Monday, October 8, 2007

Upbeat Bernier contradicts UN reports

Bernier's purpose is to show how concerened Canada is about Afghanistan and drum up support for the mission. Perhaps Bernier is learning from Bush to spin statistics and reports the way he wants. As this article from the Globe mentions the Bernier and Oda trips provide good PR and photo ops and good psy op articles for consumption back home. Coderre wants his piece of the pie and wants a proper evaluation of the situation "for the sake of democracy". Give us a break!
This article at least points out the daring contradiction between reality and the spin world of Bernier.

Upbeat Bernier contradicts UN reports
Foreign Affairs Minister declares Kandahar more secure despite statistics that say situation is worsening

October 8, 2007

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier contradicted all publicly available assessments of security in southern Afghanistan yesterday with a bold claim that insurgent attacks have decreased in Kandahar, leaving the province more secure for humanitarian work.

"The territory is more secure now today, here in Kandahar than it was a year ago," Mr. Bernier said. "Look just a year ago what happened, there were many attacks, and the attacks have diminished."

Canadian officials have often pointed to hopeful developments in southern Afghanistan, but they rarely challenge the statistics cited by the United Nations and private security analysts that suggest an overall worsening trend.

"The security situation in Afghanistan is assessed by most analysts as having deteriorated at a constant rate through 2007," said a paper by the UN Department of Safety and Security in August. That report showed violent incidents increased almost 25 per cent this year, although the authors noted that the figure may be conservative.

Kandahar was among only three provinces listed in the United Nations report as places where the security situation has fallen into its worst category - "Extreme Risk/Hostile Environment" - across most of the province. This rating causes less accessibility to UN programs, the report notes.

These statistics fit with those collected by other analysts. The respected security firm Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan found that Kandahar suffered more anti-government attacks than any other province, in a tally of incidents from the beginning of the year to Sept. 30.

A count of insurgency-related deaths by the Associated Press has noted more than 5,100 people, mostly militants, killed so far this year. That far exceeds last year's figure of 4,000 for the entire year.

The idea of improvement was a central theme of the weekend visit by Mr. Bernier and International Development Minister Bev Oda as they briefly toured Canadian bases, handing out sweets to soldiers and posing beside military vehicles.

Mr. Bernier did not elaborate on his remarks, which came after his briefings with senior military commanders at Kandahar Air Field. In his encounters with reporters, he gave vague reasons for his dissenting view. At various times, he said his conclusions were based on first-hand observations, meetings at military bases and what he described as improvements among the Afghan security forces.

He also claimed that it's getting easier for aid workers to travel the province.

"We have improvement because our civilians, our humanitarian workers are able to go out there and do their work," Mr. Bernier said.

In fact, the growing risk of kidnapping among aid workers has prompted the UN to develop a new map assessing the likelihood of capture by insurgents in districts across the country. Almost the entire province of Kandahar is shown as "high abduction risk."

In a survey this year, Afghan government employees said they have limited ability to visit the majority of Kandahar's districts without armed escort; across the south, local officials said their access was decreasing because of the rising insecurity.

Another measure of aid workers' ability to work is the UN's internal security map.

This summer the map showed about one-third Afghanistan in the highest-risk category for travel, representing a deterioration from the summer of 2006, when only 15 per cent of the country earned the same rating.

Mr. Bernier acknowledged that security problems remain in Kandahar, and, at one point, conceded that military escorts are often required for aid work.

"The presence of our military is important because the people who do the humanitarian work and our diplomats must go out with the military to meet the population," he said.

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said the discrepancy between the ministers' statements and the available documents serves as another example of the confusion hanging over the Afghan mission. He plans to arrive in Kandahar today for a visit of his own, which he described as an attempt to learn about the situation for himself.

"That's exactly the reason and the purpose of my trip, the lack of clarity and understanding," Mr. Coderre said, by telephone from Kabul. "To truly have an evaluation of the situation is key, for the sake of democracy."

It's unclear what the Liberal MP will be able to achieve, however, because the military only agreed to accommodate him after last-minute arrangements on Saturday.

Visits by politicians to the front lines have served mostly to give them media exposure; yesterday's tour by the Conservative cabinet ministers included at least 13 photo opportunities. During a trip to a forward base, Ms. Oda stood in front of a concrete building scarred by shrapnel from Taliban mortars and offered a box of chocolate treats to the soldiers.

"Thank you for your work," she said, "and little cakes for you

No comments: