Canada and Afghanistan
As we approach 2014 Canada will be preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. However, at the request of the US Pentagon, the Prime Minister has opened the door to leaving behind a contingent of Canadian Special Forces beyond the NATO withdrawal date to assist with Afghan Commando training.
Our Special Forces have been operating in Afghanistan alongside US troops since 2001 and as with the regular army, their combat mission ended last summer.
Although Canada was part of the Afghanistan effort since 2001 the decision to actively engage in combat was not made until 2005. Many of speculated as to why this was done.
Some have felt that it was a need to ‘prove ourselves’ to the US after having rejected active combat in Iraq. Others have stated that it was due to pressure from the military establishment. Whatever the reason, the question that needs to be answered is why only Canada and a small handful of other NATO countries chose to engage in active combat while the majority of our allies decided to remain on the sidelines.
Our country has paid a heavy price for this decision - 158 deaths, more than 600 wounded in action, over 1400 with non-battle injuries, in addition to the thousands who are suffering from post traumatic stress and other psychological disorders. As of October, 2011, according to a DND report, 6, 732 Afghan vets were receiving disability benefits.
After steady fire in the House of Commons from the NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Prime Minister Harper finally promised that Parliament would have a vote on any future “significant military missions” before the government commits Canadian forces.
If we consider the 12,000 deaths in the last five years or the millions that have been forced to flee violence to become refugees in Pakistan and Iran, the Afghan people have not been the beneficiaries of NATO’s presence. And, as with previous British invasions or the 10 year involvement of the Soviet Union, they will eventually be left to muddle through on their own with not a single solid institution in place to provide stability for the people.
Few have faith that the NATO trained Afghan Army will be able to maintain any kind of peace and order let alone defend the US installed Karzai regime especially once NATO funding dries up as eventually it must.
In considering what has transpired in Afghanistan over the past 11 years it is time to ask the difficult question of whether it was worth it. In light of the sacrifices made by our young men and women in uniform we must thank our military personnel for doing so well what our country required of them. And, while those who made the political decision to send Canada into war bear the ultimate responsibility, we must all ensure that our soldiers and their families are well looked after.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.