Interviewer: It seems to me that if you start to lose your faith about what’s happening around Operation Medusa, it’s pretty much gone when you reach the detainee issue. I sense incredible frustration on your part—that you’re publishing stories about the detainee issue and yet not feeling that there’s any traction, that the outrage isn’t actually causing change.
Graeme Smith: Yeah, that was a really chilling thing, actually, to be raising the alarm about terrible stuff that really shouldn’t be happening under international law. You know, by law, Canadian forces are not allowed to hand people over into torture chambers. And so for me to go into the torture chambers and talk to the guys and see the scars on their bodies, and really painstakingly document people being beaten, electrocuted, choked, whipped... and then to see, really, that over the years following that nothing significant changed.
The United Nations went in after me and not only confirmed what I had found, but added to the litany of horrors. I mean, the UN reports, which are incredibly voluminous, added things like ‘genital twisting’ and ‘human biting’ to our vocabulary, unfortunately. You know, things that you wish you could unlearn.
President Hamid Karzai recently gave an interview saying that he thinks that Al-Qaeda was largely imaginary, which is an interesting notion. I think he’s technically wrong—there were a small bunch of mad men out there in the hills running around. But I think his larger point was that we were there chasing shadows and making a lot of enemies. And we did make a lot of enemies along the way. Actually, I think there was no need to engage in large-scale combat against huge percentages of southern Afghanistan.
These officers were talking about Afghans as if they were clay to be molded, but we all failed to understand how profoundly the people would resist.
Interviewer: You started to lose your faith around the time of Operation Medusa, which was NATO trying to push the Taliban out of southern Afghanistan. What was it about that effort that started to change your thinking about what you were observing?
Smith: Well, up until that point, we were still being told that Canadian troops were fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It started to break down for me when I started to realize how many of the villagers themselves were fighting the Canadians. And it was shortly after Operation Medusa that I sat down with a senior UN official who told me, ‘Look, Graeme, half the people the Canadians are fighting are these villagers. A huge percentage of the Taliban fight no more than a kilometre away from their own home.’
So it was this switch—starting to understand that the Canadians were stamping down a rebellion to some extent, and that was key. And then you start to think, ‘Why are they rebelling? What is it about what we are bringing, in terms of the Afghan government, in terms of the new leaders... what is it about democracy they don’t like?’
We went into all of these villages, we went into all of these areas like southern Afghanistan, and we dramatically changed the power balance. And so now that the foreign troops are leaving, they’re leaving a tremendous amount of unfinished business, and this will be bloody business. It’s terrible. We’re leaving behind an inferno.
Over a decade of war in Afghanistan had settled nothing; and that, in itself, was profoundly unsettling.
An introspective look at the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of both the Coalition as well as the Taliban and other Afghani's by Canadian journalist Graeme Smith from 2005 to 2009 specifically in Kandahar and the surrounding area. Even handed, treating all participants with humanity this book is a very good look at why Nato countries and NGO's were not able to win the "Hearts and Minds" of the local populations. Definitely worth reading.
book is worth buying. didn't finish, but a very good read.
a backpacker's guide to 21st-Century Afghanistan, complete with dust storms, the charred humans remains of conflict, inscrutable denizens, their concerns, and the requisite moral indignation raised by our unwarranted intrusion in a culture we know nothing about
Interesting journalistic perspective on the Afghan conflict. I've tried to read everything I can on this situation to try and understand what really happened, or is happening and I found this to be balanced and deals with the views of the populace rather than the disinformation dispensed by the military. If you are interested in Afghanistan this is one of the books you should probably read.l
Alexander the Great tried to pacify the area that became Afghanistan. He failed and left. The British tried at leasr twice in the 19th century to subdue Afghanistan. They failed and left. The Soviet Union invaded the place in the 20th century and tried to impose their will on the Afghanis. They too failed and were forced to leave. So what's so different in the 21st century that made the "Coalition" forces think they could "fix" the country?
It just shows how morally bankrupt the US and people like Stephen Harper are. This year all the foreign troops will be gone. Try and guess what the Taliban is going to do when this happens. Hmmmm, I wonder. The only question is how many will be slaughtered. Not if, but when.
Good read about Afghans and specially how Taliban organization works, however he failed to mentioned the role of Al-Qaida in Afghan current and past present situation which played a significant role the things the way Taliban are dealing.
Graeme Smith roved throughout southern Afghanistan from 2005 to 2011. This book describes his experiences dealing with corrupt officials, drug mafias and insurgent villagers. Anyone trying to understand this complex situation shoudl read this book.
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