Afghanistan mission in danger of unravelling

If things were not bad enough in Afghanistan it appears only to be getting worse. This week Canada is again talking of pulling out its troops from Kandahar as other Nato allies still refuse to contribute any more badly needed troops.

The withdrawal of Canada’s 2,500 troops who are on the frontline in Kandahar, and have taken 78 casualties, would be a major blow. The country has said it will not extend its mandate beyond 2009 if certain criteria are not met that includes more allied troops and more hardware among other things (helicopters).

Responding to a recommendation by an independent panel, led by John Manley, a former Liberal party foreign minister, Canadian PM Stephen Harper has said that unless another alliance country offered 1,000 soldiers to support the fight against the Taliban in Kandahar, he would withdraw his country’s troops.

The news follows Afghan President Hamid Karzai first criticising British efforts in Helmand province, where the UK has suffered 87 losses, and then rejecting former Lib Dem leader, and the international community’s high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown as a UN envoy.

His appointment had been backed by all the Nato allies. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she regretted that Ashdown had withdrawn his bid to be UN envoy for Afghanistan, saying a “stable figure” was badly needed.

Karzai seems to be more interested in doing his own deals and hanging onto power in Kabul no matter what the cost. Karzai sacked the British backed Helmand, Mohammed Daud, governor in December. He wants instead Amir Muhammad Akhunzada who is related to Sher Muhammad Akhunzada who was previously sacked as Helmland governor and is thought to be linked to the drugs trade.

It seems very unlikely that Britain would withdraw, but enthusiasm for the long term commitment is clearly being strained. A lot of this strain comes from the paltry support offer by key Nato allies.

The US, Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia make up the main fighting force in Afghanistan with France, Germany, Italy and Spain all resisting calls for more troops.

France, even under French president Nicolas Sarkozy who last year made a show of being America’s great ally contributes next to nothing. Just 1,000 troops who are not involved in combat. Last year France withdrew 200 special forces and Sarkozy favours further withdrawal and has said that “the long-term presence of French troops in that part of the world does not seem to me to be decisive”.

Germany, while it has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, these are not involved in combat and operate under restrictive covenants such as the laughable no flying after dark.

This YouTube video featuring Manley was highlighted in the thread below definitely worth a look.

While we are on Afghanistan the campaign to free Afghan journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh continues, but it seems that only Karzai can free him and so far the president has said nothing.

The group started on Facebook has signed up more than 300 members and is still growing.