Kicking ass and taking names

The Canadian Armed Forces are back on top! General “Walt from Winnipeg” Natynczyk, chief of defense staff, was in town recently, speaking to the Canadian Club of Winnipeg on the evolution of Canada’s military from an understaffed, underfunded Armed Forces into an “elite military machine, the envy of the world and capable of tackling any assignment,” the Winnipeg Free Press reported. Citing our “turbulent,” “chaotic,” and “unpredictable” post 9-11 world, Gen. Natynczyk said he was proud of our Canadian Armed Forces, and “constantly” praised the troops and “the Canadians who support them.”

Natynczyk’s pep rally to the Canadian Club came at the same time the Winnipeg Free Press was reporting that Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, Canada’s commander of troops in Afghanistan, was admitting that the situation in Kandahar province — and the “hot spot” Panjwaii district in particular — was “regressing.” The commander then explained that the area would see increased activity in the coming months, in hopes of “securing” the area, with the goal of clearing the area around Kandahar City by November. Despite the fact that a tenth rotation of Canadian troops is currently training to do duty in Afghanistan, Lessard said his orders from the Canadian government are clear: “All Canadian forces are to cease operations in July [2011] and we’re to be out of the country at the end of the year.”

While Canada’s role in Afghanistan is set to expire, the federal government appears far from rolling back funding to the Armed Forces. Currently, the Tories are defending a plan to purchase 65 F-35 Lightning II jets from U.S.-based Lockheed Martin, at a price-tag of some $9 billion, to replace the Canadian Air Force fleet of “aging” CF-18 jets.

In “Walking Backwards into Battle,” a feature article published recently in Briarpatch magazine, former reserve army officer Chris Shaw (also a research-scientist and professor at UBC) examines the Canadian Armed Forces and the increased budget the military has received in the years following deployment in Afghanistan. Like Gen. Natynczyk, Shaw argues that the Armed Forces has indeed evolved, particularly since the years of “neglect” in the 1990s when the military saw its role overseas — and its budget — steadily shrink in the post-Cold War era. Natynczyk described that period to the Winnipeg Free Press as a “decade of darkness,” while Shaw claims that an “existential angst . . . rippled through the ranks.”

“With an aggressive new mandate in an expanding war,” Shaw argues, referring to the war on terror and the ensuing war in Afghanistan, “the Forces, many believed, would finally have a chance to show what they were capable of.”

“For the Canadian Forces,” Shaw continues, “the opportunities presented by the shift in Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan favoured what they had wanted for so long: a serious war of their own to justify not just their existence, but their expansion.” Sixty-five brand-spanking new F-35s fits nicely into the “serious” and “expansion” categories, don’t you think?
As of this writing, 152 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, six of those based out of Manitoba. Many more have been injured and may eventually (or already do) suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Thousands of Afghans have been killed, thousands more maimed or injured. Previous to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, Afghanis had about as much reason to want to harm Canadians as did the Viet Cong in the 1960s: absolutely none. Now though, Canada, the U.S. and other NATO countries are creating a legacy of brutality that is likely to instill (if it hasn’t done so already) a profound hatred towards the invaders. That includes you and me as voting citizens, my friends.

Shortly after Canada became heavily involved in Afghanistan, it became “unpatriotic” for politicians and the voting public to oppose the war, with such eloquent pundits as Don Cherry going above and beyond their positions to castigate anyone who might question our military’s role. However, in a functioning democracy, asking questions is a necessary part to ensuring that our society functions in the best interests of its citizens.

Let me make this clear: I am against our involvement in Afghanistan. Not because I do not “support the troops” — my aunt recently retired from over 35 years of service with the Air Force and the Reserves, and a good friend of mine is currently working for the Armed Forces in Kandahar on a private contract. I prefer my troops alive and well at home rather than waiting to die overseas. I see absolutely no reason for Canadians to die in Afghanistan in an unwinnable war that even our government has trouble explaining or justifying.

One hundred fifty-two Canadians have died in Afghanistan, and for what? Afghanistan is arguably no safer today than it was prior to 2005. Our involvement has also arguably made the world a more dangerous place, at least for Canadians, as we are now linked inextricably from the deaths of thousands of Afghans, many innocent civilians.

However, as Chris Shaw concludes his article in Briarpatch, “regardless of the eventual outcome of the war for those in the political realm who championed it, the Forces came out on top.” To the economic, political and military elite who benefit from this situation — safe in their ivory towers in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa — the cost in blood is negligible. The Canadian Forces, for the first time since the Korean war, can unabashedly go about their business: kicking ass and taking names.