In a commentary on Army.ca Senator Colin Kenny says: "Canada is sending 2,000 troops to Kandahar, one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan, replete with warlords, drug runners, terrorists and fellow travellers. But our troops should not be going there without 32 million other Canadians firmly behind them ... [They] desperately need the support of their government and of the citizens of the country whose interests they are advancing. That's what war is all about: advancing the interests of the people of your nation. That's us ... The federal government must tell us that we are not just in there replacing American troops so those American troops can be shifted to Iraq."
Sadly the Government of Canada appears unsure about why it is sending 2,000 Canadians into harm's way. Some officials are, almost certainly, telling our American friends that we are, indeed, 'replacing American troops' thereby freeing up forces for Iraq. Others talk about nation building and others, still, about the nebulous war on terror.
Central Asia, including Afghanistan, has long been the cockpit. It was for Alexander the Great and for the British and Russian empires in the 19th century. It is, yet again, today: oil, Islam and terrorism are all part of the landscape and America, China, Europe and Russia all want a piece of the action. But: so what?
What is Canada's role? What are Canada's interests?
Why, in other words, is our government sending our soldiers to Afghanistan?
Canadian soldiers are, as always, willing to make any sacrifice to serve their country; as always they ask little and offer everything; as always they do want to reason why, they want to understand not just what is being asked of them but why. Canadian generals have spoken out, over the heads of the national commentariat to warn the soldiers, their families and their fellow citizens that fighting, killing and dying may be necessary to accomplish the tasks assigned by the Government of Canada, even if that government has been less than clear about those tasks.
Our Foreign Affairs Department says, regarding 'Canada's role in Afghanistan':
Canada's International Policy Statement states that: "making a distinctive contribution to Canada's efforts to help build a more secure world, in particular with regard to failed and fragile states, counterterrorism and organized crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and human security" is one of Foreign Affairs Canada's four policy priorities. Our evolving engagement in Afghanistan represents a concrete manifestation of the International Policy Statement in action.
With all due respect to the senior officials who craft these words, that's fine for civil servants in Ottawa but it's well nigh meaningless to soldiers.
DND isn't much better. The Department says: "... the PRT will reinforce the authority of the Afghan government in and around Kandahar and help stabilize and rebuild the region. It will also help monitor security, promote Afghan government policies and priorities with local authorities, and facilitate security sector reforms." It concludes: "Canada's overarching goal is to prevent Afghanistan from relapsing into a failed state that gives terrorist and terrorist organizations a safe haven."
That's getting a little closer to the mark but Canadians, including Canadian soldiers need to know that they, the soldiers, are serving Canada's interests.
Senator Kenny suggests that Canada is at war; army.ca agrees, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that we know our soldiers, sailors and aircrew serving in Afghanistan would also agree. Further, we have been at war for over three years and it may be a long, long war - perhaps, as MGen Leslie suggests, a war which will last a generation.
It is important to remind Canadians, including Canadian soldiers, that we send our soldiers to war to fight for something - for our freedom to make our own law and rules and to govern ourselves according to our best judgement; for our right to live our lives according to our own standards; for our freedom to worship our gods, whichever they may be, as we see fit; for our right to be treated equally without regard to race or creed; and for our freedom to enjoy the blessings of our lands and the fruits of our labours in peace and dignity. We send our sailors, soldiers and aviators - our comrades in arms, our friends and neighbours, even our sons and daughters - into harm's way to secure these rights and freedoms for each of us and for every Canadian. The Charter may define our rights and freedoms but it is young Canadians, in uniform, under arms, who guarantee them.
We want our soldiers to come home safely, so that they too can enjoy all the blessings Canada offers, but we understand that some may have to pay a price because duty is a stern master.
We hope the Government of Canada pays heed to Senator Kenny's words. Protecting Canadians, guarding our freedom and securing our rights is the Canadian Forces' stock-in-trade. Let's have the Prime Minister tell us and our soldiers that what they do is for Canada and that the sacrifices they may be called upon to make are for Canadians. A leader would do that.