Thursday, May 18, 2006

Canadian Forces and the Taliban - May 18

A link from the CBC to get us started.

A few personal reflections first:

As you may or may not know about me, I served 12.5 years as a supply tech in the Primary Land Reserve (Army). During that time, there were many people who made a strong impression on me. These influences came from both officer and non-commisioned ranks. I can still remember their cool professionalism which still influences me today. It changed the way I walk, the way I talk, my deportment, how I think and even the way I dress. I would not be the man I am today without that positive influence in my life. Along with my decision to follow Christ, the military has had a profound effect on me. I truly believe that if I did not have those two influences in my life that I would either be dead or in jail. An exaggeration? No it is not.

When I was in the military, I had the chance to befriend a few female soldiers. They got along well with me and I got along well with them. However, I am NOT in favor of women in front-line combat roles. Do not consider this as unusual as both the Americans and the British follow this policy. None of the women I met while in uniform were a liability certainly, it's just that none of them particularly stood out either. That is not slagging them or being misogynist, it's called being honest (brutally perhaps). Also, there were specific individuals in my unit, from corporal to Lt. Col., that struck as being fantastic soldiers. If I could emulate a certain desirable characteristic of each one, I said to myself, then I would certainly have the world at my feet. One might have the raw military knowledge. Another would have true leadership skills. Another would have excellent physical fitness. And so on. The problem was that of all these fine soldiers who held up a high standard for me, not one was female. I also noticed that these female soldiers really didn't last long while part of the order of battle and many were not as regular in their attendance as they should've been. Am I being too harsh? Hey, I can only report what I saw and I had excellent attendance both in garrison and in the field. So I'm not whistling dixie here.

It seems fashionable these days to make everything as 'equal' as possible, to the point of sheer insanity. All religions are equal. All political systems are equal. All moral codes are equal. And all men and women are equal in every possible conceivable way. What pure and utter horsefeathers! You see, the social scientists are trying to tell us that we are constantly evolving, moving to a higher and higher plane of existence. Yet for all their rhetoric, human nature has not changed in thousands of years. Men are men and women are, well, women. Man is the hunter-gatherer. Well, at least sort of IMHO. Women by their nature are nurturers. They always have been, always will be. Look, if a woman really, really wants to be a genuine front-line combat soldier, then so be it. Just don't tell me that men and women are 'equal' in every possible conceivable way because it ain't so, Joe. Simply stated, there is a distinct difference in the way men and women go about their business. Of course the man and women are of equal value and importance. I just wish the radical feminists and the social scientist would understand this point as they strive to put sexual politics ahead of military effectiveness. All the social engineering in the world has not budged the way a man or a woman thinks. Not even one iota. Fortunately for us, that's actually a good thing.

The Man in Black.

Stratfor -- Predictive, Insightful, Global Intelligence

Afghanistan's Mean Season: The Taliban Take on the Canadians
May 18, 2006

Fierce fighting continued May 18 in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province as British, Canadian and Afghan forces engaged hundreds of Taliban fighters near the village of Azizi. In neighboring Helmand province, Taliban fighters overran the town of Musa Qala, a former Taliban stronghold, only to be forced out later by Afghan troops backed by British and Canadian helicopter gunships. The fighting came a day after a Canadian offensive in Kandahar's Panjway district ended in the death of at least 18 Taliban and one Canadian soldier, while a suicide bomber struck a U.N. convoy, killing only the bomber. In the two days of fighting, some 50 Taliban have died, compared with about 14 Afghan and coalition fatalities.

The fighting reflects an overall increase in Taliban activity in southern Afghanistan since late 2005 -- the result of al Qaeda's reinvestment in the country and the change in coalition forces there.

The United States has turned responsibility for most of Afghanistan over to NATO forces in order to free up U.S. troops to concentrate on operations in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, where the Taliban and al Qaeda are most active -- and where many senior leaders are believed to be operating. Al Qaeda does not have as heavy a presence in southern Afghanistan, particularly in Uruzgan, Helmand and Kandahar provinces, though the Taliban continue to be active in the area.

As part of the NATO deployment, Canadian Brig. Gen. David Fraser on Feb. 28 took control of the multinational force in southern Afghanistan from U.S. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry. The Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan include troops from the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry; an engineer squadron; an artillery battery from 1 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery; an armored reconnaissance troop from 12 Régiment blindé du Canada; and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle unit from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron. The Canadians relieved battle-hardened troops from the U.S. Southern European Task Force, including the 173rd Separate Infantry brigade, 3rd battalion, 6th Marines, and the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade. Late May 17, the Canadian Parliament narrowly approved a bill to extend the deployment of the country's 2,300 troops in Afghanistan to 2008.

Three factors are converging on the Canadians in Kandahar province: The perception by the Taliban and local warlords that the Canadians are not as formidable an opponent as the U.S. units they replaced, an influx of younger Taliban commanders eager to apply tactics used by insurgents in Iraq to their fight in Afghanistan, and a lack of financial resources to pay off local warlords, tribal leaders and government officials. Until the Canadians and other NATO troops can adjust to their new environment, fighting will continue, and possibly increase, in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S. presence in southern Afghanistan included selectively spreading money around the region for reconstruction projects. Although ostensibly meant to benefit the local population, especially in rural areas, these projects are actually used as a tool to buy the allegiance of the local warlords and tribal leaders who benefit more directly from them. By building roads, schools and other infrastructure in their areas, the local commanders see their people employed, receive money to provide "protection" for the projects, and get other "gifts" and gratuities as well. The United States had about $30 million to spend on these projects in southern Afghanistan, in addition to projects funded by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Canadian commanders, however, lack that kind of money to spread around the local area for reconstruction projects, having only about $2 million to put to work in the area. The Canadians will try to work with various NGOs operating in Afghanistan to fill the shortfall in projects, but this less-direct route could deny them the flexibility that U.S. commanders on the ground enjoyed when disbursing goodies to the locals. This could make local warlords and tribal leaders less cooperative with the Canadians.

The local insurgents began testing the Canadians within hours after they took over, detonating a roadside bomb in front of a Canadian military convoy in Kandahar. Anytime one military unit assumes responsibility from another, the new unit must learn the nuances of operating in the area, despite a transition period during which soldiers from the old units train the new units. No matter how thorough the changeover, however, the new unit must develop tactics and procedures that are best suited to the way it operates. While the Canadians are learning their way around and establishing new relationships with local commanders and leaders, the Taliban will try to take advantage of the opportunity to take over as much territory as they can in southern Afghanistan. This will include attacks against government buildings in small towns, convoys and reconstruction projects.

New Taliban commanders have come into southern Afghanistan in recent months as areas sympathetic to the Taliban across the border in Pakistan continue to produce a supply of recruits and combat veterans have risen through the ranks. These younger commanders are eager to apply tactics used by insurgents in Iraq that have proven successful against coalition and Iraqi forces. This might include more urban warfare, suicide attacks, attacks against towns loyal to the Afghan government, and attacks against government officials. The increase in Taliban and al Qaeda activity has brought with it an increase in suicide attacks. Through mid-May, 11 suicide attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, compared to seven in all of 2005.

Taking a lesson from the insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban realize that gaining media attention is an important aspect of their fight. Overrunning a remote small town in Kandahar or Helmand province and holding it for a few days until coalition and Afghan forces arrive to run them out could have an impact locally, but results in little media attention. On the other hand, a suicide or roadside bomb attack that kills a local police chief or official does result in media attention. An attack against coalition troops, particularly a suicide attack, can have even more media impact.

Unlike Iraq, however, suicide bombings against coalition targets in Afghanistan rarely result in serious casualties. This is partly because of terrain limitations, fewer vehicles on the roads in predominantly rural Afghanistan compared to the urban areas of Iraq, and lower-quality materials used in improvised explosive devices. Convoy tactics learned by coalition forces in Iraq and up-armored Humvees also have mitigated the effects of suicide attacks in Afghanistan.

As the spring turns into summer, militant activity in Afghanistan will increase. The Canadians and other NATO troops in southern Afghanistan have been adjusting to their surroundings and developing sound operating practices. The attacks will continue, but the casualty counts will continue to be disproportionately heavy on the Taliban side.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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