recent tragic Soviet experience in Afghanistan? And how could that 10-year war which took so many lives lead to such threadbare piffle conclusions. Heads should roll over this bush league (pardon the pun, but one must admit it is very apt in this case) performance of the big guns at Defence.
This blog has long been very negative on the war being waged in Afghanistan.
As I’ve pointed out many times, the biggest problem is our allies. They do not have their hearts in it. They have contributed only 47,000 troops to the cause – a pathetic number that allows no chance for meaningful success. Most of them are afraid to send their troops into the main theatres of battle – such as where the Canadians are in Kandahar – for fear of taking too many casualties in a conflict which has no end in sight. As former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives ‘Tip’ O’Neill used to say, “All politics is local,” and the locals from NATO’s member states would not like taking too many casualties.
Another problem is corruption. The country is ridden with corruption from the bottom to the very top. The President, an old lobbyist for Unocal, is compromised and distrusted. Worse yet, our brave troops have to look the other way while bumper poppy crops - the only cash crop in the country – supply 90% of more of the world’s heroin supply. And, why should we be trying to prop up a country where one can still be executed for converting to Christianity?
The NATO Afghanistan initiative has been half-baked from day one. It has been doomed from the beginning because our allies have it well down their priority list of things to do. Complicating the mess even further is that amongst our allies and including our own government there is little knowledge and understanding of the history of that wild country and the repeated failures of foreign powers – even empires – to bring some order or civilized influence to the region.
The whole deal is going badly. The sooner Canadians realize this, start bellyaching in earnest about it, and put real heat on our government to get the hell out, the better off we’ll all be, including our troops.