By Scott Taylor
Last week I attended the two-day annual defence and security tradeshow in Ottawa known as CANSEC.
While this exhibition is a great opportunity for the defence industry to showcase their latest technology to military personnel, it is also a rare venue for media to have casual access to a wide variety of serving soldiers.
During one encounter with a veteran of the 1992 mission to Somalia, this ex-paratrooper lamented the controversial decision to disband the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1995. The Liberal government of the day, under then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, had taken the decision to disband this heretofore elite unit following revelations of violent atrocities in Somalia and the release of a video tape displaying a vulgar hazing ritual at the Airborne Regiment’s home base in Petawawa. The ex-paratrooper did not downplay the seriousness of those incidents, which were dubbed the ‘Somalia Scandal’ in the press, but he felt that by the time Chrétien ordered the regiment disbanded in disgrace, the unit had redeemed itself. He went on to say that because of the focus on the two violent incidents – one involved the execution of a wounded looter, and the other a beating death of an unarmed teenage prisoner – the people have forgotten that the mission was otherwise quite a success. This of course was the standard solitary response at the time.
While the press concerned themselves with these barbaric and shockingly ‘un-Canadian’ acts of violence and the subsequent top level attempts to cover them both up, all the good news stories were left untold. Yes, it is true that during the Canadian deployment to Somalia as part of a U.S. led coalition, there were some schoolhouses built, some food got delivered, and some wells were dug.
However, one cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. The international community abandoned Somalis to their own fate. Not surprisingly, that war torn country plunged back into a failed state awash in violent anarchy.
Despite whatever good our soldiers may have achieved during their brief deployment we cannot deceive ourselves into believing that the Somali mission was in any way successful. It was a huge cock-up that failed miserably.
Which brings us to Canada’s more recent military intervention in Afghanistan as part of another U.S. led coalition. Many soldiers at CANSEC spoke proudly of their deployment to Kandahar. Despite the sacrifice of 158 of their comrades killed in action, another 2000 suffering physical wounds and an untold legion of veterans coping with PTSD, they spoke of the difference they had made in the lives of the Afghan people. Like the Somali veteran, they reflected on the schoolhouses built and the irrigation systems that were dredged in the Kandahar valley. However, Canada ceased combat operations in Afghanistan in 2011, and shut down the subsequent training mission in 2014.
Since our military’s withdrawal the Afghan insurgency has continued unabated. As witnessed by last Wednesday’s massive bomb attack in the centre of Kabul’s heavily protected diplomatic zone – that left over 100 people dead and 400 people wounded – the Taliban can strike anywhere in Afghanistan. Afghan security forces trained and equipped by NATO are no match for the insurgents who currently control over 40% of Afghanistan's territory. The military power vacuum has allowed the dastardly Daesh (aka ISIS) evil-doers to establish a foothold in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.
It is only a matter of time before the Americans will weary of putting fresh lipstick on the corpse of their Afghanistan democracy experiment. Once the U.S. troops withdraw, Afghanistan will plunge back into an impoverished failed state awash in violent anarchy.
In other words, despite any temporary progress made during our soldiers decade long deployment and sacrifice, Afghanistan is a huge cock-up that is failing miserably. We need to admit these failures rather than proclaim them to be unrecognized successes in order that we do not repeat such mistakes on future commitments into foreign conflicts.