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Friday, July 31, 2009

what do you think? canada in afghanistan.

I'm in the process of writing a post on my thoughts about the role of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Like many Canadians, I am torn on this complex issue and have struggled to balance my thoughts on our Armed Forces, the reasons for Canada's entry into this conflict, our current intentions, and our responsibilities now that our Armed Forces are there.

I would be very interested to learn: What are your thoughts about Canada's role in Afghanistan?


The Tone said...

We're essentially fighting against a religious and social ideology using helicopters, guns and tanks. This won't work, especially when that ideology is grounded in a martyrdom and anti-foreigner ethos.

I'm not saying that the Taliban's Wahhabist (or Wahhabi-esque) principles are right or good. I'm just saying that we're only fooling ourselves if we think that we can get rid of these principles using conventional arms and means.

Support our troops: bring them home.

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that it is ilegal to occupy a sovereign country on the grounds that we have used and that our national reputation has suffered for it.

Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think this question raises a ton of unanswered (and many unanswerable) questions:

What are Canada's short term and long term objectives? I hear nary a peep from the Harper gov't or the media about what we're even still doing there. What are we accomplsihing? I hear rhetoric about human rights and "democracy", but what are the facts? What can we reasonably hope to accomplish? Is our miltary even the right tool for the job? (No, IMHO)

Are we simply supporting Obama's strategy of escalation?

Lest we forget that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

A 2011 withdrawl date seems like the worst of all worlds: a dithering comprimise that doesn't let Canada reach any meaningful objectives and costs us the blood of our brave soldiers and billions in our deminishing treasure.

We should either stay for as long as it takes (a position I beleive is politically and economically unfeasible) or would should leave immediately.

DaveM said...

What are we still doing there? Not specifically the Canadian role, but also NATO in general.

The mission in Afghanistan was supposed to be a way to define NATO's new role in the post Cold-War era. Dithering around and not finding the most wanted man in the world is the all that's been accomplished.

It's been 8 years since 9/11. The newest batch of soldiers fighting and dying there will have only been 10 when the reason we're over there happened. The "war on terror" was expected to be a long war and perhaps Dick Cheney will be proven correct before we know it.

Grant Neufeld said...

I side with Afghanistan’s most prominent women’s rights activist, and former parliamentarian (who was forced out of the Afghan parliament for speaking out against the warlords who have taken over), Malalai Joya on this: “My country hasn’t been liberated: it’s still under the warlords’ control, and Nato occupation only reinforces their power”.

JamesE said...

I have questioned the reason for the mission in Afghanistan for quite some time.
First, I question the notion of a "War on Terror". How can you declare a war on something so intangible as terrorism?
I suppose it could be said this is a war against Bin Laden, but that too poses issues. How can you invade a sovereign nation to root out one person?
In any case, it seems that such an unconventional war cannot be won with conventional means.

I also do not buy the argument that Afghanistan is somehow better off without the Taliban. If this were true, how come the country has slid further and further down the Failed States Index? And what happened to the right of self determination? Afghan citizens have merely traded one form of oppression for another.

Now that the damage has been done, I feel that the Coalition has at least some obligation to fix the damage caused by the war, but at this point, the best thing they might be able to do, is leave.

Daniel Clayton said...

Hi Dave,

As a veteran who has served in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and other countries throughout the world that has caused controversy; I have to start this comment by saying "If you can't stand by our troops, feel free to stand in front of them." Our soldiers don't have a choice where they serve, they go where they are ordered!

I have served in Afghanistan on and off, both as a soldier and in the private sector since 2002. I believe in the mission whole heartedly. WHY? The People of Afghanistan! These people have nothing, they don't have a TV or read a newspaper, they don't have running water or a grocery store they can visit whenever they want but they are some of the happiest people I have ever met! They didn't ask to be at war, it is unfortunate that al-Qaeda has found refuge between the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan that is ultimately putting these innocent people at risk.

As the CEO of Diligence, Ltd, a risk management firm; we specialize in enabling companies to seamlessly expand into emerging markets in conflict and post conflict regions of the world; Afghanistan being one of them. Canada is ultimately contributing to the economy of Afghanistan, Canadian troops are making a difference and I believe Afghanistan will be a better place for it when all is said and done.

Do I think we will ever win the war against terror in Afghanistan? I would have to answer No but I do believe we can make a difference!

Daniel Clayton, MBA

Party of One said...

Daniel, questioning the point of the Afghanistan mission in no way diminishes the respect that I, and many others, feel for the troops currently serving there, or those that served there in the past.

As you point out, the troops go where they are ordered to. Furthermore, they're not in a position to question the validity of the mission by virtue of being in the military; their rights are somewhat curtailed.

I have friends that have served there, and I've discussed their experiences, and I've come to the conclusion that we're really not getting the whole picture. And I don't think the troops are, either, but at least they get to meet real Afghanis.

The husband of a friend of mine was killed near Mosel, doing exactly the sort of work you're doing...or hiring people to do. He was protecting a General Electric "asset" and got attacked. He did his job, but died for his efforts.

Consequently, while I appreciate the role of the military in attempting to secure and stabilize Afghanistan, I'm not so sure about those engaged in "risk management" for the private sector. Many people are VERY cynical about the "real" reasons that the US and Canada are engaged in Afghanistan, and having the private sector going in to try to reap profits when, as you say, the Afghans have NOTHING, strikes me as reprehensible.

Berry Farmer said...


It's sad that we don't discuss this subject with much more vigour in Canada.

I all in favour of assisting Afghanistan (and other failed states) by supporting the rebuilding of infrastructure and maintaining a national administration that allows for that rebuilding process.

Many people point to the image of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires. The difference (I hope) is that this is not about empire. We are not trying to build a Canadian empire of even help build a NATO empire. Having a failed and lawless state anywhere on the planet where brute force dictates to the innocent is in no one's best interest. The attempt to stabilize Afghanistan is one worth pursuing. The discussion of how we do that... and what role Canada needs to play is one that should be on the front pages of our newspapers day in and day out.

It isn't and I find that tragic. People have opinions based on little or no information... what they are fed by political bias in the media or from politicians themselves.

Putting Afghanistan on its feet and providing schools and health care... dams, bridges, roads and other social institutions is worth doing... much as it is worth doing in Ethiopia, Darfur and other regions where lawlessness allows for the strong to suppress the aspirations of the people.

But this sort of endeavour requires very long term commitment, both of human sacrifice and monetary aid. The sad thing is that Canada (as most Western nations) don't have that sort of will anymore. If things cannot be fixed by bombers at 35,000 ft. or Cruise missiles within a few years, we tire of the effort and want out.

Personally, I am in favour for committing to the rebuilding of nations that have fallen to a level of desperation that allows violence to fill the void. I respect the men and women who put their lives on the line to make this commitment. I would respect politicians who put truth ahead of sound bytes and committed the long-term resources to make the effort work. That too would take a certain courage.

I have a nephew heading to Afghanistan for his second tour. He told me:

"this will not be done until the kids who are starting school today are of the age when they are capable of taking the reins of power and they can look back and understand that it was the stability that this mission provided that allowed them to come to a place where respect for law and education made Afghanistan a better place.

Then and only then, will this mission come to fruition. If we cut and run before those kids have the ability to control their institutions, we will have failed and the void will be filled again by zealots whose only concern is power."

I hope I am right to believe there are higher motivations for our being in Afghanistan. I support the effort to bring stability to Afghanistan. I understand it is an intricate and many tentacled mission with pitfalls at every turn. But like many of the young men and women who actually go, I believe it is the right thing to be doing.

I really wish Canadians would be talking about this with the gravity it deserves. Instead, many of us run from the discussion. If we are not prepared to face the mission and its ramifications honestly, it says little for our commitment to our own institution of democracy... for which we have so much lofty rhetoric.

Thank you for the chance to get that out.

Daniel Clayton said...

I hate to say it, but the main reason Canada is involved in the Afghanistan mission is political pressure by countries such as the UK and the US! Canada's mission to date has cost in excess of $20 billion, unfortunately the government is run just like a business and until Canada has made a return on investment, over and above the $20 billion; this war will still be fought.

Reading what 'Berry Farmers' nephew had told him above, he is somewhat right but it is my opinion that it will be the children of the children who are currently at school i.e. the next generation that make a difference!

When troops enter certain regions of Afghanistan, like us; they asses the local feeling towards them by the children. If the children are throwing rocks and shouting obscenities, that isn't because they dislike the troops; its because that is how they have been raised. That type of anger can take generations to disband. Take Britain and Germany, the war ended in 1945 but there is still somewhat of a hatred against the Germans by British people; thats just life.

To 'Party of One' above, you are entitled to your opinion as is everyone else but the fact is, private companies play a key role in conflict and post conflict regions. My company in particular is directly involved in the re-construction effort to make Afghanistan a better place. We are building schools and hospitals, damns and sub stations; hearts and minds.

When the next generation of children look back through history, they will remember the Taliban for bringing war and devastation to their country; history will also teach them that it was us (Canadian's) who helped stop them and made their country a better place to live; a country with running water, job prospects, education and a government that they need not be afraid of.

The fact that it is reprehensible to you I would suggest is an act of ignorance on your part, I am sure if you spent some time researching the Afghanistan mission; you would realize that without the private sector; it would be impossible for the military to do their job. Likewise, without the military, it would be impossible for the private sector to do theirs.

I am well aware of the risks involved, I have lost many friends over the years. I have also survived a road-side-bomb that put me in hospital for 6 weeks with a fractured skull, shrapnel wounds, broken ribs and minor burns. I have also been stabbed, shot and survived a helicopter crash but I keep doing my job because that is what I am trained to do and I believe in what I am doing; which is making a difference!

Aaron said...

Keep the poppies safe so Vancouver's economy doesn't collapse. Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, This is a wineless war and its time for this government to put a stop to this war that even the Afgab people hate. As for support for our troops, we fully support them and want to have them come home right now safe and alive.

We have tried trainng the Afgan soldiers to defend their people and they don't care or want to defend them. That's a problem that their country and its people will to deal by having to fight their own battles instead of Canada supporting the Taliban and their poppy crops. Burn them all down already. Bring our young soliders home on their feet instead of in a body bag.


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Anonymous said...

We're winning the war on terror. If anything we need more troops in Afghanistan. To pull out now admits defeat.

George W. Bush will be lauded in a generation as one of the world's greatest leaders of all time. Shame on Canada for not stepping up to the plate in Iraq.

Party of One said...

The only way to "win" the "war on terror" is to win the hearts and minds of Afghanis. You don't do that by killing civilians; in fact, by killing civilians you perpetuate terror.

And if the premis for going into Afghanistan in the first place is mistaken, you CANNOT "win" in any case. Therefore, pulling out now is not "defeat", it's recognizing the limitation of our actions thus far.

In my opinion, Canada would have done better (and protected its reputation as a fair dealer) by focusing its efforts solely on reconstruction and development, with only enough troops to protect those endeavours.

In fact, we should have been doing this long before 9-11 focused everyones attention on Afghanistan; it may have even prevented those attacks. Isolating rogue states actually works...eventually (South Africa and North Korea come to mind, the latter not quite yet, but soon, I think). Remember, the Taliban were tolerated, even supported, until 9-11.

Regarding my earlier comments about the private sectors involvement as reprehensible, I see them as no different than those who used to loot the bodies of fallen soldiers in the past. There's a HUGE cost premium to development in a war zone, and I think it's morally wrong to profit from it.

In addition, it's evident that the private sector holds no particular commitment to "democracy" or "liberty". The goal for the private sector is invariably stability, which is why they can, and do, do business in totalitarian and autocratic regimes.

Making Afghanistan safe for private sector investment is NOT, in my view, adequate justification for the sacrifices made by our military.

Anonymous said...

The war in Afghanistan is immoral and stupid. The Canadian contribution to the occupation of Afghanistan is a waste of money, a waste of Canadian lives and waste of our international reputation. The purpose of the occupation is imperialistic and economic – though of no economic benefit to ordinary Canadians. Claims that we are fighting to improve the lives of Afghans, to bring them Western values, or for “freedom” are simply lies – as events on the ground in that benighted country clearly show day after day. We are siding with one faction in a civil war because that group promises the West strategic advantage in the region. We can never truly win, in the popular sense of this phrase. At best we can hold off defeat for a time to preserve what is seen in Washington as the West’s strategic advantage. There is an argument for taking part in this – after all, we are being threatened and blackmailed – but nowhere is this mentioned in our fundamentally dishonest national debate on this topic. Instead, we get the Conservative government’s nauseating and threatening “support our troops” propaganda, backed by a craven opposition chorus, and preposterous claims we are fighting “them,” whoever they are, there, rather than here. In fact, our participation in this war puts Canadian lives at increased risk, at home and abroad. I fear for my children and grandchildren every time I hear of another wedding party bombed or child “caught in the crossfire” of Canadian bullets. Ultimately, no matter what we do, the people of Afghanistan will drive us out – as they always have driven out invaders. The only questions are how long will it take, how many people will have to die pointlessly, and how much suffering must there be here in Canada before it ends? I only hope that, if terrorism comes to Canada as a result of this misguided military occupation, we have the sense not to ask, “Why do they hate us?”

Farnum said...

The previous two comments are well-taken. I, too have great reservations of fighting this war for "Western" advantage or for introducing "Western" values in Afghanistan. Still, I am left uneasy about ignoring the plight of people in a failed state because we don't have the right to "invade" another country.

The point made about winning hearts and minds is also valid, but how does one build schools, pay teachers and encourage all children to attend when those schools are destroyed and some of the kids who attend are sprayed with acid? And is the universal right to education a "Western" value... and even if it is,,, isn't it one worth spreading?

I am uncomfortable with Canada's role in Afghanistan but I am equally uncomfortable with doing nothing in the face of such suffering.

I do agree that the "Support Our Troops" slogan is too simple and the debate about Canada's involvement has to be free, open and without partisanship.

Anonymous said...

So you don't "support our troops"?

Farnum said...

My point exactly. How could it be construed that I do not support Canada's Armed Forces from what I wrote?

Yes, I support the men and women in Canada's Armed Forces and have the highest admiration for them.

I dislike the implication made by some that any form of discussion about the issue amounts to disrespect for those men and women.

Even your simple, short question seems to imply that perhaps I don't.

I will go so far as to say that I support the mission in Afghanistan because I believe educated societies are better off than societies controlled by warlords. But I also worry that the honour and integrity of Canada's soldiers is compromised when Canadians are not honest and up front with why they are sent somewhere.

This is a tough discussion but it needs to happen in a way it never really has. We are a country at war but that war never really makes the headlines unless a soldier is killed, and now even that doesn't always make headlines.

Most of the points made by the thoughtful people on both sides of the discussion are valid. It is when we start accusing each other of some sort of un-Canadianness where the discussion becomes bogs down.

That is why I dislike the simplicity of the statement.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous's statement: "So you don't 'support our troops'?" is typical of this debate-stifling technique. As a matter of fact I DON'T support our troops or their murderous, imperialistic, entirely illegitimate campaign abroad. MANY Canadians feel this way, but we are forced to be silent because of our entirely realistic fear of literal physical reprisal from the supporters of this immoral and stupid war and the fascistic Harper government. Any soldier who signed up since the beginning the Afghan war knew what was going on and has no excuse! Troops out NOW!

Jeff J. said...

We're not fighting a real "war." In fact, if World War 2 was fought under the same media scrutiny that our troops are under now we would all be speaking Italian as Hitler promised Canada to Mussolini. The fact is none of us know what is really going on, we see pictures and media sensationalism and we make up our minds based on that? It's a disgrace.

The fact is fundamental islamists would gladly kill each and every one of us for simply being who we are. And we sit back and feel sorry for them? We hide behind our ideals and feel that we are bigger for it? A shame.

Not only should we still be in Afghanistan we should give our troops the support they need. If a terrorist hides behind a child, then should we judge our soldiers for protecting themselves and defending the ideals that we stand for?

who the hell do we think we are to judge? we're ignorant, spoiled people.

To quote George Orwell "people sleep soundly in their beds because brave people stand to do violence on their behalf."

Our children will grow up in a world of fear, I for one believer that our troops should be given the total and unequivocal support of every free person who believes that to live free is not something to be killed for.

I'm proud of the work being done in Afghanistan. Don't demean it with misinformed thought and propaganda.

b_nichol said...

I was going to comment yesterday (just after the spam) about what a well-reasoned, thoughtful discussion this was, but it seems to have taken a turn towards the extreme - on both sides.

As Party of One and Farnum alluded to earlier, the armed forces serving in Afghanistan (up to and including the general chief of staff) are in no position to question the motives and means of their deployment by their political masters. For that, I will always support "the troops", but that does not necessarily imply support for the mission, particularly as ill-defined and directionless it has become in the past 6 years (the US abandoning the fight in favour of chasing non-existent WMDs and Al-Quaeda ties in Iraq, for instance).

The "war on terror" is about as meaningless a definition - and deliberately so - of the reasons why Canada is participating in this NATO-lead excursion. It is a simplistic notion that all ills of the world, particularly those against the western cultures/empires, can be solved at the end of a barrel.

We should not, however, be so deluded in thinking that our immediate departure will not have negative consequences for the people of Afghanistan. It's easy enough to declare that this is an internal conflict, but the group(s) responsible for attacking our ally did so by establishing a safe haven in the region with the support of outside influences (in the form of rich Saudi princes). In the process, and with the complicity of the local warlords, the populace became subjugated under an oppressive and extremist rule.

Without maintaining a level of humanitarian and developmental support, our departure will cause a tipping back to this condition. On the other hand, I will cheer on the day when our troops will no longer have to die for a failed state that is almost as bad as the one it purportedly replaced.

Aden said...

First off, thank you Dave for encouraging this kind of discussion. It's unfortunately lacking.

To better understand Canada's mission in Afghanistan, I'd recommend separating it into 3 questions:
-Does Canada and NATO have the moral right to be in Afghanistan?
-Is our mission effective and can we be successful in the long-term?
-Given the immense opportunity cost of this mission, was it the best use of resources?

1. Moral right. The simple answer is "yes". When Karzai asked NATO to intervene to save the fragile Afghani government and its people from Taliban overthrow, it not only gave Canada the moral license to intervene, I would argue it gave us the responsibility to do so.

2. Effectiveness. Is our huge investment of blood and money helping the Afghan people. Again, yes, but slowly and with less certainty. In areas where troop levels have been sufficient to ensure stability and reconstruction, the mission is effective. Against this, however, is our disastrous effort at poppy eradication, the insufficient care by some NATO allies for civilian casualties and areas where insufficient troop levels have led to fighting and instability. While our strategy is yielding positive results, I am far from convinced that it is the optimal strategy. The mission is effective but could be more so.

3. Opportunity cost. This question is the hardest of the three and was pointed out to my by earlier commenter, J. English. This mission is very expensive in both funds and personnel, costing over $20b to date and tying up the Armed Forces for a decade or more. Even if we successfully build a democratic Afghan state that can fend for itself, what else could we have done with that investment? Haiti? Darfur? Despite being an ardent supporter of the mission in Afghanistan, this is a question to which I don't know the answer.

I'd love to see other people's thoughts on this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

We sit at our computers using the very liberties that lives were sacrificed for and we have the audacity to question the method in which they are obtained.\

We are hypocrites, every single one of us. We lack the courage and fortitude to fight for the freedom that we take for granted and so instead we sit on our high horses and criticize.

I'm disgusted.

Berry Farmer said...


The way I read the comments on this thread, there are quite a few people in support of mission in Afghanistan... and certainly the individual soldiers who serve. Most of those opposed gave logical reasons for their opposition.

To me, this sort of dialogue is what freedom and democracy is all about; nothing disgusting about that. Differing opinions are what make democracies. Offering the with civility is sometimes a challenge. I don't agree with everyone here, but I'm glad for the chance to exchange points of view.

shakey said...

we should not be there. i don't believe you can build democracy by force, or force freedom down people's throat by occupying their country. that kind of change has to come from within.

and please spare me the rhetoric about "protecting freedom from terrorists" - the US (and now us) have created more terror in people's lives in afghanistan than anyone from there ever has (or likely ever will) - does anyone even remember where the 9/11 hijackers were from?!

one final point: i think it's bs to say you can support the troops, but not support the mission. what are you supporting then? them planting flowers? no. if you support the troops, you support them invading, and killing innocent people. and that should never be supported.

and if needed, i will fight for the right to voice my opinion. what we should really be fighting against is the creeping facism and intolerance of other views exemplified by the Harper govt's banning of people who want to come here and talk. Preserving that freedom here at home is a better cause to fight for.

Anonymous said...

You don't build democracy by force. But you sure as hell protect it by force.

I agree with the above, if World War 1 or 2 were fought under the same scrutiny that todays conflicts are under, we never would have won those wars either. We would have had people in the streets chanting to bring home the troops because Hitler wasn't the bad guy, we were.

We might as well be commenting about our opinions on medical treatment for certain types of cancer, I'd say we might even know more about that than we do on this topic.

icerider said...

We went to Afghanistan to support the Americans in their hunt for Bin Laden post-9/11. But then Bush the Lesser was distracted by another sparkly butterfly -- Iran's oil. We and the Brits were pretty much left to fight Bush's battle with the Taliban/Al Qaeda while he and Cheney got rich looting the Iranian oilfields.
I support our troops, but they should have been back in Canada nearly 100 dead comrades ago!
god forgive buish and Cheney. I sure won't.

Anonymous said...

comrades icerider?
unless you're actually in the military you should retract your thoughtless attempt at humour.

JerryMacGP said...

It's interesting to see that some comments have raised the comparison with WWII. In 1945, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the US occupied Germany and set up a 4-power occupation Military Government. Many hundreds of thousands of allied troops from all four nations remained in Europe rather than be demobilized. Over the next few years, the German people (at least in the western zones of occupation) gradually gained civil and political rights and eventually became self-governing, and the Federal Republic of Germany was born. There were a few incidents of holdout Nazi terrorism, but in general the occupation was peaceful.

Why couldn't the same thing be accomplished in post-Taliban Afghanistan? I think it's the lack of commitment on the part of the new Allies, NATO and the UN. There should have been at least ten times as many troops sent to occupy the country, and the US ought not to have gotten into the distraction of invading Iraq. Then perhaps we would be seeing the development of a truly democratic state in the Khyber Pass instead of this political cripple.

Since the modern Allies did not do this right, the mission is doomed to fail. Therefore we need to truly support our troops by bringing them home, now.

Anonymous said...

If we are involved in Afghanistan it is because of strategic interests, and the consequences of our involvement in key alliances, and the importance of maintaining good bi-lateral relations with existing super-powers. So one has to take a macro-view, and a pragmatic one.

It is my view that we are in Afghanistan because we have to be, not because we want to be.

realtor in Vancouver BC said...

very nice topic to thing about and very important too.
On the one hand we are living in the crazy time when the war itself changed a lot. We are not fighting the known enemy. Instead there is the thread of terrorism and unknown enemies.
On the other hand this should not be the excuse for invasing the souvereign country. We should keep in mind there is completely different cultural and religious attitude towards the "help" we are providing them. It is important to see the consequences. Not easy to find answer. But good topic to think about.

Thank you.