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Is Canada's job in Afghanistan finished?

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.


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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.


  • James Travers
    National affairs columnist for The Toronto Star.

  • Terry Glavin
    Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and founder member of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

  • Scott Taylor
    Publisher and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine.

  • Zarghuna Kargar
    Producer and host of Afghan Current Affairs Programmes for the BBC World Service and author of Dear Zari: Stories from Women in Afghanistan which will be published in May 2011 by Random House

  • David Bercuson
    Historian, author and Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.



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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?

Holly Nelson


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.

Mary Garne
White Rock, British Columbia


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.
Derek Wilson
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.
Colette Wilson
Brantford, Ontario


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.

Mike Bouchard
Windsor, Ontario


Dear Sir,
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.

Gorden Schweers
Prince Rupert, British Columbia


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.

Paul Boisvert
Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan


Dear Checkup,

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.

John Banta
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!

Hanna Clemann
Ottawa, Ontario


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?

Paul McKinnon
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.

Jack Masterman
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.
Christopher Raymond
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.

Erik O'Brien
Welland, Ontario


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.

Maggie McGroarty
Toronto, Ontario


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.

Norman Scott
Lisle, Ontario


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.

Normand Carrey
Montreal, Quebec


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.

Peter Jordan
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.

Bill Reid
Winnipeg, Manitoba


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?

John Foster
Kingston, Ontario

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