NATO troops 'not winning' in Afghanistan, analyst
The loss of two more Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan over the weekend proves that coalition troops "are not winning" the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and Canada needs to rethink its military strategy in the country, a retired colonel says.
Maj. Yannick Pepin, 36, and Cpl. Jean-Francois Drouin, 31, were killed Sunday afternoon in a roadside bomb blast in the Dand district. Five other soldiers were injured in the explosion, though none seriously.
The losses bring Canada's death toll in Afghanistan to 129 since the mission began seven years ago.
The deaths of the two soldiers come after a particularly bloody August for NATO troops in Afghanistan. August was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with 49 deaths. July was nearly as bad, with 44.
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, now a military analyst, says news of the latest Canadian casualties will cause soldiers, their families and the general public to question the goal of the mission.
"These losses, in particular of a senior officer, will have a devastating impact upon the morale not only of the soldiers serving in Afghanistan but the military families all across Canada," Drapeau said Tuesday on CTV's Canada AM. "It brings the point home that at the moment we are certainly not winning and at the moment we need to do something to regain the initiative."
British troops have also suffered mounting casualties, while German soldiers have faced an increasing number of attacks from Taliban militants.
U.S. President Barack Obama has responded to the increasing violence in Afghanistan by ordering 21,000 more troops to the country to gain the upper hand on resurgent militants and train Afghan forces to assume greater responsibility for security.
So far, the Canadian military has not indicated it is considering a similar shift in strategy, Drapeau says. Ottawa has so far rebuffed calls for more troops for Afghanistan or an extension of the mission past the scheduled end date of 2011.
"The Americans are now shifting strategy, but we have yet to know in Canada what is the strategy," Drapeau says. "What is the objective? What is it that will surface that will allow us to declare victory and come home in 2011?"
The downside to the boost in American military might in Afghanistan is the increased risk of civilian casualties, which threatens to erode support among Afghans for the NATO battle against the Taliban.
Those risks were borne out last Friday morning, when a German-ordered U.S. air strike on militants who had stolen two fuel tankers injured and killed a number of civilians.
Drapeau says that while heavy-handed tactics may send civilians into the arms of the Taliban, the alternative puts soldiers, including Canadians, at risk.
"So it's almost a no-win situation," Drapeau says.
"If we up the ante and if we increase the tempo and increase the lethality of what we do, then likely we're going to be causing civilian casualties and they in turn will be more adept at supporting the Taliban. And if we stay as sitting ducks and try to reconstruct and try to be in the nation-building type of mission...then the Taliban are going to take advantage of that as they have done over the past seven or eight years."
According to Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, Afghan citizens recognize that coalition soldiers are making the "ultimate sacrifice" in trying to establish security in the country.
In a statement expressing his condolences to the families of Pepin and Drouin, Ludin said the Afghan people "value this sacrifice immensely."
"The Afghan people are grateful to the people of Canada for their support and friendship, together with other members of the international community," he said. "We depend on this friendship in order to overcome the forces of violence and terrorism within Afghanistan and beyond, and to provide a better, peaceful and prosperous future for our children."
The bodies of Pepin and Drouin are scheduled to arrive back in Canada at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, where they will be met by their families, and likely a number of dignitaries, at CFB Trenton.