Canadians are going to war. Over the next few months, 2,000 troops will head to Afghanistan, where fighting still rages with remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some of the Canadians, among them members of the elite Joint Task Force 2, may be involved in direct combat in the southern mountains, where their job will be to hunt down and kill insurgents.
But isn't that awfully dangerous, Canada's top soldier was asked this week. Won't the new Afghan mission make Canada a target for terrorist attacks like the July 7 transit bombings in London? General Rick Hillier gave a bracing answer. Every Canadian should listen.
"The London attack actually tells us once more: We can't let up," he told reporters on Thursday. "These are detestable murderers and scumbags, I'll tell you that right up front. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties." Canada, he said, is already a terrorist target simply by virtue of its status as a democratic member of the Western alliance, and it can't let fear of reprisal stop it from confronting the threat. When Canada was fighting the Nazis in the Second World War, "did they say, 'No, we might be attacked over here if we actually stand up against those despicable murderers and bastards?' " asked Gen. Hillier, who is Chief of the Defence Staff. He answered himself: "No, they did not."
Warlike words, no doubt, but as Gen. Hillier pointed out, he is not the head of the Egg Marketing Board. He is the head of the armed forces. Those forces have a job to do. Afghanistan, the home base of the al-Qaeda terrorist group until 2001, is in trouble. Its fragile new democracy is under threat from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who would dearly like to make a comeback. Its government needs protection as it tries to hold a general election in September. Its people need help as they try to rebuild their homes and their lives after a quarter-century of civil war and misrule.
Apart from rooting out terrorist forces, Canadian soldiers will be helping to train local police and soldiers, making sure that international supplies get through and patrolling cities so that people can go about their business in safety. Canada's nation-building, terrorist-fighting mission in Afghanistan could not be more important or more noble. As Gen. Hillier put it, the goal is to establish democracy and security, "the exact opposite of what people like Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and those others want."
Could our stepped-up presence make Canada more of a target? Of course it could. Though it's impossible to know the motives of twisted minds like those of the London bombers, it's quite possible they struck there because of Britain's leading role in the Iraq war, just as it's quite possible that terrorists struck Madrid last year because Spanish troops were in Iraq. But then, terrorism has afflicted plenty of other countries, from Indonesia to Turkey to Morocco, that have had nothing to do with Iraq. Let's not forget that the attack that started all this, on 9/11, came before Iraq or Afghanistan.
Hate-filled fanatics don't need much provocation. They may have favourites on their target list, but every democratic country is at risk as long as this international conspiracy exists. Countries such as Canada can't let the fear of backlash prevent them from taking their part in dismantling that conspiracy. To do so would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, whose purpose is to divide the democratic states and weaken their will. Like it or not, we are all in this together.
A fighting man like Gen. Hillier knows that in his bones. Bravo to him for saying it.