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Canada's role in the War in Afghanistan

I have a problem with war. All war. Sometimes, though, it is necessary for a generation to be sacrificed in the name of a cause. My question: is Afghanistan one of these?

I've implied in previous posts that I disagree with our role in Afghanistan. I'd like to clarify this a bit.

In World War 2, Canada joined its allies when they faced imminent invasion. It wasn't a case of a perceived but false threat, it wasn't about defending another country's internal human rights, it was about defending our allies from invasion, pure and simple.

Things like the Holocaust didn't figure into the decision in 1939. It was not a "just" war in that sense. We, as a country, did not know what was happening, and even contributed to it with our own refusal to take in refugees, never mind the fact that we actually interned Canadian people of "enemy" heritage in camps right here, in Canada.

So who got invaded in 2001?

Well, the US did. The official report says 19 people, mostly from Saudi Arabia, flew four planes into 3 buildings and a field on September 11th, 2001, killing three thousand people including Chris Carstanjen, a friend in the IT department at my high school who was on UA 175 bound for a motorcycle show in California.

As a result, the US, with the backing of the United Nations, invaded the already war-torn country of Afghanistan, ostensibly to catch Osama Bin Laden, a CIA-trained international "terrorist" who had fought on the West's side against the Soviet invasion of, well, Afghanistan, because he was alleged to have orchestrated this attack on America.

After running him on 'Afghanistan's Most Wanted' for a few Saturday nights, they decided he wasn't going to be caught and all of a sudden, it became a "just" war about defeating the evil Taliban who follow a rather extreme view of Islamic law and tradition.

So Canada joined in this "just" war.

As Scott Brison said the other night, millions of people who couldn't go to school, many of them young women previously not permitted to be educated, are now there.

The regime has been toppled and now we fight skirmish battles. Our soldiers are dying, and our soldiers are killing. It's still a war.

Is it a "just" war?

It's awfully subjective. Yes, some people's lives are better, in some cases much better, because of the US-led and ally-heavy invasion of the country. Some civilians are dying. It's an unfortunate consequence of nearly all wars, but civilians were dying before we arrived, too, executed for such offences as being seen in public with skin visible.

On the face of it, these reasons alone should be enough for us to invade a country and "liberate" it. Though if it is, there are certainly a lot of countries we could justify invading for human rights violations. Canada, for one and two, is no stranger to human rights violations, though at least we have abolished the death penalty for our own people.

We have been in Afghanistan for around four and a half years. We have around 2000 troops there, roughly the number of our soldiers captured at the Battle of Dieppe. The total troops in Afghanistan right now count in at approximately 21,000.

The War in Europe started September 1st, 1939, and ended May 8th, 1945, a span of about five and a half years. For that war, Canada alone had 1.1 million people - around 10% of the population of the country - join up over the course of the war, losing 45,365, from a population about 1/3 of what it is today. If we are to take a "just" war seriously, that is serious.

In Afghanistan, there are fewer troops from all the Allied countries combined than Canada alone lost in the Second World War. In fact, there are fewer Allied troops in Afghanistan than the 35,000 sworn police officers in New York City.

If it is really about being a "just" war, we'd be in Darfur, separating warring sides and preventing massacres.

Is it a "just" war?

Maybe. But if it is, we are certainly not treating it like one.

To turn an invaded country around, we have to do more than hold an election and offer children a chance at going to school. We have to rebuild the infrastructure ourselves and create a sustainable economy not based on the production of heroin. And we need to have enough soldiers there to have a fighting chance of actually accomplishing something in the long term.

After the Second World War, the United States rebuilt Germany and Japan into the economic powerhouses they are today, with the Marshall Plan. It was a massive reconstruction effort aimed at rapidly and effectively rebuilding the countries after years of bloody war.

Neither country has ever gone to war again.

Do I support the war?

No. Not as we're currently fighting it. Either we should do it properly, or not at all.

As we're fighting this war right now, all we are doing is perpetuating a quarter-century old conflict in Afghanistan. If we stay or we leave, it doesn't really matter, the civil war will go on. If after four and a half years the domestic forces haven't strengthened enough to fight for their own cause, who are we to fight for them?

Michael Ignatieff argues that it is a peacekeeping mission, and says we need more of them to avert future Rwandas, an assertion backed by UN Rwanda mission commander, Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire.

I disagree with the first assertion, and agree with the second.

Our war in Afghanistan is not a peacekeeping mission. We have chosen a side. But yes, we should do more peacekeeping missions.

In Afghanistan, we did not avert a Rwanda by invading. Human rights were being violated, but not significantly more than in many countries around the world. The human rights violations had not just begun and were not in the midst of getting more serious.

But in the Darfur region of Sudan, we might. People are being massacred there, by all accounts, and the international community is doing virtually nothing about it.

If we are not really there for the Afghan people and human rights, why are we there?

This article adresses this question at length. We are in Afghanistan, prolonging our mission for one reason and one reason alone: the United States needs us there. We sent our troops to Afghanistan in the first place to free up American troops to go to Iraq, and we are keeping them there to show solidarity with the alpha male of our Allies.

Neither our former nor our current government has ever come straight out and said this. A war under false pretenses is not a war I can support. If the government were to come straight out and say "either we go to war in Afghanistan, or we face more problems in our relationship with the United States," then at least they would be honest, and the question of whether to extend our mission or withdrawn our troops would be seen through an entirely different lens.

In short, I don't believe our war in Afghanistan is justified in the way we like to pretend it is. I don't truly believe that our contribution to the war will serve to bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan. I also don't think we have any strategy figured out about how we plan to turn Afghanistan over to its own people and eventually leave. Our two year extension will inevitably turn into two more, over and over again, until a real strategy is created. And finally, I don't believe our government has been honest about why we are there.

Don't let it be said that because I do not support this war as it stands that I do not support our troops in Afghanistan. Our troops are doing their job as they are asked to by our government, and they are doing an admirable job of it. No army that questions its orders or challenges the reasons for its presence in a battle will maintain the morale and resolve to perform its mission.

In my view, the best way to support our troops is to ensure that what they are fighting for is worth it. To have a national debate on the topic, as we are doing, is the healthiest approach to answering this question.

Posted at 20:44 on June 20, 2006

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

Analysis of the June 17th Liberal leadership debate | foreign military politics | Joining the At Issue bandwagon

gwilliam writes at Tue Jun 20 15:29:38 2006...

Its sad really, you make a really good arguement about Afghanastan, then you feel you have to say that your comments should not be misconstrued as NOT supporting our troops, you should never have to say that, reading your well thought out words I just took it for granted that you supported our troops, just not Afghanastan. Here then is the question and the debate for the next 10 years, where do we help?? We cannot venture in Darfur without being asked, and, it will be more dangerous than Afghanastan, Canadian troops will have to fire back at hostiles and engage them. So, where do we go and what do we do?? Peacekeeping in Darfur will mean that first, there is a peace to actually keep, which means there will have been approx 1.5 million lives already lost by the time the UN and Canada finally arrive, there have 800,000 killed already. If the route we choose is to sit back and wait until the UN acts, then, Darfur, Rwanda will happen over and over again. Maybe that is the best route to go, let these country's destroy each other until they just get tired of it, but, for now, until someone comes up with a better way, we only have these two choices, its too bad your called a war monger for picking one, and a limp wristed panty waist for picking the other.

Michelle writes at Wed Jun 21 11:15:30 2006...

David, excellent, thoughtful, well-researched brief. I agreewith you. As we've been dragged further and further into the U.S. orbit, we have progressively strayed from Canada's traditional, principled role as a peace-maker and peace-keeper. For so long, we led by example, showing by doing,proving through our actions that there CAN and MUST be a peaceful use of armed power, and that military might CAN and MUST be a force for peace in the world. The US war machine is more than ever driven by greed and profiteering by politically connected coporations. The disproportionality of military technology to the human scale is now insane. War sucks up more and more of the world's needed resources and drains our societies of their means to address far more dire threats, like the climate crisis. When will we get leaders who not only unerstand this, off-the-record, but are willing to stand and fight against it?

Derek writes at Fri Jul 14 21:10:14 2006...

Isn't it wonderful how we have the freedom to have an intellectual discourse over such serious topics in this great country. Michelle I agree with you, Davids brief was very thoughtful. Also I agree that our troops should immediately be recalled from this terrible situation. we then can immediately have you and 1999 like minded individuals go to kandahar with medicines, building materials and good will to help rebuild Afghanistan. Our Country will honour you and give each and everyone of you a State Funeral as your bodies return to Canada.

I have yet to have heard anyone call for our troops recall when we were in relatively stable Kabul doing good reconstruction work. This is due to the negligible death toll by the way.

Michelle, you used the term peacemaker, do you know what that means. It means making peace by stopping WAR. This does not mean letting aggressors have their way. Peacekeeping requires a peace to keep. Their is no peace in Afghanistans Kandahar region.

It was stated that we sent troops to Afghanistan to free up American forces to go to Irag. Not true, we have been their since the start. we joined this invasion because nearly forty Canadians died in 9-11.Usuma Bin Laden and his Al Qaida network claimed responsibility for this and there was fairly conclusive proof for this. That is why we are there.

Is the American government happy we are there. Sure they are, but that does not matter. You speak of our traditional role as peacekeepers. That was relevant in another world. Unfortunately that world no longer exists for many reasons.

I know many current and former members of our Armed Forces. You would not believe the horror of first hand accounts of brutality I have heard. These stories come from the Balkans, Rawanda and other PEACEKEEPING missions. I have a friend who still has nightmares from his tour in the balkans.

Do not get me wrong. Even though I agree with the mission in Afghanistan, I did not agree with the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Now to my point. The difference between Kandahar and Kabul is that of security. Kabul was relatively secure whereas Kandahar is far from it. Before effective reconstruction and Aid work can begin, security has to be achieved. That is what our Brave soldiers are making the supreme sacrifice for.

As David stated, the Taliban stand for an extremist Islamic slant on the world. They do not want what Human rights we enjoy and they will destroy anyting we build or create to help the Afghan people.

The Taliban regime harboured and helped the Al Qaida network allowing them the room to grow, train and prosper. If you really think that was not a threat to our Country, I have to disagree.

I must state that I am not nor ever been a member of our Armed Forces, just a supporter.

We in the west have been spoiled by decades of peace and security. We do not really know what conditions are like in some of the worst parts of the world. That has made us look at the world through rose coloured glasses. This phenomenom gets worse with each generation to the point that most westerners do not really know how things work in other parts of tthe world. We Northe Americans especially do not really understand Hatred as it is seen in some parts of the world. This very well could be our downfall.

When we clamour to bring our troops home when a few die in the cause, hoe can we defeat an enemy willing to die as long as they take as many of us with them before their Glorious Death.

I know you are saying to yourself that this guy is some ultra conservative nut. Au contraire. I am actually quite Liberal in most things. I normally dont speak my mind, but this is one topic that makes my blood boil.

Get back to our traditional role as peacekeepers!! Give me a break!! Our traditional role consisted of our troops sitting in watch posts observing THE PEACE. If someone were to break the peace we would document and report this serious breach of signed peace accords. this only works when both sides are tired of hostilities and don't really want to fight anymore.

Rawanda was a good example of this superfluous notion of peacekeeping. General dallaires hands were tied, thereby rendering him and his forces powerless to stop a genocide. 800,000 dead!!!! Makes Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison doesn't it. I wonder if we will ever know the true death toll in the Balkans, another successful PEACEKEEPING mission.

In closing I know that I will not sway your view.

This is what perturbs me most. I detest extremist views whether they are left or right. extremism means I am right no matter what anyone says. But this said I am glad we all have the right to express our opinions. I only hope we always do.

Robert writes at Wed Jul 19 00:25:45 2006...

Generally articulate piece. I do find separating jewish war-dead into a separate, elite status, coined as a "holocaust". A multitude of ethnicites were targets for mass death by all sides. Russians, Canadians, germans, Americans, British, Japanese et al. To deny these deaths as equal and tragic is, in its true sense, holocaust-denial. In a more direct topic, should we be in Afganistan? Absolutely not. To what end? None of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Afghani. Do you think they hijackers trained on monkey-bars for their operation? "Al Qaeda" as we have been sold a bill of goods on, doesn't exist. The name was given TOO Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri. They never used it before then. They are nothings. Mouthpieces for an ideology. The US has finally ceded this fact by dropping their Bin Laden unit. Bin Laden has also never been officially fingered. The FBI web site as of this writing does not even reference 9/11 on Bin Laden's profile. When asked by a journalist why not, the FBI candidly confessed: because they have no hard evidence linking Bin Laden with 9/11. Is "terrorism" real? Sure it is. And as old as man himself. Is there a coherent, organized heirarchy called "Al Qaeda"? Theres no evidence. What there is are loose groups of people with the same ideology. Most have nothing to do with with one another. And most couldn't care LESS about Canada or the US or any other country except the ones they reside in. As we have seen with home-grown "terrorism", most of the threat comes from unorganized, amateurish goofballs. This is an intelligence war to be waged within each country, by and for itself. There is, however, a need for some international cooperation where loose groups do utilize eachother cross borders, but not as much as we have been led to believe, I do not think. This has been an excuse used loosely for all typed of political misadventures, like the Iraq debacle. Beware politicians peddling fear. What happened to the German people under the National Socialist movement could just as easily happen to us. Hitler burned the Reichstag and blamed it on communists, he murdered his own soldiers and blamed poland, the US's now declassified Northwoods document shows how they had a high-level plan to nlow up their own aircraft to blame it on Cuba as a pretext for an invasions. Look at the Lucitiana. The Gulf Od Tonkan. Governments have a history of self-sponsored "terrorism" for control. It really is true, that when one ngives up liberty for security, you end up with neither. be vigilante, just and honest in your appraisal of government lines. Fight where necessary, question where compelled.

polly (www.ask.com) writes at Wed Nov 7 10:57:57 EST 2007...

this is awsome

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