Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Canada in Kandahar

There's a very interesting article from CBC reporter Brian Stewart up right now, covering a story that the myth the Harper government has been pushing that Canada's military service in the Afghanistani province of Kandahar, the home of the Taliban and a major theatre of war in this war-torn country, was basically the golden era.

Turns out this wasn't so. As Stewart said, no one doubts the courage and commitment of the soldiers in Kandahar, over 167 of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice. But what we don't see and what, frankly, we as citizens should know, is what hampered our goals and mission in this crucial area that we, with a force of only 2,800 soldiers, were tasked with taming, and that we shouldn't take at face-value what is coming out of the Harper government right now.

My first exposure to the maybe less-than-impressive state of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan came from a book called The Lions of Kandahar, by an American Special Forces Sergeant who was operating something as a back-up for Operation Medusa, a major Canadian-led operation in 2006 that was much hyped. The book does not criticize Canada's contribution to the fight, or focus all too much on it, but it does give some tantalizing bits, including hints at a slow, overly-cautious bureaucracy, a force that followed a strategy that couldn't help but get pinned down, and lacking the resources it needed to complete the mission in a reasonable time frame. Not to mention that the entire reason for Operation Medusa, which was to root out Taliban forces south of Kandahar and in the Panjwayi district, was because the influence of the Taliban had returned after the American forces had left in 2005, and Canada's focus was on building up community relations instead of providing proper security outside of the actual city of Kandahar. Its an interesting read, and offers a peripheral look at Canada's role in Afghanistan. A book focusing on Canada's role in Operation Medusa, known as No Lack of Courage, is also fairly interesting if a bit more rah-rah (as you'd expect it to be).

What you glean from Stewart's article, from books, reports, and viewpoints from other nations, especially American military personnel who served there, is that it fairly clear that the Canadian leadership - referring to the civilian leadership (aka the gov't, Liberal and Conservative), though in some cases the military leadership - was at one too cautious and overly confident. That we went in there with expectations of greatness, yet committed meager resources, relied heavily on other ISAF forces for air and special forces operations, and simply didn't see the disparity between having the nearly four-times larger British force next door in Helmand, a (slightly) less volatile province with a much better trained and equipped force, and our Canadian Forces in the home of the Taliban, essentially throwing rocks at the larger and, in some cases, more organized Taliban forces.

Our bark was worse than our bite, so to speak, and while we could call our time in Kandahar as something of a "success," it shouldn't be a point of boasting from the government, especially this government. I'm all for supporting our troops, I think the forces on the ground did their jobs and did them well with what they had on hand, which wasn't much! Canada's time in Kandahar, now long done, should be a point of review for the government, of what we did wrong, and how we can avoid it in the future. I don't support committing our forces to another war knowing that our civilian leadership hasn't learned the lessons that our military men and women had to learn through sacrifice and blood.

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