Monday, February 25, 2008

Canadian Forces overstretched

First, see this map of the districts of Kandahar province. (Note that Zhari district isn't shown on the map - it has since been carved out of the northern bit of Panjwai.) Roughly speaking, Canadian operations have largely been in Panjwai district, Kandahar and Spin Boldak, with Shah Wali Kot and Maywand also getting some attention.

Graeme Smith, as usual, is skeptical of the Canadian Forces' ability to operate in such a large area. He talks to a commander who speculates on what kind of numbers might be required for the job:

"Easily you could have a brigade of 5,000 Canadians here just for Zhari, Panjwai, Arghandab, Shah Wali Kot and Khakrez, because to be honest, we haven't been to a few places in Panjwai yet," he said.

Military officials have spoken more bluntly about their lack of numbers recently, in private conversations and even publicly at meetings with Afghans.

Tribal elders from the mountainous district of Khakrez complained last week that NATO has failed to prevent the Taliban from running amok in the northern part of the province.

Nodding his head gravely, a Canadian officer told the elders they're right.

"We don't have enough troops," Colonel Christian Juneau said.
The article goes on to detail the extent of Taliban influence and operations, while "overstretched Canadian forces have drawn back into core districts."
The military says Taliban ambushes have decreased in four of 17 districts in Kandahar city, the key zone where the Canadians focused their operations during the latest rotation of troops. But the military has so far refused to give statistics for all types of insurgent activity, including ambushes, and has kept the numbers for the entire province a secret.

A hint of the military's view of the province came during an interview this week with Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Linteau, commander of the Joint Provincial Co-ordination Centre, a liaison hub between security forces.

"The number of incidents has doubled, if not more, in Kandahar," he told The Globe and Mail, suggesting that this estimate applies to the period since September of 2006. ...

An average increase in attacks across the province would suggest a markedly worse situation in the villages and suburbs, because most analysts agree that downtown Kandahar enjoyed some relief in 2007 from the onslaught of insurgent strikes that terrorized urban areas in the previous year.

Anecdotes from beyond the city limits seem to confirm the trend; soon after Canadian and Afghan officials climbed out of their helicopters and crunched across the snow to the chilly cement building that serves as the Khakrez administrative centre, they heard a litany of bad news.

"As soon as the snow leaves the ground, the Taliban will come and force people to join them," said Shah Wali, a member of the Achakzai tribe, which usually supports the government. "What should we do?" ...

"Six years ago we had only a few Taliban supporters in Khakrez," [said Malim Akbar Khan Khakrezwal, a former intelligence chief for Kandahar and now a leading tribal elder]. "Now we have a great number of them." ...

No regular troops have returned to set up outposts in the area [since the PPCLI in spring of 2006]. In the meantime, the Taliban are believed to have gained stronger influence in the district, and the local inhabitants seem to have grown deeply skeptical about the government. ...

Even more than 5,000 NATO troops may be required for the province, Major Moffet said, because beyond the troops needed for the core districts, NATO would also require forces to intercept the Taliban's supply routes in outlying areas. ... (link)
The commander's estimate of 5,000 might itself be rather low, at least if top NATO general Dan MacNeill is to be believed. He acknowledged a while back that US counterinsurgency doctrine calls for some 400,000 troops in Afghanistan. Currently there are about 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. The 400,000 figure would mean well over 20,000 troops for Kandahar.

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