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On target? The architects of Canada's Afghan mission were willfully blind.

When Canada's combat role in Afghanistan ended in July 2011, the media spotlight on that complex conflict was almost immediately switched off

Despite the fact that Canada continues to contribute over 900 military personnel as trainers to the NATO-led coalition that is committed to Afghanistan until 2014, it seems that we are anxious to distance ourselves as far as possible, as fast as possible, from what promises to be a dismal conclusion.

Over the past decade Canada's Afghanistan campaign has frequently been the subject of heated political debate. With our troops fighting and dying, drums-and-bugles pro-war cheerleaders insisted that the very sacrifice of our soldiers warranted our staying in the fight to garner our rightful place of honour in the eventual victory parade.

Adding his voice to that discussion was Chris Alexander, who was in Kabul between 2003 and 2009, first serving as Canada's youngest ambassador and then as our diplomatic mission head in Kabul. When I first interviewed Alexander in 2007, he was serving as the deputy chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. I recall being amazed by his bubbling enthusiasm and alarmed at his delusional naivete.

At that stage of the war, the insurgency was rapidly expanding in southern Afghanistan and violence across the country was increasing. Despite the warning signs and every day reality, Alexander was insistent that the media were too preoccupied with the fighting to see all the good news stories. In other words, we were reporting that the man's pants were on fire, but neglecting to mention that he was wearing a spiffy new ball cap.

That was almost six years ago, and by now the most wilfully blind are reporting that even the ball cap is now ablaze and things will only likely get worse when NATO pulls out in 2014.

The original exit strategy for NATO was to rapidly increase the training and equipping of the Afghan national security forces. It is towards this objective that Canada has pledged to maintain its sizeable number of military trainers.

However, those wily Afghan insurgents have altered their tactics. They understand how, that in the absence of virtually all administrative services over the past thirty years and the significant illiteracy rate among existing Afghan security forces, adequate background checks on new recruits is almost impossible.

Realizing this, there has been a deliberate campaign by Taliban zealots to infiltrate the ranks of the NATO-trained Afghan military and police, and at the first opportunity, they turn their weapons on their Western instructors. And the rash of so-named green-on-blue killings earlier this year led the U.S. to suspend a large portion of their joint Afghan operations.

In one somewhat hilarious twist to this saga, in October a video was released to the media by former Jorge Scientific employees that showed their top officials absolutely hammered and wrestling semi-naked while on duty at their command post. The company director is shown in a stupor and unable to talk after injecting himself with the anaesthetic ketamine. The U.S. private security firm with the odd name of Jorge Scientific has secured over Si billion (US) in government contracts to not only provide protection for American citizens in Afghanistan, but also to train Afghan security forces in counter-insurgency operations. The irony, of course, is that Jorge Scientific instructors are meant to instruct the Afghans on proper professional conduct.

On a far more serious and ominous note, on October 8 International Crisis Group released its most recent report on Afghanistan. The assessment published by the independent non-governmental organization revealed that unless there are radical reforms to the Afghan electoral and judicial process by December 2012, the presidential elections of 2014 and the subsequent NATO withdrawal will lead to a "full state collapse."

Ironically, the ICG cites President Hamid Karzai as the biggest potential obstacle to democratic reform. This is the same hand-picked Karzai who was appointed to the presidential post by his U.S. backers in 2002 and who has since won two very dubious mandates at the ballot box. In fact, the 2010 election failed to produce a verifiable result but the West chose to keep propping up Karzai as the best of a bad bunch.

Now, according to ICG, a failure of the 2014 election could "trigger extensive unrest, fragmentation of the security services and perhaps even a much wider civil War."

That is hardly the rosy picture which Alexander predicted for Afghanistan back in 2007. But that sure was one spiffy ball cap.

Scott Taylor publisher
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Author:Taylor, Scott
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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