Thursday, July 05, 2007

No easy answers on Afghanistan

With the death of six more Canadian soldiers and their local interpreter in Afghanistan our mission there and its future are again thrust into the national spotlight, and the answers aren’t getting any easier.

Each tragic loss seems to only harden the opinions most have already formed on the Afghan mission. For some it will serve to harden their commitment to the job those soldiers gave their lives to do. For others, it will harden their view that we need to bring these guys home now, before more of them get hurt.

It’s important to note there that everyone supports the troops. At the heart of both opposing views is support for the soldiers, whether it’s wanting them home safely or wanting them to see the mission they believe in through. Trying to simplify this as a support the troops or not question is wrong, and it besmirches their memories.

Some say in a war there are casualties, and this is true. They say we shouldn’t make a big deal out of every death, and that is wrong. Whether you think we should be in Afghanistan or not we should grieve every life lost, because every life lost is a tragedy. I hope we never get to the point where casualties are just another number, and if we do get there something will be seriously wrong with us, and with our country.

But besides grieving their loss, how do we respond to their deaths? I don’t think the answer is blind allegiance to the mission, or a knee-jerk bring them home now. Instead, I think the answer is a thorough examination of the mission. Is it working? Have circumstances changed? Is it still achievable? Do we have the right tactics? The right equipment? Enough resources? Such questions aren’t breaking faith with our fallen. Indeed, it’s keeping faith with them and the goals they died to achieve.

I admit to being conflicted myself on where we go from here. I support the goals we set out to achieve in Afghanistan. I think those goals are noble. I worry about what would happen if the international community left.

While I disagreed with how it was handled politically by the government, I supported the extension of the mission. And I support the Liberal position of ending our mission there, at least in a combat role, when the current mandate expires. We’re a small country with a small military, and we can only do so much. Other countries need to play a role too.

As the death toll mounts I feel a strong impulse to resist demands to leave, because I don’t want to vindicate the tactics of the terrorists we’re fighting. But I also can’t help but question if we’re fighting a losing battle, and I don’t know how to reconcile the two.

So, as I said I don’t know the answers. I do know public support for the mission is falling, and that is unfortunate. And even amongst those that support it, I sense a certain fatigue is setting-in. It seems increasingly the sensible thing to do to inform NATO that we won’t be renewing our mission beyond 2008, as the public support just isn’t there. And we should let them know now so the planning can begin.

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Olaf said...


Very thoughtful piece. I think many Canadian's are torn in a similar way.

Ted Betts said...

Well said Jeff.

The other aspect of just carrying on carrying on is the effect it has on NATO allies. If NATO just assumes we will always be there, there is bound to be less of an urgent push to bolster support from other sources.

On the other hand, too many hawks overstate the case by saying this is surrender. As you say, we are a little country carrying more than our fair share, but Canada, the US and the UK can't do this on our own and the relative cost to us is greatest. We are there for a good reason and we haven't suffered nearly the kinds of losses we have in past similar fights. But a relatively low death toll and a good principle to fight for are not enough to justify an endless war.

On balance, I don't think we should be leaving or telegraphing our leaving, but it is not as black and white as too many postulate.

JimBobby said...

The mission has not been properly defined. Right now, it seems like our only goal is to kill talibans. The tactical missions of our troops are accurately defined as "offensive." We're actively looking for talibans and killing them when we find them.

Part of the definition of our mission should include an acnowledgement of just who we are fighting for. We are not fighting and dying for western values and Mom's apple pie. We are fighting and dying for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai's warlord-dominated government. We are assisting the economy of a true narco-state that supplies 90% of the world's opium.

Are these guys worthy of even one Canadian life? Does it occur to anyone that 90% of the world's opium market represents huge profits for warlords who are only too happy to have Canadians die fighting the anti-drug talibans?

The real threat posed by the taliban to Canada is minor. They ain't equipped to mount an invasion. We never went in to protect Canada. We got involved to show support for our good friends the Merkans after the taliban-hosted alQaeda attacked on 9/11.

We went in as a small team player in a big team headed by the Merkans. They got sidetracked in EyeRack and without the massive support expected from the Merkans, the mission went bad.

The war's just got bigger, btw. We're opening up a new front in Pakistan. I've posted on that over to my little boog.