The Military Choice in Afghanistan is not between Combat and No Combat

This and the next five postings, on successive days, will review and elaborate the themes addressed in the Feb. 8 posting.[i] As noted then, the Manley Panel reinforced a prominent misperception in the current debate over the role of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, namely that "there is not yet a peace to keep in Afghanistan." In fact, in large areas of the country, essentially the northern half, there is indeed a peace to keep. To be sure, it is a fragile peace, but if it is not protected, built upon, and genuinely nurtured it will yet be lost.

Security assistance forces in the north are critical to maintaining conditions that are conducive to moving from a fragile to a durable peace. International forces deployed in the north, unlike those in the south, follow the model of peace support operations intended to protect people in their homes, communities, schools, and places of work so that the regions of the country that are relatively free of the insurgency that increasingly plagues the south can develop and advance the human security of Afghans. The peace support forces operate under a Chapter VII mandate and can certainly involve the resort to lethal force, whatever national caveats may be in place, but it is a reliance on force that is clearly distinguishable from counterinsurgency combat that seeks to defeat the Taliban on their home ground in the south.

The harsh reality is that the counterinsurgency combat operations in the south are repeating history in their failure to stem, never mind defeat, the insurgency. The growing danger is that while ISAF and NATO focus on the south, the security, reconstruction, and governance challenges in the north will be neglected to the point that declining northern confidence in local and national government will lead to collapse there as well.

Accordingly, the military choice facing Canada in Afghanistan is not between combat and no combat, it is between counterinsurgency warfare and Chapter VII peace support, or peacekeeping, operations.

Tomorrow: The search for winning conditions.

[i] This same material is also presented in Project Ploughshares Briefing 08-1, available at

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