By Scott Taylor
For some time now, I have been suggesting a full-scale parliamentary inquiry into how Canada got involved in the failed mission in Afghanistan.
The British were brave enough to conduct such a reflective exercise on their joint venture, along with the U.S., to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The British inquiry laid blame squarely on the shoulders of former Prime Minister Tony Blair for helping former U.S. President George Bush convince their respective citizens that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and they were simply invading a sovereign state as an act of self defence.
Saddam did not possess WMD’s and for the past fifteen years the Iraqi people have been subjected to an orgy of violence, anarchy and inter-factional civil strife as a result of that lie.
While no punishment or war crime charges were ever leveled against Blair or Bush, at least the Brits had the guts to probe their own guilt.
For our part, Canada spent the better part of twelve years in Afghanistan as a part of the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). By the time the first Canadian combat boots were officially on the ground in 2002, the Taliban had been declared defeated and the mission was sold to Canadians as an effort to transition and rebuild Afghanistan into a thriving democracy.
The original timeline was to have the ISAF Commanders hand off their authority to a self-sufficient Afghan security force in 2005.
By the time we withdrew the last of our soldiers in 2014, Canada had lost 158 soldiers and 7 civilians killed, over 2,000 soldiers physically wounded or injured, untold thousands more of our warriors scarred by the invisible wounds of PTSD, and at a cost to Canadian taxpayers which is expected to top $22 billion, once we factor in the long-term care and treatment of our veterans.
So how could Canadian planners have gotten things so wrong?
A partial clue to this question was revealed recently in an article published in the October 22 edition of The Hill Times. In that article, former Conservative Member of Parliament Chris Alexander bemoaned the 2011 decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to – in Alexander’s words – “cut and run” from the Afghanistan mission.
In his interview with Hill Times, Alexander said that Harper’s decision to withdraw our troops made him “consider resigning as Parliamentary Secretary for National Defence and even as a Member of Parliament.”
In the end, Alexander’s ambition overcame his thoughts of resignation. He towed the party line of winding down the Afghan mission during his successful re-election in 2011 and then was ultimately retired from politics by the electorate in the 2015 campaign.
However, what remains to be probed is Alexander’s utter failure to gauge the situation in Afghanistan when he served there, first as Canada’s Ambassador from 2003-2005 and then as a deputy special representative for the UN Secretary General from 2005-2009.
Those were crucial years, particularly 2005 when Ambassador Alexander helped negotiate the redeployment of our battle group from the relatively quiet Kabul sector to the insurgent hotbed of Kandahar.
Alexander was young – Canada’s youngest Ambassador ever – ambitious, and as history clearly shows, naïve and well out of his depth. During his tenure in Afghanistan in both of his official capacities, Alexander would tell any journalist who would listen that the Afghan mission was on the verge of success… one schoolhouse being built away from victory… stay the course… more money… more time… more soldier’s lives.
During a reporting trip to Kabul in 2007 Alexander told me that I had wasted my time interviewing the notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum because he was irrelevant in the new democratic Afghanistan. For the record, Dostum is currently still serving as that country’s Vice-President.
As for the present state of affairs in Afghanistan, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued yet another damning assessment last week. At present it is estimated that U.S. assisted Afghan security forces control just 55% of Afghanistan’s districts – that is 16% less than one year ago.
Violence levels are at the highest since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Despite spending over $1.5 million a day – every day – since 2002 to eradicate the illegal drug trade, production and sale of opium is up 400% since this effort began sixteen years ago.
Even the U.S. top Commander in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller – who narrowly avoided a brazen suicide attack last month in Kandahar – now admits there will be no military victory in this campaign.
In other words, things in Afghanistan have only gotten worse since Harper “cut and ran” in 2014. Yet Alexander still thinks we should be in that quagmire – mired in a futile intervention propping up the warlords that he himself declared irrelevant ten years ago.
Alexander’s continued failure to grasp even the basics about Afghanistan, and willingness to continue to commit resources to a failed cause is exactly why we need his role – and that of other Canadian planners at the time – to be thoroughly investigated.
Our soldiers’ valiant sacrifice in a hopeless cause deserves no less.