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July 28, 2010

Canadians killed in Afghanistan, victims not heroes

Scott Stockdale

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Shortly after being elected Prime Minister in 2006, Stephen Harper made Afghanistan a priority as it was one of his first stops as Prime Minister.

The Canadian public was treated to news footage of the new Prime Minister shaking hands and engaging in friendly banter with the Canadian troops.

He proceeded to tell them that “We're not going to cut and run. That's not the Canadian way and that's not my way. We're going to stand and fight. I'm behind you and the Canadian people are behind you.”

Now, four years and many deaths and injuries later, Mr. Harper says Canada will leave Afghanistan next year.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to escalate, with violence in Afghanistan at its highest of the 9-year war, as thousands of extra U.S. troops, dispatched by President Barack Obama in December, step up their campaign to drive insurgents out of their traditional heartland in the south.

Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have also risen, as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, the Canadian death toll continues to climb, reaching 151 so far - the largest for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War.

A couple of years ago, the British press took notice of the grassroots show of solidarity and loss when they compared the hallowed homecoming of Canadian fallen soldiers to the meager reception held for their war casualties, returning back to the U.K. 

It may help that the Canadian government has found a way to honor those who gave their lives for Canada, in Afghanistan.

The Highway of Heroes, the stretch of Highway 401 running from CFB Trenton into Toronto, is routinely lined with civilians and veterans as the body of each Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan makes its way home during repatriation.

But are these fallen soldiers really heroes or could they more accurately be characterized as victims - unknowing dupes in a senseless war, perpetrated by western governments, for who knows what reasons.

Preventing a safe-haven for terrorists to attack the U.S. and its allies, is the official reason for the Afghanistan War; but the insurgents have merely relocated elsewhere to places like Pakistan and Yemen, and the terrorist attacks and planned attacks in the U.S., Canada and Britain continue, although government officials often claim these attacks would be more frequent and deadlier were it not for the war in Afghanistan.

But when speaking hypothetically, this kind of reasoning could be used to justify almost any action: The situation would be even worse if we didn't do it.

The recent U.S. counter-insurgency strategy of sending 30,000 additional troops, while announcing withdrawal timetables for next year, is organized insanity.

Knowing that the western forces will be leaving soon, why should the Taliban agree to cooperate with the western-installed and supported government of Hamid Karzai, when all they have to do is wait for the western troops to leave.

And what is the point of all the people who will die in the next year or so, when it's a foregone conclusion that western forces are leaving in a year anyway? And what can they possibly accomplish in the next year that they couldn't do in the first 9 years?

A friend of mine who recently served with the Canadian forces in Afghanistan for three years, said the Afghan people don't want us there because the presence of foreign troops brings on the Taliban; and it's the civilians who suffer in the crossfire.

Will another year or two or more of foreign troop presence make a difference? Speaking on condition of anonymity, this Canadian Forces veteran of the Afghan War said the Taliban will be there long after you and I have gone.

Meanwhile, another study says Canada, Britain and the U.S. have shouldered the brunt of the heavy fighting because most European forces are lightly armed, trained for garrison duty and reluctant to go into harm's way.

The U.S. Congressional report, entitled NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transatlantic Alliance, says most European countries, with the exception of France, send their troops to the war-torn country without proper equipment and with little funds for reconstruction efforts.

"These restrictions, for example, may prohibit forces from engaging in combat operations, or from patrolling at night due to a lack of night-vision equipment," says the report.

"These governments tend to be reluctant to send their forces out into the field to confront the Taliban and control warlords and their militias. The result, in this view, has been that British and Canadian and U.S. forces bear a disproportionate share of the most dangerous tasks."

It appears that European governments are not nearly as enamored of American government policy in Afghanistan as the Canadian government; consequently Canadian soldiers are dying in place of soldiers from countries that don't blindly follow American policy.

Could this be, in part, due to the fact that European corporations are not nearly as closely tied to American corporations as Canada's are?

This year, to date, 13 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, compared with 19 last year. It is the lowest Canadian death total by late July of any year since the Martin government sent troops back to Kandahar in 2006.

In explaining Canada's lower casualty figures compared to the past, Brig -Gen Jon Vance, the commander of the 2,800 Canadians in South Asia, said the difference had much to do with how thinly stretched Canadian troops had been when they were responsible for all of Kandahar. Now, as a huge surge of U.S. and Afghan forces into the province takes hold, almost all of Vance's combat troops are concentrated in Panjwaii District.

"When the battle group was alone, it had to do an awful lot of movement to contact and that would therefore cause casualties," the general said.

This is but a small example of the wanton disregard for the lives of young Canadian men and women, by our government.

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