Prime Minister Stephen Harper was once accused by the Liberals of improvising the war in Afghanistan, as if one could script a decade-long war ahead of time. He has now announced an end to the Canadian military mission as of March 31, 2014. It is the right thing to do, at the right time.
Enough is enough – until the next one.
The fatigue in this country with the loss of life of Canadian soldiers, the intermittent progress, the government corruption, the obstacles that never seem to diminish, such as Pakistan playing both sides, and the enormous financial burden, is overwhelming.
Both Canada and Afghanistan benefited in many ways from this country’s military efforts. Canada earned respect within NATO. The Canadian Forces gained in esteem among young people, who respected the military for doing battle against harsh odds and for improving the lot of a people in desperate need of help. And Canada at last shook off the myth of Canadian pacifism – of Canada almost solely as a peacekeeping nation, unable to shoot back – and reconnected with its past as a fighting force on the side of good, not shrinking from a challenge.
Afghanistan did not revert to being a refuge for the terrorists of al-Qaeda – the primary reason for the war. Millions of girls went to school who otherwise would not have, and women assumed roles in the Afghan parliament. But girls and women are still being jailed for such “moral crimes” as fleeing rape, abuse or underage marriage. And the Afghan National Army is far from ready to keep the country secure from the violent zealotry of the Taliban.
Since last July, Canada has had 950 military trainers working “inside the wire” – Mr. Harper’s compromise with President Barack Obama, who had asked Canada to stay. That training will last nearly three years, an impressive commitment following nearly a decade of war against insurgents, most of that in a critical role in dangerous Kandahar Province. And afterward, Canada will contribute $110-million a year to Afghanistan’s police and military, from 2015 to 2018, as part of NATO’s continuing commitment.
Canada did its part with impressive resolve in an unwinnable counterinsurgency war, gaining valuable military expertise but losing 158 soldiers. The day is coming when Afghanistan will be in the lead role when its faces its enemies. That day could not be put off forever.