Canada’s mission in Afghanistan lacks purpose

The use of the military in any conflict is only a means to achieve well-defined political goals. The less defined those goals are, the less successful the military mission will be; in fact, the results can be disastrous.

Take Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. NATO has some 9,000 troops there, of whom only 650 are Canadians. Now Canada is sending 2,200 more soldiers to replace some of the 19,000 American troops to be withdrawn.

Recently a number of Canadian military personnel have been killed or wounded. The more people Canada posts in Afghanistan, the more causalities our forces will experience; and not only the families of fallen soldiers will suffer, but the entire country as well.

So why are Canadians in Afghanistan?

The simplest answer is something like this: Canada is a member of NATO, which means it is obliged to help other NATO members (in this case the Americans) in their military missions overseas. Unfortunately, that obligation prevails, no matter how misguided our allies’ missions might be.

Afghanistan poses no threat whatsoever to Canada’s security. Zero, zilch, nada. And to those who naively think that Canada’s military is there to help the poor Afghanis, Canada spends more than $600 million annually on its military operations (so far), and committed only $200 million to help Afghanis (not known how much was spent if any).

Canadians have traditionally been proud that their country has often been the first to work under the UN peacekeeping banner in many hotspots around the globe.

But Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is not, and has never been, peacekeeping. Canada joined the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) coalition in 2001 "in order to destroy the Taliban shield that was protecting Al Qaeda’s infrastructure in Afghanistan." And then, Canadians were being killed by American "friendly fire."

OEF underwent a name change to the International Security Assistance Force, whose mandate was to protect the Afghani interim government from its "enemies," but it was essentially the same old operation. Canada contributed to both OEF and ISAF.

More recently, the name has changed again — this time at the insistence of the new Afghani government — to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The term "Reconstruction" is blatantly inappropriate, however, as there is nothing in Afghanistan to be re-constructed.

For example, how many new universities, schools, libraries, hospitals, roads, factories, training centres, clean water plants, sewage treatment facilities, etc. are on the PRT agenda? And what plans has the PRT developed to help Afghani farmers switch from opium cultivation to more beneficial crops?

The U.S. bombed and invaded Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban government because the latter refused to hand over Al Qaeda leaders. Now Afghanistan has a president with no grass roots support in most of the country, and who barely controls even its capital city of Kabul. As a former American CEO, the only support Hamid Karzai gets is from Afghanis who can personally and materially benefit from his American connections.

One Canadian analyst explained our country’s objective as being, "to limit and then destroy the remnants of the Al Qaeda-supported Taliban, and prevent them from interfering with the construction process."

But it does not matter how much America hates the Taliban; they are a popular movement with strong grassroots support. President Karzai even said recently he could work with them, but such is the prevailing distrust of Karzai as an American mouthpiece, the call to co-operate was ignored. This desperately unproductive situation leads many Afghanis to perceive Americans — and the Canadians who follow them — as hostile foreigners occupying their country. Is it any surprise that some turn to suicide bombing?

Canadians are finally waking up to the fact that there was no real debate over the decision to send our military to Afghanistan. Nor was there any discussion of concrete objectives, or how to measure our success there. When will we even know our mission is over?

Right wing militarist politicians are trying to sell our ever-increasing military presence in Afghanistan to fellow Canadians, but at what cost?

Meanwhile, the Americans are leaving Afghanistan because there is no oil; because it is one of the poorest countries in the world; and because the Afghanis are a hard-headed people who fiercely resist foreign occupation — they dug in their heels against the British and Russians and in the end demoralized them both. As well, the Americans believe that Al Qaeda’s operations there have been sufficiently disrupted. But above all, America is not at all interested in the human development of Afghanis, not one bit.

Of course, many will remember an early spate of propaganda about invading Afghanistan to free "burqa-clad women cowering in their houses" and give them education and jobs, as well as vague promises to help starving children and train youth to find jobs instead of joining up with the Taliban. But none of this was ever achieved, or even seriously attempted, because there was simply no political will to push the U.S. into providing adequate resources. One in six Afghani women still dies in childbirth, and the female literacy rate is still a mere 14 per cent.

The only positive thing to happen in Afghanistan was achieved by the UN; the holding of parliamentary elections. But elections do not bring instant food, health care, education, clean water, or security. A massive long-term program of international aid would fill that yawning gap — and that’s where Canada’s true role in Afghanistan should be focused. Maybe Canada’s new Prime Minster Stephen Harper is listening.