Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Kandahar:It’s not an operation; it’s a process, stupid!
(A U.S. soldier searches an Afghan man in Kandahar. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)
If you believe the official line from U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan, the upcoming offensive in Kandahar involving no less than 23,000 foreign and Afghan troops will involve a lot of polite words, meeting with tribal elders and “talking” the Taliban out of their spiritual home.
The soft rhetoric over the biggest ground operation of the nine-year war has even drawn similarities to the infamous comments made by the then British Defence Secretary John Reid, when Britain expanded its mission into Helmand in early 2006. Reid said he hoped Britain’s “peacekeeping” mission, expected to last three years, would be completed without a shot being fired.
Commanders and military officials have certainly been trying their best to play down the military side to the campaign, stressing its political aspect of bringing the Afghan government into the troubled province.
Even the language adopted by officials shows a distinct change.
At a recent news conference in Kabul, the new spokesman for the NATO-led force, a German general, chose his words carefully when describing the operation.
“We would like to call it a process, that is encompassing military and non-military instruments,” he said.
Noticeably absent were the words: “operation”, “offensive” or “push”, normally heard from military officials.
Later on, the word “campaign” did slip out.
“It is a comprehensive campaign evolving under Afghan lead, involving military and non-military instruments of all sorts,” the German general said.
He quickly backtracked:
Whatever you call it — a “process” or a “comprehensive activity” — what is most important is that ordinary Afghans seem unconvinced. Residents in Kandahar have seen a surge in violence in their city over the past few weeks, with suicide bombings and targeted killings and many feel a military operation, whatever form it takes, will only bring more bloodshed.
“We don’t know if this operation brings any advantages, but something we know for sure is innocent people will be killed, harmed and displaced,” said one Kandahar resident.
“People want to live in peace, support their family and go about their business, we don’t need any operations. We have no power to kick the Americans out of here, but I request my government and international troops to leave us alone, and don’t disturb our lives,” he said.
U.S. and NATO-led forces may not be planning an outright offensive like in neighbouring Helmand last February, but anything involving more than 20,000 foreign and Afghan ground troops will inevitably lead to a fight.
When coaxed, the German general did acknowledge there “might be a fight”, but perhaps the most open assessment has come right from the top. On a visit to Afghanistan late last month, the chief of U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus warned the people of Kandahar of a violent summer ahead, predicting “horrific actions” by insurgents.
Many Afghans in Kandahar and throughout the country would not only like to see the Taliban removed from their area, but would also like to see the removal of corrupt officials and warlords who have filled the void where the government cannot reach.