It is difficult to know where to start to correct the mass of errors which the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, published on Sunday, May 7th. The article: Shift some troops from Afghan mission to Darfur is the work of its editorial page editor emeritus Haroon Siddiqui.
Siddiqui’s knowledge of 21st century history – all six years of it – betrays the abysmal ignorance which characterizes his entire column. Canada’s deployment in 2001 was not to Kabul – it was to Kandahar, for combat operations. Shame on Siddiqui for being foolish; shame on the Star’s editors for being amateurs; professionals check facts.
Siddiqui suggests that General Hillier deployed our troops. That suggests that he has a profound ignorance of Canada’s constitution and the machinery of government.
Siddiqui goes on to suggest that "the Taliban are all over the south in greater numbers than at any time since they were toppled" but he offers no proof – because he has none. He is propagandizing.
Siddiqui clearly knows nothing at all about low intensity/counter-insurgency operations or he would not suggest that a ‘war’ which began in 2001 should have been won by now.
Siddiqui has no evidence to suggest that Afghans 'hate' Americans; there is evidence, on the contrary, that suggests that, while wary of all foreigners, including Canadians, they welcome the (limited, to be sure) security the foreign armies provide.
Siddiqui propagates another of the current ’big lies’, suggesting that the Americans are abandoning Afghanistan for Iraq. As everyone who has done any basic research knows, after all NATO forces are in theatre and up to strength the USA will still provide the largest contingent.
Siddiqui wants Canada to go to Darfur but he has no idea what we might do there, even if we could get there. The Sudanese government has already accepted a peacekeeping force there and does not want non-African troops as part of it. Were Canada to show up uninvited it could easily be construed as an act of war, not of peacekeeping. Doing, in other words, what Siddiqui doesn't want us to do in Afghanistan.
Members of the Ruxted Group, drawing on their combined knowledge and experience, understand that Canada’s military capabilities are presently stretched too thin. There are not enough serviceable aircraft to get a corporal's guard to Sudan – and keep it there. The Canadian Forces needs more men and women – thousands, even tens of thousands more men and women. Almost every soldier who isn't getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan or serving in Afghanistan or being retrained just after returning from Afghanistan will be needed to train those thousands of new sailors, soldiers and aviators. There is no one to send to Darfur, even if there was some way to get them there and sustain the effort.
When a man of Haroon Siddiqui's stature writes such ill considered work it stains his reputation, and when a major newspaper publishes such a diatribe and fails to check the content for basic factual accuracy it damages the reputation of the newspaper and taints those whose work appears within in it. If the current editorial staff of the Toronto Star is unable or unwilling to do some elementary fact checking for one of their own, one must ask: what other fiction is being allowed to pass as fact?
Discussing contentious issues of the day is the right of all Canadians. The serving members of the Canadian Forces devote their lives and careers to ensure this. On the other hand, free speech is only valuable when it is harnessed to verifiable facts and accurate reporting of the subject at hand. Siddiqui could have made a more valuable contribution if he and his editors had made the slightest effort to get the basic facts right. His article reeks of the sort of sophomoric, knee-jerk anti-Americanism which has stained Canadian opinion for more than a generation. It is time Canadian opinion leaders, like Haroon Siddiqui, harnessed their knowledge and experience to help Canadians understand the world to help them make informed decisions, rather than just railing against reality.