Monday, March 19, 2007

Afghan's turning against Canadians

Afghans rejecting Canadian troops for Taliban, survey finds
DOUG SAUNDERS Globe and Mail March 19

LONDON — Afghan civilians are increasingly turning against Canadian troops and their country's government and toward support of the Taliban, according to a large-scale survey conducted in southern Afghanistan this month.

In a survey to be released in London today by the Senlis Council think tank, Afghan men in the Canadian-controlled areas of Kandahar province and in the neighbouring British- and U.S.-controlled regions say they are being driven to support the Taliban because of disillusionment with the NATO military effort and poverty created by the continuing conflict.

A team of 50 researchers polled 17,000 Afghan men in randomly selected districts in the Kandahar, Helmand and Nangarhar provinces of southeastern Afghanistan between March 3 and March 12.

"Across the south, the majority of survey respondents both worry about being able to feed their families, and do not believe that the Afghan government and the international troops are helping them," the Senlis report concludes. "Afghanis in southern Afghanistan are increasingly prepared to admit their support for the Taliban, and the belief that the government and the international community will not be able to defeat the Taliban is widespread in the southern provinces."

Canada's troops are responsible for Kandahar province as part of the UN-ordered NATO operation, and British soldiers are responsible for neighbouring Helmand province. These are considered the most volatile and dangerous regions in the Afghan campaign. The U.S. military is largely involved in Nangarhar.

The Senlis Council is a Brussels-based think tank that began as a European drug-policy organization, but has become heavily involved in Afghanistan, where it argues in favour of allowing Afghans to continue growing opium poppies, but for medicinal purposes.

The survey's conclusions are similar to those made earlier this month by Gordon Smith of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary-based think tank with a broadly hawkish stand. Like the Senlis Council, it concluded that the military operation is vital, but that it is failing because it is inadequately supported by humanitarian efforts.

The survey shows that 27 per cent of Afghans in the south now openly support the Taliban, a number that the surveyors said is likely higher because some respondents are wary of admitting support to a Westerner.

More specifically, when asked, "Are the international troops helping you personally," only 19 per cent answered yes (in regions with U.S. soldiers in control, only 6.5 per cent said yes). And 80.3 per cent say they worry about feeding their families.

"The widespread perception of locals is that the international community is not helping to improve their lives," the survey concludes. "The Taliban has been able to easily and effectively capitalize on this by providing protection from forced eradication [of poppy crops] and employment to many."

The study found that 72 per cent of men in the region know how to fire a weapon, making them potential Taliban recruits. The average annual income in the region of $747 (U.S.) is equivalent to two months pay for a Taliban fighter.

"We would support the Canadian military if we could. We would also support the Taliban if we could," an unemployed man in Helmand told the researchers.

Only 48 per cent of southern Afghans now believe that their government and NATO are capable of defeating the Taliban. Similar surveys taken at the end of 2001 showed overwhelming faith in the success of the war against the Taliban.

"It is clear that the Taliban are winning the propaganda war," the survey concludes. "This victory is now having a direct effect on the war itself, through people's perceptions of who is going to win."

The report notes that the military effort to defeat the Taliban has eclipsed, and often undermined, the simultaneous effort to improve living conditions for Afghans and rebuild their government and civil society.