Sunday, November 14, 2010 | Categories: Episodes
On Cross Country Checkup: Afghanistan
As Canada's own deadline for complete troop withdrawal approaches, suddenly there's a new plan to stay and train Afghan forces.
What do you think? Is Canada's job in Afghanistan finished? What do you think of the new plan?
With guest host David Gray.
History is not full of positive examples of dignifed withdrawals of troops. No matter how many bands play or flags are folded, they are in the end a messy affair. Power afterall, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
So perhaps it should not come as any surprise that Canada's withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, previously promised for conclusion in eight months, now comes with a coda: a continued training roll for up to a thousand troops. The message is being couched as a "re-profiling", but no matter how you spin it, it means we're not done. Fully a third of our troop contingent will stay on for at least three more years.
Yes, there is a difference between a combat role in Kandahar, and training Afghan soldiers and police in Kabul. But does it really remove our troops from harm's way? And is there such a thing in today's Afghanistan as a mission conducted "inside the wire"?
Has Canada done enough in Afghanistan?
It is important to remember how all this began.
On Sept 11 2001 Islamist terrorists attacked the US, killing 3000 innocent people, including 24 Canadians.
Everything that has happened in Afghanistan has flowed from that.
Canada is a member of an alliance, a partnership of democracies, pledged to help each other in time of war.
NATO went into Afghanistan with the blessing of the UN.
We went, and remain a part of NATO.
Canada's casualties to date are 152 dead and hundreds more wounded. A figure many say is disproportionate when compared to the contribution of other nations. After 8 years of struggle, 40,000 Canadian soldiers have served.
We have been and remain a country at war.
In Ottawa, the NDP has always been and continues to be opposed to Canadian troops engaged in combat in Afghanistan. So too the Bloc. The Liberals endorsed the idea of a transition from a combat to a training role months ago, though they are critical of the Prime Minister's methods.
There were calls for a vote of Parliament on the new plan but so far Stephen Harper insists it's not required to send troops on a non-combat assignment.
What do you think? Did the move come as a surprise to you? Did you think Canada's job in Afghanistan was finished? Has Canada made a difference there? Were you comfortable with the original idea of a total troop withdrawal by July 2011? What do you think of the new training role? Is there more that Canada should be doing in Afghanistan? How long will the country need support ....and what should be the benchmark for a Canadian withdrawal?
What about the politics of the decision ...do you think that this new plan merits a vote of Parliament ...or is the expressed support of both the Liberals and the Conservatives enough? Should the strain on the military be part of the decision-making in extending the mission?
Lots of questions. Our question today to start the discussion: "Has Canada done enough for Afghanistan?"
I'm David Gray ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
Any job ought to have a job description, and some way to tell if you are approaching that goal and when you have achieved it.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan, they claimed their goal was removing the safe haven to Al-Qaeda and its use of the Afghan territory as a base of operations for anti-U.S. terrorist activities. That was about a decade ago. Currently, Taliban forces have regained strength, and Afghanistan has experienced increased Taliban-led insurgent activity, record-high levels of illegal drug production, and a corrupt government with limited control outside of Kabul.
We Canadians are often told we need to stay there to build a democracy and support the people, especially getting women and children into school. That's laudable, but is it possible? it's easier to burn a school than build one. Are we trying to build an enduring sand castle?
History has shown over and over that democracy cannot be imposed. It evolves ever so slowly over decades or centuries. Should it be forced upon a country by military means the result will be fractured, incomplete, and will require surveillance for generations, which no one can afford.
White Rock, British Columbia
To be consistent, those we argue against Canadian Forces training Afghani police and military beyond 2011 should also argue against Canadian development work in Afghanistan beyond 2011. They should also argue against Canada's continuing participation in NATO and the UN. They should also argue that the corrupt Afghani government should be replaced by the Taliban who took over the country after the Russians left.
That puts us all in harm's way, likely including a nuclear threat via Pakistan. Can the leftists understand the implications?
The loss of 152 Canadians over 8 years (from 20,000 Canadians who have served there) is tragic. Return of Taliban rule would be catastrophic.
Hi Cross Country Checkup,
After over eight years of occupation, the expenditure of billions of dollars, and the cost of hundreds of American and Canadian (and other) soldiers' lives, the government and army of Hamid Karzai is still unable to maintain control of Afghanistan on its own. Yet, somehow without billions of dollars of logistical support and sophisticated weapons, the rag-tag Taliban remain a threat to the Karzai regime. Obviously the primarily military strategy in Afghanistan is not working.
Three more years are unlikely to result in significant change, except the deaths of more NATO soldiers. The only reason Canadian soldiers are proposed to remain in Afghanistan is to look good to the Americans. But the Americans seem to have forgotten the bitter lesson of Vietnam (and Somalia).
A power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban is the obvious solution in tandem with a timely withdrawal of NATO soldiers. Canadian soldiers can be the start of that winding down of the occupation army by completely withdrawing, as planned, in 2011.
Port Moody, British Columbia
I am strongly against our armies having any future role in Afghanistan.
In front of me is Matthieu Aikins' article in the December issue of Walrus magazine. His research and reporting reveals the hopelessness of this war. Canadian troops' efforts to win "hearts and minds", which has been our main strategy in this war effort, is failing and has only added to the corruption in Afghanistan. Local leaders and ordinary people are co-operating mainly because of the money that they can make and have no plan to change their stripes. The Karzai government is unable to move past corruption and effect influence. The additional money that has been thrown at the situation by the American Government recently has only added to the problem. The culture is not changing and will revert to its old ways in the future.
I am saddened by the loss of Canadian (and Afghan) lives, and am disgusted by the huge amounts of money we have wasted, and am very against any further efforts there. The Harper government had promised to get us out of Afghanistan and should follow through on this.
Thank you for listening to my opinion.
I think that Canada should definitely stay in Afghanistan to train the Afghan people, especially the women and children, so that they - and eventually their men - can join the global effort to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of all women and children --and indeed everyone afflicted by their lack of freedom to pursue their dreams to create better lives for themselves and their families. Education and training are the building blocks of ensuring that future generations will never have to endure what so many have had to endure in the past. Once you offer your genuine support, it should not be rescinded.
We should stay as long as it takes so that the world wakes up and takes action. The Prime Minister should stand by his principles and move forward with his initiative announced at the G20 in Seoul. All available resources should be deployed, financial, humanitarian, education and the business communities. Debate should and will continue as a result of Canada's stand. There's a sea change happening globally, and Canada is poised to keep the ball rolling.
Why is our so called leadership pushing a war that few Canadians want? Supposed intellectuals like the one on your show and the leaders of the two largest parties can say what they want. But if they believe in delivering democracy to other countries then why don't they try at home by listening to their own citizens? We want our troops home. We have done enough.
The issue of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is predicated on the misunderstanding that the situation was caused by the Taliban. It was caused by the Russians. They invaded that country after attempting to take over its parliament with a puppet dictator. The resulting ten year war devastated the nation of Afghanistan but was repulsed with the military support of the United States.
Now Canada is in that country doing much the same as the Russians. It's all called imperialism. Imperialism can provide us with enormous lists of reasons and alibis but it all comes down to the same basic reason - its one country invading another country and telling the world it is for the defeated people's own good such that we are bringing democracy or education to the girls when we are in effect supporting an opium growing Western-backed junta.
As for our troops staying longer to train the Afghanistan troops, that is what the Americans did in Vietnam until they were in there dropping napalm and using agent orange on a third world country in an effort to stop the spread of communism. I can go on the internet and watch troops in action in Afghanistan. They aren't doing what the Western media is telling us they are doing.
After we have devastated that nation and left the country even more destitute from 30 years of endless war, the Russians will march back in again. We have paved the way for this catastrophe by blaming the Taliban for all the terrorism in the world. We can bring about a negotiated lasting peace with that country if our media stops demonizing the enemy, the people, the culture, the religion and the Taliban and their interpretation of their own history and society.
We have no right to invade and conquer other societies. Punish individuals who commit crimes not countries. Not the poor of the world. Your suggestion that our troops stay on just a wee bit longer training Karzai's new mafia isn't acceptable.
Prince Rupert, British Columbia
Announcing the extension the way he did further highlights Mr. Harpers disrespect for Parliament, Canadians and the Canadian forces.
As he has done in other instances he made this announcement outside Canada (on a highly emotional day) when it should have been made in Parliament or at least in Canada. He appears to be afraid of Parliament and if one looks at the reluctance to release information, afraid of the electorate, hence this disrespectful treatment.
There may be a role to play in Afghanistan but to portray it as safe is stupid. People, soldiers or not, die there everyday.
Your second caller was so completely confused. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq invaded the U.S. Saudi Arabian radicals were responsible for 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people, mostly women and children, in Afghanistan and Iraq were brutally butchered because of these radical Saudi Arabians and a rogue U.S. military. May I add that when we want a school built in my province we call a construction company - not the Canadian army.
We need a debate. Let's try to act like we have a democracy.
I believe that the switch to a training role in Afghanistan is, as much as anything, a pragmatic response to the obvious fact that our army simply can't maintain the current pace indefinitely. The soldiers are tired, the equipment is worn out and recruitment and retention are becoming increasingly problematic. If we can cut back from 2,500 to 1,000, that will make a big difference, relieve some of the pressure and allow the army to rebuild. What many Canadians don't seem to be aware of is the fact that we have a tiny army, even compared to Western European nations and that army has been punching way above its weight for a long time. It can't possibly continue.
Fauquier, British Columbia
We should never have been in Afghanistan in the first place, not as a military force. Do we never learn from history? This war is never going to be won. Democracy cannot be brought in. Why do we support a corrupt government? How many more people will have to be killed? Get the troops home now!
I find it strange that people who join the forces would not consider they would be put in harms way. After all why have a Canadian Force that just sit at home collecting their pay check. The Canadian Forces are voluntary so anyone that joins can expect to be sent to aid in trying to help out countries in trouble.
That being said as someone once said "War is hell" but if one is attacked one has no choice but to fight back.
As Shakespeare said "To be or not to be that is the question".
At my age of 77 I have never had to fight in any war for which I am extremely grateful. My three older brothers were conscripted for WWII and one was killed.
They never had a choice as men have today.
As Canada is a member of NATO they have an obligation to adhere to the policies of NATO. To do otherwise is to arbitrarily divorce itself from NATO.
I agree that Afghanistan is a lost cause but it is up to NATO to decide what to do.
Salmon Arm, British Columbia
Instead of training Afghan troops in Afghanistan, why don't we train them here? That way there's no risk to Canadian troops. Somehow we can spend billions on fighter planes but we can't afford to assure clean drinking water on many native reserves in our country. Where are our priorities?
Victoria, British Columbia
Yes, Canada has done enough. Canada should never have gotten into this war.
I am confused. Who are we fighting? Did we get into this battle to fight the terrorists who took down the World Trade Centre towers or are we fighting the Taliban for their mistreatment of women?
I feel extremely bad for the families that have lost soldiers in this war. It is a war that can never be won.
I disagree strongly with those that think Canada should stay in the country. Another 5,000 or 10,000 Canadian lives lost in this country will not make a difference to the political situation. How long will this war continue? Even the first and second World Wars did not go on as long as this war in this one country.
Get Canada out of Afghanistan now. Harper would have sent troops to Iraq if he was in power, now he is continuing to send troops to Afghanistan, an equally useless and damaging war. He must ask the Canadian people for their opinion and abide by our wishes.
Port Hardy, British Columbia
Prime Minister Harper unilaterally decided to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan AND to spend 16 billion dollars on new jet fighters we don't need. I'm growing very tired of Mr. Harper's warmongering unilateral decisions.
Victoria, British Columbia
I think it is quite simple. To leave now will only breed another Osama Bin Laden. If our goal is to stop this type of totalitarianism then to leave before full economic and social prosperity is reached is to invite inevitable retaliation.
Hi, I am really enjoying the various comments and would like to add mine. Ethically Yes to parliaimentary debate on the issue and No we should not just pack up and leave those people in Afghanistan to be at the mercy of the wolves both within their country IE The Taliban and externaly Pakistan and Iran. There is also a practical matter here that mentoring will also assist in the professional development of our men and women in service. They are highly motivated and believe they are making a difference.
Let's back them up 110 percent!
North Vancouver,British Columbia
My thanks for the very high quality of comments by the Canadian people on your program today.
I want to see parliament take up this topic because it is so important to all of us in the country. I am distressed by the Prime Minister's approach. Mr. Harper doesn't seem to grasp that all of us need more information and debate so we can get behind whatever decision is taken. His approach seems much like President Bush's. Canada is not a presidential republic, but the fiat-style decisions he has pronounced, such as this and the proroguing of Parliament, undermine our parliamentary democracy. Please understand that we people of Canada cannot fulfill our responsibilities as citizens if all we get are rulings from on high.
While I believe we never should have gone there in the first place, I really don't see how we can pull out now without some huge rescue plan in place. The one thing nobody seems to be talking about is "What is going to happen to the Afghan people who cooperated with with us after we leave"? My prediction is there will be an absolute massacre which we will never hear about because media will be driven out. I think all countries which are there and helped create this chaos will have to make arrangements to get these people out of the country before we pull out ourselves.
Give me a good excuse or reason why any training for Afghan troops or police can not be done in Canada. With regards to our widthdrawal from that country, we're damned if we don't, they're damned if we do.
Why are we going to Afghanistan to teach them a lesson on democracy when we don't have a fully informed, democratic debate here? To me it is frightening that one single office (the PM's office) has so much power. I don't like Stephen Harper's personality but the mix of his personality with the power he wields is frightening. That also is not democracy, when debate and opposition can be so effectively stiffled.
Also, as a Quebecois, Mr. Harper seems to have written off the whole province, a poltical calculation he is ready to accept in his drive to achieve his ends.
We are only aware of the tip of the iceberg. Al Quaeda and BinLauden are still a very real threat to the free world. Couching the mission in terms of training is a way to help us feel better about Canadian involvement. I think leaving now would be a big mistake and would further increase the threat of terrorism.
I have great admiration for the young people who patrol the country. This is the job of a military presence. They know this when they sign on.
I think continuing Canadian involvement is a necessity for all of us, not just for Afghanistan. We really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors in terms of the mission.
The loss of Canadian lives, in fact of the lives of anyone involved is of course tragic. But the war against terrorism is very real.
Records show a loss of 65,000 Canadian soldiers in WW1. Loss of life is the age old price of democracy and freedom.
There are good arguments both for and against staying on in Afghanistan in a training role, and opinion in our country appears to be fairly evenly divided. It should be discussed in Parliament and voted on. This is too important and divisive an issue for the Prime Minister to decide on his own. The excuse that parliament is too divided is not valid; the fact that parliament and the country is divided is exactly the reason that the issue should be debated and voted on.
Nelson, British Columbia
We should remove all our troops as previously announced. We have been there for such a long time that there has been plenty of opportunity for training and I do not see how staying longer will improve that situation. There are too many elements in Afghanistan which we do not understand and are unable to control.
What is the connection between Canadian troops staying in Afghanistan and plans for a natural gas pipeline through Kandahar? According to energy ministers in the four participating countries (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) key issues are being negotiated so the four Presidents can sign a formal pipeline agreement in December. A paramount issue is pipeline security. Is it realistic to expect Afghan security forces to protect the route single-handedly, during construction and afterwards? The G8 endorsed the project this year. The sponsor is the Asian Development Bank, of which Canada (and numerous NATO countries) are proud members. The U.S. is pushing hard for the project. It is time to ask our government: Are Canadian troops staying in Afghanistan to protect a pipeline route?