By Scott Taylor
At the recent Halifax International Security Forum (HISF), Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah echoed previous calls from NATO and the U.S. for Canada to return militarily to the international mission in Afghanistan.
Abdullah lamented the fact that Canada, along with most contributing NATO nations, had withdrawn from combat operations in 2014. Since that juncture, the internationally trained, equipped, and paid for Afghan Security Forces have proven woefully inept at containing resurgent Taliban and Daesh (aka ISIS) forces.
The Afghan military’s steady reversals have forced U.S. President Donald Trump to increase American troop levels from 8,000 to 14,000 in a desperate attempt to simply hold the line. Trump has also authorized a far more aggressive policy towards the use of allied airstrikes, which have predictably increased the number of Afghan civilian casualties dramatically. Not exactly a successful recipe for winning over Afghan hearts and minds.
In addition to his presentation at the HISF, Abdullah told the CBC that he had personally met with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to request Canada’s renewed support in providing military trainers. One has to hope that Abdullah’s request fell on deaf ears.
It is worth remembering that the international effort to equip and train the Afghan Security Forces to become self-sufficient began back in early 2002. Nearly 16 years and $70-billion (U.S.) later, hundreds of thousands of Afghan recruits have received weapons and training at the hands of some of the best soldiers in the world, and yet the Afghan National Army remains a demoralized rabble.
A recent U.S. report identified that the Afghan army lost over 5,000 personnel in the past year alone due to a combination of combat deaths, desertion and, in all too many cases, defection (with their weapons) to the Taliban. The Afghan National Police force lost another 4,000 recruits for the same reasons.
For Abdullah and Trump to conclude that the answer to this problem is to send in more Canadian troops to train more Afghan youths to become soldiers, is akin to that Three Stooges episode wherein the mentally challenged trio drill a hole in the bottom of their rowboat to let the water out.
If motivated for a cause they believe in, Afghans have demonstrated over the centuries that they are unconquerable. As the Soviets discovered during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, disillusioned Afghan conscripts on the other hand are virtually useless.
Over the past 16 years, NATO has yet to learn that even well-paid Afghan army volunteers — soldiers in Afghanistan make three times the salary of a high school teacher — their dubious motivation is to stay alive to cash their paycheque rather than wilfully die for a cause.
Ironically, Abdullah — the man begging for more foreign troops to prop up his hated regime — is very much a part of the reason that the Afghan military is so inept.
Abdullah’s title — Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — was created when the 2014 presidential election failed to produce a verifiable result. Rather than admit their experiment with democracy had failed, and with Abdullah refusing to concede to his rival Ashraf Ghani, the U.S. brokered a power-sharing deal. Thus, Ghani became president and Abdullah got the title of CEO.
To placate Afghanistan’s Uzbek minority, controversial warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum was name first vice-president.
Over the years Dostum has been accused of numerous war crimes involving the execution of prisoners. However, he is currently in Turkey in temporary exile as a result of allegations that he tortured and sodomized Ahmad Ishchi, a provincial governor and political rival.
Seven of Dostum’s bodyguards were recently tried in absentia and found guilty of raping Ishchi. This is not something new for Dostum; when I last interviewed him in Kabul in 2013, he was under house arrest for having tortured and raped Akbar Bey, a Turkmen rival. That was during the election campaign, and despite his current exile, Dostum remains vice-president of Afghanistan.
Why would Canada even consider putting our soldiers back into harm’s way to train soldiers to prop up this corrupt regime?