Do we need to wait until 2011 to bring the troops home from Afghanistan?
New Westminster–Coquitlam MP and NDP defence critic
“We have always said that we need to bring Canadian troops home out of the combat mission from Afghanistan and then rethink what their role should be. There could be other roles for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. We’ve never said that we will abandon the people of Afghanistan. There are ways that we could work to improve the situation and the lives of the people there. If it should end in 2011, why shouldn’t it end sooner?”
Vancouver South MP, former Liberal defence critic, and former B.C. premier
“I think that we all understood that the current mission will come to an end in 2011. But I don’t believe anyone believes that we won’t be in Afghanistan after 2011. I think we will be in—we have a long-term commitment”¦with reconstruction and development. If we are going to be in Afghanistan, if the security situation is not better, don’t let anybody fool you that you’re not going to need military assistance to create security for you to be able to do reconstruction and development.”
Green party candidate for North Vancouver
“Not necessarily, but we can’t just turn around, and say, ”˜Everyone comes home next month.’ It has to be a planned phase-out. There needs also to be a plan for how the needs of Afghanistan and other failed states are going to be addressed by the international community. If that were done, then it might be possible to end this military involvement even sooner. [Our] position is to bring the troops out as soon as practical and to take a comprehensive view of the problems that led us there in the first place.”
Conservative MP for South Surrey–White Rock–Cloverdale
“This is not the kind of thing that you can do on short notice. There are commitments that we’ve made to the other 35 nations that are part of this United Nations–mandated mission. We need the remaining time to complete training the Afghan soldiers and police officers. We have work that needs to be completed, work that we’ve committed to. For example, we’ve committed to building and repairing 50 schools. We can’t just cut and run. We are going to keep our word.”
Former American paratrooper Jules Tindungan proudly wore on his chest his thoughts about war during a peace rally at the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 13. His shirt screamed “War Sucks”.
The 20-year-old California native has such a strong sentiment because he’s seen war firsthand. He fought with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan for 15 months. His unit operated in the provinces of Paktika, Paktya, and Khost, which are north of Kandahar, where Canadian forces are locked in combat with Afghan insurgents.
“What I saw in Afghanistan led me to believe that the motives that were put forward to us by the U.S. government and the U.S. army were a total farce,” Tindungan told the Georgia Straight. “They said we were there to bring democracy to the people. They said we were there to rout terrorism and to prevent terrorism. While I was there, I noticed that we’re pissing off more people than we were winning hearts and minds.”
According to him, Canadian troops aren’t doing any differently. “They’re doing the same exact shit that we were doing in our area of operations,” Tindungan said. “I’ve always thought of Canadians”¦as UN peacekeeper kind of guys.”
Tindungan’s squadron will be redeployed to Iraq in 2009. In June this year, after talking to his Philippines-born parents in California, and like many American soldiers objecting to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he crossed the border to Canada.
What also led to his disillusionment was the planned trans-Afghanistan pipeline that will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India. It was a matter he and his war buddies talked about in the field but which their officers denied as one of the reasons so many foreign troops are in Afghanistan.
“I can’t believe it was all for money,” Tindungan said. “It’s sort of when the ball drops, it’s hard to realize that you were there because they want to build a pipeline. It still shocks me to know that so many men are dying, so many civilians are dying because of the greed of a few rich old men.”
Pipeline construction starts in 2010. In the first week of the federal election campaign, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canadian troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan in 2011.
Energy economist John Foster wrote about the challenges and geopolitical motivations behind the planned Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline in a paper published in June this year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
In a phone interview after landing in Vancouver on September 12 for a scheduled talk about the pipeline, the Ontario-based Foster acknowledged that the need to provide security for this major infrastructure might be used to later extend the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2011.
“I have the same feeling about Iraq,” Foster told the Straight. “If Britain hadn’t gone in [into Iraq], it’s arguable that BP [British Petroleum] and Shell would not be offered contracts which they were.”
Public-policy expert Steven Staples noted that several national media outlets are already preparing their coverage of the Canadian Forces’ 100th Afghanistan death, which could possibly happen during this election campaign. The country has already lost 97 soldiers.
“When we hit that 100th mark, who would have thought that when we went to Afghanistan, initially back in 2002, that casualties would have been so high,” Staples, a founder of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, told the Straight by phone from Ottawa. “We sleepwalked into Kandahar in 2006. At that point we had suffered only eight deaths, four of them at the hands of the Americans. So almost all of these deaths have occurred since 2006, and the prime minister is saying that we’re going to continue with this conflict until 2011. That’s three years from now. In Kandahar, we’re not even halfway through it because we went there in 2006, which was 30 months ago and we have another 40 to go.”
And with each new death, according to Staples, many Canadians pause and ask: is it really worth it?
Canada’s 2011 targets in Afghanistan
> Form four Afghan National Security Forces battalions fully capable of planning, executing, and sustaining near-autonomous operations in Kandahar.
> Eradicate polio in Afghanistan.
> Build a more secure Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
> Create 10,000 jobs with the rehabilitation of the Dahla Dam in Kandahar.
> National, provincial, and local institutions, particularly in Kandahar, will exhibit increased capacity for democratic governance.
> With Canadian help, national and provincial Afghan initiatives will encourage political reconciliation.