September 30, 2009

Manley 2? Granatstein talking sense

Historian Jack Granatstein:

Now the clock is ticking toward the inevitable Canadian withdrawal. Can we not replicate the Manley commission to help us prepare the plan for the post-2011 years?...

A commission set up now could hear witnesses, including Canadian diplomats and aid officials, senior officers from the Canadian Forces, academics, representatives of non-governmental organizations and others. It could talk to foreign diplomats and politicians and visit Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The reality is that NATO and our friends, engaged in their own planning, need to know Canada's intentions no later than mid-2010. A new Manley commission would allow for a careful consideration of what should and can be done.

This seems entirely correct. The ongoing American review offers more than sufficient guidance over their plans. Canadians need to launch a parallel strategic review process, based on the successful Manley example.

Granatstein's right about the deadline, too. Given the departure date of mid-to-late 2011, decisions will inevitably start to be made by the second quarter of next year as to future manning, the disposal of resources, and procurement that will be either expensive or impossible to change should Canada shift course on what if anything military is to be part of the post-2011 commitment after that. We've got six-to-nine months to come up with any new plan, before inertial guidance starts to take over: still enough time for a Manley 2 process, but not much more than enough.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 PM

On ANSF pederasty

The increasingly influential (and rightly so) Josh Foust takes on the Canadian mission for tolerating pederasty in the ANSF, basing his concerns largely on some after-the-fact allegations from 2006. Given what I did on tour, I suppose the concern requires a response.

It is no lie to say that homosexual behaviour is extensive and pervasive among members of the Afghan security forces. For a Western mentor it is literally an unavoidable part of life, found in all organizations and at all rank levels. And it should also be no surprise that Afghans' sexual preferences in this regard often incline towards youth and beauty. At times this approaches, and even descends into, outright pederasty. No question.

Pervasive, yes; rapacious, not necessarily. We're not talking in the main about police trucks kidnapping and driving off with young schoolboys here. THAT we'd know what to do about. It's the grayer shades of the issue that frustrate mentors. Local police are wealthy by community standards, when they're paid, at least; they have guns. They have power. Young men and teenagers gravitate to that, in any culture. We encourage the police to interact with their community, to cultivate friends and informants. Other young men work in their kitchen areas, and as cleaners. Others are constantly being recruited from the locals into the police organization itself. So young men and teenagers do hang around the police, constantly.

The question is how to discreetly determine when that's become inappropriate. You see a beardless boy you don't recognize spending a lot of time around the police station, or in a uniform two sizes too big for him. He's not unhappy or bearing any signs of abuse... no one's beating him, or treating him as obvious chattel. If you ask him how old he is, he likely couldn't tell you. So is he a sexual object for one of the officers, or does he have a legitimate right to be there? Or a little of both? And how do you investigate that fully in a combat environment without causing unnecessary offense to your comrades? Among mentors in Afghanistan, this constitutes a common dilemma... sometimes handled well, sometimes not well at all. But I've never seen the larger issue wilfully ignored, covered up or waved away.

Again, it's not the in flagrante cases. We know what to do should that sort of nonsense happen in front of us. But full investigation of every possible suspicion we might have in this regard is not always viable.

The issue hit the Canadian press largely thanks to Cpl. Travis Schouten. Removed early from his tour in 2006 due to stress and since diagnosed with PTSD, he has since made numerous allegations of various kinds in the press since about his treatment and his experience. These stories have been investigated by the military, and often found by in those investigations to be unsupported by other evidence. The specifics have sometimes seemed to change over time. It has reportedly proven difficult to tie them down to confirmable places or dates. Supporting evidence good enough for the media (army chaplains saying they had also been approached by other concerned yet anonymous soldiers) has been rejected as the hearsay it was. (One can't help but think, based on the litany of stories produced, that Schouten's condition may even have been exploited, possibly even rather ruthlessly, by reporters looking for yet another headline at his expense.)

Another media story, alleging that the Canadian Forces was more concerned about the media impact of the Schouten allegations than the actual allegations themselves, seems entirely based on the fact that a public affairs officer took the time to do up a "talking points" document on the issue. Um, that was his job, presumably. I have seen no Canadian officer quoted talking with anything other than genuine concern and occasionally perplexed confusion about what to do with a complex and sensitive issue that is universally recognized by everyone who has spent any time working with Afghans. There is no coverup here that I can see from the inside.

Having a plan in mind for how to deal with homosexuality and pederasty in the security forces is something every ISAF/OEF mentor should keep in back of mind. This isn't an issue that's going to go away. As a former mentor, I can condemn the practice, and say we were always prepared to move to stop it if it became readily apparent, but still feel the Canadian public has been particularly poorly served by its media in this instance due to the sensational and prurient nature of this issue.

(Full disclosure: during my time in Afghanistan I was attached to 1 RCR, the same battalion which Cpl. Schouten had belonged to during his tour two years previous.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM