Having wrapped up its military mission to Afghanistan in 2014, Canada is unlikely to join the fray if the United States steps up its presence in that benighted country, as U.S. President Donald Trump indicated this week in a primetime address to the nation.
Canada lost 159 soldiers – along with two civilians, a diplomat and a journalist – and saw 1,800 wounded in tagging along with the U.S. for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the base of operations for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The bill exceeded $18 billion, with a host of ongoing costs related to caring for veterans of the campaign. For that, there is little to show.
The Americans have paid a much higher cost, and continue to do so despite the early declaration of victory and past draw-downs and surges of troop strength.
While Trump campaigned on an America-first agenda, including getting out of Afghanistan entirely, he this week reversed course, pledging to step up the battle against the Taliban and other insurgents, including elements of Islamic State that have gained ground there.
Trump attributes the about-face to now knowing more about the situation, apparently relying on the advice of his generals. His announcement was long on rhetoric and short on details, mentioning neither troop numbers or costs.
Opponents were quick to criticize his flip-flop and his lack of a timetable, which could theoretically see U.S. soldiers there indefinitely. Others see the move as a way to bolster support among military nationalists, part of his base, while attempting to change the channel on the growing number of scandals Trump is mired in.
Insurgents, who have made ground in Afghanistan in recent years, were quick to respond to Trump’s speech, promising to keep the battle going for as long as it takes. They are certainly better positioned to wait out the Americans, though likely to suffer significant casualties – estimated at 10,000 a year just now — in the meantime.
Given the country’s long history of invasion, occupation and resistance, odds are pretty good this latest venture will be a waste of time, money and, more pressingly, lives.
Afghanistan is no closer to being a functioning country, let alone a democracy where the people have rights and freedoms, than it ever was. Even without external military occupation, there are internal forces intent on making it a living hell for all.
Still, we continue to hear platitudes about democracy and freedom, despite the fact such changes aren’t on the agenda, and can never happen as a result of external pressure.
The reality of the situation is that sooner or later Afghanistan will have to be left to its own devices. In the meantime, the occupation is all about taking control of strategic territory. That’s the one and only reason foreign troops are there. At the end of the day – and sooner or later there will be an end – we’ll have nothing to show for it but gravesites and a tremendous tab.
Aside from the obvious wrong of occupying an independent country, there is a purely pragmatic argument to be made for leaving Afghanistan: the financial cost of billions of dollars with absolutely no return.