Afghanistan: terrible news, muddled message



081114_afghanistanWith all the uproar on Parliament Hill, Friday’s terrible news of three more Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan is taking more time than it should to sink in, even though these latest fatalities push the death toll of Canadian troops to the black milestone of 100.

I would feel ashamed of myself if I didn’t for a few minutes clear my desk, and my mind, of thoughts of coalition and prorogation, and try to add some context to the news from Kandahar.

On Nov. 26, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, acting in his capacity as chairman of the cabinet committee on Afghanistan, delivered what was at best a confused message when the government tabled its second quarterly report on Afghanistan.

Day admitted that the security situation had “deteriorated” and yet insisted Canada was “on track” to meet its “policy objectives in Afghanistan.” How can we be on track if things are getting worse? I asked Day to explain, and he suggested the deterioration in the last quarter was merely a matter of the “summer fighting season.”

But no reputable account of the situation in Afghanistan holds that what’s happening amounts to mere seasonal fluctuations in violence. The quarterly report Day released tells us, in its first paragraph: “Numbers of insurgent incidents, and casualty rates among civilians and soldiers, reached levels higher than in any year since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.”

The government tried to report on the rising violence and at the same time inject a falsely upbeat tone. No easy task. The quarterly report, titled “Canada’s Engagement in Afghanistan, September 2008,” offers this perplexing sentence: “Despite these unprecedented levels of insurgent violence, Canada strengthened its engagement in Afghanistan during the quarter.”

Why “despite”? How about “because of”? After all, if we’re really in Kandahar to make progress, surely worsening violence from the insurgents demands a stronger reaction.

Our strengthened engagement reportedly came in the form of training more Afghan troops, while restoring a dam, building or fixing up 50 schools, and providing polio vaccinations.

That’s all fine. But the very next page of the report tells us that the Taliban is “demonstrating improved tactical leadership and in some cases mounting larger and more complex attacks.” As well, the insurgents now enjoy “complete or nearly complete freedom of movement” in much of Kandahar.

What do we make of this muddled message? I suggest this charitable conclusion: Canada might be inching forward on specific aims, but the broader situation is growing more dangerous and discouraging.

Canadian are mourning three more soldiers. It would be foolish to take solace from news about building schools and vaccinating kids, if the real story is about the bad guys moving freely, gaining sophistication, killing more.

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Afghanistan: terrible news, muddled message

  1. Hey John, didn’t you get the memo? We have more important things to deal with and, apparently, that is the crucifixion of Stephane Dion.

  2. Not that this well ever happen but I wish Canada, or maybe a coalition of countries, would establish a Colonial Office. It seems to me there are at least two missions over there, defeat Taliban militarily and build civic Afghan society, and the our soldiers should only be doing the first one. Building societies takes decades and an entirely different outlook is needed than what our soldiers are trained to do.

  3. Colonial office?!?!?!?!?!

  4. Yes, Boudica. But it’s a chicken/egg kinda thing. Which should come first ?

    – Colonial Office.
    – East India Company.

    Then we could relive Flashman and The Great Game.

  5. I am so thankful that Stephen Harper is putting an end to this Liberal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2011.

    What was the neo-con Chretien thinking? Maybe when the Taliban eradicates opium production again we won’t need that public heroin injection site. Come to think of it, it is exceedingly difficult to decouple the left’s brand new balls-on pro-heroin policies with the new widespread availability of heroin that our Canadian occupation has resulted in. It is also exceedingly difficult to ignore that Afghanistan was invaded immediately after eradicating heroin production.

    The lefties don’t know it, but by encouraging heroin consumption they are helping Bush &Co. advance their agenda.

  6. Sisyphus: “Then we could relive Flashman and The Great Game.”

    We already have Count Ignatieff! Now we just need Rani Lakshmi Bai.

  7. It seems to me there’s any easier way to reconcile the optimism of the report with the facts: accept and expect that this government is being deliberately misleading. That has the benefit of consistency.

  8. It’s a dangerous thing to confuse moral clarity with operational difficulty.

    I realize that the historical record ends at the date of the last Liberal leadership convention, but it wasn’t that long ago when folks actually bothered to recall why we went to Afghanistan.

    You see, there was this group called the “Taleban”, who in addition to bringing the most brutal form of Islamic fascist dictatorship to its people (complete with regular soccer field shootings for the heinous act of girls having boyfriends), they had an open alliance with this other group called “Al Qaida”, which alliance supported and allowed a series of, what called “terrorist training camps) [ed. note terrorist is now out of fashion with the left, now replaced with, “insurgent” or by some on the left “activists”],

    which alliance-training camps directly spawned, corrodinated, trained and generally facilitated the worst attack against civilians in North American history.

    Back in the old days, it was generally accepted with absolute moral certainty that this group must be removed from power, and never be allowed to regain power in that country again, lest that terroritory again be used as a massive training camp designed for the sole purpose of eliminated infidels (ie. us).

    In another time, the press would have considered the sacrifice of Canadian blood for this cause (in even ten fold greater numbers) a horrible, but absolutely worthy cause.

    But today’s media has pretty much become dominated with far left writers, reporters and editors, as so the moral clarity is gone.

    Instead operational difficulty replaces moral clarity. The enemy knows this. They know they cannot win this war. But they know they can make things difficult. They know the allies can win hundreds of battles in overwhelming fashion, but that a single bomb which injures or kills a single soldier will fill the headlines, reported round the clock as another “grim milestone.”

    Perhaps before the next “grim milestone” reported as a completely senseless death, is reported,

    the “grim milestone” of almost 3000 completely innocent lives is also recognized.

    Perhaps, but not likely. More news outlets will have to enter junk bond status a la NYT’s before that will happen.

  9. That’s too long, Kody/Biff. You need to keep it short ‘n peppy. Don’t me tattle on you to Conservative Central.

  10. John – where was ‘the media’? Where were the editors?

    We had an election and Afghanistan was hardly mentioned. Perhaps it was less interesting than all the gaffes. Perhaps because the positions of the parties weren’t too different, it wasn’t too interesting.

    How could the media, the politicians, and the Canadian public go through a ‘boring’ election and yet nobody seemed to demand a serious discussion about this? Only an occassional story seemed to show up.

    No matter which side of the debate you are on – and there are very good reasons to be on either – I cannot believe we did not force our political leaders to have a real discussion about what the righ path forward is both for Canada and Afghanistan. I am disheartened.

  11. Surely Day’s single greatest contribution to the country was the day he taught Kenney how to puff up big and tall, nose in the air, on tippy-toe. That canadians could get anything more than ideology from Day is not even worth thinking on.
    As for Afghanistan, Harper made it his war; he own’s it now. No matter what sanitized feed he tries to give it the whole fiasco has been ‘”Afghanisnam” from day one and yes, it is Harper’s fault.

  12. Good riddence.

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