Saturday, October 13, 2007

Afstan: NATO, Media, Poles, Canadians

My attention has been drawn to two interesting posts by a Pole at

1) NATO generals warn about catastrophe in Afghanistan (the Polish press seems as prone to exaggeration as the Canadia)
Allied forces in Afghanistan are too weak - admits [Bundeswehr] Gen. Egon Ramms, a chief of NATO Joint Forces Command.

Gen. Ramms, who oversees the Afghan operations, talked with a group of journalists, including reporters from the Polish "Dziennik", in his headquarters in Dutch Brunssum. He admitted that NATO forces have not achieved even a minimal goal as planned for this stage of operations in Afghanistan.

"We are currently lacking 10 thousands soldiers" - says Ramms. "We are trying to make up for the shortages by using modern equipment and we are somehow managing it but 36 thousands soldiers stationing in Afghanistan are way too few."

In addition, only one of three of those 36 thousands NATO soldiers takes part in battle operations (Poles included). The remaining 24 thousands are not allowed to participate in such operations...

There are no chances to increase NATO forces in Afghanistan. In contrary, the generals are acutely aware that Canada and The Netherlands might withdraw from Afghan operation, and that the soldiers from those specific states fight in the dangerous South of the country. "These are the decisions of politicians, not military commanders. But let the politicians know that if they start withdrawing their forces the operation will end up in a catastrophe" - warns an allied commander.

There is no general idea who could have replaced the contingents that might be withdrawn. "I'd like to have one more battalion from Poland, but these are only my wishes" - says Gen. Ramms.

The effect is such that NATO generals consider 60% of the country as quiet and NATO controlled; that is, its western and northern parts. But the allied forces fight hard battles in the remaining areas, that is in the South and the East.

Gen. Ramms has also disclosed a part of secrecy regarding the Polish special unit GROM, which is being stationed near Kandahar. "GROM conducts regular battles with Taliban" - says general. "These soldiers search, track down and destroy the enemy. We are very pleased with them."

According to Ramms GROM has not suffered any battle losses so far.
2) A straw syndrome and help to Canadians in Afghanistan (an actual post, not a newspaper story)
I'll start with several quotes from a recent speech of NATO Secretary General...
The other challenge is what you might call the “straw syndrome”. Almost every troop contributing country in Afghanistan, for understandable reasons, runs a purely national media program. The Netherlands, for example, focuses on Uruzgan. Journalist speak to Dutch politicians; take Dutch planes straight to Uruzgan; embed with Dutch soldiers; and report in Dutch media. The same is true of Canadians, British, etc. Media programs are run through a straw.

The result? The population in Canada thinks Canadian soldiers are fighting alone. So do the British, and the Dutch that undermines solidarity, diminishes the multilateral nature of the operation, and as a result, makes it harder to sustain...

...nations need to multilateralise their media campaigns. Canadians need to see Danish soldiers in the South, and Romanians, and Poles, as well as Dutch and British and Estonians and Americans. Which means that nations need to structure their media efforts, including their embed programs, to take that into account.
Exactly! I read Canadian papers online and also the readers' comments attached to some of the articles. Many of those comments confirm to what the NATO Secretary was saying about the "feeling of fighting alone".

I'll expand upon it below, using as an example the Polish Military Contingent (PMC), as I know its work in Afghanistan quite well, since I have followed them quite closely in one or two threads here.

So what is a typical opinion of Canadian news readers about Poles in Afghanistan? Rejecting those who even do not know that Poland is in NATO now, and those who only care about Polish invention of ejection seat for helicopter pilots (yes, yes, we have such "jokers" even on this forum) - not much, mostly that they do some patrolling in a quiet part of Afghanistan. The only reason that Canadians do not put Poles in the same group of "reluctant fighters" - as the French or Germans - is that neither Canadian authorities nor Canadian media say it out loud - knowing that it would be a blatant lie. But many Canadian news readers seem to be angry at Poles, nevertheless, for not helping in Kandahar.

I'll put aside the presence of Polish special forces 'GROM' in the south because I have no access to classified information and I do not know how effective they are over there. I'll concentrate on the rest of PMC and play some scenarios related to possible aid of Poles to the Canadians down south...

Poles in Afghanistan do whatever they have been assigned to do - training ANA soldiers and carrying stabilization and CIMIC [Civil Military Cooperation] missions in parts of Ghazni and Paktika provinces. And those regions are neither quiet nor safe. Poles don't fight in Paktika the way Canadians fight in the South, but that does not mean that their job is easy or less important. And they face the threats of death every day when they are on patrol, convoy or CIMIC duties.

That's true that the real active fighting in that region is carried by Americans and ANA. But it is also true that Americans can do whatever they do exactly because they have the Polish backup - as was stressed by a commander of an American squadron during authority transfer from his unit to the Poles, last June.

Now, some scenarios about helping Canadians down south.

1. Aside from special forces, no NATO country - with the exception of Americans - has deployed such units in Afghanistan, which could be categorized as quick reaction forces. Europe is simply still not there yet. And that means that no ISAF participant is actually prepared to quit what it is doing in its zone of responsibility - with well established and developed bases of operations, and go to help Canadians in Kandahar in a moment notice.

I just cannot imagine that a company of Polish soldiers could be suddenly taken out of Paktika and moved to Kandahar or Helmand - without interruption of their current activities in Paktika. Poles do not even have their own air transport units there and have to beg Americans for help anytime they want to move soldiers or supplies by air. I do not know why it is so, but these are the facts.

2. Poland has some potential for sending additional infantry company or even a battalion to Afghanistan. It has some well trained reserves. After all Poland is sending 150 soldiers to Chad soon [ the EU doesn't want to go to Darfur, and in any case Sudan would not want them there - MC]]. But considering current political situation - approaching elections and strong opposition of general population to Polish presence in Afghanistan - I do not think that this would be feasible at all. All they could currently do was to increase number of 'omelets' (OMLT) for training ANA - from one training units to three. This practically translates to increasing number of 'omelet' soldiers from 50 to 150.

3. There are signs that the 'real' war with Taliban will come to Paktika as well. News from the border districts of west Pakistan are not encouraging at all. Poles will be needed in Paktika very badly.

These are not good news for Canadians down south. But I was talking about potential help from Poles only. Perhaps some other forum members could expand on possible help from France, Germany, Turkey or Greece.
Update: Canadian media finally notice the Poles:
Poland feels strain of Afghan conflict
Top soldier sees his country, Canada in similar roles
But note the final paragraphs:
The public objections, however, don't appear likely to have an influence on Poland's role.

Despite the country's current election fever, there is no organized peace movement, the issue doesn't get major media coverage and the conflict hasn't become a political football in its Oct. 21 parliamentary elections.


Blogger Carbon-14 said...

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1:18 a.m., October 14, 2007  

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