A Profile in Courage: Canada Draws Down in Afghanistan

Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

A few weeks ago, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned a gathering of NATO defense ministers that a “rush to the exits” in Afghanistan would put military gains there at risk.

“We are making substantial military progress on the ground…these gains could be threatened if we do not proceed with the transition to Afghan security lead in a deliberate, organized, and coordinated manner.

Even as the United States begins to draw down next month, I assured my fellow ministers that there will be no rush to exits on our part, and we expect the same from our allies.”

Leave aside the broken-record, and patently false, claim of substantial military progress.

Also, please disregard the assertion that there is anything deliberate, organized and coordinated about the game of “whack-a-mole” international forces are playing in their fight against the Taliban.

Why is Sec. Gates questioning the commitment of countries that have stuck by a failed and counterproductive military strategy for almost ten years at enormous risk to citizens in uniform and their families back home?

Many of the coalition members (…looking at you, Tonga) would be at a total loss if they were asked to define the vital strategic interest that had brought them to commit troops to a civil war in a landlocked Central Asian republic.

And in the past, Sec. Gates has suggested that the leaders of any country considering such a mission should have their heads examined.

Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took Gates’ advice and decided it was time for some reflection on the national interests and collective fears that were driving his country’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan. In doing so, Harper realized that there was little to be afraid of except another decade of bloodletting in pursuit of imagined enemies.

This realization has led Canada towards a new approach in Afghanistan which the U.S. would do well to emulate.

Prime Minister Harper marked the taming of the Canadian id on a recent trip to visit the troops in Kandahar:

“This country does not represent a geostrategic risk to the world. It is no longer a source of global terrorism.”

After nearly a decade of war, including five years spent in a bloody struggle for the volatile southern province of Kandahar, Canada is ending its combat role in Afghanistan. The commitment of the Canadian troops should be unquestioned. With 156 troops killed and 1,500 wounded, Canada has the highest per capita casualty rate of any coalition member. Moreover, the Canadians’ focus on training Afghan security forces and sustaining their commitment to development support, while not without problems and limitations, holds out the possibility of long term benefits to the security and well-being of Afghans that whack-a-mole night raids and air strikes clearly do not.

Canada is setting an example for all coalition countries to follow: steadfast commitment to supporting the people of Afghanistan in their struggle for self-determination while at the same time refusing to let the imagined bogeyman of Afghan-born international terrorism force them into a stubborn allegiance to a counterproductive and failed military strategy.

The Canadian example makes the question explicit: What is the United States afraid of?

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