Did Canadian soldiers win in Afghanistan? No. Did Canadian soldiers lose in Afghanistan? No.
How can you lose something you were never sent to win? Our military mission to Kandahar was never about winning so it's unfair to gauge our soldiers on that premise. With a total force of 2,500 and, from that, a combat brigade of 1,000 fighting soldiers, we had somewhere between one fifteenth and one thirtieth the number of soldiers required for an effective counterinsurgency force in a province with the area and population of Kandahar.
Don't take my word for it. The ratios are set out in the US Army/Marines 2003 counterinsurgency handbook, FM3-24. Petraeus himself commanded the group that wrote it. Here's what he said when it was unveiled. He described counterinsurgency warfare as the most labour-intensive fighting of them all. He actually used these words - "go big or go home." I kid you not.
We did not go big nor did we go home. Both of those decisions weren't made by anyone holding a rifle in Kandahar but by our political and military leadership from the safety of their resplendent offices in Ottawa. But we sent our troops into the waiting arms of the Talibs for some reason, didn't we? What was it? Do you remember?
The giveaway is in the terms upon which we sent Canadian soldiers to Kandahar. We sent them for a clearly stated term of years. They went in 2005. They were to return in 2009. There was nothing about defeating anybody in that. How could there possibly be such thing a except in the minds and mouths of blowhard politicians?
What was going on in 2005? Actually quite a lot. The Americans had become bogged down in Iraq. They were getting shot at and blown up all over the place. What was supposed to be a 6-month gig at most (see Donald J. Rumsfeld, professional screwup) had America's forces tied down with no idea when they might be able to get out. And with Iraqi oil fields at stake and Iran right next door, the Americans weren't leaving. So, we and the Dutch, the Brits, the Germans, the French, the Italians - hell even a gaggle of Vikings from Denmark - and others stepped in to be America's placeholders in Afghanistan. That's all we were, nothing less, nothing more.
Then some unscrupulous, self-serving political swine - okay, Stephen Harper - thought this warfare thing could play really well at home, maybe give him an easy foil on which to skewer the Libs. And so Steve promised that Canadian soldiers would never "cut and run" from Afghanistan, not while Steve drew breath and a prime ministerial paycheque. No way. We were going to stay for the long haul and then Steve defined that as defeating the Taliban, establishing a truly democratic government in Kabul and bringing the fragrant scent of human and women's rights to the Afghan people. We call that "mission creep" but, in this case, the creep included our top elected official. Why Steve even had that Karzai guy swing by Ottawa for dinner and a terrific photo op. Yippee.
Slimy Steve drew a line in the sand, putting the mission extension to a vote and the Libs folded their hand and did his bidding. It was not the LPC's finest moment.
Steve milked Afghanistan and the blood our soldiers spilled for it until he started to sense that the winds had changed. As far as Steve and Afghanistan were concerned it was in like a lion, out like a lamb. Suddenly cutting and running seemed like just the ticket for Stephen Harper. This time the IgLibs, short of anything else to justify their existence, pushed a post-combat training mission to keep Canadian soldiers in harm's way in Afghanistan. Harper couldn't have been happier.
But this isn't about Harper and Ignatieff and their bottomless cupidity, this is about those men and women they sent to Afghanistan for no conceivable good purpose. This is about those veterans and the wounded and the dead and whether their service and sacrifice should be tossed about in the Canadian media like some sporting event. The simple answer is that it insults them to debate whether they won or lost in Afghanistan. They did what they were ordered to do and to the extent their political and military masters in Ottawa made it possible for them to do it.
If this war was even capable of being lost, that rests at the feet of Stephen J. Harper. He was the guy who hyped the notion of us winning while not providing the resources of soldiers and equipment needed to do that. The thing is, even as Steve was boasting about how he'd never cut and run, he did just that - not to Afghanistan, only to our soldiers in the field. Steve moved the goal posts but Steve never scored. The only loser is Steve.