FOULDS: We remain unsure about our feelings on Afghanistan

Was it a war, an effort to stabilize or humanitarian intervention? Was it, at various times, all three?

Alexander The Great, Genghis Khan, Britain, the Soviet Union and a Western coalition led by the United States.

All have led armies into Afghanistan and none have managed to fully conquer the mysterious land.

It could be argued the latter mission — Operation Enduring Freedom, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. — was less a conquest than a retaliatory strike to foment regime change.

Nevertheless, more than a decade after the invasion of Afghanistan, aided by Canadian troops — 158 of whom died on duty, including Kamloops’ Erin Doyle — the question remains: Has it been a success?

With Canada set to pull all its troops out of the country by the end of 2014, the question is becoming more relevant as each day passes.

Nick Gammer teaches foreign policy and international relations at Thompson Rivers University.

Earlier this month, he attended a conference in Indianapolis, at which 14 Canadian scholars submitted papers on the impact of our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan (see story on page A16).

So, has it been a success?

That, Gammer said, depends on how one defines the mission.

Was it a war, an effort to stabilize or humanitarian intervention? Was it, at various times, all three?

Regardless of how one defines the nation’s involvement, Canada lost 158 soldiers during its mission and, to many, it seems to be for naught.

Just four days ago, a suicide bomber killed 45 people and wounded 60 more in an attack in Maimana, in northern Afghanistan.

There were attacks elsewhere the same day, including a Taliban operation in which they buried a bomb near the grave of a man they had killed two weeks earlier.

When that man’s nephews visited his resting place, the bomb exploded, killing one nephew and maiming the other.

Western troops are preparing to leave, carnage continues and the question remains: Was it a success?

From one perspective, Gammer believes it has been successful.

“I think it has been a success in that we have upgraded our ability to intervene more effectively,” he said, noting Canada will be able to more efficiently harmonize civilian and military aspects of future such missions.

It’s interesting to consider public reaction to war.

Veterans of the Second World War returned home as heroes, given ticker-tape parades and honoured with education bills and housing initiatives.

American veterans of the Vietnam War returned home to find much of their country had come to despise their involvement (despite the fact the vast majority were drafted and were forced to serve).

Veterans of Afghanistan?

“Canadians have been oddly quiet about our mission in Afghanistan,” Gammer said. “Canadians haven’t figured out how to react.”

Unless you are part of the fabric of the family and friends of those 158 who died in Afghanistan, it certainly is difficult to find a true reaction to a conflict with which you have no real connection.

In the comfortable cocoon that is Canadian life, the mess that is Afghanistan, the life and death struggle, remains a story that appears ever so less frequently in the newspaper.

The most-honest reaction I have witnessed remains my encounter in May with a trio of elementary kid during a ceremony to add Doyle’s name to the Kamloops Cenotaph.

Isaac Roberge, Nathan Connors and Quinlan Smith had studied Doyle’s life and death in class and all three said they were considering a stint with the cadets — but landing on the battlefield was more than a little troubling, and understandable so.

Quinlan noted his great-grandfather served in the Second World War.

Did he talk about his experiences in battle?

“Not really,” Quinlan said.

“It’s not a pretty thing to talk about.”

It never is.

Christopher Foulds is editor of Kamloops This Week. His email address is here. His blogs can be found here and here. Follow him on Twitter here.

 

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