It's not necessarily that you can't get NATO troops willing to go to Afghanistan, but rather, that it's pulling teeth to get nations to commit to sending their soldiers to the south, in order to fight under these conditions. The idea of Afghanistan being a "peacekeeping mission" has flown out the window in these regions.
The British government, who has been a key ally of the Coalition presence in Afghaninstan, are finding that soldiers are returning from Afghanistan, indicating that the situation is "a textbook case on how to screw up a counter-insurgency.", indicating that widespread damage has been done to Afghani houses and civilian targets by Coalition attacks, particularly the bombing and strafing of villages.
"All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British. It's a pretty clear equation - if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would."
As a British soldier in Afghanistan recently said:
"We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border . . . We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. At one point our Apaches ran out of missiles, they have fired so many. . . . Almost any movement on the ground gets ambushed. We need an entire battle group to move things."
Indeed, as I've reported previously, and as the soldier indicates, much of the resistance may be locally based. There are strong signs that many of those we call Taleban are actually Mujahideen -- Afghan resistance fighters.
An officer who has served in Helmand said:
"You also have to think that each time we kill one, how many more enemies we are creating ... the lack of security means hardly any reconstruction ... we are not exactly winning hearts and minds."
So, no... the fight in southern Afghanistan is not exactly a situation that peaceful nations would generally want to be a part of.
Nobody's counting the number of dead Afghani civilians, but given the rather indiscriminate nature of the attacks, it seems pretty fair to say that NATO's casualty estimates are significantly inflated, and that they are lumping Afghani civilian dead into their Taleban casualty figures, chalking their deaths up as yet another victory in the War on Terror.
NATO has reported over 500 Taleban soldiers dead so far in Operation Medusa, but has also made it clear that these casualty figures are just estimates -- not even actual body counts. No independent media is in the area to confirm any of these casualty figures, and unfortunately, Afghani media faces significant government censorship and may not be in a good position to report on the matter. There are reports from independent sources that indicate that more civilians may be dying than Taleban in these conflicts, however.
This would be entirely consistant with what we've seen with similar conflicts in Lebanon recently. As in Lebanon, Afghani civilians are finding themselves leafleted in the wake of Coalition attacks, told to leave their homes, farms, and lives, and go somewhere -- anywhere -- in order to avoid massive aerial assaults, which are followed up closely by soldiers.
Haji Agha Lalai, a tribal elder in Panjwaii, has estimated that up to 5,000 families -- perhaps as many as 40,000 Afghan civilians -- have been displaced in the fighting.
At the same time that refugees are being asked to flee these areas, there is a risk that they could find themselves targeted during their departure, much as Taleban forces reportedly have been targeted, and just as civilians were killed while fleeing their homes in Lebanon.
It's no wonder, perhaps, that Coalition troops enter the places they attack, only to find them deserted, both by civilians and by the Taleban. Canadians and British have found themselves in the unwelcome position of having to depopulate and destroy cities, towns, and villages in order to "save" them for democracy.
So, what do you think the refugees feel about all this? Are we winning the battle of hearts and minds, or simply helping to create a demographic time bomb of angry young Afghanis, primed to go off in our hands, in a war which shows no signs of ending?