Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gloom at Kandahar/US troops not to be under Canadian command

Stark talk from the outgoing CF commander--but there is some light in Afghan attitudes:
Kandahar residents feel less safe, says Canada's outgoing commander

The sense of security among people right across Kandahar province has "absolutely plummeted," the outgoing commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan said Wednesday [Feb. 18] in a brutally frank summation of the war during his nine months on the ground.

Public opinion surveys conducted by the Canadian military suggest confidence has evaporated in the face of what Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson described as a "twisted and extreme" insurgency that thinks nothing of "brainwashing" a 12-year-old boy into becoming a suicide bomber.

"It should come as no surprise to any here that these past nine months have not been sufficient to win the war," Thompson said at the outset of his farewell statement to journalists at Kandahar Airfield.

Ultimately, the war is up to the Afghans to win, Thompson said, who also praised the courage and tenacity of his own troops...

"Afghans are frustrated by the lack of progress of their own government and the international community, that is true," Thompson said. "But they are even more horrified by the atrocities committed on a daily basis by the insurgents."..

In the end, all of the bloodshed has won the Taliban nothing and only served to isolate them from the Afghan people, Thompson declared.

Over the last 18 months, the Canadian military has conducted several public opinion surveys in the war-ravaged city of Kandahar, asking residents about their level of support for the Afghan government, the Taliban and their perception of public safety.

Surveys conducted in late 2007 and early 2008 found 55 per cent of respondents saying they lived in a secure environment, but Thompson said that figure is now down to about 25 per cent.

Support for both Karzai's government and the Taliban have remained largely static, he added: Roughly 70 per cent of those asked said they support the government, while the Taliban pulls down between 15 and 20 per cent support at any given time [emphasis added].

Thompson's candid assessment was a reflection of the changing face of the war in southern Afghanistan, where the ranks of local militants have been depleted by three years of heavy fighting.

Increasingly, those local commanders are being replaced by hard-line Islamists, such as those with the Haqqani network - full-throated terrorists with no connection to the communities they remorselessly attack...

He said reconstruction activities have made gains - especially in the building of roads, where progress is measured metre by metre - but in the end conceded that development remains "painfully slow by Western standards."..
Then the incoming commander effectively confirms what one had anticipated, that US troops coming to Kandahar province will not be under Canadian command:
U.S. troop buildup no threat to Canada's Kandahar accomplishments: general

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance officially took charge of the 2,850 soldiers, aircrew and support staff in Kandahar today and he said he welcomed the influx of fresh American troops.

With so much Canadian blood, sweat and treasure poured into Kandahar over the last three years, Vance said Canadians back home shouldn't view the U.S. buildup as the Americans taking over.

"I see no threat at all to Canada's pride of accomplishments and pride of place in the future as long as we're here," Vance said following a ceremony where he formally took over from Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, who ended a nine-month tour Thursday [Feb. 19].

U.S. President Barack Obama announced this week that 17,000 extra American soldiers and marines would be sent to Afghanistan this year to bolster the fight against the Taliban.

Although details have yet to finalized, Thompson said it's expected a new U.S. combat brigade will be deployed in Kandahar province [see Uppestdate here]...

Vance said he believes the incoming U.S. troops will not overshadow the Canadian contingent and will likely operate in their own area of the province - in places where it's been impossible to station NATO troops [i.e. much of the province].

They will "definitely be an addition," he said...

Vance said he expects the new American soldiers will report independently to NATO's southern command and not fall under Canadian command [emphasis added].

[So not even under formal Canadian control, even though I suppose we retain theoretical responsibility for Kandahar province--so much for what Brig.-Gen. Vance said less than two weeks ago. I'd bet command relations and postioning of US troops were high on the agenda when CDS Gen. Natynczyk and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mullen met in Ottawa eight days ago].

As part of the bargain that saw Canada get some relief and Parliament extend the country's mission to 2011, the U.S. agreed to place one infantry battalion under Canadian control last year [the battalion of which MND MacKay seemed strangely unaware last November].

That unit will remain as part of the Canadian task force, said Vance.
Update: A Globe and Mail headline gets it right:
Canada to focus on protecting Kandahar city


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