03 April 2008

Our troops in Afghanistan: part of the solution, or part of the problem?

In view of Prime Minister Harper's statement to NATO re the Afghanistan mission that, "We all underestimated the task and we've been compensating ever since," one is inclined to ask why. Why the underestimation? One rather obvious answer is that Afghan resistance has been reinvigorated by the presence of foreign soldiers in the country. Our troops, in other words, may be the fuel that is feeding the insurgency.

The back of the Taliban was broken by the invasion following 9/11. Perhaps if the foreigners had packed their bags then, it would have remained broken, but there is nothing like a foreign occupation to kindle the passions of patriots. This is particularly true when the locals see the foreigners not only as alien but also as a threat to the One True Faith (to say nothing of a lucrative drug business). Now we may be trapped in a classic vicious circle. The occupation provokes resistance, more troops are required to fight the resistance, more locals are killed, the resistance intensifies, more troops are required, and so on, and on. Shades of Vietnam.

Harper shows a streak of realism at least by admitting NATO cannot hope to increase troop levels to the point where it can "snuff out the resistance." He insists Canada's goal is simply to train Afghanistan's army to the point where it can take over the job. If that means NATO then leaves, the departure of foreigners may do even more to deplete the resistance than training the Afghan army.

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