Canada’s Afghan mission: what did it achieve?

Developing Just Leadership

Tahir Mahmoud

Shawwal 03, 1432 2011-09-01

News & Analysis

by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 7, Shawwal, 1432)

Beyond the drum-beating and chest thumping about what a great job the Canadian soldiers did in Afghanistan, the question that needs to be asked is: what exactly did they achieve despite spending $20 billion on a war that is still raging and the Afghans are no better off today, in fact much worse, than they were 10 years ago?

Beyond the drum-beating and chest thumping about what a great job the Canadian soldiers did in Afghanistan, the question that needs to be asked is: what exactly did they achieve despite spending $20 billion on a war that is still raging and the Afghans are no better off today, in fact much worse, than they were 10 years ago? Canada formally ended its military mission on July 5 but no Canadian politician has had the courage or integrity to admit that the war was a waste of time and precious resources. In fact, there have been claims that Canadians made a difference to the lives of Afghans and that in the areas where they operated they restored “peace and stability.”

Canada’s mission has now morphed into “training” the Afghans; it is like teaching the fish to swim. Afghans are natural fighters. After all, without any training or outside help, they have defeated the heavily armed American, Canadian and British soldiers and their allies. The Taliban armed with little more than Kalashnikov rifles have defeated the occupation troops covered from head to toe with body armour and fancy gadgets protruding from every crevice in their bodies. How were the Taliban able to beat them so handily without any NATO training that Western soldiers now want to “train” the Afghans all over again? Maybe, the West should ask the Taliban to train their troops in real combat; and the Taliban will not charge an arm and a leg for such help. Regardless of the spin, the US and its NATO allies have lost the war and are running for the exit door. The shooting down of a US Chinook helicopter on August 6 killing 30 American soldiers, 22 of them much-touted Navy Seals, will no doubt hasten this process. But do not wait to read it in the Western media; most Western commentators are little more than propagandists for whatever policy the ruling elites want to pursue at the time regardless of the cost to their societies.

During the handover ceremony to the Americans in Qandahar on July 5, Colonel Michel-Henri St-Louis, commander, Canadian battle group, was candid about his troops’ role and what they had or had not achieved. “We started our involvement on a political decision. So we also end it on a political decision. It is not for me to second-guess that.’’ He clearly admitted that the military objective — defeating the Taliban — had not been achieved. One would have thought that is what armies fight for. Politicians determine the objective of a mission; the military simply advances that goal but Western military doctrine has seldom been more than causing maximum death and destruction. This they have done with great success. How many Afghan civilians have been killed is anyone’s guess. The West is not interested in this statistic, only its own casualties. Canadian politicians and media pundits never tire of reminding people what great sacrifices Canadian men and women in uniform made in Afghanistan to “keep us safe in Canada.” But the Taliban or even the Afghans in general have never, before or now, threatened Canada.

All they want is to be left alone in their own country.

Canada lost 157 soldiers during its combat mission between 2005 and 2011. This is not a huge number compared to the tens of thousands of Afghans blown to pieces for no fault of theirs; they just happened to be in their homes when the mad bombers, mostly Americans or British but at times also Canadians, came barging in; in the sanitized protrayal of atrocities by the Western media, these are statistics chalked under the broad category of collateral damage, which can easily be dismissed.

In 2005, when the Canadian military got involved in direct military combat, then Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, in a fit of racist bravado, called the Taliban “scumbags” and said his troops were going to kill them. Six years later, the scumbags are still in Afghanistan and everyone is begging them to make a deal. The Canadians, meanwhile, are heading for the exit having achieved absolutely nothing no matter what the spin.

Canada’s financial outlay of $18 billion in Afghanistan is easily dwarfed by America’s expenditure of $1 trillion. Other countries — Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc — have also spent huge sums on the war. Let us assume that the total war expenditure in Afghanistan is $1.2 trillion. If this money were distributed among the 25 million Afghans, each would get a net amount of $48,000. This is a huge sum of money and would have made enormous differences to their lives. Without exaggeration, almost every Afghan, barring a tiny minority, would be eternally grateful to the West. This would have transformed their lives in immeasurable ways. Instead, a destructive war was unleashed against these poor people many of them still living in the Stone Age, and their lives disrupted. Countless innocent children and women have been murdered; even wedding parties have been bombed.

In October 2001, when George Bush unleashed his dogs of war on the poor Afghans, he and his generals thought the primitive Afghans would be no match for US firepower. In one sense, this assessment was correct. The Taliban had no aircraft and their primitive weapons could not withstand American B-1 bombers dropping 1,500-pound bombs from 40,000 feet in the air. Such fancy weapons as daisy cutters and cluster bombs were unleashed. Even depleted uranium shells have been used, poisoning the soil and the environment. In the face of such relentless bombardment, the Taliban were forced to flee Kabul and take refuge in the mountains. It would have been foolish to have stayed in Kabul and be blown to pieces. The Taliban’s quick departure from Kabul abandoning all posts gave the Americans and their allies the false impression that their hi-tech weapons had achieved a great victory. Foreign troops then invaded and occupied Kabul.

That is exactly what the Taliban wanted. Their plan was to draw foreign troops into the country so that they would get an opportunity to fight them. Despite the invading armies’ sophisticated weapons, the Taliban proved far better and more resilient fighters. People fighting for their rights and dignity are better positioned to win than those trying to impose an alien system. The Taliban and the Afghans may be backward and may refuse to enter the 21st century, but it is their choice, not that of the Americans, British or Canadians. The Taliban do not wish to impose their primitive lifestyle on others; they want to be left alone to continue with their lives. In the ten-year period, they have once again proved that nobody can defeat them. Instead, one more self-proclaimed superpower has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Once all foreign occupation troops have been driven out of Afghanistan, the Afghans may resume fighting among themselves. Soon, a stalemate would emerge and in the best tradition of the Afghans, they will make a compromise based on the relative strength of each contending party. They do not need any foreigner or do-gooders to tell them what to do.

The question, however, that one must ask is: why did Canada join the war in Afghanistan? The bitter truth is — and this is something no Canadian politician or general is willing to admit — that Canada went into the war in order to remain in Uncle Sam’s good books. Canada’s trade relations were at stake with its biggest trading partner. For the sake of a fistful of dollars, successive Canadian governments have participated in the murder of innocent Afghans. A clear majority of Canadians did not support this policy viewing the war as immoral but governments claiming to be democratic ignored such public sentiment. And they maintained, with a straight face, that they wanted to export democracy to Afghanistan.

Maybe, they should practice some of this democracy at home.

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