Sunday, October 05, 2008

Afstan: Spinning madly to declare defeat

Contrary to usual blogging protocol, I begin with a MUST READ UPDATE from Terry Glavin:
Jack Layton and Afghanistan: The Latest Dispatches From A Parallel Universe
Further to the Update here from Terry Glavin, the Sunday Times hits a real low in headline writing in the second story below. Here are excerpts from a story Oct. 5 from the Asia News section:
Relentless Taliban just keep coming
As their gruelling tour of duty in Afghanistan ends, men of 2 Para tell of relentless battles with an enemy that simply doesn’t know when he is outgunned [that headline is negative enough itself]

Over the past few days, as the paras flew back to Camp Bastion at the start of their journey home, the mood was sombre. “2 Para took the bulk of the casualties,” said Sergeant Andrew Lamont...

It was not supposed to be that way. Unlike 16 Air Assault Brigade’s first tour in Helmand two years ago, when the then defence secretary John Reid declared that he hoped not a single shot would be fired, they were well prepared this time.

They had almost twice as many men — 7,800 troops and four combat battalions, consisting of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions the Parachute Regiment and two battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Their commander, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, declared them “the best equipped force the British Army has ever sent”.

But the Taliban have also changed tactics, increasingly using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hiring foreign fighters from Chechnya and Uzbekistan as well as from Pakistan, and even managing to lure defectors from the Afghan national army who had been trained by British and American forces by offering to double their £90-a-month combat pay.

Capitalising on an increasingly unpopular government in Kabul and growing anger at civilian casualties, the Taliban now present themselves as less hardline, promising if they return to power they will no longer ban kites or demand quite such long beards.

As he prepared to hand over to the marines, Carleton-Smith admitted that it had been “an intense summer”. But he insisted: “That intensity has been less a product of resurgent Taliban and more the result of a larger international military footprint. We’re controlling more, our perimeter is wider, more people are living in our enclaves.”

He said British forces had killed six senior or mid-level Taliban commanders and successfully transported a US-funded turbine to the Kajaki dam to prepare the way for a supply of electricity.

We’ve taken the sting out of the Taliban for 2008 [emphasis added],” he said. “As autumn turns to winter those who are foreign will return home and restore themselves and only reappear after the poppy harvest in May or June.”

The number of civilians caught in the crossfire has also been reduced. “We’ve dropped fewer bombs than on any of the previous missions,” said Carleton-Smith.

Yet, while the British claim 78% of the population lives in their zones, the governor of Helmand says half the province is under Taliban control and they are fighting in Nad Ali, less than 10 miles from brigade headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

Carleton-Smith acknowledges the preponderance of Taliban ringtones proclaiming “Death to the Invader” that are heard on the street, but dismisses them as “quite a good insurance policy to have on your phone”. He insists that “the very conventional battlefield of 2006 no longer applies”...

“From then to the present day it never stopped,” said [Sergeant Phil] Stout [commander of one of C company’s three rifle platoons]. “We were getting contacts every day, some just pot-shots at the base, others much more. We always outnumber and outpower them with our weapons but they keep coming back. I reckon they’re crazy. Two of them would try to take on a company. That’s not good odds.”

The relentless attacks reduced the area in which British forces could operate. “When we arrived we could patrol up to the top of our operating area, 8-9km north, but by the end we couldn’t go more than 1-1Åkm,” Stout said...

[Sergeant Andrew] Lamont, commander of one of 2 Para’s fire support groups, spent his entire tour based at Kajaki. “When we first arrived it was the poppy harvest, so fighting was low, but then the maize grew so they had more cover and fighting got more intense,” he said.

“If anything I’d say it’s getting worse. Taliban tactics are changing, using more IEDs, and they don’t back down.”..

While getting the turbine to Kajaki was the high point of the tour, Carleton-Smith admits that the low point was sustaining so many casualties. In June Britain’s 100th soldier died in Afghanistan.

“Our casualty figures have been substantial but they have to be kept in context,” he says. “We may in the course of 2008 have in the region of 50 fatalities in Helmand, but in 1972 more than 100 British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland, on our own streets.”

He insists that time is on the side of the Afghan government [emphasis added]. “The young people want betterment of their lives. What the Taliban can’t do is deliver progress and development. As long as the international community can stay the course, over time the Afghan government capacity will grow.”

He argues that the international community should aim not for victory over the Taliban but to reduce the insurgency to a level that can be contained by the new Afghan army [emphasis added].

If we reduce our expectations then I think realistically in the next three to five years we will be handing over tactical military responsibility to the Afghan army and in the next 10 years the bulk of responsibility for combating insurgency will be with them [emphasis added--listen up, prime minister Harper].”

Flying out through the dustbowl that is Camp Bastion, and watching all the building going on below, it seems the British Army is digging itself in for a very long campaign.
More the glass is half-empty rather than half-full kind of story, but reasonable reporting nonetheless--though I would not say the same for the headline. And note what the Brigadier actually said.

Then there's this story the same day in the UK News section:
War on Taliban cannot be won, says army chief

Britain's most senior military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the British public should not expect a “decisive military victory” but should be prepared for a possible deal with the Taliban.

His assessment followed the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was “doomed to fail” [see first link in first para of post].

Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan, said it was necessary to “lower our expectations”. He said: “We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

The brigadier added: “We may well leave with there still being a low but steady ebb of rural insurgency . . . I don’t think we should expect that when we go there won’t be roaming bands of armed men in this part of the world. That would be unrealistic and probably incredible.”

Carleton-Smith insisted that his forces had “taken the sting out of the Taliban for 2008”. But his brigade has sustained heavy losses in the southern province of Helmand in the past six months, with 32 killed and 170 injured. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he added his voice to a growing number of people arguing that the conflict in Afghanistan could be resolved only through a political settlement that could include the Taliban.

“We want to change the nature of the debate from one where disputes are settled through the barrel of the gun to one where it is done through negotiations,” Carleton-Smith said.

“If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this. That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.”
Talk about "get me re-write!" And the second story leads naturally to these Canadian headlines, from an AP story based on the second one in the Sunday Times:

Victory impossible in Afghanistan: senior British commander
Globe and Mail:
Afghan victory impossible to achieve, British commander says
British general says Afghan victory not possible
(Just for comparison, the Washington Post gives the AP story this headline:
British Commander Calls Defeat of Taliban Unlikely)
The one thing Brigadier Carleton-Smith did not say was that the Taliban would win. But that is certainly not the impression most readers would get from those headlines, which seem to say the glass is plain empty--if not entirely broken. Most people think if you don't win, you lose. I really do think the Western media are increasingly taking sides: the wrong one. Fie on them.

See this topic by at
What One [US] General Hopes For from Media


Blogger BillT said...

The Western media taking the wrong side?

Geez, next you'll be saying the AP shills for Hezbollah and what's left of al-Q-in-Iraq.

Oh, wait. It *does*.

Never mind...

3:36 p.m., October 06, 2008  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Bob Rae talks sense:

Who would have thought?

5:02 p.m., October 06, 2008  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Rae story direct.

As with Mickey I., Bobbity's father was a senior member the Canadian foreign service. As was mine, of the same generation. Sigh. Too late for me to become a Liberal. Envy or jealousy? One hopes not. Just my character flaws.


8:00 p.m., October 06, 2008  
Blogger Brad said...

This whole thing is getting more and more absurd. This quote is getting more and more distorted by the day. I went to a local debate in my constituency today and asked the Federal NDP candidate, who is one of their hopefulls, what she thought would happen to the people of Kandahar if Canada took our forces out of the region. She responded immediatley by telling me that the British military now believed the war was not going to be won and we shouldnt waste our soldiers by sending them there.

Also, look at the poll at the bottom of this page -

6:45 a.m., October 07, 2008  

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