An upswing in violence in Afghanistan… What does this mean for Canada?

Canadian helicopter in Afghanistan

Canadian helicopter in Afghanistan

By any measure the last few months have been marked by an upswing in violence in Afghanistan–a “dreary and bloody stalemate” according to the CBC’s Brian Stewart. NATO–and the US in particular–have come to recognize this as there has been much ado about how to re-cast the mission. First of all this has meant the implementation of a new command structure within NATO’s ISAF and shifts amongst some of the top brass in the region, most prominently the promotion of General Stanley McChrystal, a veteran of the Iraq troop surge, as the new US commander in Afghanistan. Some are suggesting that the conflict in Afghanistan will likely continue for years to come–perhaps a decade or more. US counter-insurgency expert John Nagl has argued that the war in Afghanistan has not yet hit the midpoint.

Yet this is only ome measure of the intensification of the situation in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2008 was both the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the end of initial hostilities in late 2001 as well as the deadliest year for coalition casualties, continuing a trend which, since 2003, has seen an annual increase in coalition deaths–a trend which seems likely to continue in 2009. Recent months have also witnessed the spread of fighting further across the border into Pakistan with almost daily skirmishes between Pakistani forces and Taliban-aligned militias–not to mention the periodic excursions of American forces into Pakistan. This is occurring against the backdrop of this past winter’s US-led troop ‘surge’ into Afghanistan. Loosely mirroring the Iraq troop surge of 2007 this recent move by the US has seen an increase of nearly 50% in the number of US troops in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command and the former chief of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq recently commented that Afghanistan will likely be a significant challenge for some time to come and cautioned that for reasons of geography, climate, culture and infrastructure the troop surge in Afghanistan will likely prove to be both more difficult as well as slower moving than the surge in Iraq. That being said, a recent CBC piece has pointed out that many of the new troops being deployed are special forces (American, British and Australian as well as Canada’s own elite Joint Task Force-2) trained specifically for counter-insurgency missions.

A recent article on antiwar.com points out that alongside this troop surge we will likely also see an even further increase in casulaties. This, is leading to an increasingly negative image of the US (and likely NATO in general) amongst the Afghan populace. A recent public opinion poll shows that for the first time in nearly five years those in Afghanistan with an ‘unfavourable’ opinion of the US outnumber those with a ‘favourable’ opinion–this down from a 2005 high of 83% who held a ‘favourable’ opinion. In short, all accounts would seem to suggest that NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is far from over and combat is likely to intensify. With this in mind the question for Canadians is what shape will Canada’s mission take  in the near future, especially in light of the 2011 projected end of Canada’s combat operations in a war which seems far from over and one in which progress, according to a recent Candian government report, is measure in centimeters.

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