A particularly malevolent creature has attacked me claiming that I don't "support the troops" in Afghanistan. This vermin equates my criticisms of the "War on Terror" with my regard for Canada's forces, at home and abroad.
I do support Canada's forces whether in the Middle East, at sea on the Atlantic or in the skies over Cold Lake. I come from a military family and am a former serviceman myself. That said, I know there is nothing contradictory in the warrior-pacifist. Real soldiers of the kind this country and our allies have counted on in their darkest moments utterly abhor war and only begrudgingly accept that it is sometimes, but only sometimes necessary.
There are those who pound their chests and bang their drums when our soldiers take the field. These types inevitably make loud noises but they're always at a safe distance when they do it. Their bravery is hollow and vicarious and phony. It is they who find nobility in the squalor and morbidity of high-tech slaughter. I don't. I see nothing lofty or noble in a 120 mm. tank round smashing into a mud hut or a thousand-pound high explosive aerial bomb detonating in a residential compound. Those things are merely gunnery and nothing more. That's not fighting, just range shooting when there is no tank firing back, no fighter defending the target.
I support our troops but I loathe what we've done to them and what we've asked of them. In truth, we have betrayed them which is, of itself, a very time-honoured tradition.
I am not naive about the nature of warfare. Clausewitz described war as an extension of politics, a means to achieve political goals when diplomatic measures have failed. Almost all wars incorporate political dimensions. That said, there is a vital distinction between wars fought to achieve political objectives of the state and wars exploited to benefit the political fortunes of individuals. The War on Terror, in all its manifestations, falls squarely in the second category which undermines its legitimacy.
Let's be honest. Canada went into Afghanistan in order not to go into Iraq. We went into Afghanistan to appease Washington and to stand with some of our NATO allies, most of whom also went to Afghanistan to mollify the Bush regime. That was the political dimension of Ottawa's war plan.
The Commander in Chief of the Global War Without End on Terror, George w. BushCheney conducted America's war to advance his political fortunes, not the political objectives of the United States. The war, after all, was an armed response to the attacks on America by extremists on 9/11. That framed America's political objectives of the war: get bin Laden, crush al-Qaeda. BushCheney manipulated the tragic opportunity in order to serve their personal political interests at the expense of their nation's. BushCheney all but abandoned America's "just war" in order to pursue their own interests in a decidedly unjust war, an illegal war, a war of aggression against the oil rich nation of Iraq. It was because it was unjust and illegal that the regime had to doctor intelligence and contrive patently false justifications for their criminal acts.
The element of contrivance extends throughout the War on Terror. It is a powerful element in the "mission" in Afghanistan today. What is contrived about Afghanistan? Just about everything when you examine it closely.
Our effort at counterinsurgency warfare is pure contrivance. We stand in a country several times larger than Iraq facing a terrorist movement, a nationalist insurgency, a broad criminal subculture shackled firmly to a central government by a fundamentalist warlord-driven power structure and we dump the problem on a grotesquely understrength force. In that lies the nub of the betrayal of our armed forces. Sending a minuscule force of Canadian soldiers to Kandahar into the jaws of these circumstances is beyond anything we have any right to ask of them. Supporting this mission is not supporting the troops but the very opposite.
The best military minds on counterinsurgency warfare have a prescribed ratio of counterinsurgents to populace of about 1:25. That is one properly trained, properly equipped and properly led infantryman for every 25 civilians. In Kandahar province that would mean a minimum force of 25,000 and up to 50,000 combat troops contrasted with the 1,000-strong combat group we actually have deployed. That is a betrayal of our fine soldiers.
Canada ought not to have committed our forces to Kandahar at all without ensuring they would be adequate in numbers to meet the tasks given them. That would have necessitated an effort similar to the force we mustered during the Korean War.
Why the need for so many troops? They're needed in order to wrest control of the countryside from the insurgents. The civilians must be protected from the terrorists and the insurgents (and the corrupt Afghan security services to boot) if we're to have any hope of winning the "hearts and minds" of the people. If we're not in their villages at night when the Taliban come calling, how do we expect them to resist the insurgents? Instead we play directly into their hands.
It's a now all-too-common scenario. A friendly patrol is brought under fire from a village or compound. The insurgents have infiltrated the villagers' homes because there was no force present to stop them. We identify the source of the hostile fire and then call in airstrikes or artillery or tank fire to destroy the enemy. If we're lucky we kill some or most of the enemy but often cause civilian casualties at the same time. If we're not so lucky we may just kill a lot of civilians and miss the bad guys all together.
The civilians see themselves as beset by both sides but they lay the blame for the dead on the side that actually killed them and that's often us. They're not interested in our justifications for the death of their family members. They're not interested in how we rationalize that it's all the insurgents' fault. We did the killing and their tribal codes demand the deaths be avenged.
Our comedians masquerading as generals puff themselves up and berate the insurgents as cowards for exploiting the civilians but there's plenty of cowardice lying at the feet of these generals themselves. These careerists are too cowardly to stand up and defend their troops by lambasting their equally cowardly political bosses for putting these soldiers in such an awful, understrength position in the first place.
These young men and women honour us and our country by their commitment and sacrifice and perseverence. We repay them by saddling them with a mission they cannot hope to achieve. So far our casualty rates have been low enough that morale hasn't collapsed and yet I recently heard the early grumbling from one veteran, a tanker. Just because we're not American, don't get lulled into thinking our soldiers will take anything thrown at them.
Let's get something straight. You don't support the troops with magnetic plastic decals stuck to your trunk lid. You don't support the troops by blindly backing the "mission." You support the troops by doing what almost no one is doing today - by standing up for them and demanding that our political leaders and our military leaders either give them what they need to meet the challenges we've imposed on them or else get them out of there.
This is not a partisan issue. Conservative or Liberal, it makes no matter. We all owe it to these young people to support them and we owe that above and regardless of our political affiliations.