June 24, 2011 – President Obama addressed the nation Wednesday evening, finally outlining the details of the United States plan for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that the world has been waiting for.
By the end of this July, the United States will withdraw 10 000 troops and by the end of next July an additional 23 000 troops will be returned safely home, for a total of 33 000 soldiers to be withdrawn from Afghanistan within the next twelve months.
“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghani security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghani people will be responsible for their own security,” said the President.
In 2009, President Obama spoke of a “civilian surge” in Afghanistan; however that surge was never realized or mentioned since, up to and including the President’s address on Wednesday evening.
The President’s announced plan includes withdrawing twice as many soldiers this year as the military would have hoped to maintain something General David Petraeus referred to as “battlefield geometry” in written submissions to the President.
Obama also introduced and confirmed a commitment to join diplomatic, peaceful initiatives “that reconcile the Afghani people, including the Taliban. Those who want to be part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from AlQaeda, abandon violence and abide by the Afghani constitution”.
It is the first time in a President’s address to the nation regarding Afghanistan that the separation of AlQaeda and the Taliban was acknowledged and rightly so, since the Taliban have always viewed AlQaeda as a foreign entity no different from NATO or the Soviet Red Army when it comes to respecting the lives and welfare of Afghani civilians. It is because the Taliban refused to grant Osama Bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan that he was forced to hide out in Pakistan.
“Even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end,” the President concluded.
With regards to negotiations with the Taliban, which were confirmed publically on Sunday afternoon by General David Petraeus, many analysts are suggesting that the success of the US-backed Afghani government initiative to provide upwards of 1 700 Taliban fighters with homes and civil services jobs if they agreed to switch sides rests squarely upon the United States’ ability to negotiate in good faith and to demonstrate to the Taliban that the Americans and the Afghani government can be trusted.
Basically, many diplomats and intelligence officers have concluded that a significant number of Taliban fighters will not switch sides unless such negotiations and peace talks advance.
The US announcement by President Obama that troops will begin withdrawing according to an established timeline opened the door for other countries, many of whom had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, to officially begin planning their troop pull backs as well.
France announced that it will be withdrawing 1000 soldiers by the end of the year and will have its entire 4000 strong contingent removed by July 2012. France’s withdrawal will take place in co-ordination with allies and Afghani officials and “in a proportional manner comparable to the withdrawal of American troops,” according to a statement from French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s office.
Germany has not made any official announcements, but immediate reaction is that they will reduce their contingent of close to 5000 troops by the end of the year.
David Cameron in England announced that Great Britain will maintain their pullout date of 2015, but plan to have all 10 000 combat soldiers out by that time. Cameron did indicate that Great Britain was prepared to maintain, past 2015, as high a number of support mission trainers and ‘mentors’ as required by the Afghani government.
Meanwhile, in a rare English statement, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the US “must take serious steps to stop this pointless bloodshed”. There has not yet been a Taliban statement in reaction to the President’s drawdown announcement – it will be interesting to see if the Taliban will interpret the withdrawal scheduele as a sign of good will. I think that after 10 years fighting Soviets and 10 years fighting NATO, the Taliban will believe the troop withdrawal when they see it.
“Afghanistan wants to make it clear that the solution for the Afghani crisis lies in the full withdrawal of all foreign troops immediately,” Mujahid said.
Canada’s Role in Afghanistan – June 24, 2011
-On Wednesday afternoon the Canadian Government released another 4, 000 pages of documents pertaining to the handling of Afghani detainees by Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Despite the allegations that the Canadian military knew that Afghani detainees were being subjected to physical and mental torture and abuse since at least 2006, the government now portends that the release of this newly unclassified information clears Canadian culpability.
“The allegations of improper conduct are unfounded,” said Foreign Minister John Baird.
The opposition New Democrats, however, have been wary of the governmental proceedings on this issue from the start – and the NDP refused to participate in an ad-hoc committee that was formed a year ago to review and approve the documents for release.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris called the government out for spending 12$million dollars of taxpayer money in a committee designed “to suppress the truth.”
“This only offers some additional disclosure,” said Harris, “we think that there has to be an independent review so these things never happen again.”
The claim made by the government that these documents give Canada an “all clear” sign with regard to torture allegations is hardly credible considering that the documents were released only two days before Parliament’s summer break. This means that the government will not be held accountable or be questioned on the newly released information until Parliament reconvenes in the fall.
Canadian avoidance of accountability is one reason for the transfer of Afghani prisoners to torture at the hands of local security outlets in Afghanistan; to keep Canadian hands clean – but that doesn’t make Canada’s involvement in this process any less criminal. Putting our actions to account and getting a full public inquiry into the Afghanistan detainee issue is the only course of action that will restore Canada’s faith and goodwill internationally and domestically.
All opposition parties have united in their call for a full public inquiry into Canada’s relationship with torture and prisoners in Afghanistan.
“It is a case of wilful blindness on the case of the government,” said Liberal defence critic John Mackay. Mackay also pointed out that no new systems or procedures have been drafted since the scandal came to light with the testimony of Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin.
Beginning in 2006, Colvin sent memos, reports and letters to Canadian intelligence describing the procedures of Canadian military in Afghanistan and how the procedures were leading to the torture of Canadian-captured prisoners.
Testimony by Colvin almost two years ago threatened to bring down the Conservative government when he revealed that Canadian soldiers knowingly transferred detainees to Afghani forces engaged in torture. Since that time, Colvin’s testimony has been corroborated by other witnesses, internal “intelligence” documents, and military police commissions.
One of the revelations discovered in the newly-released documents from Wednesday, is that Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself visited Afghanistan on May 22, 2007 and directly raised the concerns of prisoner abuse with Afghani President Hamid Karzai. Meanwhile, back home, Harper and the Conservative government made no mention of his inquiries or the issue to the Canadian public or House of Commons.
Obviously there is Canadian culpability of knowingly handing over Afghani detainees to be tortured and even testimony of first-hand Canadian involvement in the torture of Afghani prisoners.
“The real question is ‘what is the government holding back – and why?” said NDP leader Jack Layton.
“They chose a date that will prevent Parliament from asking questions in the House of Commons and the big question is going to be which documents did they not release.”
Only a full public inquiry will tell.
-Despite the announcement this week of concrete American plans to draw down its soldiers in Afghanistan and the subsequent announcement of international partners to draw down their troop involvement as well, Canada appears to be committed to nothing more then re-labelling their soldiers in Afghanistan as “trainers”.
No official announcement from the Prime Minister regarding reaction and accordance with the US troop withdrawal plans for the end of this year and 2012. In the wake of Canada’s detainee-torture mess and Parliament’s summer vacation just two days away maybe the Prime Minister is hoping Afghanistan will go away, just like it did in the recent Canadian election campaigns.
The truth is it won’t just go away as long as Canada continues using Afghanistan as an expense account for the corporate and military establishment charged to the Canadian taxpayer and until Canadians get a full public inquiry into the Afghani detainee-torture scandal.