Designating the mission a failure diminishes the sacrifices Canadians made.
In response to Scott Gilmore’s Dec.11, 2019 MacLean’s Magazine Op/Ed
It really comes as no surprise to me that Canada’s military expedition into Afghanistan is being labeled as an abject failure in our press, and for a couple of reasons. First, it’s what is being said in nations around the world. Every country that has sent troops into Afghanistan over the past 18 or so years is calling it a failure, it isn’t just here in Canada.
The second reason has more to do with the way the public percieves things. Joe Average sees it as a waste of time and money, billions were spent and things really aren’t that much different than they were 20 years ago. “What did our troops accomplish in Afghanistan?” is generally the guage by which people will judge the success of this mission, and when they can’t readily see anything it will be labeled a failure.
It is a huge disservice to the 158 Canadian soldiers who gave their lives in Afghanistan. It makes it seem as though these prople died in vain, but they did not. They died while serving their country with honour and for that they are deserving of our greatest respect.
Don’t equate the politicians with the warriors.
When the decision is made to go to war it is typically done by those who will not have to do any of the actual fighting. Politicians leave this to the military which, as well as providing for the self-defense of their nation, is also a means of conducting its foreign policy. The reasons for going to battle are often more political than strategic in nature.
It is the soldier’s job to perform the task assigned to them, and in Afghanistan Canadian troops performed admirably with bravery and honour. They were well trained and, for the most part, they were well led on the ground. They weren’t always so well equipped, something that falls on the shoulders of the bureaucrats and paper officers within the confines of NDHQ in Ottawa. Nevertheless, the Canadians that were there once again proved that, pound for pound, the Canadian soldier is one of the best in the world. Well trained, highly motivated, and most of all, Canadian.
At first our mission was clear: hunt down and eliminate Osama Bin Laden. This is something that Canadian troops under the command of then Lt.Col. Pat Stogran came very close to accomplishing in the mountains of Tora Bora. Bin Laden was able to make an escape into Pakistan and we all know how that would ultimately turn out for him.
After that the focus shifted to defeating the Taliban and doing some nation building. Noble ideas, but in the most practical sense quite unrealistic. For centuries foreign armies have marched into Afghanistan and for the most part have had their asses handed to them. For a number of reasons, Afghanistan is a country that is extremely difficult to conquer and hold. For one thing the mountainous terrain provides an excellent defense, inhibiting troop movements and providing the locals with plenty of opportunities to perform ambush attacks.
The tribal nature of a large part of its society, along with the fact that nearly every male over the age of 15 carries an automatic rifle, adds to the quagmire. It can be very difficult to discern friend from foe at times, and allegiances can switch easily and with frequency. They can and will fight amongst themselves but can also unite to fight a common enemy when the need arises.
Wars aren’t like they used to be.
In World War II, victory was attained when the Nazi’s and the Japanese were defeated. Allied forces inflicted such devastation upon these regimes that there was no question that they had lost. By and large the populations of Germany and Japan had accepted this fact whether they liked it or not. It was unequivocal. It was clearly a case of good versus evil that the folks back home were ready to accept.
Things started to change during the Cold War however, when we started going to war with an ideology, communism. It was still a battle of good versus evil, only now it was more nuanced. Western troops had begun to be seen as foreign invaders by many and popular support at home for these conflicts didn’t rise to the levels seen in World War II.
I actually miss the Cold War
Ome day, back in 2003, I can remember sitting around the kitchen table with several of my inlaws discussing the events of the day. As the talk turned to events in the Middle East and the hunt for al Qaeda and its leaders I came to realize something. During the Cold War the world was a very dangerous place, what with the total stockpiles of nuclear arms globally more than enough to blow the world up several times over. There were even times, many unbeknownst to us, when the world very nearly did come to an end.
Yet I found myself feeling safer and more secure then. It was much simpler times. We had the reassurances of MADD and the nuclear weapons of the world were by and large accounted for in the hands of rational actors. Not so today, where non-state actors are the ones that we must now battle.
It is worth remembering that many of the conflicts we are fighting, and to come, will not be fought against other nations, but against groups like the Taliban, the Islamic State, and al Qaeda. It is not as easy to define the victories and the defeats as when you fight against a national army.
So before anybody begins to declare victory or defeat in this age, they had better keep this in mind before making their pronouncements. Just saying.