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Canadians enlisted in new American-style Afghan war

Bush has come to shove in southern Afghanistan. The U.S. commander-in-chief has sent in the marines.


Iain Hunter, Special to Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's reported that this has made NATO forces operating there uneasy.

It's not that the Canadians and British and the rest of them don't appreciate the extra manpower the 3,500 U.S. marines will provide, or the extra aircraft and light armoured vehicles they've brought.

But the other NATO forces have been told they have to learn to operate in what's called "the American way" alongside the marines, and they're not quite sure how this is going to make the job of winning hearts and minds any easier when the Americans have left in seven months when their "mini-surge" is over.

It's pretty clear that the NATO-U.S. operation in Afghanistan isn't going well in some areas of the country, especially in the south where Canadian and British troops operate. There are, it's reported, remote areas where the NATO troops haven't yet been where pockets of insurgents lurk. There are tracks used to move wounded fighters and opium south to the Pakistan border and arms and money move north.

The Daily Telegraph reports that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned his allies that NATO is "critically short" of troops in Afghanistan and might not be able to hold whatever gains are made by November, when the marines are scheduled to pull out.

The alliance, after all, has other responsibilities besides the war in Afghanistan that it was drawn into by the Americans -- such as Kosovo where Britain is sending a reserve battalion.

And Canada has issued its own ultimatum, which is going to put even more pressure after 2011 on other countries without as strong a will to fight.

The United Nations envoy, Kai Eide, has just warned that everything won in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was overthrown seven years ago is in danger of being lost because of the fragmented international approach to securing and rebuilding the country and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The president himself had to be hustled away from the scene of an attack by insurgents near his palace in Kabul on Sunday while all those Afghan soldiers ran for cover.

And in the eastern part of the country yesterday, 19 members of a poppy-eradication team under NATO guard were killed in an attack.

Gen. Dan McNeill is the U.S. army officer who commands NATO troops in Afghanistan, and it's he who says things must be done there, now, the American way.

Specifically, he wants the Canadians and other forces to deploy their soldiers for longer periods, make more effort to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppies and get more involved in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

The marines are under McNeill's direct command and seem to have the same gung-ho approach that they exhibited in Iraq, where many of them served. McNeill himself has said they're in the southern part of the country to "stir things up."

In March last year, about 100 marines, it was reported, were sent packing for responding to an ambush using "Iraq rules" that violated the less violent rules of engagement that were supposed to be in place in Afghanistan.

It looks as if the Afghan war, at least for the next seven months, is to be played by Iraq rules, which don't seem to have endeared a lot of people in that country to the American invaders.

Restoring security and rebuilding a country is a long, slow process. First, a region has to be cleared of insurgent fighters, then it has to be held to provide the security under which the third stage, rebuilding, can take place.

The marines might be in Afghanistan long enough to rout the insurgents where they are concentrated