By Scott Taylor
Back in mid-May, the Department of National Defence blew up a media storm of controversy when they held a private dedication ceremony for what had become known as the Kandahar cenotaph. Three days after the May 13 dedication, DND simply posted up some photos on social media, alerting people to the fact that there had been no media advisory, no media present and most importantly, no inclusion of the families of the fallen.
Naturally enough this sparked outrage, and in the face of the public backlash Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to get to the bottom of this blunder. Ironically, Defence Minister Harjitt Sajjan – who had attended the private ceremony inside DND’s Nortel Campus – was standing behind Trudeau as he made his statement to the media.
While responsibility for this error in judgment would not be much of a mystery, the decision has now been made to hold a dedication ceremony only this time they will invite the families. The plan is now for DND to pay the travel expenses for up to six family members of each of the 161 Canadian soldiers and civilians commemorated on the cenotaph.
The original structure at the NATO airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan had begun as a sort of impromptu tribute to fallen comrades. Regretfully, it continued to grow in size and scope as Canadian casualties steadily mounted. Following the cessation of Canada’s combat role in 2011, the cenotaph was crated up and repatriated to Canada.
Plans were tossed around for a suitable public location in Ottawa, including one proposal to place it at the Navy Reserve facility at Dow’s Lake. Personally, I still think it would be best suited for permanent placement at Beechwood, Canada’s National Military Cemetery.
However, in the end, possibly owing to the inability to get all involved governmental agencies to agree to a single plan – it was decided to place it inside the DND Nortel campus.
This remote site is not central to Ottawa and as a functioning military headquarters, only accessible by military personnel and DND civilians.
Following the clamour raised back in May, arrangements were made to allow the public to set up pre-arranged, escorted visits – which I’m sure is not without its own administrative hurdles.
Commemorating the fallen is a noble and necessary exercise as these were Canada’s brave sons and daughters who went into harm’s way on the orders of the Canadian government.
Beyond simply honouring their sacrifice it is also incumbent upon us as citizens to question whether the price paid was worth the cost. In World War One Canadian soldiers helped defeat the German Kaiser and preserved the British Empire. In the Second World War, Canada and the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Those who fought in Korea successfully kept the south free from communism.
The war in Afghanistan was not a victory. It was Canada’s longest war to date. We ended the combat mission in 2011 and concluded our military training mission in the spring of 2014. However, the war continues to rage in that country and there is no longer even any talk of a possible victory. The Taliban now control more territory than at any point since the U.S. declared them ‘toppled’ back in 2001.
More importantly, the U.S. is now seemingly giving up on the corrupt regime which they installed in Kabul to replace the Taliban. That would be the same corrupt regime that those 161 Canadian names on the Kandahar cenotaph died while attempting to prop up.
In recent peace talks held in Qatar it was announced that the U.S. are close to a deal with the Taliban. The basis for this deal would be the withdrawal of U.S. forces in exchange for a Taliban pledge not to allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for foreign terrorists.
Not included in these talks are either President Ashraf Ghani or his ridiculously titled sidekick, Chief Operating Officer Abdullah Abdullah, the dubious duo that ostensibly rule Afghanistan.
This signals the U.S. is giving up on them and realizes that without U.S. troops in theatre, the Taliban will eventually prevail.
Since this will bring us full circle to the situation back in 2001, how can anyone justify the expenditure of so much blood and gold over the past eighteen years?
If Canada really wanted to honour the fallen, we would conduct a full parliamentary inquiry into how and why we were drawn into a war we could not, and did not win.