Of combat and peacekeeping

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Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan through 2014

Iryn Tushabe
News Writer

Despite the 2008 parliamentary resolution to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan by July 2011, over 90, 000 military troops are going to be remaining in Afghanistan – in a training capacity – through 2014.

“They will not be active combatants. This is the way the government puts it and, therefore, they say that they are adhering precisely to the parliament resolution of 2008, which was to end our active combat role in 2011,” explained Howard Leeson, a professor in the political science department at the University of Regina.

The American government arrived at the decision after realizing that their military’s mission wasn’t going as smoothly as expected.

“The American government has actually increased the number of troops they have there because the Taliban’s are so strong. And so they asked us, and other NATO governments, to stay longer. The Harper government felt that it couldn’t dishonour the parliamentary resolution, and so it found, in its eyes, this compromise whereby we would stay in – training in and around Kabul, but not in Kandahar which the Americans are taking over,” said Leeson.

Back in 2008, following Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States, Afghan president Hamid Karzai demanded that the newly-elected president put an end to the killing of innocent civilians. He reasoned that a fight against terrorism could not be won with air strikes.

Two years later, innocent Afghans are still being killed during cat-and-mouse hunts for insurgents by foreign troops.

Following the 2001 bombing of the twin towers, Canada has had over 2,500 troops stationed mostly in Kandahar. As of this last December, 158 Canadians had died in Afghanistan, including four civilians: one diplomat, one journalist, and two aid workers.

There was majority support for the original involvement because of what had happened with the United States as well as the fact that the Taliban regime was very repressive for religious reasons.

“Girls were not allowed to go to school. We felt that we were helping to modernize and change reprehensible social arrangements, as well as getting rid of al-Qaida, who were a threat to territories around the world. But we didn’t want this to be an open-ended matter, and there was a general consensus that we should leave at some point. That, at some point, the Afghan people would have to take control of their own affairs and we should leave them to do just that,” Leeson explained.

Leeson said he thinks the majority of Canadians support full withdrawal. “First of all, some Canadians don’t really understand why we are there, you know?  ‘What are we doing there?’ they ask. They think it’s a foreign war. We are getting killed in the middle of nowhere and what is our business there? Let the people of Afghanistan sort it out themselves.”

“I think a second group of Canadians say, ‘look, we’ve done our part.’ It’s been the longest time that Canada has ever been involved in a combat situation, even more than World War I, World War II, more than the Korean War. And we think we should bring our people home. It’s been long enough, and if this government doesn’t have support by now, it’s never going to have support,” he added.

Leeson believes this to be part of a larger political question between Western Liberal democracies and the Islamic world, which is generally, in religious terms, much stricter than what is here.

His personal take on the matter is that Canadian troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“Napoleon Bonaparte, I think has the best saying on this. Two hundred years ago he said, ‘The only thing you can’t do with a bayonet is sit on it.’ In other words, you can’t keep a government in place by force forever, so there has to be some political settlement, which will hopefully take account of all the various factions, so that all of the foreign troops could withdraw,” Leeson said.

“The situation can only change over a long period of time, it seems to me, by different kinds of engagement. That engagement is cultural and social and so Afghanistan in a sense has to move into the world– not by force, but by example.”

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