Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Afstan: A very "quiet surge" indeed by US/Canadian "journalism"

This is what president Bush announced Sept. 9:
The modest shift in US forces to Afganistan announced by President George W. Bush falls short of his commanders' requests [see this earlier post] despite signs the seven year-old US-NATO project there is at risk.

While conditions have improved in Iraq, Bush admitted that things have not gone so well in Afghanistan, which is being shaken by an increasingly bloody insurgency fueled from safe havens in Pakistan.

"Afghanistan's success is critical to the security of America and our partners in the free world. And for all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more," Bush said in a speech to the National Defense University.

His remedy: 4,500 more troops by early next year to bolster what Bush described as a "quiet surge" in US and NATO forces in Afghanistan over the past two years. Bush also called for doubling the size of the Afghan army in five years.

The US troops will include the deployment of a Marine battalion before year-end to replace another battalion [emphasis added] due to come home, and an army combat brigade in January that originally was supposed to go to Iraq...
But the president did not mention that the 2,300 strong Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in Regional Command South will be leaving at the end of November. So 2,300 troops out, with the 3,500-strong brigade arriving--presumably in US-led Regional Command East--sometime in January. So a loss of 2,300 for some two months (and not replaced in RC South where the CF are) and then 3,500 in. Net eventual gain of just over 1,000. Very quiet surge indeed. Not, I think, exactly what our former ambassador to Afghanistan had in mind:
Diplomat calls for Afghan 'surge'
Taliban 'getting stronger;' more troops needed to meet challenges, panel told
Lots more detail here. On the other hand, the sad reality is that only the US in NATO is willing and able to do much surging at all (and maybe the Brits to some extent).

Meanwhile Mike Blanchfield of Canwest News manages to bugger up the above facts royally:...
Canada had threatened to withdraw its military contingent as early as next year unless NATO found a country to supply 1,000 additional troops to partner with Canada in war-ravaged southern Afghanistan.

That role was essentially filled this spring with the deployment of 1,000 U.S. marines, who were due to come home in November.

Mr. Bush said another marine battalion of about 1,000 troops that was intended for Iraq would now replace them. An army brigade of about 3,500 more would follow them in January, the president said...
Actually it was the MEU that seemed to "partner" with us in RC South--but it operated mainly in British-led Helmand province (where it had considerable success). The Marine battalion that is being replaced is a completely separate unit that operates in Farah province (and note in the story at link the worries of the Marine Corps Commandant about not replacing the MEU that's leaving RC South) in Italian-led Regional Command West.

The real partner for us in RC South is the US Army battalion that arrived recently in Kandahar province--something Mr Blanchfield seems to have missed. The Globe and Mail for its part did not even have a story on the president's announcement in its print edition. And its man in D.C., Paul Koring, wrote this nonsense Sept. 8:
The Pentagon is planning to shift to southern Afghanistan 5,000 troops originally destined to go to Iraq next month. ..
Great journalism we have in this country. To repeat a plaintive refrain: no wonder Canadians are so ill-informed about Afstan. A point David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen hammers home in a column today:
In this [Afghanistan], we have played a modest but distinguished role. Even if our government has not, our soldiers in that theatre of war have recalled Canada's finest martial traditions, in some wonderfully aggressive campaigns. Our scandalously under-equipped and under-manned units have taken casualties proportionally higher than our allies -- but more to the point, they have inflicted casualties far out of proportion to what they have sustained.

It has been a mostly thankless task Their accomplishments have been almost entirely ignored in Canadian media back home, while their losses have been prominently reported. In the last fortnight, for instance, I was aghast to be unable to find, anywhere in the mainstream Canadian media, mention of our soldiers' part in one major, obviously heroic operation.

Their instruction was to escort a 200-tonne hydroelectric turbine -- too large for any helicopter to lift -- on a five-day journey across Taliban-infested territory to the Kajaki reservoir in Helmand province. The expedition, led by the British, and including Australian, New Zealand, and American troops, as well as Canadian and Afghan, was under attack throughout the journey. The turbine was successfully delivered, intact.

This expedition required elaborate planning -- with special forces moving ahead of the 100-vehicle convoy to identify and target enemy positions. It involved the largest mine-clearing operation since the Second World War -- done entirely under fire or the threat of fire. It was so successful that only one allied casualty was sustained -- a British soldier with a broken pelvis. At least 250 Taliban had to be killed, in the course of making the delivery.

Granted, I am getting old, and my news judgment and journalistic values are from another century. To my mind, readers would not be bored by such a story. They might even be exhilarated to learn just what our boys (and a few girls) are capable of achieving. The British press certainly covered this expedition. Even the leftist Guardian headlined, accurately: "Coalition troops brave minefields and Taliban attack to bring electricity to 1.8 million Afghans."

No direct reporting on that mission, here. But when three Canadian soldiers were killed in an ambush near Kandahar a few days later, there were big black headlines, and the usual parade of grief, with outriding sound bites to sell a cheap defeatism.

(Search Google to review years of media "coverage" like that. Alternatively, search out the remarkable Internet journalist Michael Yon, if you want to know about what is happening in Helmand.)

My question for today: How do we even begin to discuss the Canadian military commitment to Afghanistan during this snap election campaign? What do "the people" know about it? (According to a summer Decima poll, "two-thirds of respondents ... say they want Canadian soldiers to leave Afghanistan by February 2009.")

The larger question is, how do we meet the real -- as opposed to fanciful and imaginary -- security challenges of the 21st century, with attitudes like this?
Update: Our US Army partner at Kanadahar suffers the first fatality:
The first U.S. battalion placed under Canadian command in Kandahar has lost its first soldier to a roadside bomb attack in the Maywand district.

Pte. Vincent C. Winston Jr., 22, of St. Louis, Mo., died last Thursday when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. Several other soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Winston was assigned to the United States army infantry battalion known as the "Ramrods" based out of Fort Hood, Tx.

He's among some 800 new U.S. troops assigned to the Maywand district which is often referred to as the "wild west" of Kandahar.

The Ramrods arrived in Kandahar in July but didn't assume responsibility for the Taliban stronghold until the end of August...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Yon has some great pics in his report:

10:18 a.m., September 10, 2008  
Blogger KURSK said...

The MSM in Canada is very selective in what it reports on.If it doesn't fit their narrow, defeatist viewpoint, it does not get shown.

Success is not shown, nor is accomplishment.

It's too bad that the media in Canada would rather support the enemy than give one inch of type to our heroic men and women.

11:11 a.m., September 10, 2008  

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