By John C. Crosbie

Polling confirms a wide spread Canadian misconception concerning the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Alex Wilner, the intern in security and defence policy at AIMS, has suggested three principal reasons for our active engagement in Afghanistan. First to uphold our Treaty obligations. We are a founding member of NATO and signed its guiding principles. We and our 18 allies in NATO, declared war on the Taliban and al Qaeda when Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty was invoked following the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. NATO states that “an armed attack on one shall be considered an attack on them all”. A call for collective defence resulted in military action taken against Taliban Afghanistan and Canadian soldiers have been at the forefront ever since.

Secondly, our engagement is influenced by the fact that Global terrorist activity can only occur if it first emanates from a territorial safe haven. The present diffuse nature of modern international terrorism, structured by a globalized economy, hi-tech communications, and decentralized leadership, requires physical land upon which to base operational development.  Terrorists who wish to mastermind global acts of indiscriminate violence need a land base to rendezvous, organize, train, equip and plan. 

It was the Taliban’s despotic government that provided al Qaeda with a territorial base to construct the network of training facilities that pumped out thousands of elite terror operatives to bring terror to the United Kingdom, Spain, the United States and other countries with violence planned in the safe haven of Taliban Afghanistan. 

The third reason to be actively engaged in Afghanistan with Canadian soldiers is that they are there to defend our national interest and to protect Canadian citizens. We should not forget that al Qaeda has threatened our country specifically and repeatedly with mass terrorism as bin Laden wrote “In today’s wars, there are no morals…we do not have to differentiate between a military or civilian…they are all targets.” We should not forget the 24 Canadians who died on 9/11 were citizens who were listed alongside our European allies as priority targets. Bin Laden’s deputy, al-Zawahri, has called us a “second-rate crusader” and threatened us with a terrorist “operation” similar to New York, Madrid, London and their sisters”. In other words, we are at war with them and can expect to be attacked by them and must pursue a policy of offensive and defensive preparation. We should be thankful that Canadian soldiers and security personnel are placed at the forefront of the campaign to defend us and our allies.

As Granatstein points out at times one would almost believe that Canadians had never fought a war before, that we had not sustained 60,000 dead in the Great War, 42,000 in World War II, more than 500 in Korea and an additional one hundred in “traditional” peace keeping. A Syrian missile shot down a Canadian Buffalo aircraft on UN service in August 1974 when 9 Canadian service men were killed in peacekeeping.

Naturally we have to be concerned and worried about the dangers that face our men and women oversees but we should understand that the Canadian forces undertake these risks because it may well help us at home. Again as Granatstein explains there is a bargain that soldiers strike with their government, an implicit contract in every military, especially in all-volunteer services such as the Canadian Forces. The soldier who enlists accepts an arrangement of unlimited liability. He recognizes that his commitment to military service requires him to go where his government says and to do what it wants. It demands that he obey the orders of his military superiors, even if those orders put him into a situation where he might be killed or wounded. The soldier’s job, which he willingly accepts, is to do his duty to his comrades and to serve his nation’s interest.

This is not a one-sided bargain since our national government implicitly undertakes not to put our sons and daughters into impossible situations. It pledges to equip them adequately, to train them for the challenges they face and to sustain them in operations with reinforcements of men and material. It promises to care for them in perpetuity if they are wounded, to assist their family members, and to hallow their memory if they are killed.

In reviewing what has happened since the end of World War II it appears that historically service-people have honoured this contract more willingly than Canadian governments have.  There have been years, now past, when our armed forces suffered inadequate training and lacked critically needed equipment. However, the troops now in Afghanistan are highly trained and very professional volunteers and among the best troops we have ever deployed. The government’s side of the bargain in Kandahar seems met.  

The Liberals who accepted the Afghan commitment and the present Conservative Government who have pledged to honour it understand what is at stake. They both believed the benefits to be gained by putting Canadian troops into Kandahar and the Canadian national interest achieved by so doing outweighed the risks. It is up to Ministers and MPs to explain that what our troops are doing in Kandahar matters. We elect our leaders to make the tough judgment calls when they must be made to defend Canada and to share the burdens of democracy with other free nations.

While many soldiers may not be politically sophisticated they understand the basic equation – that they will do Canada’s dirty work and accept the blood and pain but their government and people must back them up. 

A recent documentary on History T.V. showed how well Canadian troops did during the Korean War when the Princess Patricia’s and other Canadian troops fought with great bravery and success in the face of great hardships stopping and holding and then helping roll back the fierce attacks of not only North Korean but Chinese troops with skill and determination.

What we must do is ensure that our governments understand, honour and carry out this bargain soldiers strike with their government.