Afghan military mission ends
OTTAWA—Some people searched their souls while the politicians offered glowing tributes and flags flew at half-staff.
Meanwhile, one survey suggested 42 percent of Canadians were oblivious to the fact their soldiers still were working in a war-scarred land.
A ceremonial flag-lowering at the Canadian embassy in Kabul marked the shuttering of their three-year-old training mission for Afghan security forces.
It followed a five-year combat mission in Kandahar, the traditional Taliban heartland, which ended in the summer of 2011 and where the country suffered its heaviest casualties since the Korean War.
The Canadian death toll in Afghanistan was 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist, and two civilian contractors.
Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan began with the unpublicized arrival of special forces in late 2001.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released yesterday showed widespread Canadian ambivalence about the country’s military legacy from Afghanistan.
Two-thirds said it was too soon to call the decade-plus military involvement a success or failure while only 58 percent realized the Canadian Forces actually had, until yesterday, a continuing military mission there.
Harris-Decima vice-president Megan Tam said Canadians want to reserve judgment until they see whether Afghanistan can make significant progress on its own.
“I’m reminded how impatient we all are. We’re always keen to change the channel and some things take a long time,” said John Manley, the former Liberal cabinet minister who chaired the Conservative-led panel on the way forward in Afghanistan at the height of the Canadian bloodshed in 2008.
“Taking on the renovation of a country like Afghanistan, that’s about as long-term a project as you could find.”
Polls such as yesterday’s paint a complicated world in black and white, Manley added.
“Is it a success? Yeah. Is it a failure? Yeah.
“Will we know soon? No.”
The poll also found that in the future, 74 percent favoured Canada taking part in peacekeeping missions, rather than “military engagement.”
“Who wouldn’t prefer that?” said Manley. “Too bad we don’t live in a world where every military operation was peacekeeping.
“We are among the most privileged countries on Earth,” he added. “And with great privilege comes great responsibility.
“Sometimes you just have to do the jobs that you don’t really want to do because that’s your responsibility.”
Fen Hampson, director of the global security at Waterloo, Ont.’s Centre for International Governance Innovation, said polls like yesterday’s, and similar recent ones in the United States, reflect the frustration and fatigue of the general public toward the unresolved Afghanistan war and the continuing corruption of the government of Hamid Karzai.
“The poll seems to suggest it’s the mission Canadians want to forget,” he said.
“The other thing we’ve learned about ourselves as a country is that we don’t have the stomach for long, drawn-out, costly engagements,” Hampson added.
“The lesson going forward, and we’ve seen it with our policy toward Syria, is: not again, anytime soon.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper released a written statement that lauded the record number of 40,000 Canadian troops who served in Afghanistan over the years, including those who paid “the ultimate price.”
“The end of the military mission and the lowering of the flag is a significant milestone in the fight against global terror,” the prime minister’s statement said.
“Canada will continue to play an important role in supporting efforts that contribute to building a better future for all Afghans.”
Manley said that’s significant because yesterday’s military milestone “is not really the end of the mission” because Canada will continue with helping build Afghanistan’s governance, institutions, as well as contributing foreign aid.
“We must not forget that the road toward lasting peace in Afghanistan is still long,” echoed NDP defence critic Jack Harris.
“The Canadian government must redouble its development and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Canada can leave a legacy of greater peace, prosperity, and freedom for all Afghans,” he stressed.
Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said the county’s responsibility toward its young veterans also has not ended.
“We, as a country, must take the best possible care of all those who have returned from Afghanistan,” she noted.