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Counterinsurgency by the book Add to ...

The question of whether Canada handed over large numbers of Afghans - possibly innocents - to face abuse and torture is not just one of morality or law, but about making the mission a success. So says the Canadian Forces' own manual on how a counterinsurgency campaign is conducted.

The manual makes clear that counterinsurgency campaigns, like the one in Afghanistan, are not traditional wars, but political campaigns with a military component. Winning the hearts and minds of the population, offering a better alternative than insurgents, and claiming moral high ground are key.

"… Any real or perceived breach of the law of armed conflict will undermine the legitimacy of the [counterinsurgency]campaign and those forces conducting it. History has shown that once the citizens have lost the confidence of the military forces engaged in the [counterinsurgency]operations, their sympathies and support will be transferred to the insurgents," the manual states.

It notes that the Geneva Conventions guarantee humane treatment for prisoners, and the Forces must ensure those standards are exceeded.

The manual, titled Counter-Insurgency Operations, was issued last year, so it was not a reference for soldiers in 2006 and 2007, when diplomat Richard Colvin was warning that detainees transferred to Afghan authorities would likely face torture.

Canada had little experience with insurgencies when soldiers were transferred to war-torn Kandahar province in late 2005, and the 2008 manual is supposed to codify what was learned.

None of the allegations of abuse of detainees were aimed at Canadian soldiers; all are about the abuse and torture of detainees in jails run by Afghan authorities. But the Canadian Forces manual indicates that this is just as big a problem for the mission.

"To this end, commanders and even their soldiers must understand the need to help ensure the supported [domestic]government remains legitimate and acts accordingly. Where possible, they must assist in the raising of standards of conduct, from the local level upwards. Violations must be reported to the military and civil chains of command and addressed accordingly," the manual states.

"Coalition forces involved in the campaign must, as part of the solution, set the example for the host nation government where necessary. In short, the insurgency must be deprived of any claim to moral superiority."

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