Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Afghanistan: The real war is about to begin

Now that it's clear Canadian Forces are not "peacekeeping" in Afghanistan, but fighting a war, it's time that we come to an understanding about what kind of war it really is.

In October 1989, William S. Lind co-wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette entitled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation". Lind and his co-authors postulated that a fundamentally new type of warfare was emerging. In a scheme that is widely--though by no means universally--used in the debate about military reform, the first generation of modern warfare had focussed on on massed manpower. The second generation made use of massed firepower, and the third concentrated on maneuver. These generations had in common that one state always sought to defeat an enemy state militarily.

However, in the new, fourth generation of war, a non-state group aims to disrupt, damage, or change what a society thinks about itself and the world. It may target elite or public opinion depending on the political structure of the enemy State. It does not focus its activities on military action but uses all available networks to carry its message to the target audience. (Hammes Sep 94)

Early examples of 4GW, which continues to evolve, include anti-colonial guerilla wars against the French in Algeria and Indochina, against the British in Kenya, the United States in Vietnam, Russia in Chechnya, the USSR in Afghanistan, Israel in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories, and the United Nations in Somalia.

To Lind, the core of 4GW is a crisis in the legitimacy of the state. He believes that the techniques of counter-insurgency cannot address that crisis. "Indeed, when the counter-insurgency is led by foreign troops, it only makes the local state’s crisis of legitimacy worse" (Lind Jan 1 06). This is the case in Afghanistan.

Terrorism defined simply as "killing civilians in order to influence their governments or their militaries" (Richards NSTS 50) aims to cripple the target society by provoking it to launch witch hunts, stifle the free flow of information, foster dissention among its various elements, and institute costly and disruptive but ultimately ineffective security measures. These measures may also isolate the state from its allies, if, in addition, it puts in place onerous visa procedures for entry.

The military's own critics, like Scott Ritter and retired Air Force Colonel Chet Richards boil the state's strategic options down to two: containment or rollback. From a military perspective containment consists mainly of episodic incursions, raids into an area for retaliation or to eliminate specific threats. The regime of sanctions, no-fly zones, and daily bombing raids in Iraq prior to the invasion in March 2003, was a containment operation.

Richards tells us that in containment, the military operation eliminates regimes harboring groups that have attacked or are about to attack.

Its job done, it leaves. In rollback, [he says] somebody has to stay, since the idea is that once the territory has been taken, it will never again support attacks on us. So, in rollback, the focus is not on getting in per se - that will rarely be a problem - but on the rebuilding stage to come. (Richards NSTS 77)

Afghanistan is a rollback operation, and rollback has two distinct stages. In the first, military stage, members will ride in tanks and other fighting vehicles, as befits Third Generation Warfare. Members of the second stage rebuilding units
will generally live down where the people are, as is required of counterinsurgency and 4GW...their job will be to clear and hold villages and then successively larger portions of the population, all the while improving the living conditions of the population, rebuilding the foundations for self government, and pushing the locals to take over. (Richards NSTS 92)

In Afghanistan, these are known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams or PRTs.

Because, as Richards points out, the mission of reconstruction and integration promises to be extremely difficult if it is possible at all, the first conclusion is that it is not an extra duty for the Third Generation maneuver warfare military. (Richards NSTS 89).

The job of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams
will be to get out in front of the situation, and get the rebuilding and integration process going so quickly that an effective insurgency never takes root. If we are slow or miserly in this effort, and we allow an insurgency to develop out of the resulting disillusion, then we will...have only ourselves to blame. (Richards NSTS 90)

Richards makes a lot of "getting out in front of the situation." It "will be a challenge," he says, "if it can be done at all."

"Start with the damage and killing that accompanies any military operation, cover it with the stock of nationalism, stir in tribal, religious and ideological animosities, and spice it up with a little 'boys-will-be-boys.'" If the PRT cannot neutralize these forces, then it will become in Richards' words "but one player in the real war that is about to start"

To stand a chance, he says the PRTs must come in "right on the shadow" of the invading army (NSTS 92).

In Afghanistan, tribal, religious, and nationalistic loyalties have been inflamed by external events like the Danish free-speech caricature episode, the Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet fiasco, and most recently by an accident in which a US military truck whose brakes failed rolled down a hill and plowed into cars at an intersection, killing at least one Afghan and injuring approximately a hundred more.

Of particular concern to Canadians were the civilian deaths in the caused by the bombing of Azizi village on May 21.

The PRTs can scarcely be said to have arrived "right on the shadow" of the invading Army. In a recent article for the Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York noted that

For three months now, Canadian troops have been struggling to extend their presence into Kandahar's rural districts. It might be too late. [York says.] Some officers admit privately that the coalition has wasted the past four years by failing to push beyond the main cities. Instead of bolstering the new government's reach in 2002 when it was popular, the coalition is now trying to prop up what's become a much-hated authority that has squandered most of its trust (York Globe and Mail May 27 06).

Five years ago, Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. Today, Al Qaeda no longer uses Afghanistan as a base and won't for the foreseeable future. Al Qaeda has training camps in Iraq that are far more realistic and effective than anything they had in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is long gone.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times bureau chief in Pakistan, reported on Monday that the Taliban's spring offensive, which had already claimed more than 300 lives the previous week in the southern Pashtun heartland, was on the verge of turning into "a massive resistance against the foreign presence all over Afghanistan."

Thousands of Taliban have emerged in the provinces of Helmand, Ghazni, Urgzan, Kandahar, Kunar and Zabul, and in all of them the story is the same: where allied forces have taken on the Taliban, the ANA holds the 'fort'. In places beyond the access of allied forces, the Taliban are in control.

In the less-populated Farah and Nimroze provinces, where the Taliban have a nominal presence, violent incidents against the ANA have begun. The same is true in western Herat province on the border with Iran.

Former acting Afghan premier...Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai commented from Kabul, 'There are now sporadic incidents of violence in northern Afghanistan. We are hearing news that rockets are being fired on coalition forces in Maidan Shahr [east of Kabul], and there have been incidents of bomb blasts and violence in the north. As to who is behind this, different people have different opinions. Some allege the Taliban, some allege Hizb-i-Islami-led [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar and some call them unknown groups.

Former Pakistani army general and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence Hamid Gul has for many years been associated with the various groups of the Afghan resistance, since the days it fought against the Soviets in the 1980s.

Gul says,
when this sort of mass resistance starts, it means that it is a collective decision of Afghans. So you can see that though the Taliban resistance is centered in a very specific area, sporadic incidents have erupted all over. To me, the Taliban may be one group, the HIA [Hizb-i-Islami] of Gulbuddin is a second and [Moulvi Yunus] Khalis' HIA would be another.

But there are tribes as well who would be digging in against allied forces in their specific areas. This is a specific Afghan style of rebellion in which parties fight throughout Afghanistan under their flag, but the tribes restrict themselves to their areas. All fight for the same cause, but under their own disciplines. All fighting factions develop a sort of understanding with each other.

As Gul puts it, "This is just the tip of the iceberg you are watching; this situation will further escalate as the whole environment is now conducive to resistance."

Shahzad's contacts in the Pakistani tribal areas tell him that at least seven different tribal jirgas (or councils) are meeting daily among the Afghan population.

"And Miranshah Bazaar in North Waziristan is once again full of posters of Osama bin Laden and Hekmatyar, while slogans are written in support of the Taliban.

"The jirgas are unanimous: there should be all-out war in Afghanistan" (Shahzad May 29 06).

Canadian troops are becoming as Richards warned, "but one player in the real war that is about to start."

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