Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Unanswered Questions

On the Afghanistan mission:

What are the goals and objectives of the mission and how do they meet our foreign-policy objectives?

What is the mandate, what is the defined concept of operations, what is the effective command and control structure, what are the rules of engagement?

These are the questions Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor asked Bill Graham last November at the first "take note" debate on the mission. They were unanswered.

These are the same questions Jack Layton asked of O'Connor last spring, again to go unanswered.

Since that time other questions have come to mind:

To what extend have we been able to meet our non-military, PRT objectives in the South?

Are we still fighting the 'Taliban' or have other groups - heroin traffickers, disaffected warlords, honestly disgruntled peasants - entered the fray, complicating this matter?

How succesful have we been in bringing the Afghan police and army up to speed to help with security?

How have the recent actions of Pakistan - either in 'makng peace' with its tribal regions or in actively supporting the Taliban - changed the scope and complexity of the mission? Under these new circumstances, does our current plan and tactics make sense?

What kinds of non-combat operations are we doing that indeed helps women protect their rights or helps farmers get off of growing poppies?

These are but a few of the questions that need answering and things that need to be made clear before the Canadian public can make informed decisions about the mission.

In doing this I am following the advice of Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps magazine:

"As evidenced by the crowd of red shirts on Parliament Hill last Friday, Canadians do care about the welfare of our soldiers. That is exactly why we must continue to question the rationale behind our deployment and the tactics used to conduct these military operations. Asking our government to determine an exit strategy is not telling them to "cut and run."

Ultimately, it must be Hamid Karzai or his successor who solves the security situation in Afghanistan - not foreign forces.

Neither he nor Prime Minister Harper should misconstrue a patriotic display of red clothing as a blank cheque to run up a limitless casualty count in an unwinnable war "[emphasis mine].

I honeslty want answers to these questions. They are not forthcoming from our government and I have asked them over and over in various blog comments with no response either. Think of this as the place to set the record straight, or to refute the very premise, but lets get some answers and information out there.

Leave your answers in the comments, please.


At 12:02 PM, Blogger AJSomerset said...

What we need are specifics.

Progress so far on reconstruction is only half the story. We also need to know what specific plans exist for reconstruction, with timelines and an assessment of whether these plans are reasonable in light of the security situation.

If reconstruction is at a standstill, which many reports suggest it is, then the question is what specific steps are being undertaken to improve the security situation, such as training and equipping local forces.

Unfortunately, all we keep getting is unhelpful war-on-terror rhetoric.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

Unfortunatly specifics are hard to come by in this type of theatre of operations. Providing security to reconstruction one day can change to mounting an offensive or a counter attack on another, hell somtimes all three on the same day.

It always amazies me that people think a soldiers job is "reconstruction" People see coffins and Canadian soldiers in fire fights on the news and all of a sudden we're shocked that soldiers job is to actually have to fight, instead of handing out lollipops and hanging pictures on school walls.

If we are indeed off track (which I'm not convinced we are) then lets do what we have to do to get off track.

At 2:03 AM, Blogger leftdog said...

Very good post. This all feels like trying to untangle something that is all knotted up and twisted up. After reading this post, I realized that we don't even have all of the questions out on the table yet. This is going to take some time to untangle.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Mike said...


I see where you are coming from, but our mission originally was partly reconstruction - hence what the acronym PRT stands for - Provincial RECONSTRUCTION Teams. I think the balance has gone off.

I agree with wonderdog on this one.

And I am not shocked that our soldiers die in a combat zone, I just wnat to be sure that their lives are are lost fighting in a n effort that tye have a chance of winning and that has a realistic chance of helping the Afghan people.

And yes, I am still a supporter of the raison d'etre of the mission, just not its current strategy and tatics, so I agree, if we are off track, lets do what we have to do to get on track.

The answers to the questions I ask will provide the data for everyone to decide if we can get back on track and what we should do. I would be willing to follow the evidence as it were - it might be that we need to double or triple our troop commitment in order to really bring peace and security. I'm ok with that as long as we have a plan, with measurable goals and the ability to change the plan as circumstance change.

Right now we have "support the troops" rhetoric instead of facts.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

If we are indeed off track (which I'm not convinced we are) then lets do what we have to do to get off track.

I meant "to get ON track."

yeesh, I'm turning into GWB!

Night-shift. 25 days in. Losing mind.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

From what I gathered from friends in the forces that have just come back from there, is that the other "allies" (The Brits & Dutch especially)we have in the region are keeping their troops in camp because their governmnets are afraid to put them in harms way due to the political ramifications of body bags coming home home.

Our forces push the taliban out of a region but can't hold the ground due to lack of re-enforcements, go back to base, the Taliban waltzes right back in.

The immediate need is a few more boots on the ground that can provide the security the reconstruction teams need.

The question is do we bring more troops in or do we just need the other nations there already to man-up and get in the fight.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Then that is part of the problem, right? If we can't convince the allies to pony up and provide reinforcements, do we provide them ourselves? Can we?

If we can't and no-one else can or will, does it make sense to keep our guys in a losing situation like that, where they cannot make progress or win?

Like I said earlier, the answers might mean we need more troops to accomplish what we set out to do. But if we cannot provide or get those troops from allies, then we need to get our guys out of the meat grinder.

At 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those are all good questions, and I think many of us have been digging around on the internet trying to track them down ourselves, regardless of what the government may or may not say.

The interesting question, to my mind, is whether the government should answer them. Let's assume, for the moment, that the goal is to hold the line on the Taliban, or reduce them, until the Afghan government can stand on its own, and that the situation is improving slowly. Now, what should the government be saying or doing? This is not a war where Canada can actually be defeated, which is to say conquered by the Taliban. The only way we can lose is if we give up. Now, given that the government has sent troops to fight, it is their duty to win, ie not to give up. It is therefore also their duty to manage the domestic political situation (within the bounds of legality) to ensure that the public does not force the government to give up. I don't really see it as being their duty to keep the public informed of what they are thinking, although it is their duty to answer questions in Parliament.

It seems to me quite obvious that, given the nature of the current opposition and media, a serious, reasonable attempt to answer Mike's questions, would not lead most members of the public to have a better understanding of the government's thinking, although serious, interested people (eg, Mike, Skippy, Damian Brooks, Scott Taylor) would learn something.

An analogy could be made to 1940. Was it really Mackenzie King's duty to tell Canadians just how dire the situation was, or was it his duty to rally the country? And he had a press and opposition which actually wanted Canada to win. I don't think the CBC and the NDP necessarily do.

On the other hand, if victory is impossible (ie, the Afghan govt can never stand on its own, no matter what we do), we will eventually want to give up.

So, in my mind, the way forward is to try to answer Mike's questions, without expecting the government to simply do it for us. We need to follow MSM and blogger reports from Afghanistan and the region, as well as from Ottawa, to try to piece together the answers.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for comment Mark, very good points all round.

"This is not a war where Canada can actually be defeated, which is to say conquered by the Taliban. The only way we can lose is if we give up. Now, given that the government has sent troops to fight, it is their duty to win, ie not to give up."

That is the difference between now and 1940 and why I don't like WWII analogies with this conflict. Also, though the "Taliban" can't defeat us, it is possible at the same time for us to not be able to defeat them. In short, when we are in no danger of being over run or taken over, does it make sense to waste our soldiers live on a mission they cannot complete sucessfully?

I also think the Canadian public will react better than you expect. Had King given the dire truth in 1940, I suspect they would have fought just as hard if not harder. And today I think that if given the facts, Canadians can make the right desicison in this.

And even if they make a descision we don;t agree with, that is their perogative. We are a democaracy and the governemtn serves the people and should get honest answers from that government, not coverups and lies. If their is a good reason to stay in Afghanistan (and I think there is) then it is incumbant upon those who support it to make the case, with all the facts and the pros and cons laid out. It needs and honest sales job in the free and equal marketplace of ideas, not lies and subterfuge because one side thinks it knows what is good for us.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goals: The goals I want to see are to support the Afghan government, and to keep the Taiban down until that government can do it itself. The standard for the Afghan government that makes it worthy to support is that it is: a) close to the most liberal democratic government practical in Afghanistan, and b) it no longer harbours terrorists or works actively against Western interests.

Mandate, etc: whatever is militarily necessary, under NATO or American command (just like in WWII), to further the above objectives, while ensuring that Canadian troops are adequately equipped and supported. ROE: whatever is needed.

The specific questions are going to need a lot of digging. The following sites: , , , and provide some info.

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My personal belief about the non-military objectives is that the Taliban has made a serious attempt to cause enough NATO casualities to get NATO countries to give up and pull out. I believe that the Talibain is choosing a tempo of operations which it will find unsustainable, but that we have to respond to that. I know you hate WWII analogies, but this reminds me of the Battle of the Bulge. In any event, I think we are progressing slower on reconstruction than planned, but for a good reason.

As to the response of the Canadian people, I think it is kind of a copout to say that there is no conflict between a) winning the war, and b) being fully forthcoming with all information. I believe there is a conflict between those two objectives, and I believe that the government thinks there is. If, for the sake of argument, we assume there is a conflict, do you think the government should pull back on a in order to achieve b? Is there anything a responsible opposition could do to minimize that conflict? Are they doing it?

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a) close to the most liberal democratic government practical in Afghanistan,"

So, why should my tax dollars be used to fund something that maybe the majority of Afghans want?

Is there a promissory note for the costs of assisting over there?

Look, I'd have NO problem with Canadians, who believed that this "cause" was worthy enough for them to spend some bucks over there, doing just that. Spend your own dollars though.

My dollars, I'd prefer to go to the health, education, and my value of "advancement" of my loved ones, especially my children.

If you want to donate your dollars, go ahead. I've go no problem with that.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Ian actually make a compelling arguement. Perhaps the government should ask for volunteers specifically for this mission, and ask for open, donations from people to fund it.

Good enough for the Spanish Civil War, good enough for this, eh? I imagine a Darfur mission would have massive support this way.

Hs suggestion is not without precedent in our history.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Well, if they start doing that with funding wars, then they'll start doing that with everything (health care, public housing, etc.), and personally, I think we shouldn't give them any ideas. :-)

No, if we can really do some long-term good there without staying in for eons, we should stay. If we can't, then we should leave. I'm just not sure anybody at all knows whether or not we can (not Layton and not Harper, either), and that concerns me a lot. I mean, this has been a good discussion, but the questions haven't exactly been answered, have they?

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point is to establish a government which is not a threat to us and does not harbour such a threat. That could be accomplished perfectly well by establishing an "our bastards" type of cold war dictatorship.

However, I would not be happy with such a result. I think that, in order to be satisfactory to most Canadians, the government we help establish there should also be reasonably democratic.

As IP points out, I'm perfectly ready to go to a voluntary taxation scheme for many areas of public policy. But even libertarians are willing to tax for defence.

IP, you're right, the questions haven't been answered. But I have put forward some hypotheses and some sources. Personally, I am reasonably satisfied with how things are going. We all should do some digging and bring forward our ideas. Obviously Jack Layton has little to contribute and, for reasons I gave, I don't think it is Harper's job either. We, as citizens, should be doing the work for ourselves.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

The inherent problem with this debate is that we are conveniently forgetting how little say the Canadian government has in defining this ISAF mission's tactics. The biggest player in NATO being the United States under the historically unbending Bush leadership, we must admit to a certain powerlessness here. Bushco bullies all its allies as a matter of Neocon policy. Our sad role as its ally is to shut up and put up and lick as much star-spangled ass as possible. That we had the chutzpah to defy them on Iraq, it's our job to do as much muscular bloodletting in Afghanistan as our numbers permit. You won't hear the Harper government or Bill Graham making that realpolitik argument, but that's what the mission amounts to for our unfortunate military. Go Democrats in November then, eh?

At 12:55 AM, Blogger kursk said...

Mike..One would think that we are already fulfilling part of your suggestion. We have an all volunteer army that is quite enthusiastic about getting the Job done.

I don't know if the Mac Pap comparison is apt, insofar as they were confirmed communists,and if they had won the civil war were prepared to help form a totalitarian govt of another kind...

I still feel you will see Canada in Darfur..i suggest that the training with the borrowed American assault/support ship is to guage the feasability of a future self supported landing on the African continent.

With the new special operations battle group trained and ready,and the ability to have men,support helos and vehicles in theatre in days (if not hours.)you are going to see a more robust Canadian response to crises in failed states.


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