As Canadians debate the ISIS strategy in Syria/Iraq, I’m reminded of the confusing days of Afghanistan. Countering the ugly methods of the Taliban appeared to be just at first blush. Our nation felt obligated or was pressured to support the coalition. Like many military global campaigns, the ethics and practicalities of countering violence or oppressive regimes is very tenuous.
We currently argue about Canada’s role in bombing campaigns but similar to any local strategy, results rarely meet expectations and cost lives. Chrétien, Harper or Trudeau must navigate the geopolitical ambitions of nations as much as the soldiers in the dusty desert try to stay alive. Gorilla insurgence by zealots or terrorists is not so different from ambitions in Washington, Ottawa or Moscow. Military action in 21stC is messy and not so easy to assess moral or social virtue. Six more F18s bombing under the maple leaf does little to solve the problems. Like WWI and WWII when smaller nations,Canada or Australia , wanted to be players on the world stage, our nationalism can get in the way of helping the oppressed. Our enemy today is not as clear cut as an invading Hitler. Finding a military role that truly helps is so tenuous. Canadians wearing UN blue helmets suffered in Rwanda with a shot fired. People were murdered while nations idly watched.
In our era, the enemy isn’t just mad Muslims or radical dictators. The battle for nations to address foreign conflicts, especially conflict refugees, is complicated by our own anxiety and insecurity. In the internet media age, we doubt our democratic institutions while clinging to the principles and virtues of another age. If we believe in democracy and cherish Christian values , battling the evil of some new Muslim faction will indeed be perplexing. In the age of rifles, RPGs and incendiary devices in the hands of criminals, or rogue nations military silutions are handicapped or folly. killing people in a dusty foreign land with more bombing, selling more weapons or training rebels will be a fools glory. -Al Smith
….binary interpretation of Canada’s legacy in Afghanistan feels a million miles away from the complexity of what’s happening on the ground. It doesn’t do justice to the 40,000 Canadians who fought in Afghanistan to pretend that our longest war has been an unmitigated success.
The truth is that, though Afghanistan is better off today than it was in 2001, with schools where there were none and some security where there was little, violence has also soared to levels unseen since the Taliban fell, the Taliban have returned in force to large parts of the country, the economy is still a basket case, and the government is often corrupt and incompetent.
Afghanistan has advanced, in part thanks to Canada. But those advances are so fragile and brittle that the latest assessment from the U.S. military forecasts that any gains could be lost by 2017.(Globe Mail)
That Canada was able to transfer security duties to Afghan forces at all speaks to the accomplishments of the military mission that enabled the current focus on training. Over 10 years, Canadians led NATO efforts to overthrow the Taliban, support a moderate, anti-terror government and provide interim security, keeping insurgents at bay as the Afghan forces learned from our troops the skills needed to take over.
Meanwhile, our development work helped to establish thousands of new schools, trained 1,500 health workers and vaccinated 7 million children against polio. And then, in 2011, despite pressure from the Obama administration to extend the mission, the Harper government rightly kept its promise to end our military role in the conflict and relieve our war-weary troops.
In retrospect, the Chrétien government’s decision in 2001 to heed the United Nations Security Council’s forceful call to strike a hotbed of terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and put in place the tools for Afghanistan to build a better future for itself, remains the right one. Unlike the proposed strikes on Syria being debated at this week’s G20 meeting and elsewhere, this was a mission built on a foundation of international consensus, with relatively clear objectives and an exit strategy.
Of course, Canada’s part was not without mistakes and failures of consequence, or the inevitably steep human and financial costs of war. And a peaceful future for Afghanistan has by no means been secured. But the country’s current turmoil is mostly a result of factors beyond our control: Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s unpopularity among his own people; Pakistan’s collusion with the Taliban; the refusal of many of our allies to contribute to the mission. All in all, however, Afghanistan is in better shape for our efforts.
Still, as the mission’s end comes into view, the obligations entailed by the undertaking, both to the country we invaded and to the troops we sent to do it, must not be obscured.( Toronto Star)
“What Canada Did – and Did Not – Achieve in Afghanistan.” March 2014. The Globe and Mail. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.