Just one week before Christmas, as shopping malls across North America were blaring carols exhorting us to enjoy peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, the news came that yet another Canadian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.
Two days shy of his 25th birthday, Cpl. Steve Martin became the 154th Canadian Forces fatality since we first deployed troops into that war-torn country in February 2002. Added to that butcher’s bill are the approximately 1,500 Canadian soldiers who have suffered some form of physical wound or injury while deployed to Afghanistan, with an estimated 850 designated as Very Severely Injured who will never fully recover.
Among the pro-war pundits and their media cheerleaders, the current choice is to point to the slight reduction in the recent rate of Canadian casualties as some sort of proof that the NATO forces are close to an ultimate victory.
They correctly point out that Martin is the first death suffered by our contingent since August, making that the longest fatality-free stretch since our troops deployed south from Kabul to Kandahar in 2006. What they neglect to mention is that, due to the recent surge of U.S. troops into southern Afghanistan, our soldiers have been withdrawn from many of the most hotly contested regions. As a result, the Americans have experienced a tremendous spike in the number of casualties, particularly around Kandahar.
With the deployment level of international troops peaking last year at around 170,000, 2010 also saw a significant increase of about 17 per cent of NATO soldiers killed in action. Go figure.
While everyone involved already knew it, thanks to WikiLeaks it is now indisputable that Canadian Ambassador William Crosbie notified the Harper government that the Karzai regime in Kabul is corrupt to the core.
Unelected due to the complete failure of the election process in August 2009, widely despised and distrusted by his own citizenry and openly mocked for his corruption by foreign diplomats, nevertheless, lame duck Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to receive unprecedented sums of international aid for the simple reason that he is the only puppet they can control.
Canada’s extended military contribution to this mission, with the provision of 1,000 military trainers until (at least) 2014, was loudly hailed by the pro-war tub-thumpers as an opportunity for Canadian soldiers to "finish the job." This has become the universal catch phrase of the pro-war lobby in the wake of their realization that the word victory no longer makes any sense.
Even if we take that objective to its logical and limited conclusion and assume now that our soldiers’ job is to create a self-sufficient, effective Afghan security force, that still begs the question: How does that ultimately benefit the Afghan people?
By the Pentagon’s estimate, it will take an Afghan force of 400,000 army and police, buoyed by a U.S. annual investment of some $7 billion, to achieve the necessary level of security capability to defeat and contain the insurgents. However, if these foreign-funded mercenaries are going to be enforcing the will of a hated despot and his warlord cronies, how can we justifiably consider that a success?
Because western public relations forums have spent a decade trying to cast Karzai in a pro-western democratic light, many tend to forget that Afghanistan is still an Islamic republic and that numerous cabinet ministers are former mujahedeen Islamic religious fighters.
It was also the Karzai government that passed the controversial rape law allowing Afghan men to demand sex from their wives every four nights or withhold their food. It is often overlooked that under the current Afghan constitution it is punishable by death to convert to Christianity, a black irony considering the mostly Christian international soldiers that have been killed propping up Karzai’s hated regime.
Given the death of Martin — and his 153 comrades who have also made the ultimate sacrifice — Canadians need to continue to educate themselves about the real challenges and to define through debate the real job we may want to finish in Afghanistan.
Training more Afghan youths to fire weapons in order to impose ruthless authority is not the answer.