Canada’s role in Afghanistan, along with the government’s overarching policy objectives in the Global War on Terrorism, have both become prominent political issues in recent months. As always, healthy policy debate is the hallmark of a strong and resilient democracy. However, much of the commentary criticising Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan misconstrues some important elements.
First and foremost, Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan stems from a policy of ensuring that Afghan soil no longer remains a viable territory upon which al Qaeda and those seeking to export terrorism can build their structural roots. While al Qaeda’s host, the fundamentalist Taliban regime, was a threat to many of its own people in the decade it controlled the country, it took the terrorist attacks of 2001 for the world to understand the clear and present international danger emanating from Afghanistan. In the weeks and months following 9/11, Canada and her allies met that challenge head-on.
Today, Canadian soldiers once again find themselves on the frontline. While almost all of Afghanistan is well on its way to political, economic, and social recovery, a renewed battle rages in the South of the country. This conflict pits international and Afghan forces dedicated to the continued reconstructive stability of the country against a revisionist bloc espousing a return to the decades of fractious and brutal terror. The stakes are exceedingly high. Not only Afghan security, but our own as well, rests in the balance. As a result, two complementary lessons are being borne out from the Afghan front with strategic implications for both waging and combating international terrorism.
For al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other international terrorist organizations, the lesson is one of historical precedents. In al Qaeda’s many jihadic declarations, the “false courage” of Western countries is repeatedly highlighted. Pointing to Western withdrawals in places like Lebanon, Yemen, and Somalia, the lesson for al Qaeda and its associates is that coordinated acts of terrorism can produce monumental foreign policy reversals in Western states. The tactic continues to be employed to uncertain ends in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, The Philippines, Jordan, and in countless other areas around the globe. A revisionist victory in Afghanistan will teach our enemies the lesson that these tactics will continue to bear fruit for them in other parts of the world.
For Canada and her allies, the lesson is thus one of patient resilience in facing a compounding threat. A renewed al Qaeda foothold in Afghanistan strengthens the organization’s ability to attack Canadians domestically and internationally. That the terrorist organization wishes to continue to carry out acts of mass terrorism against Canadians and their allies should be taken as a given; they concede as much in their near-monthly communiqués and have done so repeatedly since, and long before, September 2001. In response, Canadian citizens should expect their government to dispatch all diplomatic and military means to confront the threat leaching from Afghanistan. To do otherwise invites considerable insecurity.
Simply put, the outcome of this war will impact much more than the reconstructive stabilization of Afghanistan. Our long-term security interest, at home and abroad, are ultimately at stake.