UN Mandated Peace Making - Canada in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a place in constant turmoil that often breaks out into multi-polar civil war, often aided or even promoted by an invader. The current conflict in Afghanistan is a civil war that was provoked by invaders - our Allied forces. Before our side attacked, Afghanistan was, by its standards, stable. However, the Taliban, the ruling party, had a foreign policy that was not acceptable to Canadians, the UN General Assembly, or the Security Council. The world voted for a change - by force if necessary.

With this UN mandate, Americans, British, Canadian, Australian, and other special forces went to Afghanistan, deliberately upset the balance of power, and started a new civil war by backing Taliban opponents. The government quickly changed hands but the country is not stable. To achieve victory, we have to build up the capability of the side we support until they can maintain dominance over the Taliban and other elements. Others, notably the Russians, have tried this and failed. The Russians failed because America supported the opposing side to the point where the Russian-supported Afghan side could never achieve dominance without Russian troop support. Eventually, the Russians gave up and called their troops home. We have the same problem. Victory for our side in the current Afghan civil war, to the point where our troops can come home, is entirely dependent on how much outside support the other side is getting. Thus, victory in Afghanistan is entirely dependent on politics rather than military force. We will have to continue to support our side in Afghanistan more than the other side is being supported. For our support to reduce, our politicians must convince people to stop supporting the other side.

Meanwhile, our Canadian soldiers are experiencing limited combat in Afghanistan. This is a good thing, at least from a military perspective. This Afghan civil war is providing the perfect conditions for the Canadian forces revitalisation project. It provides controllable combat situations that are battle-hardening our soldiers, it is providing the impetus to streamline our military procurement processes, and it is encouraging some troops to retire while also encouraging others to enlist. This is exactly what the Canadian military needs at this point in history.

There is no doubt in military thinking about the benefits of limited combat in preparing soldiers. A soldier's combat effectiveness increases dramatically after a reasonable number of combat days. Green troops, without experience, either lack confidence or are too brash; there is no more sobering experience than being in combat. Soldiers quickly learn what they can do, what they should not do, and who they can trust. All of this makes them much better soldiers. A good general will always attempt to use green troops in situations that allow these soldiers to gain experience while not requiring too much of them and where they can be withdrawn to safety if necessary. Hillier is an excellent general; Afghanistan is the perfect place to season green troops. We have an all-volunteer army in Canada and our soldiers want to be in Afghanistan because there is opportunity for combat. It is what they train for, it will make them better soldiers, and it is good for their military career. Soldiers understand this.

Most Canadians agree that it is time to rebuild the Canadian Armed Forces. Imagine what would be happening now if we were not engaged in combat. Politicians would be thinking about military spending that would benefit their riding rather than protecting soldiers. The traditional Canadian "made in Quebec" pork-belly procurement system would rule the day and most of the billions being invested would be wasted, at least from a military perspective. Even for politicians, combat sharpens the senses and builds teamwork. No politicians would ever want to be in a situation where they, through political failure, were responsible for the death of combat soldiers. Just like soldiers in combat, during times of war politicians will, hopefully, put aside grievances and personal interested to support the effort.

Without the reasonable possibility of combat, people signing up as new recruits would be thinking about their education or careers rather than excitement and adventure. The latter make better combat soldiers. To be frank, many young people pursue risk. Their choice, then, is extreme sports, street racing, criminal activity, or combat. Combat is the ultimate risk and is very appealing to many people. At times of war, enlistment in combat positions goes up. America, for example, has no shortage of volunteers for combat infantry. What they are short of is truck drivers and other non-combat personnel. The situation is reversed during times of peace. Canada has, over the last four years, recruited around 20,000 personnel. However, their real numbers have only gone up by a few hundred. This is because many soldiers are retiring, some to avoid combat. The Canadian Armed Forces are transitioning from a relic of the Cold War to a modern combat force. Our participation in the UN mandated occupation of Afghanistan is helping immensely.

There is a lot of disagreement about what Canadian soldiers should be doing. Some say we should limit our role to UN mandated "blue beret" peacekeeping activities while others advocate for a more forceful role. With some understanding, this disagreement, for the most part, disappears.

The Canadian Armed Forces are not participating in Blue-Beret, Chapter-Six, UN sponsored peacekeeping activities because, for the most part, these activities have been spectacularly successful. The number of wars going on has reduced significantly over the years, in large part because of traditional peacekeeping. The peacekeeping role, first promoted by Canadians, works so well it has become rare for established states to be at war with each other. Further, there are many more nations willing to provide troops for these activities and, as such, there is much less demand for Canadian soldiers.

People promoting peace, buoyed by this success, are now trying to promote peace in more demanding situations where the belligerents are not easy to identify. Rwanda, described by Romeo Dallaire as a "Chapter Six and a half," is a prime example. Rwanda also illustrates two other important points. First, there is a real difference between trained combat soldiers from nations like Canada and the soldiers provided by other nations such as Bangladesh. Bangladeshi soldiers are perfectly competent in Chapter-Six UN missions but are not trained or equipped to replace combat soldiers when things get rough. Had Canada deployed a full brigade of combat soldiers, Rwanda would have been a different story. Second, Rwanda is also a prime example of why nations with combat-effective soldiers, like Canada, are extremely reluctant to deploy them under UN supervision. Simply put, the UN organisation is too cumbersome to support combat. Had Canada deployed a brigade to Rwanda, there would probably not have been a genocide but there could have been many, many Canadian casualties. This is why most countries, Canada included, prefer to deploy soldiers under their own command if there is any real chance of combat. Thus, while there are now very few Canadian soldiers wearing blue berets on UN commanded missions, there are very many Canadian soldiers, under NATO command, supporting UN mandated missions.

The Canadian Armed Forces are still heavily supporting UN mandated peace initiatives. Only now, with the easy jobs going to less capable nations, the jobs being asked of Canada are getting tougher. As such, we are conducting them under NATO command rather than under the UN blue-beret system. This is because NATO practices combat where the UN does not; combat soldiers require effective leadership to survive. Just because there are less Canadian soldiers under UN command does not mean that Canadians are not doing their part. Canadian soldiers are being asked to do the hardest jobs and they are excelling at them. Canadian soldiers are not off warmongering or invading countries for our, or America's, private interests. We are operating under UN mandate. The UN Secretary General is not asking Canada to pull troops out of Afghanistan and send them to the Congo; he is asking for us to be in Afghanistan, engaged in combat, where we can do the most good for the world.

In the interest of world peace, the UN gave a mandate to end Taliban dominance of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is now an occupied country and must remain so until the Taliban cannot come back into power. However, while this occupation is expensive, it is also helping the Canadian military during an important transition and rebuilding project. Afghanistan is not a peaceful place and is unlikely to be so for generations to come, but the people currently in power need to remain so. The alternative is to return to a state that sponsors international terrorism. The UN is attempting to deal with these 21st century problems as best it can. It reserves the better combat-trained soldiers for the tougher peace-making missions while using less capable soldiers for the easier chapter-six tasks. Canada, as always, is doing more than its share.

1 comment:

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