The trouble with a war like the one that's been fought for the past decade in Afghanistan is that there are so few, if any, clear cut "winners" or "losers." Over the span of so many years things are bound to change, can't be helped. That includes objectives, the goalposts you set up before the opening kickoff.
Back in 2001 there was a reason for initiative a certain type of war in Afghanistan. To the best of my memory the reason was to sweep aside a Taliban government that was giving shelter to al Qaeda so we could get our hands on (i.e. kill) the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks and especially one Osama bin Laden. One dead lanky corpse seemed to be what the whole thing was all about.
America came pretty close to scoring on that drive, close but no cigar. They toppled the Taliban regime and drove the al Qaeda management into the hills. For a while they even had bin Laden himself holed up in a cave in Tora Bora, ready for the plucking. But they took their eyes off the ball and the kick went wide - no score. The most powerful military force in the history of the world, led by among the most inept political masters, wasn't able to winkle out one evil bugger from a cave. That is one for the books, it truly is.
Then Georgie's attention deficit disorder kicked in and he decided to move on to the sands of Mesopotamia. The American units bin Laden had to fear most were ordered to pack up their gear and move on. They weren't going to be gone long - the whole thing would be wrapped up in 60-days, 90 at the outside. They had that directly from the most incompetent political leadership America has endured for well more than a century.
In marching on Baghdad, the Bushies figured that America's NATO allies could hold the fort in Afghanistan, babysit if you like, until US forces returned. So we grabbed our rifles and mini-jeeps (remember the Itlis?) and protected Kabul and Karzai.
When it became obvious that Iraq wasn't going the way the Bushies had stupidly expected we got our arms twisted to do some real soldiering. We were going to take on responsibility for Kandahar province. Now safely-retired ex-general Ricky Hillier sized up that mission and figured we could tame Kandahar with a force of just 2,500 soldiers. Of that total, about a thousand would be actual fighting troops. That Ricky was no brighter than the Bushies was apparent when he swaggered up to the microphones and announced that Canadian soldiers were going to Kandahar to "kill scumbags" that he numbered at "a few dozen."
There you have it. A. a few dozen. B. scumbags. The question then becomes, have we actually killed a few dozen scumbags? And the answer is a resounding "yes." We've killed lots and lots and lots of dozens of scumbags in Kandahar. By Hillier's own definition, we won our war in Afghanistan way back, certainly by 2006 latest.
So why didn't we count the feet, divide by two, and say "mission accomplished" back in 2006 and then split for home? Well that's because of something called "mission creep." That is when you begin expanding a military operation, changing your initial objectives. Ever so quietly we got into things like nation building (even if only in a ridiculously half-assed way) and making Afghanistan safe for democracy. Who can forget Harper getting up on his hind legs and puffing up his chest about saving Afghanistan and seeing the job through, never cutting and running?
In other words, we weren't content with having won our Afghan War. We had to keep moving the goalposts until we had made any chance of ever achieving the objective completely impossible.
For the record, are you aware that in "The Unexpected War" the authors say that Hillier pushed hard for the combat role in Kandahar, but in his own book "A Soldier First" Hillier apparently hides his complicity with some mutterings about how the politicians are responsible for final choices and etc.?
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