Not Much Good News from Afghanistan
Nov 15, 2010

Comprised of delegations of parliamentarians from NATO’s 28 member countries, the 26th Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw, Poland, evaluated the current situation in Afghanistan and opened discussions on new ways to build relations. A number of delegates are admitted as observers to the event and Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, South Korea and Japan are often present to watch these debates.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is comprised of five committees: Defence and Security; Civilian Dimension of Security; Science and Technology; Economics and Security; and the Political Committee.
As a member of one of the largest groups, the Defence and Security Committee, we had three reports to consider:

  • Preparing the Afghan National Security Forces for Transition
  • Security at the Top of the World: Is there a NATO role in the High North?
  • U.S. Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A fundamental NATO debate

I will focus on the most topical of these reports, the Afghanistan Report. The overall picture painted by the report is, in my opinion, quite negative. The serious problems raised in the report include inadequate capability at the command level; high illiteracy and attrition rates with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and members of the Afghan National Police (ANP); limited infrastructure (such as no barracks, no ammunitions depot and a very limited training centre); too few advanced operating bases; limited capability at a combat service support level for the ANA; a shortage of developed institutions; unsuitable logistical resources; a lack of transparency with regards to finances, equipment and personnel; and a perpetual shortage of training mission resources since NATO needs 1500 extra instructors.
There have certainly been reports and accounts of operations that have failed miserably, such as the Afghan Armed Forces (AAF) company, which was operating alone in Herat Province, fell into an ambush and required air support. Unfortunately, no one in the company was able to read a map. This delayed the arrival of aircraft and several wounded AAF members died while awaiting medical evacuation.
The Afghanistan Report also referred to the transferring of equipment. A New York Times investigation exposed a disturbing fact: in May 2009, a sample of weapons seized from insurgents was inspected and it was found that more than half of the weapons were loaded with ammunition identical to that which the United States had distributed to the Afghan Security Forces (ASF). This clearly suggests that the Americans are indirectly arming the Taliban. The NYT went on to say that the United States supplied a very specific model of Hungarian rifle to the Afghan National Police (ANP) and that they have been found for sale in recent years in ­Pakistani bazaars.
Command Capability
Most observers agree that one of the major problems with the ANP and the AAF has to do with strengthening command capability. The lack of a command has meant that members of these forces have little regard for discipline and has allowed corruption, partisanship and fraud to run rife.
True leadership requires adherence to a code of ethics and a loyalty to the Afghan people that trumps any personal, tribal or regional allegiances. The main corps of officers, however, is comprised of a blend of former royal army members, troops from the highly centralized Soviet army and ­soldiers who fought beside the Mujahidin. Many command posts were sought and obtained not on merit but by way of corruption or clientelism.
Corruption and Addiction
Corruption is rife among Afghan government institutions, and the ASF is no exception. Drug trafficking and other illegal activities are serious problems that exacerbate already existent problems – as does the disappearance of fuel, weapons, equipment, and soldiers’ pay.
Data indicates that a large number of AAF members are also drug addicts. In December 2009, a German commanding officer claimed that approximately 1,520 members of the Afghan armed forces were addicted to drugs.
The factual information listed here was drawn from the NATO report. It tells quite a different story to the assortment of Conservative Government reports with their overly optimistic findings. That is why my party, the Bloc Québécois, wants to see an end to the military mission in Afghanistan.
Canadians have paid dearly for their presence in this theatre of operations. Billions of dollars were spent and 156 lives have been lost in one of the most challenging regions in Afghanistan.
Over the years, NATO has chosen to ignore the many calls that I and other Canadian delegation members have made for the implementation of a troop rotation system. The burden has not been shared fairly, which is why it is time to bring all our troops home!

Claude Bachand is the defence critic for the Bloc Québécois.
© FrontLine Defence 2010