Sunday June 11, 2017

Canadian troops should return to Afghanistan

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan board a U.S. Chinook helicopter as they leave the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan March 12, 2014.

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan board a U.S. Chinook helicopter as they leave the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan March 12, 2014. (Master Cpl. Patrick Blanchard/Canadian Forces/Reuters)

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Canada's role on the international stage has been in the spotlight this week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reinforced Canada's commitment to NATO and Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan announced a new defence policy including an increase in military spending over the next 20 years and more troops.

The news had NATO and its allies optimistic about Canada's future contributions to the alliance.

But when it comes to Afghanistan, recent remarks from the Prime Minister made it clear that Canada will not be sending troops back.

It's a decision, journalist and historian Michael Petrou argues is a mistake. 

First, Petrou argues, there is a need.

"Over 300 people have died in Kabul alone in the last year. This is a casualty rate we forget about, we focus and it's understandable, on Manchester and Paris and attacks in the West, but the suffering of the Afghans and Afghanistan is far greater." - Michael Petrou

And from a security perspective, it's in our best interests, he says.

"We've seen what can happen if Afghanistan becomes a centre of international terrorism. So I think we have a security interest there, on top of the humanitarian interest."

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A Canadian soldier from the NATO-led coalition checks a weapon during a training session in the Taliban stronghold of Arghandab district, Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan. ((Stefano Rellandini/Reuters) )

On top of all of that, Petrou also thinks that if we are going to remain a strong member of NATO, we should show it.

"I think that we have an obligation if we are going to be, as our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, a 'go-to member of the alliance' then the alliance needs to be able to go-to us and not hear that they should go to someone else."

And according to Petrou, the type of training that NATO is carrying out in Afghanistan, is what the Canadian army excels at.

"Canada, through a lot of blood and sacrifice and mistakes and re-calibrating and learning anew, become very good at doing exactly the sort of training that NATO is carrying out in Afghanistan now, and we of course learned that in Afghanistan. It seems to me that it would make the most sense to put that expertise, put that hard earned experience to use in the very country where those skills were developed." - Michael Petrou

As for those who are against the idea, concerned that Canadian Armed Forces didn't accomplish enough during both our combat and training missions, he says that argument is valid, that more could have been done.

But Petrou, who was there in both 2001 and in 2011, says that we shouldn't overlook what we did accomplish.

He saw the difference in the country over that ten year span.

"It's a more decent, humane, hopeful place."

"Because we have suffered, because Canada has suffered, because there has been so many setbacks, we forget about how much has changed for the better as well." - Michael Petrou
michael petrou

Michael Petrou thinks the PM should rethink Canada's decision to not send troops to Afghanistan as part of NATO's ongoing training mission.

To those who feel frustrated by the length of the NATO mission, wondering how long it will take to help the Afghan people find peace, Petrou says we should be taking the long view. 

"I think we have to have a long term perspective, I think the change in Afghanistan will be generational," he says.

"Many Afghans were fighting the Taliban before we got there and they will be fighting the Taliban if we were to leave."

To be clear, Petrou isn't saying that Canadian troops should go back into a combat mission, but says that Canadians should be contributing to NATO's ongoing presence.

"All the infrastructure is there already...there is an ongoing NATO training mission, we are a part of NATO. This is not going back to Kandahar...it is a much less dangerous mission."