Training the Afghans for permanent war?

The Manley Panel seems to support, as does the Government resolution, the idea that, rather than concentrating only on counterinsurgency operations, Canadian forces should increasingly focus on training Afghan security forces. However, the Panel tends to define training as mentoring Afghan soldiers in counterinsurgency combat situations.

Its report (p. 24) notes that the ISAF Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams link to Afghan National Army units to assist in planning and carrying out field operations; "in reality, training and mentoring Afghan forces means sometimes conducting combat operations with them" (p. 30). But in another context the Panel emphasizes the distinction between combat and training. It (p. 34) says, for example, that the report's recommendations, if adopted, "would reorient Canada's military mission in Afghanistan more systematically from combat to the intensified training of the Afghan army and police."

The latter understanding of training seems to come a bit closer to what is needed. Serious training takes place in training academies and through field exercises and should prepare both the Afghan National Army and, more importantly, the Afghan National Police to maintain order in the context of a country no longer at war that has the benefit of a political accord that embraces all elements of Afghan society. The Manley Panel's view of training as on-the-job training in counterinsurgency warfare assumes ongoing war, however, and seems to reduce the objective to leaving minimally trained or mentored Afghan government forces to their fate once foreign forces deem them ready to take over the fight.

Richard Nixon called a similar strategy "vietnamization." This formula for long-term war is a formula for Afghanistan's long-term loss of the state's monopoly on the resort to force - the name for which is "failed state."

The Panel (p. 32) says that "the Canadian combat mission should conclude when the Afghan National Army is ready to provide security in Kandahar province." But the general strategy of transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces will be possible only if there is a new political accord that ends the insurgency and therefore drastically reduces the government's security requirements. For Afghan forces to be trained and expanded to the point that they could take over the entire country's security needs would mean that the war would first have to end. Afghan forces on their own will not defeat an insurgency that NATO/ISAF forces have not been able to even contain, never mind defeat. Furthermore, the Government of Afghanistan can obviously not afford to maintain the level of armed forces needed to keep up long-term combat operations against insurgents.

The alternative to permanent war must be to replace the military counterinsurgency strategy with a political counterinsurgency strategy. In the south the "clear" element of the "clear, hold, and develop" strategy must become a political operation that addresses the conditions that fuel the insurgency through processes that are inclusive and participatory in carrying out the negotiations, along with social reconciliation that will need to become part of a comprehensive peace process.

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