Eleven years is a long time. My son was born just a few months after the war started. As long has he’s been alive, his country has been at war in Afghanistan.
I asked him what he thought about that fact. He just shrugged and said “I didn’t know we were still at war.”
Since the Harper government put Canadian troops in the “non-combat role” of training Afghan security forces, many Canadians, my son included, have the false impression that our armed forces are no longer part of the NATO-led Afghanistan war.
But Canadian forces are still in Afghanistan. Why?
At first, the primary justification for the war seemed to be bringing the 9/11 terrorists to justice. Some terrorists may have been captured along with some folks who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, there has been very little in the way of justice – torture, detention without trial, a military tribunal for a child soldier, assassination of the terrorist in chief and assassination through drone strikes of others (along with a few weddings, funerals, soccer games and other gatherings) – but justice? No, there is no longer any mention of bringing terrorists operating out of Afghanistan or Pakistan to justice.
Once troops had spent a few years on the ground, we were then told that our soldiers were there to build democratic institutions to replace the Taliban authoritarianism. Afghanistan’s government is now widely recognized as corrupt and undemocratic (much like the former Taliban government that we kicked out).
We were also told that our soldiers were fighting to liberate Afghan women and girls. But it turns out that the warlords we put in power are every bit as misogynistic as the Taliban they’ve replaced.
On a few occasions, we were told that the NATO mission was to foster economic development, encouraging Afghan farmers to grow crops other than the opium that feeds the world heroin trade. But opium production is now much higher than it ever was under the Taliban.
The Harper government has also told us that our soldiers have been fighting to deny terrorists a safe haven, but as Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces have moved across the porous border to mountainous regions of Pakistan, and as deadly air strikes turn villagers against NATO forces, we seem to creating more havens for terrorism, not less.
So now Canadian troops are in a low-key training role. The Harper government’s strategy seems to be to say as little as possible about the Afghan war, hoping that people won’t realize that, eleven years on, our soldiers remain bogged down in an unwinnable conflict. But as far as I can tell, the official reason Canadian troops are still there is that Afghanistan needs our experts to train its security forces to avoid chaos when NATO leaves in 2014.
In other words, Canadian troops are in Afghanistan to help train the security forces of a corrupt undemocratic misogynistic NATO-installed government of warlords because that government is too fragile to keep the country, which is already in the midst of a civil war of NATO’s making, from descending into complete chaos. And why, after all of NATO’s failures, should we expect success in this, its latest (and hopefully final) mission?
Isn’t 11 years of war enough? How many more deaths and injuries to must be added to the tens of thousands soldiers, insurgents and civilians that have already been killed and maimed?
David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. He is the author of Con U Inc.: Privatization, Marketization and Globalization at Concordia University (and Beyond) (Concordia Student Union, 2001) and the historical novel, North of 9/11 (Cumulus Press, 2006). Follow him on twitter @dbernans.