Canada’s Afghanistan mission destabilizing: James Ingalls

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The Hill Times (Ottawa), October 23rd, 2006
By Simon Doyle

Opinion of the Afghan mission is shifting in Liberal caucus, says one Grit, as opposition parties step up their criticism of the mission.

As opposition parties step up their pressure on the Conservative government to rethink its mission in Afghanistan, the co-author of a new book on the war says that the Canadian-led mission is destabilizing the country and pushing the population into the arms of the Taliban.

James Ingalls, co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, a new book on U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan, said in an interview that the Canadian-led combat mission in southern Afghanistan is counter-productive and destabilizing to the country.

“Canada right now, they’re in full support of what the U.S. is doing, in terms of the worst aspects of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, which I think are the combat operations that the U.S. is undergoing, the so-called hunt for terrorists. Canada is right behind them, in fact they’re probably the most enthusiastic,” Mr. Ingalls said.

He called the mission’s military tactics “counter-productive” if the intent is to achieve “a stable Afghanistan where people are capable of controlling their own destiny.” Instead, he said, the country is being destabilized with the steady death of civilians and suspected Taliban fighters.

“They’re just driving more and more people into the arms of the Taliban, convincing people that the Taliban rhetoric about the ‘foreign invaders’ is true, that they’re being oppressed by a foreign, occupying force, that is not there legitimately or that is not there in the interests of the people,” he said.

Last week, NATO air strikes reportedly killed 22 civilians and injured scores of others in two provinces of Afghanistan. NATO says it makes every attempt to avoid “collateral damage,” and coalition troops say Taliban fighters hide among the local population.

Mr. Ingalls’ book, co-authored with Sonali Kolhatkar, argues that the invasion of Afghanistan has neither improved American security nor freed the Afghanistan people, and it comes as the opposition parties are increasing their calls on the governing Conservatives to put more emphasis on the humanitarian side of the Canadian-led NATO mission.

The Liberals have called for a more balanced mission, emphasizing its humanitarian aspects, and the New Democrats have called for a process to withdraw Canadian troops and to include the Taliban in diplomatic discussions.

But last week Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) called the NDP position naïve in a speech to the Canadian International Centre at the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa. “Do they think that the insurgents really believe in compromise and fair play? Are they blind to the unspeakable and inhumane practices of torture and human degradation that was carried out by this Taliban regime?” Mr. MacKay said. “Canada came to Kandahar to confront the insurgents, not to avoid them.”

Mr. MacKay called for more help from NATO allies in the far-more dangerous Kandar province and said that he told the NATO secretary general that Canada “cannot continue to do this without further support.”

In his speech, Mr. MacKay made a point to emphasize the humanitarian side of the mission. “Canada is ensuring that young women have the opportunity to go to school, be educated, and lead productive lives. What is more purposeful than to fully participate in society, protecting and ensuring a safe home, a chance at education free from exploitation or worse, building democracy, pursuing equality. These are such important pillars of our society, why would we not want to share them with the people of Afghanistan?” Mr. MacKay said.

However he also said the mission is intended to provide security against terrorist attacks like the “evil act” of Sept. 11, 2001. “The hijackers of those planes trained and plotted in Afghanistan before perpetrating their crime on our continent.”

Opposition parties last week stepped up their calls on the government to refocus the mission on its humanitarian goals. Liberal Defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, B.C.) last week called Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) an “ideologue” who wants to “appear brave and look Bushian, and he’s over-militarized the language of this mission and he’s over-militarized the mission.”

Mr. Dosanjh pointed to reports on NATO’s internal documents that say the mission is “supposed to be akin to a police officer who is armed but isn’t looking for a fight. In that sense, we now have for the last several months essentially war fighting happening and very little restructuring happening.”

Mr. Dosanjh added that he believes opinion about the mission in Liberal caucus has shifted and that if another vote to extend the mission was held today, more Liberals would vote against it. The last vote, in May, narrowly passed by a margin of 149 to 145, extending the mission until February 2009.

Liberal Leader Bill Graham (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and 29 other Liberals, out of the then-102-member caucus, voted to extend the mission.

“You need to win the hearts and minds of Afghanis, and with war fighting and tanks in place and with air forces killing civilians, as we’ve just heard, there’s no way to win hearts and minds of Afghanis with that kind of approach. That’s why we need to rebalance this mission,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.) said that since the 2001 invasion, the drug trade and violence in the country has increased.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported last week that Afghanistan’s opium trade had soared “out of control.” Opium production rose 59 per cent in 2006 to 165,000 hectares, which now accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s supply.

“What we see is an increase in violence, not only in the South where the war is taking place, but right across Afghanistan. We see an increased number of refugees. We see schools closing and children and villagers having to live in refugee camps where they haven’t got enough food or water and of course what we also see is a continuous flow of insurgents across the Pakistan border. What our party has said from the outset is that you have to have a political solution here. Pakistan has got to be engaged,” Mr. Layton told reporters after Question Period on the Hill.

“It is a very complex situation involving warlords, involving drug lords. We have seen a vast increase in the production of drugs and therefore, illicit cash floating around. We have also got now the impact of the anti-poppy campaign which is starting to poison people in Afghanistan because of the chemicals being used. I mean this is unfolding as a more and more problematic situation.”

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Al Howard told the Senate National Security and Defence Committee last week that a number of reconstruction projects in the Kandahar area are not progressing because of a lack of funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

However aid agencies are not bidding on such funding from CIDA. CARE and World Vision, for example, say they will not do so until the military mission shifts to one of security and policing. Some agencies also say they do not want to work too closely with the military because they can lose credibility with the population.

Liberal Leader Mr. Graham raised the issue in Question Period last week, saying that the government was not delivering enough aid necessary for Afghanistan’s success.

Prime Minister Harper acknowledged that the mission is difficult. “Our mission in Afghanistan involves not just our soldiers from National Defence and diplomacy, but also aggressive development efforts, not just in Kandahar but across the country. The member knows that the security situation in Kandahar is difficult. That has hampered our efforts to deliver aid, but we continue to deliver it across the country and he will know that President [Hamid] Karzai in his address to this Parliament praised us for doing just that.”

A Canadian Army reservist, Francisco Juarez, also quit his summer training last week, before deploying to Afghanistan, because he said he disagreed with the direction of the mission. About 2,300 Canadian troops are in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern region of Kandahar. Forty two Canadian troops and one diplomat have been killed in the conflict.

Mr. Ingalls, co-director of a U.S. non-profit group called the Afghan Women’s Mission, said most Afghans are saying the country needs disarmament and peacekeepers to patrol for defensive purposes.

Mr. Ingalls said that troops should instead be keeping security and disarming the population. He called the provincial reconstruction teams, of which Canada operates one in Kandahar province, “token” operations that make the military operation more appealing.

“I like to call them, jokingly, public relations teams, because they’re basically there to make the troops look good. So when the troops go out in Afghanistan, they want to show the Afghan people that, ‘Hey, we’re here doing good things, we’re passing out candy and we built a school there down the street,’ but it’s very token operations.”

He added: “This is something that the U.S. put in place, and is a kind of response to the pleas for peacekeepers. They’re small units of troops that are there to conduct reconstruction projects, but you don’t need troops to do reconstruction projects. There are a lot of agencies that have been in Afghanistan for decades. There are a lot of Afghan groups that are well-equipped to do reconstruction, that can do it for cheaper, and for a lot less overhead than paying troops to do construction.”
The Hill Times

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