Canadians in Kandahar
Thanks to the Bush Administration, I have become fascinated with Afghanistan, an ancient and primative land.
The Canadian military is there in the very dangerous region of Kandahar as part of the NATO, ISAF forces. In spite of my personal pacifist principles, I am supportive of Canada military and civilian efforts on behalf of the Afghanistan government. Their mission is to help the Afghan forces to bring security to that country in the face of an insurgency, banditry and tribal conficts.
The goal is to supply enough stability to allow significant reconstruction and normality in the lives of the people in the Kandahar area.
For the most part, Canadians are proud of our military's efforts in spite of the fact that the majority of Canadian do not think we should be militarily in that far off land. Our government has extended Canada's commitment there until 2011. Recently, Prime Minister Harper confirmed that that year would be a definite end date. (No matter what the conditions are on the ground are ).
Canada has 2500 troops in Afghanistan and has suffered a disproportionately high number of casualities. (nearly 100). This is because they insist of being present and visible among the local people. I give them high marks for this in spite of how painful it is to hear of deaths, see on the news another ramp ceremony in Kandahar seeing the fallen off and high government officials, (often the Prime Minister and/or the Governor General ) being present with the families when the coffins arrive in Tenton Air Base to be transported to Toronto via what is now know as the Highway of Heroes. It is still my conviction that our contribution in blood and treasure can make a difference.
What I do not think the average person understands is that there are two military operations going on in Afghanistan at the same time. The Americans vanquished the Taliban government and helped establish the present government. Their mission continues with an aggressive search for al Qaeda members and their leader Osama Bin Laden.
On the invitation of the Afghanistan government NATO has come to lead the ISAF efforts to strengthen the security and train the security forces within the country. These two military efforts are not always in agreement on how to behave. The former are more militarily muscular with "victory" on their mind. The latter are more restrained with "local stability" through defense, development and diplomacy, as their goal. This came into sharpe relief recently when the head of NATO said the NATO forces will not violate the territory of Pakistan as the American forces are now doing, as per directive of the President of the United States.
I have begun to question whether Canada should continue its military mission in Afghanistan. The situation is changing. the American are increasing their forces in the country as they decrease them in Iraq. The war is heating up. For the American forces this means more air power and bombing on the "enemy". Already this has begun and resulting in many civilian casualites which is counter productive to NATO's effort to bring about local security. (Even the Afghanistan government is outraged at the increase in civilian casualties)
It is clear the American's intend to turn Afghanistan into another Iraq. They also intend to drag the NATO forces into their fight. Canada, and other countries will become a "coalition of the unwilling". The Americans have let it be know they do not like the shared military command of the NATO forces and intend to create a Unified Command in Afghanistan in the New Year. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article4547629.ece The Americans aspire to do what the Russians and British couldn't: be victorious. If fact, ever since Alexander the Great no other nation has managed to occupy Afghanistan. An unlimited war is not a road Canada should go down, particulary when it might involve invading yet another country, Pakistan, another Commonwealth country.
Here are some talking points on the "war" in Afghanistan, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/onthefrontline/article2171912.ece
(click on photo to enlarge)
This valley north of Kanadahar is the site of a major project by the Canadian Military. Canada is spending 50 million dollars to rebuild the Dahl Dam on the Arghandab River and help restore the valley irrigation system. This will become again a center for pomegranate production.
The Canadian military has already built a causeway across the river which ads to the local transportation system.
Here is a source of some pictures of this area and a Canadian soldier's life there.
There are many encouraging efforts by military units doing reconstruction work as needed by the local period. Here is an article about American soldiers doing the kind of work that hold out the promise of eventual peace and civility to Afghanistan.http://www.star-telegram.com/804/story/857047.html
This is what rural Pastun people look like. They are not all like the fierce mujahaden (holy fighters) depicted in the press. The deserve peace and security to carry on with their lives.
This my favourite Afghanistan picture. Think, a 21st Century "Mary and Joseph" returning home after paying their taxes.