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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread December 2008

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Canada poised to cede command in Kandahar
Globe and Mail, Dec. 12

PASAB, AFGHANISTAN, OTTAWA — Canada appears ready to give up its leadership position in Kandahar before its mandate ends in 2011, ceding command to a surge of U.S. troops that will ease the burden the Canadian military shouldered nearly three years ago when it took charge of the province.

Canada's senior officer in Afghanistan yesterday suggested Canada may soon take a less prominent role in war-ravaged Kandahar province - comments made on the same day U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates called on Ottawa to extend its mission beyond 2011.

"[Canadians] have been outstanding partners for us, and all I can tell you, as has been the case for a very long time, the longer we can have Canadian soldiers as our partners, the better it is," Mr. Gates said during a visit to Kandahar.

Ottawa thanked Mr. Gates for his comments but said it has no plan to remain after 2011.,,

After a meeting with Mr. Gates in Kandahar yesterday, Canada's top officer in the province was asked about rumours that the United States is planning to install a headquarters for a U.S. two-star general at Kandahar Air Field.

"Yeah, they will eventually be the commander," Brigadier-General Denis Thompson said. "It's always a touchy subject, but for soldiers it's pretty simple. If you have the most troops, you get the command."

Canada assumed leadership of all regular international troops in Kandahar during a handover ceremony in February, 2006; besides leading a Canadian force that has grown to a declared size of 2,750 soldiers, the Canadian headquarters has also exercised command over smaller units of Americans, British, Portuguese, and Nepalese.

But the impending arrival of several thousand U.S. troops will dramatically change the balance of military power in Kandahar. The U.S. Defence Secretary said two more U.S. combat brigades will arrive in Afghanistan in the spring. More are expected later in the year, and rapid construction under way at Kandahar Air Field demonstrates that the United States is planning to add thousands more soldiers.

Military analysts say that while they expect Canada to yield leadership in Kandahar to the United States between the spring of 2009 and early 2010, they don't believe Canada's soldiering commitment to Afghanistan will end in 2011.

"My gut feeling is the government has not closed the door completely," Conference of Defence Associations executive director Alain Pellerin said. "There will still be a requirement for trainers ... we will [still] be there with development and reconstruction."

Canada's combat battle group should be gone by 2011 but observers estimate Ottawa may leave 500 to 1,000 Canadians behind to handle such tasks as mentoring Afghan soldiers, protecting reconstruction and assisting development.

Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said there's no chance Canada could keep a 1,000-soldier battle group in Kandahar past 2011 because the army is overstretched and wearing out. "Parts of the army are broken. ... They're having a bitch of a time putting together a battle group now, let alone a couple of years from now."

Analysts said the potential flow of new U.S. troops into Kandahar could mean Canadians devote more time to defending the immediate area around Kandahar city and focusing on protecting developments such as Canada's rebuilding of the Dahla dam.

Mr. Mackenzie said that doesn't necessarily mean a quicker shift away from combat for Canadians over the next few years. "We will still be a battle group within an organization responding to the commander's intent." The new commander in Kandahar will be an American and he imagines this leadership "would fit into the more aggressive category."..

Canada will retain an important role in the shadow of the U.S. arrivals in Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Thompson said. Canadian forces have learned valuable lessons in Kandahar and will make sure that experience is shared as Canadian officers serve alongside their U.S. counterparts in intelligence, logistics, and other staff branches, he said.

"In the run-up to 2011 we will obviously still be a player," he said.

"We will insist, based on [our] numbers on the ground, that we have certain billets in the headquarters and we'd be looking for an influential deputy commander billet - deputy commander manoeuvre, deputy commander ops [operations], something like that - to make sure that we have our finger on the pulse and that we're making sure that people benefit from our knowledge."

It has been reported that Canada would not get another seat in the rotating leadership of Regional Command South, as U.S. generals are expected to hold the position continuously after the British commander who is next in line [emphasis added].

The suggestion from Brig.-Gen. Thompson that Canada will also lose command in Kandahar province will not surprise most observers of the war, who predicted that smaller NATO countries would be shouldered aside as U.S. forces surge into the south.

"The same thing will happen in Kandahar province," Brig.-Gen. Thompson said. "We are right now clearly the most numerous troops here, but there will come a time - I don't know when that date is exactly - when we're actually outnumbered by the Americans and we're significantly outnumbered by Americans."

He continued: "I don't think we should be surprised that the Americans will want to have command, and I don't think there will be any surprise in Ottawa, because it's only logical [emphasis added]."

During yesterday's talks with the U.S. Defence Secretary, Brig.-Gen. Thompson said Canada emphasized that countries controlling provincial reconstruction teams should co-ordinate aid delivery in their respective areas. That would mean the Canadian PRT located at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar city would remain central to the reconstruction effort in the province, despite an influx of U.S. aid dollars...

Italy plans temporary increase in Afghan force
AFP, Dec. 12

Italy will temporarily increase its number of troops in Afghanistan by 500 next year in the face of a "delicate operational situation" in western Herat province, the government said on Wednesday.

"The commitments we have made within NATO demand that our contingent in Afghanistan reach the figure of 2,800 for six months in 2009," Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told the Senate defence and foreign affairs committees.

La Russa said the increase would respect the ceiling of 2,600 set by parliament for the deployment because it refers to an average over a 12-month period.

The defence minister was speaking the day after meeting with visiting US General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, who said he favoured a US troop surge in Afghanistan.

Petraeus said he had "already made recommendations" for an almost doubling of the US force based on requests from General David McKiernan, the top commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

NATO currently has some 50,000 troops in Afghanistan spread across the country with many of the Italians based in Herat which border Iran.


The Other Front
Washington Post, Dec. 14, by Sarah Chayes

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan
In the seven years I've lived in this stronghold of the Afghan south -- the erstwhile capital of the Taliban and the focus of their renewed assault on the country -- most of my conversations with locals about what's going wrong have centered on corruption and abuse of power. "More than roads, more than schools or wells or electricity, we need good governance," said Nurallah ["one of the 13 Afghan men and women who make up my cooperative"] during yet another discussion a couple of weeks ago.

He had put his finger on the heart of the problem. We and our friends in Kandahar are thunderstruck at recent suggestions that the solution to the hair-raising situation in this country must include a political settlement with "relevant parties" -- read, the Taliban. Negotiating with them wouldn't solve Afghanistan's problems; it would only exacerbate them [emphasis added]. Ask any Afghan what's really needed, what would render the Taliban irrelevant, and they'll tell you: improving the behavior of the officials whom the United States and its allies ushered into power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks...

Across the street from my cooperative there used to be a medical clinic. When it moved to a new facility, gunmen in police uniforms set up a checkpoint outside the empty building. Our inquiries revealed that they were the private guards of a senior government official. Their purpose? To serve as a graphic warning to the building's owners not to interfere in what would follow. A few days later, some friends of the official's moved in. The owners had no say in the matter, no recourse. This government official is one of the men the United States helped put in power in 2001 and whom the international community has maintained and supported, no questions asked, ever since.

This is why the Taliban are making headway in Afghanistan -- not because anyone loves them, even here in their former heartland, or longs for a return to their punishing rule. I arrived in Kandahar in December 2001, just days after Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was chased out. After a moment of holding its breath, the city erupted in joy. Kites danced on the air for the first time in six years. Buyers flocked to stalls selling music cassettes. I listened to opium dealers discuss which of them would donate the roof of his house for use as a neighborhood school. I, a barefaced American woman, encountered no hostility at all. Curiosity, plenty. But no hostility. Enthusiasm for the nascent government of Hamid Karzai and its international backers was absolutely universal.

Since then, the hopes expressed by every Afghan I have encountered -- to be ruled by a responsive and respectful government run by educated people -- have been dashed. Now, Afghans are suffering so acutely that they hardly feel the difference between Taliban depredations and those of their own government...

What I've witnessed in Kandahar since late 2002 has amounted to an invasion by proxy, with the Pakistani military once again using the Taliban to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. The only reason this invasion has made progress is the appalling behavior of Afghan officials. Why would anyone defend officials who pillage them? If the Taliban gouge out the eyes of people they accuse of colluding with the Afghan government, as they did recently in Kandahar, while the government treats those same citizens like rubbish, why should anyone take the risk that allegiance to Kabul entails?

More and more Kandaharis are not. More and more are severing contact with the Karzai regime and all it stands for, rejecting even development assistance. When Taliban thugs come to their mosques demanding money or food, they pay up. Many actively collaborate, as a means of protest.

The solution to this problem is not to bring the perpetrators of the daily horrors we suffer in Kandahar to the table to carve up the Afghan pie. (For no matter how we package the idea of negotiating with the Taliban, that's what Afghans are sure it will amount to: cutting a power-sharing deal.)

The solution is to call to account the officials we installed here beginning in 2001 -- to reach beyond the power brokers to ordinary Afghan citizens and give their grievances a fair hearing. If the complaints prove to be well founded, Western officials should press for redress, using some of their enormous leverage. The successful mentoring program under which military personnel work side-by-side with Afghan National Army officers should be expanded to the civilian administration [emphasis added]. Western governments should send experienced former mayors, district commissioners and water and health department officials to mentor Afghans in those roles.

If the United States and its allies had fulfilled their initial promise and pushed the Afghan government to become an institution its people could be proud of, the "reconcilable" Taliban would come into the fold of their own accord. The Afghans would take care of the rest.


Sarah Chayes, the author of "The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban," runs an Afghan cooperative that produces skin-care products.

Ex-minister slates UK policy on Afghanistan
The Guardian, Dec. 11

The former Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan yesterday accused the country of being corrupt "from top to bottom", and said the international community had wrongly treated President Hamid Karzai with kid gloves.

The criticism came from Kim Howells, who was in charge of the Afghanistan brief for three-and-a-half years until he stepped down as a foreign affairs minister in the October government reshuffle. The remarks reflect his considered judgment on what has been described as the most difficult foreign policy challenge facing the UK government and its armed forces.

Breaking his silence on the issue, he told MPs: "Institutionally, Afghanistan is corrupt from top to bottom. There are few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving government ministers has been challenged in any effective way by President Karzai.

"On the contrary, those individuals appear to be thriving, not least because Hamid Karzai has convinced himself that he cannot afford to sack or challenge the strongmen who, through corruption, brutality, power of arms or tribal status are capable of controlling their territories and fiefdoms."..


More UK troops head to Afghanistan
The Scotsman, Dec. 15

BRITAIN is to boost the number of troops serving in Afghanistan by around 300, the Prime Minister confirmed today.

Mr Brown told the Commons that to reinforce "progress" already made, reserves were being called forward for deployment on a "temporary basis".

Until August, including the period of preparation for elections in Afghanistan, the number of British troops will rise from just over 8,000 to around 8,300.

Mr Brown said 41 countries were involved in Afghanistan "but the burden is not always shared equally".

It was "vital that all members of the coalition contribute fairly" and this would be looked at by Nato at a meeting next April.

He said there was a "chain of terror" that linked the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which must be "broken"...

Tory leader David Cameron said there were "real causes for concern" on the ground in Afghanistan...

He said Britain's armed forces were doing a "great job" but called on them to be given a "realistic mission".

"Shouldn't it focus on predominantly on security and rooting out terrorist training, not an unrealistic objective of completely transforming a society thousands of miles away," Mr Cameron asked...

Gordon Brown ready to defy Barack Obama over Afghanistan troop surge
The Times, Dec. 15

Gordon Brown is considering rejecting an expected request from Barack Obama, the US President-elect, to send 2,000 more British troops to Afghanistan to join the surge of US forces confronting the Taleban.

Britain is expected to come under considerable pressure from Mr Obama when he becomes President in January to send another battle group of 1,500-2,000. Turning down such a request would open a rift between Britain and the US. British military chiefs have also been clamouring for reinforcements for the beleaguered troops in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Senior military officers have begun drawing up plans for boosting the British presence in southern Afghanistan to more than 10,000. Secret planning has been under way for some time to deploy another 2,000 troops, although the Ministry of Defence has previously denied reports that reinforcements were likely to be sent next year.

British officials fear that if Britain fails to send more troops, the US will take military control of Helmand and sideline the British. Under US surge plans to send 20,000 more soldiers next year, the Pentagon is planning to deploy 5,000 into Helmand to join the British effort, and a further 5,000 into neighbouring southern provinces [emphasis added--more here].

The British military, however, has made it clear that it is overstretched...

Despite Mr Brown's apparent doubts about sending another 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, it has emerged that, without any announcement by the MoD, two companies of up to 300 troops were deployed in October [emphasis added] to help to consolidate gains made against the Taleban in central Helmand.

The Prime Minister will confirm to the House of Commons today that approval had been given to send the two companies from the 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, which is stationed in Cyprus and acts as a theatre reserve battle group. They were sent soon after the Taleban launched an attack in October on Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand. The attack failed but an urgent call was made for more troops, raising the total British military presence to about 8,400.

Mr Brown revealed during the Queen's Speech that Britain was conducting its own review of strategy in Afghanistan...

Royal Marines killed by teen suicide bomber shows UK needs allies in Afghanistan battle
If anyone still needs an illustration of the hideousness of the Taliban, its use of a 13-year-old boy as a suicide bomber provides it

Telegraph View (other title Our forces need allies in Aghan battle), Dec. 14

The poor, brainwashed child detonated his device and killed himself. He also killed three Royal Marines serving as part of Britain's forces in Afghanistan. On the disgusting calculus of death used by the Taliban, that counts as a "successful" operation.

British forces are fighting in Afghanistan for one simple reason: to prevent the country reverting to a government that was bigoted, bloodthirsty and remorselessly cruel.

When the Taliban controlled the country, it made Afghanistan into a centre for global jihad: it gave Osama bin Laden and his cohorts in al-Qaeda a base from which to plot the outrage of 9/11, as well as bloody terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.

The world supported the invasion of Afghanistan in the months after 9/11 because it was universally recognised that it was intolerable to have, as a member of the world community, a state which helped to organise mass murder around the globe.

British forces were sent to Afghanistan in order to depose the Taliban. To keep it from power is why they have remained. Gordon Brown was right when he told British troops in Afghanistan yesterday that "the people of Britain are safer because of what you do."

Preventing the return of the Taliban is in the direct national self interest of Britain, for if it ever seizes control again, the terrorist threat escalates exponentially.

There is considerable popular support in Britain for the mission in Afghanistan. That support is not limitless, however, and it diminishes with the return of every coffin bearing the body of a British soldier.

The Taliban is aware of that fact. It knows that it cannot defeat the British and American forces in battle. But it believes that the drip, drip, drip of death which its suicide bombers inflict will drain support for the war and that, eventually, Western forces will decide the losses are not worth it, give up and go home.

It is vital that we do not comply with the Taliban's wishes. The alternative to fighting the war against Taliban terrorism in Afghanistan is fighting it in Britain – and no reasonable person in this country thinks that is a better option. But in order for the mission in Afghanistan to have a good chance of ending in success rather than failure, two things need to happen.

The first is that other Western countries need to make an effective contribution to the war effort. At present, there are only two countries that have committed troops in significant numbers to fighting, as opposed to observing: Britain and America [emphasis added]...

Face to face with the Taliban
Exclusive report from a Taliban veteran's compound in Afghanistan and on the battlefield
(long article)
The Guardian, Dec. 14

Qomendan Hemmet sat cross-legged under a window of the mud-walled room. His shoulder, sunk in an old military jacket, rested against the wall and a radio antenna stuck out of his pocket. Next to him sat his deputy, wrapped in a big blanket, silent and sleepy. Around the room sat his men, their faces contorted by years of fighting and poverty, dressed in shalwar kameez and magazine pouches, eyes dark as the kohl lining them. Radios crackled, phones rang non-stop, and more fighters came, drank tea and left with orders.

"Salar is the new Falluja," declared Qomendan Hemmet emphatically. "The Americans and the Afghan army control the highway, and five metres on each side. The rest is our territory."

Salar district in Wardak province is 80km (50 miles) south of Kabul. The ­Kandahar-Kabul road that passes through this district is a major supply line for US and Nato troops. The road is reminiscent of the road from Baghdad to Falluja: littered with IED [improvised explosive devices) holes and the carcasses of burnt-out Nato supply trucks and containers.

The frequency of Taliban attacks is higher this year than at any time since 2001. Four British marines were killed last week, three of them when a 13-year-old boy blew himself up in Helmand province. Meanwhile, the area controlled by the Afghan government is shrinking to the fortified islands of the cities.

A day earlier, I stood with a dozen Afghans, watching the Qomendan and his men in action. A man straining his eyes to watch had declared in an authoritative voice "janghi" ("war") and the sky had echoed with thuds and explosions...

It was the end of an hour-long battle and as the sun sank deep into the horizon, the shooting became more intermittent. A low-flying, dark grey F-16 shot past, leaving behind two columns of smoke in the horizon. The Americans moved towards a village on the side of the road, the Afghan men jumped into their buses and taxis, and the traffic moved on over a carpet of bullet casings...

"Yesterday I had only 18 fighters," the Qomendan said, his unwavering gaze fixed on a point somewhere in the middle of the low-ceilinged room. "You saw how many mercenaries and Americans were there. With the blessing of Allah, the fighting is changing. When I started in this area, three years ago, I had six fighters, one RPG and two machine guns like these." He pointed at the BKC machine guns that lay idly on the door. "Now I have more than 500 fighters, 30 machine guns and hundreds of RPGs.

"The Americans have installed hundreds of Afghan policemen, they patrol the street all the time, but they can't control it. Last week they came by helicopters, searching the area because they can't drive their vehicles here. They never come with tanks, the whole area is mined."..

"When we fought the Northern Alliance we fought face to face. This war is more difficult, the enemy controls the skies and they have lots of weapons. Sometimes I am scared, every human being gets scared. But we yearn for fighting the kafirs [unbelievers]. It's a joyful thing."..

Hemmet and other Taliban commanders I met explained the Taliban's sophisticated network of military and civilian leadership. Each province has its own Taliban governor, military leader and shura [consultation] council. Below them are district commanders like Hemmet, who in turn divides his force into smaller units. Many say the civilian apparatus of the Taliban-run districts operates a more effective justice system than the government's, which is corrupt and inefficient. Nominally, all the councils look to Mullah Omar for guidance. In reality each province and district has its own dynamics.

The mullah

Mullah Muhamadi, one of Hemmet's men, arrived later wearing a long leather jacket and a turban bigger than all the others. "This is not just a guerrilla war, and it's not an organised war with fronts," he said. "It's both." He went on to explain the importance the Taliban attached to creating a strong administration in the areas it held: "When we control a province we need to provide service to the people. We want to show the people that we can rule, and that we are ready for the day when we take over Kabul, that we have learned from our mistakes."

Muhamadi said his group aimed to carry out around three attacks a week, but they did not always have enough ammunition. "We get intelligence that Americans or government people are coming and we hit them. Each area has a different strategy, here it's attacking the main road, but everywhere in this province the countryside is in our control."..

A couple of weeks ago I called Mullah Muhamadi again. I wanted to go down and meet Qomendan Hemmet again. "No," he replied in Arabic over the phone. "The weather is too cold now. We are leaving to a neighbouring country. See you next year [emphasis added]."

Why the US Will Scale Down Its Goals in Afghanistan
Time, Dec. 14

The Pentagon has made clear that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan when the rag-tag Afghan security forces have been beefed up to the point where they can keep the peace without help. "Significantly expanding [Afghanistan's national security forces] is, in fact, our exit strategy," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told U.S. troops in Kandahar last week. But that's a strategy that could  leave U.S. forces in Afghanistan for quite some time to come — for one thing, the economy of impoverished Afghanistan is unlikely, for the foreseeable future, to sustain an army big enough to guarantee the country's security. And that's just one of several thorny issues likely to make success in Afghanistan harder to achieve than Iraq — unless the U.S. scales back its ambitious goals for the country. But such a rethink may be on the cards, U.S. military officers say, as internal U.S. reviews and President-elect Barack Obama give the seven-year war a fresh look.

U.S. military officers are already making clear that many of the additional 20,000 U.S. troops bound for Afghanistan in the coming year won't be headed to the Afghan-Pakistani border where the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies are launching regular and deadly attacks against U.S. and allied troops. Instead, they'll be concentrated on defending the capital, Kabul, from Taliban attack, and also on reinforcing British troops in Helmand and other parts of the south [emphasis added]. That will do little to assuage the criticism that the limited U.S. and NATO deployments in Afghanistan have left Afghan President Hamid Karzai with little more real authority than the "mayor of Kabul", or the reality that the Taliban currently enjoy the momentum...

U.S. military officers, speaking privately, concede the bleak outlook in Afghanistan is likely to prompt a scaling back of U.S. goals for the country. The desire to build a strong central government with a large army is likely to be de-emphasized in favor of a provincial structure that relies more on local militias to provide security. "There's a widespread belief in national security circles that the Bush Administration's goals for Afghanistan were too ambitious," says Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If George W. Bush had served a third term, my guess is that he would be re-evaluating his aims, too."..

Articles found 16 Dec 2008

Reproduced under the Fair Dealings provisions of the Copyright Act.    (Link in Title)

Top Canadian general predicts rise in Afghan violence

The top commander for all deployed Canadian forces made a grim but not unexpected prediction for Afghanistan Tuesday morning, warning violence levels are likely to increase.
16/12/2008 7:39:30 AM

CTV.ca News Staff

Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier spoke to reporters in Kandahar, and said he expects a spike in fighting next year when U.S. troop levels increase in the south.

Gauthier also said it will likely be 2010 before violence levels begin to decrease. Canada's commitment to Afghanistan is scheduled to end in 2011.

"With respect to the security situation, it is improving greatly in some places, but as you all know, violence levels overall have increased from a year ago," Gauthier said.

He also said two suspected insurgents were killed in an air strike Tuesday morning while they were attempting to plant a roadside bomb. The strike occurred on a road where six Canadians have been killed by IEDs in recent weeks.

Gauthier's comments follow those of Brig.-Gen Richard Blanchette, a Canadian spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, who recently predicted an increase in violence following the troop surge next year.

By year's end, 3,500 additional U.S. Marines will be arriving in Afghanistan, followed by an Army brigade of about 5,000 soldiers for early 2009. As many as three additional Army brigades could follow in the months after that.

Blanchette said the troop surge will strengthen the fight against the Taliban and lead to more "kinetic activity" on the ground.

Bid to split Taliban, Al Qaeda
In Afghanistan, US and NATO reassess their strategy amid concerns that their efforts are failing.

CS Monitor, Dec. 16

Kabul, Afghanistan

The Afghan government and its allies are reconciling with moderates and isolating hard-liners in a bid to split the insurgency, Western and Afghan officials say.

The idea of wooing moderates has gained traction as violence in Afghanistan has reached record levels this year. The United States and NATO are reassessing their strategy amid a growing chorus of Western officials who say that the international effort here is failing.

"Some ministries have started a program to try to separate Al Qaeda and the Taliban," says Ursala Rahmani, a former Taliban official who has been involved in talks with the government. Mr. Rahmani says that the Interior and Defense ministries are involved in the effort.

"We are trying to exploit the natural tensions that exist between Al Qaeda and those under Mullah Omar," the fugitive leader of the Taliban, adds a senior intelligence officer with the international forces, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Some insurgent commanders may be closely aligned with Al Qaeda, which is waging an international, ideologically driven war against the West.

But Afghanistan experts say that most Afghan insurgents fight because of local grievances, including tribal rivalries, poor economic opportunities, and dissatisfaction with the Afghan government and international forces. Many experts say these insurgents have little interest in attacking sites in the West and restrict their concerns to Afghanistan.

Western officials dub these fighters "moderates," even though many of them are just as religiously conservative as their Al Qaeda counterparts.

"Over the long term, I see reconciliation as one of the primary actions that will have to occur for there to be success," says Carter Malkasian, who directs the Stability and Development program at CNA, a Washington-based think tank.

Two-pronged strategy

Such reconciliation is a key ingredient in the kind of counterinsugency strategy militaries have used for decades, including in Iraq. The strategy may take two approaches. First, it will focus on the low-ranking insurgent fighters who may be easier to reconcile with the government.

"We tend to talk about the Taliban, but there is 'big T' Taliban, that is Mullah Omar and the [others] who ... swept through the country in the mid-'90s," says Eric Edelman, the Pentagon's senior policy official, told reporters in Washington recently. "There is what I call the 'small-T' Taliban, which are Pashtun tribals who are not reconciled to the government and may be engaging in ... activity kind of opportunistically."

According to officials at the Afghan Social Outreach Program, part of an Afghan government initiative to strengthen local governance, a new body is being formed to reconcile such fighters with the government that will use the promise of government jobs and cash inducements. This body will replace an already existing government organization that many say is corrupt and ineffective.

The second approach will be to zsow divisions in the insurgency's leadership and isolate elements close to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have differing strategies: Al Qaeda's policy of global warfare has brought it into confrontation with the Pakistani government, while the Afghan Taliban are on good terms with Islamabad and restrict its fight to Afghanistan.

"Al Qaeda's activities draw Pakistani military action, and this leads to natural tensions between them and the [Afghan] Taliban," says the senior intelligence officer with the international forces.

There is evidence that such tensions have existed for some months. In February, Mullah Omar issued a statement saying, "We want to have legitimate relations with all countries in the world," and expressing solidarity with Iran, a Shiite country viewed by the Sunni-extremist Al Qaeda as an enemy. The statement also indicated that the Taliban's main purpose was to fight within Afghan borders.

In response, prominent Al Qaeda websites posted messages denouncing the "nationalist trend" and pro-Iranian orientation in the Taliban's communiqués.

Psychological operations

The effort to widen such possible divisions may include so-called psychological operations. According to intelligence officers, international forces and the Afghan government plant fake e-mails on jihadi websites or circulate bogus letters in the insurgent community [emphasis added]...

US accuses Britain over military failings in Afghanistan
The Times, Dec. 16

The performance of Britain’s overstretched military in Afghanistan is coming under sustained criticism from the Pentagon and US analysts even as Gordon Brown ponders whether to send in further reinforcements.

Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary who has been asked to remain in his job under Barack Obama, is understood to have expressed strong reservations about counterinsurgency operations in British-controlled Helmand province.

He has already announced plans for a surge of 20,000 US troops into Afghanistan but Mr Brown, who was given a bleak progress report when he visited Afghanistan at the weekend, is said to be reluctant about committing another 2,000 British troops on top of the 8,400 already there.

A total of 132 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and the Government is worried about public opinion turning against the campaign. British officials are concerned that the US may take over control of Helmand – where Mr Gates plans to deploy an extra 5,000 troops – if Mr Brown fails to support the surge. The Americans have grievances over Britain’s lack of equipment, including helicopters, which has left troops unable to perform the same tasks as US counterparts and led to more cautious tactics. There is also grumbling about the regularity with which US airstrikes are called to rescue British troops [emphasis added]...

It is understood that there has been “tension and resentment” over the air of superiority adopted by British commanders such as Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who suggested that his American counterparts needed to take lessons from Britain’s experience in Northern Ireland and Malaya...

Mr Brown hinted at some of his doubts when he told reporters in Kabul: “We are the second largest force in Afghanistan and we will expect as part of the burden-sharing that other countries will do more.” Senior diplomatic sources say there is also frustration in Britain’s military over the lack of a coherent mission statement for the Nato forces in Afghanistan. This has led to problems with US forces sometimes wrecking carefully nurtured community relations in their pursuit of al-Qaeda...

Yesterday it emerged that the Ministry of Defence expects its budget for Afghanistan to rise by more than 50 per cent next year from £1.51 billion in the financial year to £2.32 billion
[emphasis added]. 

Letter from Pashmul
Policing Afghanistan
An ethnic-minority force enters a Taliban stronghold.
(Too long to excerpt properly, but some samples below. Warrant Officer Mike Vollick appears throughout, along with some other Canadians).
New Yorker, Dec. 8,  by Graeme Wood 
Khan’s police unit patrols a war zone, and the men often do the work of soldiers rather than of normal beat police officers. Although the Army lends support when the police encounter armed resistance, the soldiers then retreat to a base outside Pashmul. On most days, the police patrol the alleys alone, except for a few Canadian soldiers whom NATO has assigned to train and mentor them. Taliban snipers routinely fire at the base’s wooden guard towers, and the Hazara policemen fire back. They watch the rickety pickups that pass on a paved road along the base’s eastern edge, on the lookout for suicide bombers. Khan’s men know the faces in each village, but they remain an alien presence. One man, who sold goats to the Hazara policemen, would say hello to the patrol when it walked past his home; his corpse later turned up in the next village...

Khan’s directness enables him to work efficiently with his Canadian supervisors—particularly Mike Vollick, a warrant officer stationed at Khan’s police base. An infantryman, Vollick is thirty-seven and of medium height, with sturdy arms that, when I met him, five months after his arrival in Pashmul, were scabby from dozens of sand-fly bites. The Canadians and the Hazaras communicate reasonably well, although they mostly use a translator and don’t have more than a few dozen words in common, most of which describe military equipment. Vollick considers Khan the most effective Afghan police commander he has seen, and an ideal candidate for district police chief, although, given Khan’s inability to speak Pashto, the local language, and the strength of Pashtun prejudice, this would be an unlikely appointment...


The day before I arrived, Vollick and Khan, after months of long-range firefights across fields and vineyards, had planned an ambush of Taliban who, villagers said, sometimes gathered at a cemetery some five hundred yards from the base. The Hazaras took up a position near the cemetery, and soon two men carrying heavy blankets rounded a corner and passed a mud wall. Vollick stayed back to watch how the policemen behaved. They passed the first test by not immediately killing both men. But as soon as Khan’s men called for the Talibs to halt, they dropped the blankets and raised Kalashnikov assault rifles that were hidden underneath. The Hazaras outdrew them, and one policeman—who looked several years younger than his stated age of eighteen—emptied an entire magazine at one of the men, who fell dead with more than twenty bullets in his chest. The other man scrambled away, wounded.

The Hazara men had never been this close to their enemy before, and they were eager to pursue the wounded man. But Vollick shouted at them to stay where they were, fearing that they would be led into a trap. “They were losing their minds, they were so excited,” Vollick told me later...

Soon, insurgents began shooting wildly from a concealed position. Vollick ordered a retreat, and the group ran through the alleys toward the base. The policemen moved with their Kalashnikovs raised, and Vollick shouted at them to lower their weapons, to avoid shooting innocent farmers. The group returned with no casualties other than its composure and professionalism; the Hazaras had behaved more like a paramilitary group than like a professional police team. They hung the rusty rifle on a wall as a trophy. In the next days, every Hazara I met pointed to it with pride. That evening, they listened eagerly to the Taliban’s radio channels, which featured confused messages about someone named Bashir. Villagers later reported that the wounded man had died...

Khan and Vollick’s relationship is rare and exemplary among NATO soldiers and their Afghan counterparts. Other commanders in Vollick’s position have had to pressure their Afghan counterparts to lead their men into unfriendly areas. Vollick is able to rely on Khan’s initiative. Khan keeps the watchtowers manned, and insures that policemen are properly armed for patrolling. During planning, Vollick and Khan discuss tactics and the day’s operations, and when they leave the base they walk together, conferring about which houses they need to inspect more closely, and which villagers are lying...

Articles found December 17 , 2008

Taliban Targets NATO Convoy in Pakistan 
By VOA News  17 December 2008
  Article Link

Pakistani officials said suspected Taliban militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a NATO supply convoy, killing a woman in a nearby house and wounding at least one of her children

Officials Wednesday said the grenades missed the convoy and hit the house in Pakistan's Khyber tribal district.

This is the latest in a string of attacks on convoys heading for the Khyber Pass, the main route into Afghanistan along the mountainous border. Officials said the convoy continued on its way to Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, a Pakistani truckers association said many truck drivers are refusing to carry supplies into Afghanistan because of the sharp rise in attacks along the route.

NATO officials and local authorities both downplayed the truckers' claim. NATO spokesmen said there has been no major disruption in their supply lines.
More on link

Sixth British soldier in a week killed in Afghanistan
1 hour ago
Article Link

LONDON (AFP) — A British soldier was killed in fighting in troubled southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the sixth fatality among British forces in the past week, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The soldier from 1st Battalion The Rifles was killed by enemy fire in an area north west of Lashkar Gah in southern Helmand province while fighting in the district of Nad-e-Ali, the ministry in London said.

He was treated at the scene before being taken to the military hospital at Camp Bastion by helicopter, but later died of his wounds.

His death follows that of a soldier from 29 Commando Royal Artillery in Helmand on Monday, and those of four marines in the province on Friday.

It brings to 134 the total number of British service personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001, when US-led forces ousted the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

"The death of this soldier has left everyone in Task Force Helmand deeply saddened," army spokeswoman Commander Paula Rowe said.
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Bigger, better military spy drones arrive at Kandahar Airfield
Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press. 17 Dec 08
Article link
Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan have new eyes in the sky.  The first of several Heron pilotless spy drones were unveiled Wednesday shortly after their arrival at Kandahar Airfield, where they will soon be keeping tabs on the Taliban from above.  The drones - also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs - will help coalition forces ferret out Taliban fighters planting roadside bombs or planning ambushes, Canadian Forces officials say....

New aerial drones will keep eye on Taliban
Darah Hansen , Canwest News Service, 17 Dec 08
Article link
Canada is set to ramp up surveillance of insurgent activity and boost safety for its troops in Afghanistan with the arrival this week of the first in a fleet of new long-range aerial drones.  The CU170 Heron unmanned aerial vehicle - or UAV - has the capacity to fly for more than 24 hours at a time and detect insurgents planting deadly roadside bombs or planning ambushes across a 200-kilometre range.  "This is just an excellent new addition to Canada's inventory here in Afghanistan," said Col. Christopher Coates, Air Wing Commander in Kandahar. "We're absolutely confident that the Heron is going to increase safety for our soldiers out there working in the battlefield because it can maintain eyes on what's happening for a longer period of time."....

Afghan-Canadian the top choice for governor of Kandahar
Former villager comes full circle in 'great Canadian story'

GRAEME SMITH AND ROBERT MATAS, Globe and Mail, 18 Dec 08
Article link
An agricultural expert from British Columbia is now the leading candidate in the urgent search for a new governor of Kandahar, The Globe and Mail has learned. The post is a key political seat in southern Afghanistan but a dangerous task with little chance of glory.  Tooryalai Wesa, 58, of Coquitlam, B.C., was called from Canada to Afghanistan this week to discuss the unusual job offer. The current governor left the post after less than four months in the job, and prominent figures in the country had rejected the position, so President Hamid Karzai appears to have reached into the expatriate community and chosen a friend of his family with experience in rural development.  “Yes, that's the rumour, I think so. I'm not 100-per-cent sure,” said Ahmed Wali Karzai, chairman of Kandahar's provincial council and the President's younger brother. “I talked to him today, and he just arrived from Canada.”  The Afghan government has not announced Mr. Wesa's appointment, and even his relatives say it's unclear whether he will accept the job....

Afghan-Canadian could be new governor of Kandahar
Canadian Press, 18 Dec 08
Article link
An Afghan-Canadian academic is emerging as the front runner for the top political posting in Kandahar amid speculation a new governor could be appointed as early as next week.  A well-connected source told The Canadian Press that Tooryalai Wesa, 58, of Coquitlam, B.C., is scheduled to have lunch Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the job, which has been held by two different people in the past eight months.  The source said Wesa will then meet Jelani Popal of Afghanistan's Independent Directorate for Local Governance in Kabul. Following that, a committee will have to approve Wesa's appointment before he is named Kandahar's governor.  A Karzai aide declined comment on whether Wesa was scheduled to meet with the Afghan president, but others connected to the leader were not as tight-lipped.  Ahmed Wali Karzai, chair of Kandahar's provincial council and the younger half-brother of the president, said he has heard Wesa's name linked to the governorship....

Year of the AFGHAN mission
2009 is pivotal: If we're really leaving in 2011, fine. But if we're not, consider these four options

ROLAND PARIS, Globe & Mail, 17 Dec 08
Article link
....For Canada, too, 2009 may be crucial. Although 2011 seems far off, we'll soon have to decide whether to continue our Afghan engagement, and in what form if we do. NATO is already planning for the arrival of new U.S. forces in Kandahar. If we wish to carve out specific responsibilities for ourselves, we'll need to make a claim to them, probably before 2010.

Such decisions, however, presuppose serious public debate in Canada over the next year, informed by the evolving circumstances of the mission.

Apart from withdrawing our 2,700-strong contingent or simply continuing the existing deployment, four other options should be examined:

1. Move Canadian troops to safer parts of Afghanistan (although this is not where NATO forces are most needed).

2. Focus our military mission on Kandahar city and the strategically important districts of Panjwai and Zhari (which may be possible with a reduced force of about 1,800 soldiers, including support elements).

3. Keep only a garrison in Kandahar city to provide security for residents and Canadian development officials (requiring a few hundred soldiers, including support elements).

4. Shift entirely to a training mission for Afghan army and police units (the risks should not be underestimated, since trainers typically accompany their units on operations).

But first, we must decide whether it's in Canada's interest to remain in Afghanistan at all. We have no obligation to make further sacrifices, particularly if the mission's prospects do not improve. But the costs of allowing Afghanistan to collapse back into civil war would be enormous - for regional security (the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan is at stake), for our own security (as we learned in the 1990s when al-Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base for global attacks), and not least for ordinary Afghans, who have suffered through decades of war....

Afghan and ISAF engineers clear deadly ordnance
NATO news release PR# 2008-717, 18 Dec 08
News release link
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF engineers will be collecting and disposing of legacy ordnance and explosives from the Garmsir and Musa Qala districts over the next four weeks.  Locals have been asked to report explosive devices or old ordnance to a member of the ANSF; ISAF or Afghan engineers will then destroy such ordnance in a controlled manner.  This is the largest joint operation of its type to be conducted in Helmand and further evidence of the positive work being done by the ANSF and ISAF. Unexploded warheads and legacy mines regularly cause significant injuries to civilians, particularly to children.

Afghan Police Must Fight Crime, Not Taliban, ICG Says
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 18 Dec 08
Article link
Systemic corruption among the Afghan police force, too used to fighting the Taliban instead of fighting crime, is fueling a perception of lawlessness and public discontent, a think tank has said.  In many isolated outposts, the police are the only face of the Afghan government and are vulnerable to insurgent attacks. But they are also renowned for milking the populace for bribes.  Endemic corruption in the Interior Ministry, which runs the police, means promotions are often bought, not earned on merit.  "Too much emphasis has continued to be placed on using the police to fight the insurgency rather than crime. Corruption and political appointments are derailing attempts to professionalize the force," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.  "While hard to measure given the lack of crime statistics, there is a general perception in Afghanistan that lawlessness is on the rise," it said....

The Other Front
This Fucking War web log posting, 17 Dec 08
Posting link
....There'd been a fender-bender in the Kandahar bazaar, a taxi and a bicycle among wooden-wheeled vegetable carts. Wrenching around to avoid the knot, another cart touched one of the green open-backed trucks the police drive. In seconds, the officers were dragging the man to the chalky dust, beating him -- blow after blow to the head, neck, hips, kidneys. Shopkeepers in the nearby stalls began shouting, "What do you want to do, kill him?" The police slung the man into the back of their truck and roared away....
U.N.'s Afghan mission to expand
Reuters, Dec. 17

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan will soon have its budget doubled and staff numbers increased to more than 2,000 from 1,500, the U.N.'s special envoy said Wednesday.

The extra money and staff reflects a growing international focus on Afghanistan where seven years after U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban, the militants are gaining ground and violence has reached its worst levels since 2001.

U.N, Special Envoy Kai Eide said following a U.N. meeting in New York Tuesday, his budget would soon be doubled from $80 million a year.

He called for more transparency among donor countries about how much direct aid they contribute to Afghanistan, saying they needed to take responsibility for their projects and not leave it to the U.N..

Afghanistan needed an "international coordination center" with a representative from each major donor country, he said [emphasis added].

As well as the full gamut of U.N. agencies, more than 100 non-governmental organizations are active in Afghanistan, often implementing projects funded by donor countries. Poor coordination between them has plagued development efforts.

"There is not a lack of projects, but there is a lack of focus," Eide said.


Eide said he wanted to see an agreement between Western military forces and the Afghan government, which is soon due for renewal, codify procedures for military searches of civilian homes so they are only conducted by the Afghan military.

Eide said the renewed agreement should include "issues having to do with detention, with house searches, and also with regard to the use of air power" but the details of the renewal will be the responsibility of the Afghan government.

NATO forces in October revised their procedures for launching air strikes and said all house searches would be led by Afghan troops unless there was a clear danger coming from the building [emphasis added]...

Afghan-Canadian the top choice for governor of Kandahar
Former villager comes full circle in 'great Canadian story'

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

December 18, 2008 at 1:30 AM EST

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan and VANCOUVER — An agricultural expert from British Columbia is now the leading candidate in the urgent search for a new governor of Kandahar, The Globe and Mail has learned. The post is a key political seat in southern Afghanistan but a dangerous task with little chance of glory.

Tooryalai Wesa, 58, of Coquitlam, B.C., was called from Canada to Afghanistan this week to discuss the unusual job offer. The current governor left the post after less than four months in the job, and prominent figures in the country had rejected the position, so President Hamid Karzai appears to have reached into the expatriate community and chosen a friend of his family with experience in rural development.

“Yes, that's the rumour, I think so. I'm not 100-per-cent sure,” said Ahmed Wali Karzai, chairman of Kandahar's provincial council and the President's younger brother. “I talked to him today, and he just arrived from Canada.”

The Afghan government has not announced Mr. Wesa's appointment, and even his relatives say it's unclear whether he will accept the job.

Yesterday he sent a brief e-mail to his wife in Coquitlam, saying he is scheduled to meet the Afghan President today.

“I'm not sure yet, if he accepted it or not,” Rangina Wesa said.

Sitting down with Mr. Karzai will mark a new chapter in Mr. Wesa's remarkable life. One of his former employers has called it “a great Canadian story,” which took him from a rural village into the senior ranks of the Communist regime, then fleeing the civil war for a comfortable life in Canada, only to throw himself back into the most dangerous province in Afghanistan, believing he must help his birthplace.

“All the time we were talking about that,” his wife said, describing her husband's concern about the situation in Kandahar. “We didn't know he would be responsible for the governor's office, but this was our feeling. I hope he can make some improvements.”

The man who still officially holds the title of Kandahar governor, Major-General Rahmatullah Raufi, said he has heard his replacement will be Afghan Canadian, and suggested that his citizenship might help him work efficiently with the foreign troops.

Mr. Wesa has recent experience in Kandahar, having served as regional director for a U.S.-funded local governance initiative from October, 2006, until August, 2007.

The outgoing governor also elaborated on his previous complaints of getting pushed out of Kandahar, saying Ahmed Wali Karzai's overwhelming political power made his job impossible.

“Always he was interfering,” Gen. Raufi said. “In one province there should be only one governor, not two governors.”

Such friction with the Karzais may be less likely for Mr. Wesa, who was described as a friend of the ruling family. Mr. Wesa was born in the village of Kohak, just outside of Kandahar city, and his father, Abdul Samad Wesa, was known for his modern outlook and ensured that his son was educated.

After attending high school in Kandahar, Mr. Wesa studied agricultural science in Kabul, Beirut and Nebraska. Later in life, he would complete a doctorate at the University of British Columbia, but after his initial schooling, he went to work at the main university in Soviet-occupied Kabul, researching farm techniques and teaching classes.

He gained prominence in Kabul academic circles and became a minister for higher education in 1989, returning to his native province in 1991 to serve as founding president of Kandahar University.

The family left Afghanistan with their three daughters in 1992, his wife said, because she required back surgery that was not available in Afghanistan. She wanted to go to India, she said, but Russian authorities, in control of Afghanistan at the time, would allow her to go only to Moscow.

It was a struggle keeping the family together during those times, she said, as the authorities did not want to let them travel together for fear they would join the millions of refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

“That was a terrible time, we were spread around the world, escaping from the country.”

Eventually the officials relented and the family stayed in Moscow for four months, then two months in Budapest where they tried for a visa to another country, she said. They had hoped to go to Germany or Denmark but were turned down, so they walked into a Swiss office that was near Germany's consulate.

The Swiss would not allow either Mr. or Ms. Wesa to work in their professions; she was a gynecologist with 14 years experience. After a few years in Switzerland, their children were also suffering academically because of their unresolved legal status.

They picked Canada mostly as a result of the warm feelings they had toward the country from Canadians they met in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, she said, and because they had a relative living in Toronto.

Ms. Wesa recalled they were asked a few questions by a Canadian official and then the woman put small Canadian-flag pins on her daughters' dresses. They gained citizenship in Canada three years after arriving on Aug. 24, 1995.

Mr. Wesa is now a research associate at UBC's Institute of Asian Research.

Their 24-year old daughter Mina is now following her mother's profession, doing a residency in gynecology. Their daughter Hila, 23, has a commerce degree and is working toward a law degree in Windsor, Ont. Their third daughter Wazhma, 21, also has a commerce degree and is working for a transportation business.

A politician in Kandahar expressed disappointment yesterday about the news of Mr. Wesa's impending arrival as governor, saying his membership in a relatively small tribe, the Mohammadzai, and his status as an expatriate will both serve to marginalize him in Kandahar's power structure.

Still, the installation of any governor is viewed as being an improvement on having an empty office in the palace at the heart of Kandahar city, where nobody has taken control of the administration since Gen. Raufi departed at the beginning of the month.
B.C. man accepts post as Kandahar governor
CTV, Dec. 18

A Canadian-Afghan academic, who will become the new governor of Kandahar province this weekend, says he wants to build bridges between cultures and improve the lives of regular Afghans.

Tooryalai Wesa - who fled his home in 1991 and settled in Coquitlam, B.C. - met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for lunch on Thursday to discuss his challenging new job...

"I want to be a bridge between these two homes that I have," said Wesa, adding that improving security and infrastructure in the region are very high on his list of priorities.

Wesa added that bolstering the agriculture industry by providing Kandaharis with fertilizers and pesticides is also key to establishing security in the area. The province has been overrun with Taliban attacks and is considered an insurgent stronghold...

British Columbia Native Could Run Kandahar In Afghanistan
AHN, Dec. 18

The growing storm
There is progress in Afghanistan, but the danger is increasing

Maclean's, Dec. 18, by Paul Wells

There is progress in Afghanistan, but the danger is increasing
Even soldiers who eagerly await the arrival of U.S. reinforcements worry about what will happen when they arrive. Many—though certainly not all—believe the level of violence will skyrocket in the short term and that the heart of the carnage will be the country’s south, including Kandahar, where most of the soldiers in the Canadian deployment are already stationed. It may be salutary violence; perhaps this war needs to get worse before it gets better. But one U.S. general put it this way.

“If you put three brigades in the heart of the Pashtun south, the insurgents are gonna come from Baluchistan [across the porous border in Pakistan], they’re gonna come from far and wide. And you’re going to see a level of violence that we have not seen in a long time. This is not the Taliban that we all know and love. You know, one little IED [improvised explosive device] takes a wheel off a vehicle, everybody gets bumped up but they’re all okay. You’re going to be seeing world-class IEDs. You’re going to be seeing [rocket-propelled grenade] fire that is incredibly accurate. You’re going to be seeing mortar fire that is incredibly accurate. And my belief is, you’re going to see new weapons introduced into the theatre.”..

Development work has markedly accelerated and there have been tentative steps toward better coordination. Roads are being paved, schools being built. Canada is distributing $1.2 million worth of wheat seed to 5,000 farmers so they might not have to plant opium poppies. Our government is financing the rebuilding of Sarpoza prison, the site of a spectacular and deadly prison break in June, into perhaps the most secure and humane prison in Afghanistan. The professionalism and imagination of the Canadian public servants I met at the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar were a tonic for a journalistic refugee from the inanity of the coalition-government brinksmanship in Ottawa.

Canada’s civilian work in the south is led by Elissa Golberg, a loquacious career civil servant whose title—she is the first official “Representative of Canada in Kandahar”—is sewn in short form onto her body armour, as “THE ROCK.” Soldiers are told to treat the Rock with the deference a general officer would get. She frets over her colleagues’ safety, but she spends more time bumping along the dangerous roads around Kandahar than most other civilians.

Golberg has more discretion over her budgets than do many cabinet ministers in Ottawa. While she must account for her spending decisions, she is well clear of the leaden cloud of so-called “accountability” that most of today’s Ottawa interprets to mean, “Don’t do anything and you won’t get into trouble.” In Kandahar the cost of inaction is far too visible for such nonsense. Golberg will talk your ear off about wheat seed. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

One constant guideline for the Canadian civilians in Kandahar is to resist doing by themselves what they can goad or entice the Afghan government to do. This takes discipline. The Canadians have considerable resources, whereas getting and holding the Afghans’ attention can be like trying to push string uphill. There will not always be Canadians in Kandahar, and before they leave they hope to instill some of the habits of a democratic government in Afghanistan’s administration. Too much still rides on the personal attention of the local governor, who can be dedicated or corrupt. Rules and processes need to evolve so Afghans can depend on their government for basic services even if a third-rater is in charge.

And yet this whole conversation about government services is slightly surreal because the roads are booby-trapped and the country is racked with insurgent violence. Every single NGO we met in Kandahar identified “security”—the local euphemism for war—as its primary challenge. Here too, last year’s standoff between allies and insurgents seems to be holding, but at a higher level of carnage...

...some Western authorities think even a U.S.-reinforced NATO contingent and a swiftly improving Afghan army and police corps won’t be enough to end the standoff with the insurgents. That has some senior NATO officers mulling a dangerous and controversial option: recruiting and arming local tribal militias to help out. There is no formal plan along these lines, but we heard the option discussed at senior levels of the NATO leadership.

We also heard it contested, especially in the south, where tribal affiliations are infernally complex. Arming or paying one faction could have repercussions nobody could predict or control. “On a scale from smart to dumb,” one officer said, holding his hands apart in front of him, “arming the tribes is over here.” He nodded at the “dumb” end of his scale.

If anything, it was harder after this trip to measure the room for optimism in Afghanistan than it was a year ago. The civilian and military resources Canada and its allies are deploying far exceed anything we have put to the task before. Reinforcements are on the way. But the challenge is growing too...

Afstan: The US and coming realities in Regional Command South
The Torch, Dec. 18

Articles found December 19, 2008

Dutch soldier killed in Afghanistan
Article Link

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A Dutch soldier was killed Friday in southern Afghanistan, the NATO command confirmed.

The soldier died in an improved explosive device strike, according to a news release from NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

"Our sincere condolences and sympathies are with the family and friends of this brave soldier, especially during this holiday season," said ISAF spokesman Capt. Mark Windsor Royal Navy.

"This soldier's death is an irreplaceable loss to all of us who fight for the peace and stability of Afghanistan. ISAF will continue to fight for the cause for which this brave soldier gave his life."

Eighteen Dutch troops have died in the Afghan conflict, according to a CNN count of casualty figures
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New Kandahar governor is Karzai's childhood friend
Globe and Mail, Dec. 19

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — There's little doubt that Tooryalai Wesa, the Canadian about to take the risky job as governor of Kandahar, will have the ear of the Afghan President.

“We knew each other, our fathers knew each other, our grandfathers knew each other, we went to the same school in the same province. … We were getting together after school,” Mr. Wesa said Thursday, fondly recalling how he grew up with the family of President Hamid Karzai during more peaceful times in Kandahar almost half a century ago.

This close friendship with the ruling family will help him avoid the internal rivalries that have divided the local administration in recent years, Mr. Wesa said.

Previous governors of Kandahar have feuded with the President's younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and the previous person to hold the title lasted only four months before leaving and loudly denouncing the younger Karzai's strong hand in local politics.

But the new governor said he does not expect similar problems with the Karzais, having known them since the 1960s...

Times of Change
Conference of Defence Associations media roundup, Dec. 19

Articles found December 20, 2008

Afghanistan's wild west
Matthieu Aikins, National Post  Published: Friday, December 19, 2008
Article Link

Everyone had told me not to go west by road, not alone, not as a foreigner. Even my travelling through cities alone was regarded, by most of the expats I spoke to, as somewhat insane. To cross the mountains of central Afghanistan by van and truck was a voyage that not even my Afghan friends in Kabul would consider. Yet as scared as I was, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to see the remote interior firsthand.

There were two main routes overland from Kabul to Herat, a major city near the Iranian border. The fast way was the long loop south over paved highway through Kandahar and Helmand. It was also extremely dangerous for foreigners, with Taliban checkpoints a regular occurrence. Even ordinary Afghans were at risk: while I was in Kabul, 23 civilians were pulled off a bus outside of Kandahar City and executed by the Taliban, on suspicion of working for the government.
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3 Danish soldiers killed, 1 injured in Afghanistan
16 hours ago
Article Link

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Three Danish soldiers and one from the Netherlands were killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan on Friday, losing their lives just as the commitment of some countries to the fight in Afghanistan begins to wane.

In Copenhagen, the army said the three Danes were killed and a compatriot badly injured when their armored vehicle drove over a bomb or a land mine in Helmand province — the most dangerous part of Afghanistan.

"Today we lost three Danish soldiers in a tragic way," said Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "It is the biggest single loss for the Danish engagement in southern Afghanistan."

Denmark has about 700 troops in the NATO force in Afghanistan. Twenty-one have been killed since Denmark joined the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in 2002.

In the Netherlands, Gen. Peter van Uhm said 24-year-old Sgt. Mark Weijdt was killed Friday when he stepped on an explosive device during a fire-fight with the Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.

"It is terrible news that casts a dark shadow over Christmas," said Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
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Pakistan: Militants kill 3 in latest convoy attack
By RIAZ KHAN – 2 hours ago
Article Link

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Militants in Pakistan launched rockets at two trucks returning from delivering fuel to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, killing three people along a critical and increasingly dangerous supply route, an official said Saturday.

The assailants struck the oil tankers Friday as they traveled through the famed Khyber Pass, said Fazal Mehmood, a government official in the lawless Pakistani tribal area for which the route is named.

The three Pakistanis killed in the attack included a passenger and both drivers, who were ferrying their vehicles back to Pakistan without the paramilitary escorts that often accompany the convoys on their way to Afghanistan, Mehmood said.

Up to 75 percent of the supplies for Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. Al-Qaida and Taliban militants have stepped up attacks on the Khyber supply line in an apparent bid to hamstring U.S. and NATO forces, which toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 but have been battling a resurgence by the group.

Hundreds of vehicles, including Humvees intended for the Afghan army, have been torched in recent weeks in terminals on the Pakistani side of the border, leaving several security guards dead. The convoys are often attacked in Afghanistan as well, despite armed escorts.
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Dear Santa: Bring daddy back from Afghanistan
MATT HARTLEY From Saturday's Globe and Mail December 20, 2008 at 12:22 AM EST
Article Link

The postal elves who answer letters to Santa are witnessing a small but noticeable new trend this year: messages from the children of Canadian soldiers who want nothing more than for their mothers and fathers to come home from the war in Afghanistan.

Canada Post assembles a team of volunteers to answer letters to Santa Claus every year. But the 11,000 “elves” are seeing these heartfelt pleas atop the list of more Canadian children than ever this holiday season, mixed in among the requests for video games and iPods, for Barbies and new bikes.

“We've got a lot of tough ones like that this year,” said Nicole Lemire, a 17-year veteran postal elf and Canada Post spokeswoman in Ottawa.

It's not the first year that the children of Canadian soldiers have asked Santa to bring their moms and dads home safely so they can spend Christmas together, but “there do seem to be more of them this year,” Ms. Lemire said.

For some of the postal elves – all of whom are either past or present Canada Post employees who volunteer to pen the responses – the innocent implorations of children seeking the safe return of a parent, or the opportunity to speak to a loved one who has died, can be too much to handle emotionally.

“I've been doing this for years and I still get choked up all the time,” Ms. Lemire said.

Canada Post has installed a contingency plan to handle such cases.
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Czech lawmakers do not extend Afghanistan mission
By KAREL JANICEK – 20 hours ago
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PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) — The lower chamber of Czech parliament has failed to extend a mandate for the deployment of the country's troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign missions for next year, meaning the soldiers will leave soon.

The mandate for as many as 415 Czech servicemen serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and for another unit of 100 elite troops with the U.S.-led operation against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, expires by the year's end.

"I am ashamed of the vote," Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said.

"It is a serious situation," Czech military chief of general staff Lt. Gen. Vlastimil Picek said. "It is a very bad signal for our partners," he said.

Of the 192 lawmakers present in the 200-seat house, only 99 deputies voted to extend the deployment by one more year and to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by another 230 soldiers. The governing coalition needed 101 to win.

Seventy-five deputies voted against the move, while 18 abstained.

The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 along with Hungary and Poland. They were the first three post-communist countries to do so.
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Harper dodges question on Afghan extension
But Prime Minister leaves no doubt deployment of troops will last until at least December 2011

Toronto Star, Dec. 20

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appeared to leave the door open to a longer deployment in Afghanistan than the scheduled end of mission in December 2011.

In an interview taped Thursday, to be broadcast tonight on CTV, Harper discusses the difficulties of the Afghan mission, but defends the work Canadians are doing there.

Asked if Canadian troops might possibly come home any earlier, Harper said flatly, "no."

But asked about whether there are any conditions under which Canada could extend its mission beyond December 2011, in light of the vow by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to increase American efforts there, Harper called it a "hypothetical," and dodged a direct answer.

"We took a resolution to Parliament; we got agreement of ourselves and the Liberal party on the extension of the mission to 2011. We have very definite goals we want to achieve by 2011, including being in a situation where our military mission can end.

"We're aiming for that [emphasis added]. A big emphasis is the training of the Afghan military. That is progressing, and we do want to be able to achieve what we set out to achieve. And at the moment, at the end of 2008, I'm not prepared to speculate on other scenarios for 2011. We're committed to the track we're on."

Harper, in response to a videotaped question from a Canadian soldier in Kandahar about what he believes will be achieved by then, concedes "there's no doubt this remains a tough mission."

He said troops are in the "single toughest province in the entire country. Kandahar is the centre of the resistance." But he continued to claim that progress is being made.

Harper says "the big problem" is "with the Pakistan-Afghan border" noting insurgents cross back and forth, and are causing "increasing problems in Pakistan itself."

Harper lamented the "inadequate" NATO troop levels in Afghanistan, saying "Canada, Britain, the United States, the Netherlands – there's a handful of countries (that) are carrying the load."

Canada has about 2,500 troops in the volatile Kandahar region. Since 2002, 103 Canadian soldiers have died in the conflict.

Harper insisted the situation is much different from the bleak scenario faced by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, when U.S.-funded mujahideen countered the invasion.

"The truth of the matter is we have nowhere near the kind of fighting force the Soviets had, and the insurgency is much weaker than it was in that period.

"And this is the tragedy. I think if we would all put our shoulders to the wheel, this is a problem we can deal with. It's a much smaller insurgency than we saw 30 years ago, much less effective, but it does need sustained, concentrated efforts by the allies and this is a big test of NATO." He said there has been renewed engagement by NATO allies, "but there has to be more again."

U.S. to almost double troops in Afghanistan
NBC News, Dec. 19

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has signed a deployment order to send a combat aviation brigade, about 3,000 troops, to Afghanistan in early 2009.

The brigade, from the 82nd Airborne
[emphasis added], will fulfill one of the critical deficits for U.S. forces in that country right now -- helicopters.

Last week, Gates said he expects to have three more brigade combat teams in Afghanistan by "summertime." A senior defense official said that the combat aviation brigade is not among those brigades mentioned by the secretary (one brigade, the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, deploys there in January).

So, with the addition of this aviation brigade, the three BCTs Gates spoke about last week, and the logistics forces needed to support all of these new troops, the U.S. now plans to send between 21,000 and 25,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2009.

That nearly doubles the number of U.S. boots on the ground there now, which stands at 31,000.

Afghanistan could get 30,000 new US troops
AP, Dec. 20

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The top U.S. military officer said Saturday that the Pentagon could double the number of American forces in Afghanistan by next summer to 60,000--the largest estimate of potential reinforcements ever publicly suggested [emphasis added].

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 already there...

Mullen said that increase would include combat forces but also aviation, medical and civilian affairs support troops.

"So some 20,000 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now," he told a news conference at a U.S. base in Kabul. "We certainly have enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven't had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear [emphasis added]."..


First of 8 armed Griffon helicopters arrive in Kandahar to support Canadians
CP, Dec. 20

The first of eight armed CH-146 Griffon helicopters arrived at Kandahar Airfield on Saturday.

The Griffons, which have been given extra sensors and Gatling guns on top of their existing side door machine-guns and armour plating, will provide escort and protection for the larger Chinook transport helicopters.

The lumbering Chinooks are more vulnerable to attack by ground fire and rocket-propelled grenades, so they typically travel with smaller, armed escorts like the Griffons.

The Griffons will also give air cover to ground convoys [emphasis added], and will be on standby to evacuate battlefield casualties.

The commander of Canada's air wing, Col. Christopher Coates, says the Griffons may also be used to spot roadside bombs, which have killed more than half of the 103 Canadian soldiers lost in the Afghanistan mission.

"We can avoid areas where there are known IED (improvised explosive device) threats," Coates said.

"Some of the Griffons may be used in other roles like helping spot IEDs or other activities on the ground, surveying convoys as they move."..

Defence chiefs plan to deploy 3,000 more troops in Helmand
Sunday Times, Dec. 21

Defence chiefs are making contingency plans to send 3,000 extra troops to southern Afghanistan next year as part of a US-led surge.

The troops, a mixture of regular infantry, engineers, artillery and special forces are needed to counter growing Taliban activity across Helmand province.

The plans for an increase – expected to be temporary – have not been given the go-ahead by Gordon Brown. However, the Ministry of Defence has prepared them in anticipation of an American request for more troops when Barack Obama, the president-elect, speaks to Brown after his inauguration in January...

The Americans had previously said they would dispatch an additional 5,000 soldiers to the southern province where they already have 2,400 marines, with more expected to follow. They will significantly outnumber the 5,000 British troops in the province, raising a question over the UK’s control over Helmand and its own troops [emphasis added]...

US opens fire on Brown’s ‘war fatigue’
American defence chiefs believe Britain is not pulling its weight in Afghanistan and say more British troops are needed

Sunday Times, Dec. 21

AS the United States prepares for a troop surge in Afghanistan in the new year, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, and senior commanders are concerned that the British government lacks the “political will” for the fight.

General John Craddock, the Nato commander, said last week that Britain must put more troops into Helmand province to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview with The Sunday Times at Nato’s supreme headquarters in Mons, Belgium, he said Gordon Brown’s announcement last Monday that more troops would bolster Britain’s 8,100-strong force in Afghanistan by March was not enough. Although planning is under way to send up to 3,000 extra troops to Afghanistan next summer if required, Brown committed only 300 in his Commons statement.

“I don’t think 300 more, if you are talking about Helmand province, will do the trick. We’ve got to hold down there until we’ve got some Afghan street forces who can take over,” Craddock said.

Brown’s decision to pull out of southern Iraq - leaving US troops to fill the gap - and his reluctance to commit to sending a substantial number of extra troops to Afghanistan have rung alarm bells in Washington.

US defence chiefs are concerned that Brown would rather pander to war fatigue back home than provide the long-term forces necessary for the new anti-Taliban surge. They fear the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan could soon make the war there as unpopular with the British as the conflict in Iraq.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said last week that Britain would be able to redeploy some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in the short term, but was ill equipped for a long fight. “We cannot just have a one-for-one transfer. The net result must be a reduction in our overall operation campaign,” said the defence chief.

A senior American defence adviser said Gates and US commanders were frustrated by the British response to their request for help. “They’re looking at the British government pulling out of Iraq and wondering, ‘Do they have the stomach for Afghanistan?’ Gates is concerned about the level of resources needed and the lack of political will to reinforce them [emphasis added].”...

Britain has lost the stomach for a fight
Sunday Times, Dec. 21, by Michael Portillo

The extent of Britain’s fiasco has been masked by the media’s relief that we are at last leaving Iraq. Those who have been urging Britain to quit are not in a strong position to criticise the government’s lack of staying power. Reporting of Basra has mainly focused on British casualties and the prospect for withdrawal. The British media and public have shown scant regard for our failure to protect Iraqis, so the British nation, not just its government, has attracted distrust. We should reflect on what sort of country we have become. We may enjoy patronising Americans but they demonstrate a fibre that we now lack.

The United States will have drawn its conclusions about our reliability in future and British policy-makers, too, will need to recognise that we lack the troops, wealth and stomach for anything more than the briefest conflict. How long will we remain in Afghanistan? There, in contrast to our past two years in Basra, our forces engage the enemy robustly. But as a result the attrition rate is high. We look, rightly, for more help from Nato allies such as Germany, although humility should temper that criticism, given our own performance in Iraq...

Articles found December 22, 2008

NATO to engage Afghan tribes in Taliban fight
Mon Dec 22, 2008 7:16am EST By Golnar Motevalli
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KABUL, Dec 22 (Reuters) - While U.S. forces prepare to send up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, behind the scenes Afghan government officials are working to engage tribal elders as a way of undermining the growing influence of Taliban insurgents.

Engaging with leaders in rural areas of Afghanistan is part of a new NATO and U.S. strategy in Afghanistan; to promote traditional methods of local rule and undercut the lawlessness that feeds in the strengthening Taliban insurgency.

"The only way you can bring peace and stability to this country is to revive the traditional rule of people within the community in governance and security," Barna Karimi, deputy minister for policy at the Interdependent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) said.

The IDLG is an Afghan government department which leads community outreach to elders in rural areas of Afghanistan where their word is respected and often determines local law.

Using shuras -- meetings of tribal leaders -- the IDLG wants power-brokers in remote areas to cherry-pick civilians for jobs in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

"This shura will sign a memorandum of understanding on how the government should work and how the community should help the government not to shelter insurgents in their houses, not to feed them, not to house them, not to help them," Karimi said.

The commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. General David McKiernan recommended the plan in Washington last month as a way of improving government effectiveness at a local level in a country which has little history of central rule.
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Suspected US drone attack in Pakistan kills at least seven Taliban
Monday's attack came amid discussion of doubling the US forces in Afghanistan by mid-2009.
By Jonathan Adams posted December 22, 2008 at 9:30 am EST
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Suspected US attacks by unmanned drones killed at least seven (some reports claim eight) suspected Taliban members in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan on Monday morning, according to Pakistani officials.

It's the latest in a series of such air attacks. US officials, citing policy, have refused to comment on most of the strikes.

The attacks are believed to be carried out by "Predator" unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely controlled from CIA. headquarters in the US, targeting Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants from Afghanistan who are hiding out across the border in tight-knit tribal communities.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, and warned that they are counterproductive.

The airstrike came after a US commander on Saturday said Washington will deploy up to 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan by the middle of next year, in a mirror of the "surge" strategy that proved effective in Iraq.
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'I had no idea women were treated like this'
The first in a series of 10 remarkable Canadians, Lauryn Oates recounts her first foray into activism at the age of 14 and her relentless 12-year fight for Afghan women's rights
JANE ARMSTRONG  December 22, 2008
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VANCOUVER -- Lauryn Oates was 14 when she first heard the word "Taliban." A bewildering photo in a local newspaper - of an Afghan woman covered from head to toe - caught her attention. The Grade 9 student was stunned to read that women under the Taliban had lost nearly all their freedom, including the right to show their faces in public.

That was 12 years ago, long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and before Osama bin Laden became a household name.

Ms. Oates has been an activist for Afghan women ever since.

Now 26, she remembers how the newspaper story, which outlined a series of Taliban edicts against women, shattered her sheltered world.
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Canada 'not onboard' with U.S. plan to arm Afghan militias: MacKay
By MURRAY BREWSTER, The Canadian Press
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OTTAWA — Washington’s plan to arm local tribes to take on the Taliban in untamed districts of Afghanistan is possibly “counter-productive” and not something Canada supports, says Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The proposal, which the U.S. military will experiment with as up to 30,000 additional American troops surge into the country next year, has been routinely discussed by NATO defence ministers, most recently at meeting in Cornwallis, N.S.

“The tribal militia idea that has been around for some time now is controversial; we are not onboard with that,” MacKay said in a recent year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

“Our preference is to continue with this more formal training process that leads to a more reliable, more professional soldier and Afghan national security force.”

Hands-on, in-the-field training of Afghan soldiers and police to handle the fragile country’s security is the cornerstone of Ottawa’s strategy to withdraw Canadian troops from Kandahar by 2011.

Although the matter of arming tribal militia was debated at a Nov. 19 meeting of countries leading the fight in south Afghanistan, MacKay said there was “no agreement around the table.”
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B.C. agricultural expert sworn in as governor of Kandahar
Last Updated: Saturday, December 20, 2008 | 8:55 AM ET CBC News
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An Afghan-Canadian resident of British Columbia has been sworn in as the governor of Afghanistan's Kandahar province

Tooryalai Wesa officially assumed the role during a ceremony in Kandahar City on Saturday.

Wesa, 58, has lived with his wife and three children in Coquitlam, in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, for the past 13 years. He is an agricultural expert at the University of British Columbia.

Wesa becomes the third governor of the troubled province in less than a year.

Earlier in the week, he said his top priority will be to improve security in the province by keeping a balance between the region's different tribes.

He also said Afghan President Hamid Karzai sees him as an important liaison with the Canadian military.

The governor of Kandahar is generally considered Canada's biggest ally in the volatile southern province where the bulk of the roughly 2,700 Canadian troops are stationed.
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Taliban Kill 2 Afghans They Accuse of Spying 
By VOA News 21 December 2008
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Pakistani police say Taliban militants have killed two Afghan nationals for allegedly acting as spies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Police say they found the bullet-ridden bodies of two brothers Sunday in a village located in Pakistan's lawless tribal region of North Waziristan.

Police say a note found with the bodies said the two men were spies from the neighboring Afghan province of Khost.

U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. Many militants fled to Pakistan after the attack and continue to stage attacks across the border.
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Pentagon to Send U.S. Aviation Brigade to Afghanistan (Update1)
By Tony Capaccio Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -
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The U.S. Defense Department said it will send an aviation brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division to Afghanistan by June.

The 2,800-person unit is separate from four ground combat brigades that U.S. commanders said they need in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today in Washington.

The 3,500-person 3rd Brigade Combat Team transferring in January from Fort Drum, New York, will be the start of that buildup. The aviation brigade from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will provide helicopter reconnaissance and other support for the combat teams and NATO forces, Whitman said.

The U.S. has 31,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 that are part of the 51,000-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization force there.

The aviation brigade consists of 89 helicopters, the Army said in a statement, including 18 AH-64 Longbow-version Apache choppers capable of firing Hellfire anti-armor missiles, 24 OH- 58D Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance choppers, and 30 UH-60 Black Hawks for transportation.
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Security squabble halts lorries serving forces across Khyber Pass
The Times, Dec. 22

A dispute over who should pay to protect Nato and US military supplies crossing Pakistan is hampering efforts to secure the main lifeline for foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Government, recently bailed out by the IMF, wants the shipping companies carrying the supplies to pay for the extra security on the main route from the port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.

Militants have staged several attacks on the route in the past month, torching 260 vehicles the week before last, and killing three people on the Khyber Pass yesterday.

The shipping companies, suffering from the global credit crunch, are reluctant to hire guards for the convoys, which account for 75 per cent of US supplies in Afghanistan and a smaller proportion of Nato's.

Local firms subcontracted to deliver the supplies blame the Government and each other for failing to secure freight terminals in the northwestern city of Peshawar from repeated attack. They also want Britain and the US to lend them money so that they can buy their own trucks instead of hiring individual owner-drivers.

Owner-drivers want more money to drive from Peshawar to Kabul because of the security risks. Those who have lost their vehicles in recent attacks want compensation. “It's a huge issue,” the head of a Pakistani haulage company that carries Nato supplies said. “We've got to get into a situation where everyone agrees it's a problem.” Nato and US officials say the recent attacks have not affected their military operations...

British troops suffer four times as many fatalities as Americans
British forces have suffered four times as many fatalities in Afghanistan in the past seven weeks as our American allies

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 22

The statistic was emphasised when a Royal Marine was killed by an explosion in Helmand province on Sunday.

Despite contributing more than 8,000 troops to the total foreign force of about 50,000, the British have suffered 14 deaths since Nov 1. The US has lost three soldiers from its deployment of 31,000.

The statistics show that Britain is now experiencing more than a third of all casualties in Afghanistan at a time when other Nato countries have been accused of failing to "step up to the mark" in providing combat forces.

Adml Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US would increase the number of troops in the country by 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers by the middle of next year.

The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, said the Government would consider "very carefully" any request from Barack Obama, the US President-Elect, for more troops.

Mr Hutton insisted that the international forces were "making headway" in Afghanistan and that Britain had to "see this mission through".

"We can't allow the terrorists to get hold of Afghanistan again because we know what would happen," he said. "They would have a safe haven to launch their terrorist attacks."

Commanders have also criticised the lack of helicopters for the British force that means more road transport is vulnerable to attack [emphasis added]. Col Richard Kemp, who commanded all British forces in Afghanistan in 2004 said aside from the US, Britain had the highest number of troops in combat operations.

"Helmand is probably the most dangerous place in Afghanistan and is probably the most active Taliban area," he said. "Also the nature of British operations have since 2007 been more offensive."

In the latest fatality, a Royal Marine from the Commando Logistics Regiment was killed in an explosion in Helmand province. He was taking part in a routine move after operations to the north-west of Lashkar Gah.

Canada, which has a brigade stationed in Kandahar province next to Helmand, has seen six deaths in November and December. The US, which has most forces in the east, has suffered three deaths. At least 10,000 US troops will move into the south next year.

Since Nov 1, 14 British soldiers have died compared with six Canadians, three Americans, five Danes, two Spaniards and one soldier each from Australia, France and the Netherlands.

Sharing the burden of Afghanistan
'Old Europe' should match America's courage to be taken seriously

Daily Telegraph, Dec, 22, leader

In October 2006, Tony Blair gave a categoric undertaking to British troops in Afghanistan: "If the commanders on the ground want more equipment – armoured vehicles, for example, more helicopters – that will be provided." Today we report that, since November 1, British forces in Afghanistan have sustained more than four times the number of fatalities as the Americans, despite having a quarter of the number of troops there. Commanders say that one of the main reasons for this unacceptably high casualty rate is the continuing shortage of helicopters, leaving soldiers vulnerable to roadside bombs. So much for Mr Blair's promise.

It is not only inadequate kit that is to blame. The disproportionate British losses are also a direct consequence of the timidity of too many of our Nato allies. They have shown a dispiriting reluctance to commit troops to front-line action, leaving Britain and one or two others to shoulder the burden alongside the United States. It is against this unsatisfactory backdrop that the American decision to mount a significant troop surge next year must be viewed. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, announced at the weekend that up to 30,000 American soldiers will be deployed in the surge, far more than originally thought. A large proportion of them will be sent to Helmand province, where British operations against the Taliban have been at their most intense.

The new strategy reflects President-Elect Barack Obama's belief that it is in Afghanistan that the battle against Islamist terrorism must be fought and won. The imminent winding down of the US deployment in Iraq will make this escalation of activity in Afghanistan possible. The Americans will want other Nato members to show similar determination. If past experience is anything to go by, however, it will be the British – along with other Commonwealth nations, the Danes and the Dutch – who will be expected to do most of the heavy lifting.

This is not acceptable. Britain already has the second biggest contingent in theatre and, as we have seen, is suffering far more than its fair share of casualties. If other Nato members – notably France, Germany and Italy – cannot be persuaded to pull their weight, then serious questions will be raised about their commitment to the North Atlantic alliance. The countries of "Old Europe" have long fretted about being sidelined by America's domination of Nato. Has it never occurred to them that, if they displayed as much courage and energy in combating the forces that threaten us as do the Americans, they might be taken a little more seriously?

Under US orders
British troops are stuck in Afghanistan until Barack Obama recognises the war is unwinnable

The Guardian, Dec. 22, by Max Hastings

The Guardian last week vividly described the shambles of Afghanistan. Simon Jenkins argued on these pages for recognition of failure. I share his analysis of the west's predicament. But I find it impossible to believe the British government will precipitate a crisis in Anglo-American relations by pulling out of the war.

In the new year, President Barack Obama will arrive in Europe on a wave of public euphoria. One almost inevitable consequence is that the British government will commit more troops to a campaign that is going nowhere, because we are too deeply committed to do anything else.

The incoming Democratic administration is convinced Afghanistan is a "good war", in a way that Iraq is not. General David Petraeus will be authorised by Obama to preside over a dramatically intensified military effort. It is hard to overstate the anger and resentment that will be roused in Washington if the major European powers refuse to play.

The US military believes the Taliban are much weaker than western media suggest, and that an increased commitment can tip the balance towards stability. In recent months, the Taliban have interdicted supply convoys, inflicted many casualties, and generated huge profits by levying tolls on vehicles running the gauntlet from Pakistan. Many of the 30,000 additional US troops to be deployed next year will be used to launch a blitz on the roads.

The Obama administration plans to lean on President Hamid Karzai as Bush never has, to address the corruption and inefficiency of his regime. The Americans believe that, with additional troops, they can regain territory from the Taliban. They want to enlarge the Afghan army dramatically.

Privately, they acknowledge that Afghanistan cannot afford a huge war machine. The average defence spend of developing nations is about 2% of GDP. To fund the 300,000 troops the US thinks necessary to secure the country, at a cost of $10,000 a man, Kabul would need to spend a crazy 20% of its GDP. Some Washington strategy gurus argue that the US military is promoting a model that is unsustainable.

No matter. For now, Petraeus and his colleagues are thinking short. By the end of the next campaigning season, they want to show graphs of allied casualties and bomb blasts moving downwards. To achieve this, they want more men and money from Nato allies. Most European troops are deployed under national rules of engagement that prevent them fighting the Taliban. Washington wants them to accept a common command system.

Although the British in Helmand province are trying harder than the Germans, French or Italians in their respective zones, in US eyes we, too, are relatively risk-averse. Nato troops always have a choice about whether to go looking for the Taliban - and accepting the inevitable casualties. UK commanders know body bags are bad news politically. The more aggressive our soldiers are, the more will come home dead.

The British army is chastened by its Afghan experience. Senior officers were rashly over-optimistic emphasis added]. Today, they realise they are making little progress in securing Helmand, and far less controlling the drug industry. The UK is getting scant thanks from the Americans, who believe we are not doing enough.

Even a reinforcement of, say, 3,000 UK troops is unlikely to alter fundamentals. More men are of limited value when the British are chronically short of helicopter lift to deploy them outside their firebases. A retired general said to me last week: "How do we keep explaining dead British soldiers to the British people, when we are getting nowhere?"..

We cannot walk off the set unless we wish to pay the price of being seen by the American people, as well as by their government, to betray the Atlantic alliance. Only if or when Obama decides that the game is not worth the candle will the boys come home [emphasis added].

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