Long-term Strategy in Afghanistan?

Canadian soldiers from the NATO-led coalition run for cover after an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosion during a mission in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, March 20, 2009. (Reuters)

Canadian soldiers from the NATO-led coalition run for cover after an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosion during a mission in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, March 20, 2009. (Photo: Reuters)

Despite the 2011 planned end-date of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan many feel that rather than winding down combat operations in an attempt to foster some sort of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Canada’s policy in Afghanistan is still one largely focused on expanding combat operations at the expense of approaches which seek to lessen conflict. 

Take the recent case of the renewed focus on countering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). According to a recent article in the National Post IED attacks have been on the increase. Three quarters of the Canadian troops killed during the past year have died as a result of IEDs. As a result Canadian Forces have been exploring a new investigative approach which borrows from traditional police detective work. Employing the same mentality which goes into fighting organized crime the  Counter-IED Task Force set up in 2007 sees IEDs as not simply an isolated device at the side of the road but as the result of a whole chain of planners, suppliers, financiers, etc. Thus the aims of the Task Force is not just to dismantle bombs but to dismantle the whole network operating behind the bombs.

However, insurgents are quick to adapt and have created an ever-more sophisticated supply chain with links throughout the region. Furthermore, some would argue that even in spite of the rhetoric of a more ‘holistic’ approach toward fighting insurgents this outlook will do very little in service of the longer term goal of establishing peace in Afghanistan. Quoted in the same article, Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute and Ceasefire.ca, stated:

“The way this conflict is going to end is not by hunting down people that are making bombs in mud huts somewhere,” he said. “It’s ultimately going to end sitting around a table in some sort of negotiated process, possibly with people that we don’t like very much.”

Beyond dismantling bombs, beyond dismantling networks which manufacture bombs, with the planned wind-down of combat in less than two years there is much more to be done in ameliorating the conditions which breed combat in the first place.

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