The number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002 now stands at 39. Sgt. Craig Paul Gillam and Cpl. Robert Thomas James Mitchell, both of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, became the latest fatalities after a handful of Taliban insurgents attacked a road construction project in the Panjwaii district 20 miles west of Kandahar.
This latest attack is noteworthy for three reasons. First, it occurred in a region that was thought to have been cleared of Taliban. Second, more than half of all Canadian fatalities have occurred in the last three months since the Harper government committed troops to combat operations in the south. In all, 32 of the 39 fatalities have occurred in and around Kandahar.
Third, a recent Decima Research poll published Oct. 2, found that 59 percent of Canadians believe that our soldiers are dying for a cause we cannot win.
Had Harper not committed Canadian troops to a combat role, the public response might be different. At minimum, if he had articulated a clear need for a combat mission and spelled out defensible goals, the public might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Except, Harper did not articulate a clear need, and did not spell out a defensible goal. He committed this country to fighting the Taliban insurgency because he’s an anti-Muslim bigot who would rather serve as George Bush’s catamite than stand as a champion of Canada’s national interest.
Harper’s reflexive servitude to “the war on terrorism” and all things Isramerican, can be seen in the dogmatic non-cognitive excuse he gives for pursuing this new belligerence policy: “Canada will not cut and run.”
Of course, you know where this is going to lead, don’t you?
More and more Canadians are going to die in a war that is none of our business, yet rational discussion of the mission is pre-empted by the need to prop up the national ego: We can’t quit because that would make us look like cowards, so we must persist in our course of action even though it’s self defeating. The London-based Senlis Council gave this sober assessment of Harper’s belligerence.
“Canadian troops have been handed an impossible mission which can only lead to significant casualties. Until Canada fundamentally re-evaluates its approach and creates its own new strategy for its presence in Kandahar, with a clear split from the failed U.S. policies there, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is blindly following a path that will lead to senseless military and civilian casualties.”*
The report also condemned the U.S.’s anti-poppy cultivation campaign for forcing farmers into poverty. It is at this point that the U.S.’s Afghan policy degenerates into absurdity. First, a little background on Afghanistan, the Taliban and opium:
The U.S. has been meddling in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invaded in December 1979. Since that time, the country has been in a perpetual state of war or civil war with drug-funded mujahedin warlords competing with each other for political dominance.
On Sept. 27, 1996, a group of militant Muslim reactionaries from Afghanistan’s dominant Pashtun ethic group seized power. These Taliban (students) were led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, who proceeded to impose a repressive Islamic theocracy on the country. Today the Taliban are reviled and we are taught to look on them as enemies, but at the time, they were just what the U.S. wanted.
The U.S. needed political stability to lay a pipeline across the country from natural gas fields in Turkmenistan to the Pakistani port of Karachi, and the Taliban looked to be able to do what the warlords could not–”impose order.
In fact, the U.S. liked the Taliban so much that the State Department nearly gave it official recognition. Regarding the Taliban’s anti-democratic excesses, the U.S’s official position was utter indifference.
Problem was, the Taliban wouldn’t play ball with the U.S-led pipeline consortium, preferring instead to honour a previous agreement with an Argentinean firm. Suddenly, the Taliban became an enemy. When Osama bin Laden married Omar’s daughter and was given political protection–”in exchange for money to run the country–”the Taliban became sponsors of terrorism.
Because of the pipeline and bin Laden, The Clinton administration imposed economic sanctions because of the opium industry, but the U.S. attitude toward drugs has always been opportunistic and hypocritical.
On July 28, 2000, three weeks after Clinton renewed the U.S.’s unilateral sanctions, Mullah Muhammed Omar, in an effort to have the sanctions ended and to receive international recognition–”decreed poppy growing to be contrary to Islam. Few in the State Department took the decree seriously, but within two months Afghanistan’s opium production was nearly wiped out. From a high of 3,667 tonnes (70 percent of world production), it fell to 74.0 tonnes.
This year, Afghanistan’s opium harvest is a record 6,100 tonnes, or 92 percent of the world’s supply. If Canada is seriously interested in ending the drug trade, why is it killing the Taliban?
I don’t mean that Canada should become a Taliban ally, but killing them will do nothing to reduce the opium harvest, especially considering who’s running the country. Hamid Karzai is called the president of Afghanistan, but he’s really an impotent mayor of Kabul. He is an ex-U.S.-oil industry consultant who serve U.S. interests. His “presidency” is limited to the borders of the capital, and he has to walk around in a phalanx of U.S. bodyguards to avoid assassination.
Beyond the insecure precincts of Kabul, the warlords rule. The real power in Karzai’s “government” is wielded by drug-funded warlords like Uzbek commander General Rashid Dostum, who serves as chief-of-staff to the commander of the armed forces.
In essence, Afghanistan’s national borders have no meaning, and its national government has no meaning, so what does that mean for Canada?
By participating in campaigns against the Taliban, Canada is showing support for Karzai’s warlord-infested “government,” and promoting the drug trade. Warlords and drugs–”what could be more Canadian!
Of course, the longer this farce goes on the harder it will be to heed the sage advice of the Senlis Council and formulate a rational Canadian military policy. Anyone familiar with the U.S.’s folly in Vietnam knows the sort of disaster that awaits Canada. As I wrote exactly five years ago concerning Bush’s attack on Afghanistan:
“On Nov. 6, 1961, Assistant Secretary of Defense John T. McNaughton summarized U.S. aims for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in this sobering report:
‘(A) 70 percent–”To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat (to our reputation as a counter-subversion guarantor).
(B) 20 percent–”To keep SVN (and then adjacent territory) from Chinese hands.
(C) 10 percent–”To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life. Also–”to emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used. NOT to “help a friend,” although it would be hard to stay out if asked.'” ( The Pentagon Papers, pp. 255, 365.)–
Even at this early date the U.S’s ego, not the welfare of the Vietnamese, was paramount, yet the war would last another 14 years, bleed the U.S. military and destroy the U.S.’s political culture.
Harper seems more than willing to emulate this failure. He forces Canada’s military to serve foreign interests, misrepresents informed dissent as moral weakness, and governs according to moral prejudice. The only question is: how many lives will be wasted?
“U.S. Afghan policy costing Cdn. lives: think-tank,” ctv.ca, June 28, 2006.
– First cited in “Israel Leads U.S. back to Vietnam–”Part II,” Canadian Arab News, Oct. 5, 2001.