Afghans’ confidence in foreign help falling, Canadian expert says

Tonda MacCharles / Uruknet | August 15, 2008

OTTAWA–The switch by Taliban insurgents to spectacular attacks, including the daylight murders of international aid workers that left two Canadians among the dead, has shattered Afghans’ confidence in the international community and the Afghan government’s ability to provide basic security, says a top Canadian adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

Retired colonel Mike Capstick returned 10 days ago from Kabul, where he worked on a British-led counter-narcotics project with Karzai’s government.

In an interview, Capstick gave a grim assessment of the latest developments in Afghanistan, saying there is a sense of growing insecurity in the country.

“It’s a pretty bad year – not only for aid workers – it’s a bad year for Afghan national police, international military forces, Afghan national army and tragically, Afghan civilians,” said Capstick.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not take questions yesterday but, while in Newfoundland, extended sympathy to the aid workers’ families.

“This cowardly attack on unarmed aid workers yet again shows the depravity of the Taliban and the bleak alternative that they represent. Canada remains steadfast in our commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Harper said in a written statement.

Capstick, who led the first Canadian strategic advisory team to Karzai’s government in 2005-06, said “strategically, in the rest of the country” the picture is troubling as insurgents move “towards a tactic of doing the spectacular attacks.”

Citing an attempted assassination of Karzai in April at a military parade, the Kandahar prison break in June, the July bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people, and a rash of “attacks on internationals like this,” Capstick said the Taliban tactics are “working.”

Assaults on unarmed humanitarian workers, on food aid convoys, and bombings that slaughter Afghan civilians have not triggered a backlash against the insurgents as might be expected.

Instead, he said, “it’s causing people to become more fearful and for them to lose confidence.”

“The Afghan people have lost any confidence that they had in the international community’s and the Afghan government’s ability to provide basic security.”

Capstick said it is increasingly difficult to carry out the kind of aid and development work – such as a dam reconstruction project Canada is undertaking – without “huge expenditures on security.”

He said it’s easy “in a military sense” to shift the focus of Canada’s military mission toward training Afghan security forces but noted the latest two Canadian soldiers killed were working with Afghan national security forces.

Yesterday, the bodies of Master Cpl. Josh Roberts and Master Cpl. Erin Doyle – Canada’s 89th and 90th military casualties on the Afghan mission – were returned to Canada.

At roughly the same time the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian workers were gunned down south of Kabul yesterday, Capstick noted there was another big firefight between insurgents and Afghan security forces on the main road east out of Kabul, towards Jalalabad.

Almas Bawar Zakhilwal, director in Canada for the Senlis Council think-tank, also sees conditions worsening. “The insurgency was confined to the south before, now we see it in the east and all around Kabul … It looks like they’re closing their circle on Kabul.”

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