Thursday, March 09, 2006

Whether you like it or not, our presence in Afghanistan is fully justified.

Recent articles suggesting Canada should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan are disingenuously false at worst and rudely uninformed at best. Coming from a variety of sources arguments range from It's not peacekeeping, to We shouldn't be in Bush's illegal war, to We are the aggressors.

It's not peacekeeping: That is absolutely correct. It was never intended to be peacekeeping and no one with the authority to speak to this or previous deployments ever called it that. This is a military mission under NATO command with UN approval. It's time Canadians drop the "peacekeeping" facade. That is not and never has been the primary role of the Canadian Forces. Despite what people may think, Lester B. Pearson never intended that peacekeeping would be conducted by anything less than a fully combat capable warfighting force.1 In this situation the troops in Afghanistan are deployed to provide armed security for Afghanistan; search for and capture or destroy members of the Taliban and al Qaeda; and provide force protection for reconstruction teams.

We shouldn't be in Bush's illegal war: Wrong. It is not Bush's war. In fact, it's not the United States' war. It is NATO's war and that makes it Canada's war. It should be clearly noted that the UN approved NATO's response in Security Council Resolution 1368. Too many people believe the US invasion of Iraq is the same action as Afghanistan, and that is simply not the case. Whatever George Bush or his administration say in attempts at linking the two in the Global War on Terrorism, the actions are distinct and separate in the eyes of every other participating country and NATO, and particularly the UN.

We are the aggressors: Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, the invasion of Afghanistan came about as a direct result of the 11 September 2001 attacks by al Qaeda on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. The evidence against the perpetrators of the attack was overwhelmingly clear particularly in light of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden taking direct credit. The Taliban government of Afghanistan was given ample opportunity to turn over Osama and his followers. They were also informed that failure to comply with orders to turn over al Qaeda would result in overwhelming military action and the removal of the Taliban regime. The Taliban refused to comply and continued to provide safe haven to Osama bin Laden resulting in a combined force of nations taking military action. Despite what some people choose to believe, there was nothing pre-emptory about the Afghanistan campaign. The attack on and the invasion of Afghanistan was an act of self-defence. To suggest that Canada is an aggressor in that campaign, which has not yet ended, is to suggest that Canada was an aggressor when in World War II we invaded Italy and later, Germany. Such a suggestion also insinuates, by blaming the victim, that the attack by al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was somehow justified.


Canada was the first country to respond to the US call for support in more ways than one. Aside from opening our airspace and airports to all incoming US air traffic on 11 Sept. 2001, the military response was immediate. The Canadian navy ordered all ships at sea to a heightened state of combat readiness and reassigned a ship preparing to join the Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) to "future employment" while maintaining a state of high readiness. A destroyer, a frigate and a supply ship were brought to immediate notice to sail to any US port from Halifax.

On 12 Sept. 2001, NATO, for the first time in history, invoked article 5 of the Washington Treaty stating that the attacks on the United States constituted an attack on all member nations. Alliance aircraft and ships were issued orders in response and SNFL, with its Canadian contingent, proceeded to a new operating area as a naval task group at war. On the same day the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 1368 which reaffirmed UN Charter article 51 providing the right of a nation attacked to collective and individual self-defence. On 4 Oct. 2001, NATO secretary general Lord Robertson re-stated Article 5 after having received unanimous support from the members of the North Atlantic Council, including Canada.

On 7 Oct. 2001, Prime Minister Jean Chretien committed the Canadian Armed Forces to an international force to combat terrorism, including the removal of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Warning orders were issued to several CAF units. HMCS Halifax was withdrawn from UN enforcement in the Persian Gulf and reassigned to Task Force 151, making it the first non-US combat unit assigned to the Afghan campaign. On 17 Oct. 2001, a destroyer, a frigate and an operational support ship sailed for Afghan operations. Two more ships were soon deployed. Canada was still the only active participant in multinational operations until other nations sent units near the end of October.

In Nov. 2001, Canada's JTF2 was operationally active on the ground in Afghanistan. Canada had agreed to send the 1000 member Immediate Reaction Force (Land) in response to a request for a stabilization force. That was adjusted to 750 members and in January the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group (with an armoured reconaissance squadron) was dispatched to Kandahar and within weeks of their arrival was engaged in full combat.

On 20 Dec. 2001, the United Nations Security Council agreed to the NATO constituted and British-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It should be fully understood that ISAF is not a peacekeeping operation. It is a stabilization force intended to provide protection for reconstruction teams and assist the new government of Afghanistan in defending against Taliban resistance. ISAF has full combat capability and has robust rules of engagement (ROE). Unlike the horrible ROE that come with UN Chapter 6 peacekeeping operations, one doesn't have to wait until one of his unit members is killed before shooting back. ISAF has full authority to gather intelligence, seek out the enemy and conduct combat patrols. Canada shifted from Kandahar to Kabul and ISAF in August 2003 and have had troop levels of up to 1,900 since then.

Where there has been a gap in Canadian troops committed to Afghanistan it has not been because Canada had changed its resolve. Troop reductions had more to do with the fact that our armed forces no longer have the ability to maintain sustained operations indefinitely. The committment to see the transformation of Afghanistan into a full member of the world community and not a haven for terrorists has never changed.

The latest deployment comes at the request of NATO to have Canada command a brigade of multinational troops. It is a part of the initial committment to rid Afghanistan of the terrorist cadre that has occupied it for so long and to reconstitute that country with a government which is able to survive and provide for its own self-defence. Until they are able to do that, and until the necessary reconstruction is completed, Canada is committed. Calls for a parliamentary debate on this particular deployment are little more than political posturing. Those demanding such a debate, Jack Layton in particular, knew full well what this operation involved because it was announced by the previous government and has been planned for over 6 months.

The media, with their sudden faux shock at the fact that Canadian troops are in a shooting war, is little more than sensationalizing at the expense of their readers. The horror they express from their desks at the fact that troops are being wounded and killed belies the fact that all the information about the type of mission and its inherent risks were laid before them long ago.

I would wish that no Canadian is hurt or killed on a mission like this. However, reality is somewhat different. The men and women deployed to Afghanistan are fully aware of the hazards associated with this mission and know they will be fighting. Some will possibly be wounded or killed. Each person only hopes it won't be him or her.

Conflating the Canadian Afghanistan mission with Bush's adventure in Iraq serves only to deflect attention from the facts. I will support anybody who is critical of the current Iraq situation. Afghanistan is a different campaign.

If Canada were to suddenly withdraw because Canadians at home are getting squeamish, those who would have us do that should be aware that Canada would be forever viewed as an unreliable ally; not by the US, but by NATO. Canada relies on collective defence treaties to keep defence affordable. Withdrawl would result in no treaties, no collective defence and a huge price to pay in going it alone.

No matter how comfortable people are inside our borders at the moment, they should realize that the world has become a much more dangerous place, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can stick your head in the sand and just not look at the problem, but you'll probably get your ass shot off.

1. The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson. Volume 2, 1949-1972. by John English

Cross posted to The Torch

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