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Unites States blames Canada for Afghan failure
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Brian Stewart: Canada in Kandahar, some allies weren't impressed

By Brian Stewart, special to CBC News

Posted: Jul 10, 2012 5:17 PM ET

Last Updated: Jul 11, 2012 11:26 AM ETRead 354 comments354






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Brian Stewart

Canada and abroad







About The Author

One of this country's most experienced journalists and foreign correspondents, Brian Stewart is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He also sits on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch Canada. In almost four decades of reporting, he has covered many of the world's conflicts and reported from 10 war zones, from El Salvador to Beirut and Afghanistan.



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Afghanistan: The Mission

What's next for Afghanistan?



While most Canadians may have mentally turned the page on the Afghan war, happy to forget our military's long and frustrating struggle in Kandahar province, some of our allies have not.



Increasingly, foreign military and diplomatic assessments of the war are appearing in print, and what is surfacing is not a comforting picture as far as Canada is concerned.



At the very least, one finds little support in these assessments for Ottawa's boast that the Kandahar campaign won Canada much-needed new military prestige throughout NATO, especially with key allies such as Britain and the U.S.



Rather, the impression given is of a Canadian military mission that was deeply out of its depth and politically too hesitant to ask for significant outside help.



In one book just out, Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a highly respected Washington Post writer, Canada's Kandahar mission is even branded as one of the worst NATO failures of the entire almost 10-year campaign.



The courage and resilience of Canada's soldiers are never questioned (not mentioned much either, but at least not disputed). But the view now is of an overly optimistic Canadian military and civilian leadership eagerly volunteering to manage what was arguably the most critical and dangerous province in the whole war — home to the Taliban and linchpin to the Afghan south — while notably lacking the resources necessary for the task.



War within the war

For his book, Chandrasekaran interviewed more than 70 U.S. government and military officials directly involved in Afghan war policy.

Afghan soldiers in Kandahar City watch over the funeral in July 2011, of Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the Afghan president, who was murdered in his home by an associate during Canada's watch. (Murray Brewster / Canadian Press)

The core of the book revolves around the so-called surge of U.S. troops in 2009, and one of the main claims of Little America is that the West effectively lost a year of fighting because these reinforcements went mainly to aid British troops in the lesser battle zone of Helmand province, rather than hard-pressed Kandahar — in part because Canadians were slow to cede operating terrain to the hard-charging marines.



Some senior U.S. generals were angered that Kandahar was bypassed because Canada's military shortcomings were well known in NATO at the time.



Chandrasekaran writes that when a U.S. reassessment team visited southern Afghanistan in 2009 its members were shocked by the disparity of Western forces on the ground.



Only 2,800 or so Canadian soldiers were tasked with holding on to the sprawling Kandahar province, while 9,000 British personnel were based in the smaller, far less strategically important province of Helmand, next door.



The hopelessness of the Canadian effort was made even more evident as most of our troops were involved in support and headquarters' roles inside the main camp, which left only 600-800 on most occasions to patrol hostile territory "outside the wire."



The U.S. team members were appalled to find the Canadians not even holding Kandahar city, the country's second largest, against growing Taliban infiltration.



An unnamed senior Canadian officers is quoted saying, "I have no idea what's going on inside the city."



That's when one of those experts, Andrew Exum, a leading U.S. counterinsurgency strategist, fumed in his private journal that the U.S. should have intervened sooner, writing: "Kandahar — not Helmand — is the single point of failure in Afghanistan."



Ruffled feathers

Leaving aside that some of these after-the-fact assessments may be self-serving, Chandrasekaran's main claim, as it applies to Canada, is that U.S. officers were reluctant to confront their Canadian counterparts over apparent weaknesses because they were told Washington did not want "to ruffle feathers" in Ottawa.



In fact, he even records the senior commander for NATO in Afghanistan at one point, U.S. Brig-Gen. John Nicholson, saying he couldn't order Canadian commanders to act more aggressively in Kandahar city, as Ottawa wouldn't like it.



"Military leaders in Ottawa were reluctant to ask for more help," Gen. Nicholson is quoted saying in Little America. "Some were convinced that security in Kandahar was improving, others didn't want to risk the embarrassment."



Some will take issue with Nicholson on this. In 2008, after the John Manley report to Parliament, Canada did demand NATO provide additional troops as a condition for Canada to extend its mission until the summer of 2011.



Still, we only insisted on 1,000 extra soldiers, which turned out to be barely a drop in a very large bucket of trouble.



The Brits too

Two new British books also raise questions about the Canadian role in Kandahar.



Gen. David Richards, now chief of the U.K. defence staff and the man who commanded all NATO/ISAF forces in southern Afghanistan in 2006-07, was apparently convinced Canada should never have been given the Kandahar mission in the first place.

U.K. Gen. David Richards, shown here in Kabul in 2006, wasn't convinced Canada had the resources for Kandahar. (MUSADEQ SADEQ / Associated Press)

We now know this from War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong by veteran British foreign correspondent Sandy Gall. He quotes Gen. Richards as being upset his troops ended up in Helmand, while Canada eagerly signed on to Kandahar because Ottawa "wanted a prestigious role, ideally in the key province."



The general told Gall he complained to his political masters that the British should take on Kandahar because Canadians "as we knew, would never have the resources and the manpower to do that as well as we thought it should be done."



The British, he feels, should have confronted Canada and said "Are you certain you are big enough to do Kandahar? Should we swap?"



Too much Can-do?

The charge that Canada was militarily too weak for Kandahar is hardly new. But this was often blamed on the reluctance of our allies to help us out.



However, what's striking in some of these new accounts is the sheer doggedness of Canadian optimism when it came to our Afghan mission, not to mention our paucity of solid intelligence in the field.



In his fascinating memoir, Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign, Britain's former Afghan ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles marvels at Canada's cheery boosterism for the war.



He portrays Canada's top civilian on the scene, Chris Alexander, then a former ambassador and top UN official, now a Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary to the minister of defence, as being "among the most persuasive of the optimists, and in many ways the golden boy of the international effort in Afghanistan."



Interestingly, Cowper-Coles believes Alexander was too smart not to see the flaws in the war, but "like many able and ambitious Westerners involved in the project he saw no point in being anything other than optimistic."



Over time, Canada's dogged optimism, whether sincere or assumed, in the face of reality became intensely annoying to many on the receiving end (as many reporters can attest).



Cowper-Coles records how he and then U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice were irritated by a Canadian briefing in February 2008 that was full of optimism about counter-insurgency in Kandahar and which took no account of the fact that the Canadian Forces had neither the resources nor the time to complete the task.



Now, I'm well aware that some foreign officials, going on the record now, may be using Canada as a convenient scapegoat for the setbacks in southern Afghanistan. After all, it was the abrupt U.S. pullout of Kandahar in 2005 that first opened the way to the Taliban resurgence there.



What's more, the professionalism and high morale of Canadian troops was often praised by NATO allies and should not be overlooked.



But, sadly, much of what is coming out now rings true. It seems the more we learn about this conflict the more we must conclude that our political leaders, both Liberal and Conservative, had no business hunting for national prestige in the hostile landscape of Kandahar.



Just why they did so is still a question awaiting convincing answers from those who were once in charge but are now all too willing to simply turn the page and move on.


Added: Jul-12-2012 Occurred On: Jul-12-2012
By: cdnspr
In:
Afghanistan
Tags: Canada, Unites States, Afghanistan
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  • no matter what is said by our allies, I am very proud with Canada's role in Afganistan. Unlike some other Nato members, we were not afraid to come out to fight the taliban in their territory.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Canadian Soldiers are bad-ass...I don't blame them,

    BLAME the Politicians who are screwing with people's heads.
    (I also blame global warming, it's hot as FUCK here in Vegas (116))

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • I think the Canadian soldiers are top notch. It's always the politicians who screw things up and not just in Canada.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Not much surprise here. We had 12 years of Liberal rule and they gutted our military. Our people didn't even have proper uniforms for deployment to the ME. They were wearing green uniforms when they went over. Our soldiers are among the best in the world, but there aren't enough of them and they don't have the support they need for major campaigns.

    The reason the government of the day wanted a prestigious role in the conflict is because they had been coming into increasing pressure and crit More..

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • blaming the candians is wrong. canandain soldiers are among the best in the world, i mean, look what they did in ww1/2.

    If I had Canadian soldiers, American technology, and British officers I could rule the world.

    -winston churchill

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @holapola

      "If I had American soldiers, American technology, and American officers I could kick the ass out of Canadian soldiers, American technology, and British officers."

      - General Patton

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @USA1 let's face it, that wouldn't get you anywhere.

      all the gear, but no idea.

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @holapola

      Just because it rhymes doesn't mean it's true for the times.

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'oldboy6o4' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @oldboy6o4

      Sounds like you're a wee bit butt hurt, a very common condition with overly sensitive Canadians suffering from an inferiority complex.

      Sorry that you just learned that shit actually flows in both directions...and that your shit doesn't actually smell as good as your favorite moose turd pie, AAAA!

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Candians are among the finest soldiers in the world. I was shocked to learn of their lack of helicopters when they first deployed to Afghanistan, however. They sold all their chinooks to the Dutch in the 90's as a cost cutting measure.

    Posted Jul-13-2012 By 

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  • Comment of user 'oldboy6o4' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @oldboy6o4 I think you're better than "good enough". By the looks of everything that went down in the past seven years, everyone fumbled on Kandahar.

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @oldboy6o4 Well said.

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'oldboy6o4' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • Comment of user 'EurJup2' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @oldboy6o4 plus its pretty stupid to direct that at americans in general, shit we dont have no control over what the higher ups say or do.

      Posted Oct-22-2012 By 

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  • Blame Canada for Afghan failure?! Really? What failure? This is a bullshit article that favors the Taliban and is trying to smite the US & Canada relations.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • No prob. My wife blames me for everything too ;^)

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • I blame canada for Brian Adams.

    That is all.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • 1. I think it took at least a year until government bought desert camoflauge for troops & vehicles (we were using the standard green).

    2. My brother in law, who did a tour there told me horror stories of incredible inefficiency in supply chains etc. It took years for Canada to finally ship in tank brigades to support the troops and when thye finally did my brother-in-law was with the first wave in 2006. The tanks didn't even have air conditioning. He said over half of the total tanks after More..

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • ego maniac's... the US lost another invasion. there was no war, no army...

    Posted Jul-13-2012 By 

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  • soon..it wont matter what the US thinks. in fact, it doesnt now. :::

    Posted Jul-14-2012 By 

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  • Yup, the US lost the war because there was not enough Canadians on the ground. This is absolutely true! The US has never won a war that Canada was not involved in.

    Posted Jul-14-2012 By 

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  • "Blame Canada"

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Canadian politicians are about the same caliber as those from a banana republic - this is why the disconnect between military objective and national prestige. The latter had no business being in the equation.
    I would be interested in the top cf officers response to this as I feel that with a military budget that is less then Italy and south Korea and a about 30% of what France spends the outcome is what could be expected.as for the troops on the ground and the sacrifices they and their families More..

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Canada DID bite off too much than they could chew on Kandahar. 3000 soldiers, most of which in support roles, were woefully inadequate to control a Taliban incursion there.

    Any of the NATO countries would have been hard-pressed to deal with that. But the under-funding of Canada's military was clearly evident in Afghanistan.

    I think the Canadian military did a phenomenal job with the resources that they had, and the soldiers' courage and bravery are not in question. In fact, I think the sold More..

    Posted Jul-19-2012 By 

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  • When the American military eventually lose this war they will no doubt start blaming others for their failure, in this case they blame the Canadians but there are others that the yanks will try to use a scapegoats as well, Obama,Pakistan,the US public (for not loving the war enough) will all be blamed in some way.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • i see alot of bagging on u.s. military but do yall honestly think yall fucking military would stand a chance against us even with help from a few other nations? give me a fucking break, i dont mean to talk shit about an allie but yall are some fucking retards, a canadian writes the f'in article yet yall talk shit about americans? again fucking retarded, it aint our fault you dumb sons of bitches volunteered for a job yall couldnt handle and get all butt hurt when somebody points it out, hell eve More..

    Posted Oct-22-2012 By 

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  • First it was Pakistan and now Canada ? Why not blame Africa and China as well as the the nippy (the street dog)in case something turns up in future.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • nato got their asses kicked by a bunch of afghan farmers in sandals. Conventionally with standing armies they might be strong. But unconventional warfare they don't have a chance. Should be a lesson to them.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • hahahahahahaha fucking clowns !

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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  • Why does Canada even need a military??

    I thought the libs up there already pretty much disarmed those poor saps...

    They know we'll stick up and protect their spineless country when the shit hits the fan. Maybe that's why

    Well... Then? Uhm.... Right...

    I digress

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'LBJFRWY' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @LBJFRWY
      the only part of your comment that I would disagree with is "they know it" I really don’t think the vast majority know it or for that matter discuss it in a meaningful way . The rest of your statement is fair comment.
      "Cowper-Coles records how he and then U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice were irritated by a Canadian briefing in 2010 ..."
      Problem. Condoleezza Rice was NOT the US Secretary of State in 2010. She left office with George Bush in January of 200 More..

      Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @XyBerFuNK ...should be no surprise... Canada doesnt need the US, its the other way around especially in energy. they don't need you.

      Posted Jul-13-2012 By 

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    • @cinematic Dude we produce like 5x as much energy as Canada mkay? So what in the hell are you talking about?

      In fact we produce as much energy as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Canada COMBINED!!

      You better pull your head out of your ass there pal, you're being misled by the socialist left. Don't be a sucker and believe the lies. We don't need Canada for jack shit except for the hard working Canadians who flee here to avoid the 56% Canadian govt income tax. They are welcome to America to participate More..

      Posted Jul-14-2012 By 

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    • @XyBerFuNK Canada has a military so we can kick ass when the world needs us. Like WW1 and WW2, for instance. You know, the wars that were actually wars!

      Posted Jul-14-2012 By 

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  • Canada took a more cautious route for a long term , where the Americans came at shit like a sledge hammer. The American way didn't work and caused more trouble and damage then the Canadian way. Way more troops have died in Helmand then in Kandahar. The US is just pissed because we did it our way.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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    • @Aariss Thats what I was thinking... Maybe we didnt want to kill thousands of people to win the 'Hearts and Minds' of the people... Maybe we took a more passive approach to peace...

      Posted Jul-13-2012 By 

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  • "...is that U.S. officers were reluctant to confront their Canadian counterparts over apparent weaknesses because they were told Washington did not want "to ruffle feathers" in Ottawa."

    Yup, can't offend in a PC world. Here Canada, come get your participation badge.

    US out of NATO! 60 years of investing in a paper alliance is enough.

    Posted Jul-12-2012 By 

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