[Marxism] FW: How Canada joined the "War on Terror" in Afghanistan (Ottawa Citizen)
rfidler at cyberus.ca
Sat Mar 25 12:48:08 MST 2006
A useful article detailing the trail of deception and the
political motives behind Canada's combat role in Afghanistan. --
>From peacekeepers to Taliban hunters
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, March 25, 2006
By May 16, 2005, Ottawa was bursting with speculation about when
the Conservatives would topple the Liberal government with a
Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay pointed to the corruption
exposed by the Gomery inquiry and demanded Prime Minister Paul
On the same overcast Monday, angry farmers drove tractors onto
Parliament Hill and burned the prime minister in effigy to protest
his agricultural policies.
Away from these domestic concerns, in a Commons committee room,
Defence Minister Bill Graham was breaking the news to select MPs
that Canadian troops were about to be deployed on one of their
most dangerous missions since the Korean War.
Of course Mr. Graham didn't use those terms as he explained
Canada's new Afghanistan mission to the joint Defence and Foreign
But some critics would later allege that in quietly expanding
Canada's role in the war-torn nation, the government altered
radically the country's commitment to Afghanistan. The shift
transformed a NATO-endorsed peace stabilization operation into a
combat mission in support of a dangerous, U.S.-led war to break
the back of Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents and Afghan drug lords.
Mr. Graham, who was joined at the meeting by Canada's Chief of
Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, made brief remarks then told the
committee he'd take "perhaps an extra minute to talk a little bit
Canada had accepted a new mission to the south Asian country, he
explained, describing what he called a "significant new commitment
to Afghanistan and to the international campaign against
The government planned to send 250 soldiers, diplomats, aid
officials and RCMP to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. The
Provincial Reconstruction Team was to leave in August on an
18-month tour to help Afghans rebuild and stabilize the area. The
mandate of a 700-member Canadian reconnaissance unit already in
Kabul on peace support operations would be extended, but only
until the end of the year.
In addition, 1,000 new soldiers were to be sent to Kandahar in
February 2006 on a mission scheduled to last anywhere from nine
months to a year. Back in April 2005, Mr. Graham had hinted of the
commitment in the media. "These forces will conduct operations to
strengthen the security situation in the country," he now
explained to MPs.
There was no mention of combat operations. And while Mr. Graham
discussed the NATO mission in Afghanistan, he did not explain to
MPs that Canada's new role in Kandahar was part of the U.S.
military's controversial Operation Enduring Freedom, which had
been in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.
In fact, several NATO partners had already refused to join the
U.S. operation, blaming its aggressive counter-terrorism tactics
for turning Afghan civilians against international efforts.
There was no discussion of Canada's long-term goals for
Afghanistan, although those details exist in a government strategy
paper that remains secret to this day.
Minutes of the meeting reveal that none of the MPs seemed
concerned about the new mission.
Conservative MP Stockwell Day thanked Mr. Graham for making the
commitment to Afghanistan, noting that his party strongly
supported Canada's ongoing presence there. He then asked about
Liberal plans for the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan.
Bloc Quebecois MP Paul Crete asked about the softwood lumber
dispute between Canada and the U.S.
Gordon O'Connor, the Conservative defence critic and a former
general, mentioned Afghanistan briefly before asking about
Liberals plans to boost the Canadian Forces by 5,000 troops.
NDP defence critic Bill Blaikie asked what the government was
going to do about the diversion of water from a North Dakota lake
into the MP's home province of Manitoba.
In fact, during the two-hour meeting, Afghanistan was discussed
for about five minutes -- and that includes the time Mr. Graham
spent briefing the MPs. There were no detailed questions about the
operation. No one explained why Canada was shifting its military
commitment to the exceedingly dangerous Kandahar province from the
relatively safe city of Kabul.
Ward Elcock, once the country's top spy and now the deputy
minister at National Defence, also accompanied Mr. Graham to the
meeting, but sat in silence. He was not asked nor did he offer
details about the threat posed by Taliban and al-Qaeda in
Kandahar, although he had been briefed extensively on the
Just 10 days before that Commons committee hearing, Taliban
insurgents in Kandahar fought one of their largest battles in
years against U.S. and Afghan forces. Sixty-four Taliban and 10
Afghan soldiers were killed, and one American was wounded.
Gen. Hillier, considered by some to be the chief advocate of
Canada's new role in Afghanistan, answered several questions, but
most concerned the government's recently released international
Nevertheless, blocks away at Defence headquarters, military
officers were preparing not to "strengthen the security
situation," as Mr. Graham was suggesting. They were planning for a
As Mr. Graham made his presentation, the planners were laying the
groundwork to purchase long-range howitzers equipped with "smart"
artillery warheads. The weapons, capable of raining down lethal
and accurate artillery fire, would be key to the Kandahar
operation since they were capable of beating back insurgent
Prepared for War
Ten months after Mr. Graham appeared before the committee, 2,300
Canadians were in Afghanistan, most in and around Kandahar.
Soldiers talked about combat operations and hunting insurgents. At
the same time, they wondered why Canadians didn't seem to
understand the mission in Afghanistan had changed.
Between August 2005 -- the start of the new operation -- and March
2006, four Canadians have been killed and at least 39 injured.
Military officers are now suggesting Canada will be in Afghanistan
much longer than 12 to 18 months, perhaps for the next decade.
Some critics allege the government and military leaders secretly
brought Canada into an unwinnable guerrilla war against a highly
skilled adversary -- the same opponent that beat back the powerful
Soviet army during the 1980s.
Canadians love to think of themselves as the world's trusted
peacekeepers. Only recently have they come to realize their troops
have landed in a long-term war thousands of kilometres from home.
In four short years, and with little debate, Afghanistan become a
critical component of Canada's defence and international policy.
The mission was set in motion Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda
attacked the U.S.
In response to that attack, the Pentagon created Operation
Enduring Freedom, known as OEF in defence circles, and later
expanded to include all missions in the United States' war on
terror. In the months following the 9/11 attacks, Canada
contributed a large number of warships and transport aircraft and
later more than 750 ground troops in support of OEF. Some Canadian
soldiers briefly saw combat before the ground troops returned home
in the summer of 2002. But a year later, the Canadian Forces would
return to Afghanistan, this time under the auspices of the
International Security Assistance Force, a 35-nation military
contingent controlled by NATO and responsible for peace support
and stabilization in the country.
By 2004, the Afghan commitment had cost the Canadian Forces more
than one billion dollars and seven lives, four of them lost in
April 2002 when a U.S. pilot bombed Canadians by mistake.
The fall of 2004 was seen by some defence analysts as a pivotal
time for Afghanistan. President George W. Bush's administration
was pressuring NATO to play a bigger role in the country.
Bogged down in Iraq and facing a growing and highly effective
insurgency, the U.S. military was burdened by the full weight of
conducting combat operations on two fronts. There were more than
150,000 troops in Iraq and 19,000 in Afghanistan. Pentagon
planners had calculated if NATO countries took over some
operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan, 3,000 U.S.
soldiers could be brought home or reassigned to Iraq.
Within NATO there was overall agreement that the alliance had to
play a bigger role, yet there were divisions over what that role
should be. Germany and France wanted NATO to continue the peace
support mission under way in parts of the country. Officials from
those countries feared Americans in Afghanistan were waging an
aggressive counter-insurgency campaign under the auspices of
Operation Enduring Freedom. The diplomats worried
search-and-destroy operations and air strikes were killing
innocent people and turning Afghans against the armies that had
come to help. Even Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded with the
Americans to ease back.
NATO was using Provincial Reconstruction Teams to expand its
presence outside the Afghan capital of Kabul. The PRTs teams were
made up of diplomatic, aid and military personnel who focused on
rebuilding schools, drilling wells, delivering humanitarian
supplies, training police and providing security.
Canada, which already had troops assigned to ISAF in Kabul,
readily agreed to contribute a PRT and, on Oct. 21, 2004, a
reconnaissance team arrived in Afghanistan to scope out locations
for its base. The group, led by Lt.-Col. R. Landry, eventually
focused on two options. One was the western city of Herat, the
other in Kandahar. The team's report, obtained by the Citizen,
noted the PRT location "should take into account the long-term
vision of (Canada's) contribution to the war against terrorism"
and its support to the Afghan government.
The Martin government was also considering sending an additional
1,000 troops to Afghanistan. Where they would land would define
how the mission would unfold.
Best Bang for the Buck
Herat was relatively peaceful but Kandahar was a hotbed of Taliban
and al-Qaeda resistance.
Gen. Hillier wanted the troops in Kandahar. The general wanted
Canada to play a key role in Afghanistan and talked passionately
about helping the country, devastated by warfare during the past
25 years. In 2004, he led NATO's ISAF mission in Kabul and saw
first-hand the difference foreign soldiers could make.
But the general had other motives, according to government
officials. A combat mission in Kandahar fit into Gen. Hillier's
vision for Canadian Forces. That future would involve direct
military intervention if necessary to stabilize failed or failing
states, such as Afghanistan, a radical break from traditional
peacekeeping with which most Canadians felt comfortable, and
If the federal government was about to spend $500 million to $750
million on a new Afghan commitment, Gen. Hillier reasoned it
should centre on a region where Canada could demonstrate
leadership by assuming dangerous and difficult tasks. Kandahar --
as the general often liked to say -- offered "the best bang for
Neither NATO nor the U.S. pressured the Martin government to take
the highly dangerous Kandahar mission, according to federal
officials. Canadian troops could have continued to patrol the
relatively safe streets of Kabul, but the Defence department
considered that a basic peace stabilization mission that other
militaries could handle. Gen. Hillier pushed for the Kandahar
assignment where Canada's highly skilled troops could take part in
The Pentagon's Operation Enduring Freedom was to control the
Kandahar mission until it could "transition" to NATO control in
the summer of 2006.
While the link to OEF was spelled out to the Martin government
from the beginning, it was not widely picked up by the media or
opposition politicians. At the same time, the Defence department
did not go out of its way to highlight the OEF connection.
In fact, when Canadian casualties started to increase, Gen.
Hillier sidestepped an interviewer who asked if the mission was
part of OEF. The general called the operation "a Canadian mission
with multinational partners, large numbers of them, supporting a
UN mandate, helping Afghans."
But putting Canadian troops under the banner of Operation Enduring
Freedom was potentially controversial. Although it was done
briefly in the early stages of the Afghan conflict, Canadian
public opinion had since changed regarding U.S. president George
W. Bush and his war on terror. The invasion of Iraq had damaged
U.S. credibility in the eyes of many Canadians and they were leery
of being drawn into American missions.
One 2003 poll highlighted in a Defence department report showed
that while Canadians largely supported "peacekeeping," only 20 per
cent thought soldiers should take part in the United States' war
And while NATO's peace stabilization operation had a direct
mandate from the United Nations, OEF did not. What's more, U.S.
officers would design the "campaign plan" for the Canadian-led
force in Kandahar that would dictate what missions were needed and
Ultimately the decision to move Canadian troops to Kandahar from
Kabul was political. Defence Minister Graham convinced Prime
Minister Martin that Canada should be on the frontlines of the war
In a July 2005 interview, Mr. Graham recounted that he told the
prime minister the Afghan government was still weak and western
troops were needed to ensure the country did not slip back into
Mr. Graham also acknowledged that mending fences with the Bush
administration played a role in the government's decision to take
on the Kandahar mission. The U.S. was still angry over Canada's
refusal to join its invasion of Iraq and it didn't help that the
Martin government had declined to participate in the Pentagon's
controversial missile defence system.
Relations between the two countries were strained so Canada's
offer to take over in Kandahar had the potential to mend the rift.
Mr. Martin supported the mission and Mr. Graham assured him the
Afghan commitment would not keep Canadian troops from taking other
operations elsewhere in the world if necessary.
The mission also coincided with a more optimistic outlook for
Afghanistan. In April 2005, Lt.-Gen. David Barno, the top U.S.
military commander in the country, predicted the end of the
Taliban. There could be hard fighting during the next six to nine
months, he said, but it would amount to the last gasp of a spent
On May 12, Canada's Cabinet approved the mission. Four days later,
Mr. Graham explained the decision to the Commons committee.
It didn't take long for Lt.-Gen. Barno's prediction to come true.
In June, insurgents struck with a new wave of Iraq-style suicide
attacks and roadside bombings. Kandahar, in particular, felt the
brunt of the violence. On June 1, a suicide bomber blew himself up
at a mosque killing 20 Afghans, including many high-ranking
government officials. Twelve days later, a suicide bomber drove
into a U.S. convoy, injuring four Americans.
The escalating violence was hard to ignore, so the government and
Defence department adopted a public-relations strategy to prepare
Canadians for the mission. It was to be a communications campaign
of increments. On June 23, 2005, Liberal backbencher Wajid Khan
rose in the Commons and asked what precautions were being taken to
protect Canadian troops soon to leave for Kandahar.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Graham was ready to answer the pre-arranged
question. The troops were ready to go and well trained, he
responded. It would be a dangerous operation, but under the
leadership of Gen. Hillier, "a recognized expert in the area," it
would ultimately succeed, Mr. Graham said. He mentioned nothing of
combat, although in media interviews he hinted Canadian troops
might face just that.
With just weeks before the deployment of the Provincial
Reconstruction Team, journalists were invited to meet with Gen.
Hillier. It was to be a free-wheeling conversation about the
future transformation of the Canadian Forces, but Afghanistan
figured prominently in the discussion.
A week earlier, terrorists had detonated bombs in the London
subway, killing 52 people. Gen. Hillier used the event to
highlight the new warfare. Invoking images of the fight against
the Nazis during the Second World War, he said Canada had to take
a stand against terrorism.
That stand, the general explained, would be made in places like
Afghanistan against the "scumbags" who detested the freedoms and
liberties that Canadians enjoyed.
"We're actually going there to take down the folks who are trying
to still blow up men and women in Afghanistan and still provide a
base for an organization like al-Qaeda to grow its venom," Gen.
Canada's upcoming mission would also have a decidedly U.S. flavour
because it was heavily based on U.S. military doctrine. The
Pentagon had created the first PRTs and developed the concept of
the "three-block war," which Gen. Hillier often used to illustrate
how the Canadian Forces would operate in the future. In that
scenario, soldiers engaged in many tasks simultaneously: in one
city block, they might deliver aid; on the second, they would
assist police with security; and on the third, they would be
involved in combat.
The U.S. had used the three-block concept in Iraq with mixed
results. Some defence analysts believe it is next to impossible
for soldiers to help the local population one day, only to return
the next to raid homes or make arrests.
Now Canada would adopt that strategy for Afghanistan.
Canadians needed to be made aware that some soldiers could become
casualties, Gen. Hillier explained. He noted that an undisclosed
number of elite Joint Task Force 2 commandos were preparing to
head to Afghanistan.
Gen. Hillier's comments, just a few weeks before the mission was
to begin, served as the first real indication of what was ahead.
But his PR blitz was just beginning. Two weeks later in a
conference with defence analysts, he introduced a new reason
Canada had to get involved. The south Asian country was the source
of much of the world's raw opium, the general noted as he
highlighted a photo of Afghan women and children working in a
field of poppies used for heroin production. Such drugs, Gen.
Hillier said, constituted "a weapon of mass destruction."
No one in the audience challenged the general on the irony of his
use of the drug threat in justifying the Afghanistan mission. In
February 2001, United Nations drug control officers had credited
the Taliban for largely eradicating opium production and banning
poppy cultivation. But with the fall of that regime, the illegal
drug trade was once again flourishing.
In yet another presentation, Gen. Hillier likened the Taliban and
al-Qaeda to Canadian killers Karla Homolka, Paul Bernardo and
To critics, the general's comments seemed like overly dramatic
reworkings of speeches made by U.S. President Bush. In fact, days
before Gen. Hillier met with journalists and suggested parallels
between the war on terror and the Allied effort during the Second
World War, Mr. Bush had used similar language to make the same
Gen. Hillier's blunt talk was greeted with widespread support
among soldiers, newspaper editorial writers and defence pundits.
At Defence headquarters, officers discussed the renewed sense of
purpose for the Canadian Forces. The country's soldiers never did
like being called peacekeepers; now they were to be embroiled in a
war against insurgents and led by a general who wasn't scared to
tell the public the real truth.
In the halls of government, Gen. Hillier's comments were strongly
supported, particularly by Prime Minister Martin. Even NDP leader
Jack Layton praised the general.
The chief of the defence staff's candour prompted other military
officers to talk openly about combat. "We have to be prepared to
kill insurgents ... we have to be prepared that we could take
casualties," said Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, who would take command
of the Kandahar mission in February. "We will be conducting
operations up to and including combat."
The comments made headlines, but there was no public discussion of
why Canada was headed to Kandahar or why there had to be a
continued presence in Afghanistan.
The failed state was indeed struggling to recover and the ongoing
fighting claimed 1,600 civilian lives in 2005. Women were
oppressed, schools needed to be rebuilt and democracy was just
But there were dozens of nations equally desperate for Canada's
help. In the Congo, 38,000 people were dying every month, the
result of years of ongoing conflict and disease that had killed
four million during a seven-year period. The Lancet, the respected
British medical journal, called the Congo the "world's deadliest
Liberal Senator Peter Stollery, who joined a fact-finding mission
to the country, says he doesn't want to be drawn into a debate
over whether Canada should or should not be in Afghanistan. But he
questions why the Forces turned down a request to send four
soldiers to the Congo to act as military trainers.
"This is one of the largest United Nations mission ever, yet we
can't even send four people," said Mr. Stollery. "One thousand
people are dying there every day, yet we don't seem to care. We
should be ashamed."
Some defence and government officials concede privately that there
is a long list of failed or failing states and crisis hotspots.
But Canada's almost exclusive focus on Afghanistan has left little
leeway to undertake any other substantial operations, they
Some have debated Gen. Hillier's assertion that Afghanistan is the
frontline in protecting Canada against terrorism. In fact, U.S.
intelligence officials have readily conceded that the U.S.
overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 scattered al-Qaeda to other
countries. Members of the terrorist organization now operate in
dozens of nations, including North Africa where governments are
weak or non-existent. An attack on Canada could come from any of
those countries or from operatives inside our own borders. Some
security analysts are quietly questioning if the vast resources
being spent on Afghanistan might better be set aside to improve
intelligence agencies and border security at home.
By September 2005, the federal government was ready to up its
public relations campaign. The plan called for Mr. Graham to
deliver speeches in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa outlining the
dangers of the Kandahar mission and giving media interviews.
Defence department insiders called it the "pre-body bag tour."
The speeches made no mention of Canada's long-term strategy or how
long troops would stay in Afghanistan. Although the mission had
official start and end dates, it had been government policy to
have a new Afghan mission in the wings for when the old one
Two days after heralding Mr. Graham's "body bag tour," the Defence
department leaked news to a journalist that JTF2 commandos were in
action, killing and capturing al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.
The military does not usually discuss the JTF2 and on the rare
occasions it does there is a political motivation. This time was
no different and the Canadian Forces got the headlines it desired.
There were no details of the JTF2 mission, but the message was
clear: the new commitment to Afghanistan wasn't about
peacekeeping; Canada was in a full-fledged guerrilla war.
Other NATO nations were debating the expansion of the alliance's
Afghanistan mission. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was
pressuring the alliance to assume a more aggressive military
posture and take on the counter-insurgency missions Canada had
eagerly signed up for in Kandahar. For their part, Germany and
France resisted. German Defence Minister Peter Stuck argued that
NATO forces in Afghanistan should continue with a "protection and
aid" mission rather than battling insurgents.
Canadian parliamentarians, however, were largely in the dark. Some
still believed this country's mission was under NATO's banner. It
was a view held even in quarters of the Canadian Forces, says
Peggy Mason, Canada's former disarmament ambassador to the United
Nations. She recalls heated debates with retired and serving
officers when Mr. Graham announced the mission in May.
"There was mass confusion," said Ms. Mason. "I would be saying,
'Hillier isn't putting us under NATO.' Officers would say, 'Don't
be ridiculous -- of course we are going into the NATO mission.'
On Oct. 6, 2005, outspoken MP Carolyn Parrish, a former Liberal
sitting as an independent, accused the government of sending
troops to Afghanistan without public consultation and at the
behest of the Pentagon.
Mr. Graham was ready with a terse response. Canada, he said, had
dispatched troops in response to Afghan president Karzai. "We are
going at the request of Muslim women who want to have a chance to
vote," he explained, "young children who want to grow up in peace,
people who want to have stability in their society."
Mr. Graham did not mention that the Kandahar mission was indeed
part of the Pentagon's Operation Enduring Freedom. Yet the link
was clearly important to Canada's military. "I believe it is
significant -- it shows a lot of trust that the United States has
for Canada in allowing us to take on such a significant leadership
role," Brig.-Gen. Fraser would later explain. "It is a big step.
We are a key member in fighting the global war on terrorism. We're
going into the heartland of the Taliban and taking the fight to
The United Kingdom was planning to send additional combat troops
to Afghanistan, but some politicians and even military leaders
were openly questioning the value of the commitment. The country's
intelligence officials were also warning Tony Blair's government
to prepare for large numbers of casualties. Soldiers killed in
battle could reach levels not seen since the Falklands War, which
claimed more than 200 military personnel.
In the Netherlands, the government was in a full-scale crisis over
the potential commitment of 1,400 combat soldiers. Opposition
members threatened to scuttle the Afghanistan mission by voting
against it in the country's parliament.
One opinion poll showed that 71 per cent of Dutch citizens were
opposed to sending the troops, even though the country had
soldiers in Afghanistan. MPs wanted assurances that military
personnel would not work under the American's Operation Enduring
The widespread opposition put the troop deployment temporarily on
hold, and although the Dutch government would eventually send
soldiers, that decision was only made after parliament debated and
backed the mission. During that 10-hour session, Dutch MPs were
shown classified intelligence information about the threats their
soldiers would face.
No Definition of Success
The situation in Canada was different. By the fall, politicians
and journalists were preoccupied by the upcoming federal election.
Discussion of the Afghanistan mission in the Commons was limited
to a "take-note debate" on Nov. 15. There is no vote in such a
session, which is held for information purposes only.
Party leaders did not speak during the session that ran from 7
p.m. until midnight. Although attendance was not recorded
officially, only a few handfuls of MPs bothered to show. NDP MP
Bill Siksay says at one point there were fewer than 10
parliamentarians on hand, though he notes that's not unusual for a
Seventeen MPs spoke during the five-hour session.
Mr. Graham recounted the progress in Afghanistan: Three million
refugees had returned home since the end of 2001. Schools had
reopened. Marketplaces were bustling.
But he warned that without international military on the ground,
there was a real risk Afghanistan would fall back into the hands
of the Taliban and once again become a haven for terrorists.
The 17 MPs agreed Canada should be in Afghanistan and each praised
the troops. But that's where the agreement ended.
Conservative MP Leon Benoit asked why the government had failed to
provide Parliament with even the basics of the mission.
Dave MacKenzie, another Conservative MP, accused the government of
avoiding debate, a vote and "serious examination" of troop
deployment. He lamented that details of the operation had emerged
in the media rather than in Parliament and asked why the Martin
government had not explained why Canada had abandoned Kabul for
Kandahar. He also questioned whether Canada would be able to
contribute to other world crises if it gets tied down in
Afghanistan for years to come.
Conservative defence critic Gordon O'Connor said the Liberals had
failed to justify the shift to Kandahar. There was no exit
strategy, he warned, no definition of what would constitute
success in Afghanistan and no real idea of how long the mission
"The government unwisely meandered into this commitment without
having a clear idea of what was involved," alleged Mr. O'Connor.
Less than three months later, Mr. O'Connor would be the country's
new defence minister, and the Afghanistan mission his most
high-profile file. Perhaps, not surprisingly, his view on the
operation would undergo a significant change.
Tomorrow: The effort to convince a conflicted nation that
Canadians are playing a vital role in Kandahar.
Afghanistan - A Special Report
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006
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