ON TARGET: War on terror isn’t our soldiers’ strong point

By: Scott Taylor

A YPG soldier affectionately kisses the flag of Kurdistan. The ultimate goal of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting in the Middle East is to establish an independent state.

There has been considerable debate recently as to whether or not Canada is at war with Daesh, and whether or not Canadian trainers in frontline firefights are in combat as defined by the mandate under which they were deployed.

The Colonel Blimp Brigade decries Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as being weak on terrorists for suspending our puny bombing mission, while Liberal Party boosters point out the fact that with more trainers on the ground in Kurdistan, they have actually increased the Canadian contribution to the international coalition to combat Daesh.

The one thing that all pundits emphatically agree upon is the fact that training foreign fighters is something the Canadian military is particularly good at. Even the most hawkish critics of Trudeau’s cessation of combat air sorties concede that our military instructors have a stellar track record in a training capacity.

Unfortunately for all involved, this is simply not true. I may be a little biased in my judgement, but I firmly believe that Canadian soldiers are not among the best in the world, but rather they are the best in the world. That, however, does not alter the fact that they do not have a successful history of training foreign fighters.

For 12 years our soldiers scolded, cajoled and harangued Afghan recruits in the frustratingly futile attempt to turn them into professional soldiers. The Afghan volunteers were largely illiterate teens lured by the promise of a pay cheque that was three times higher than the salary of a teacher in Afghanistan. While they were drawn from Afghanistan’s eight distinct ethnic groups, they were further divided by tribal loyalties within those groups. All were of course Muslims; the majority being Sunni with the exception of the Hazaras who are devout Shiites.

Our soldiers could teach them, via translation into both Dari and Pashtu, to roughly march in step, operate basic assault weapons and conduct simple tactical manoeuvres.

Discipline and motivation were major challenges. Our trainers did not share their recruits religious, cultural or even dietary customs and, of course, other than some basic greetings, could not communicate with them directly. Very few, if any, of the Afghan recruits would have understood the notion of democracy, and even if they did they would have known that the corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzai, the puppet ruler that the West installed, was not a true democracy.

Therefore, the Afghans trained by Canadians were just as likely to desert, defect, smoke hashish or sell weapons and munitions to the Taliban as any of the other Afghan soldiers trained by other NATO contingents.

The fact is, we did not do a good job in Afghanistan, and that means there is no reason to believe we will do any better in Kurdistan. Our soldiers do not share religious, cultural, or dietary customs with Muslim Kurdish fighters, and I’m going to hazard a guess that very few of our soldiers speak any of the seven Kurdish dialects.

Going back to September 1994, the Canadian military took great pride in the fact that our soldiers deployed into Haiti as part of an international attempt to install and secure the presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Canadians continued to train Aristide’s security forces until 2000.

The political winds then began to shift and by 2004, Aristide was forced by the U.S. to abdicate his presidency. Canadian troops were then redeployed to Haiti to dismantle the police force that they’d helped to train in the first place.

Fast forward to 2011 and Canadian soldiers were deployed as part of a U.S.-led initiative to train security forces in Mali. The following March, a defeated and demoralized Malian military staged a coup to depose the democratically elected government. The coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo and his loyal troops were among those trained by the Canadians.

In the wake of the Sanogo coup, Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda operatives took advantage of the chaos to seize a vast tract of northern Mali. It was only through French military intervention in January 2013 that al-Qaeda’s advances in Mali were reversed.

In other words, no matter how excellent our Canadian soldiers may be, the idea of training and equipping foreign fighters without understanding their own personal objectives is often counterproductive in the long run. The Kurds we are training now are intent on establishing an independent Kurdistan, which runs completely counter to Canada’s current stated foreign policy of preserving a unified Iraq.

If we keep lying to ourselves about non-existent past successes, it seems we are destined to keep making the same mistakes. Training young men to kill is not a recipe for peace in complex conflicts.