Ever since the start of the War in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 Canadian Forces soldiers, sailors and airmen have all wanted to return to the desolate country.
Much has been written about the conflict but very little has been written about a soldiers desire to return to the same place where empires have been defeated, friends have died and limbs have been lost.
For years Canadian Forces have been training first for a war in Germany defending the West from the Russian hoards, then as the wall came crumbling down there was a loss of focus. We trained but the enemy were bizarrely named combatants meant to showcase a Korea type involvement without actually naming (and thus offending the North Korean army). The innocence is almost funny if it wasn't tied in with a combat force that was ill equipped, ill trained and just trying to survive the budget cuts that were being inflicted on it.
They were told not to leave the Kabul province and the restrictions on their rules of engagement meant that even Lieutenant General Hillier (then ISAF commander) trusted the military response from the Norwegians Armed Forces was more reliable than the Canadian government.
When PM Martin and DND Minister Graham decided to move the Canadian mission from the secure capital to the restive south the members of the Canadian forces suddenly found them back in a position where they could prove themselves. The 3rd Battalion of the Princes Patrica's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) with support from, engineers, signals, medics and cooks moved into the Provincial reconstruction site in Kandahar city. All 150 soldiers knew this mission would be different and our new Chief of Defence Staff knew it as well.
The Taliban, an evil and malevolent force, was quickly destroyed by a very small force of special forces soldiers and Afghan allies. As stories of the violence in the region began to leak out the moral authority began to take hold. We have always looked at our bigger brother, America and our mother, England with detached love. Outsiders see it as anti American rhetoric or a disgust with British foreign policy, especially the empire years. Canadians like to think of themselves as different.
The Canadians then moved to Camp Julien in the capital Kabul and the idea of living in small cramped tents, eating unheated rations, cold showers suddenly gave way to Internet cafes, weight rooms and concessions with all the luxuries of home.
|Glendenwagen in Kandahar|
We travelled and tried to bring the 3 D approach to this new kind of low intensity conflict. Diplomacy, Defence and Development marked the Canadian approach. On January 15, 2006 diplomat Glyn Berry was killed in a suicide attack and the foreign affairs mission in Afghans faltered. Suddenly as 200 troops from 1 PPCLI landed their main mission seemed to be missing, the reconstruction of the country of Afghanistan.
This time the enemy picked the battlefield. The troops found themselves in this position with close combat fighting occurring during the summer of 2006 and has not stopped ever since. The names Panjawai, Arghandab and Maywand all have the same meaning as Vimy, Somme, Normandy to the new soldiers of the Canadian Forces. Thousands of Canadian troops have served in the area as thousands and thousands of Taliban and anti government forces have died in the fighting. Although the Canadian area of operation have been the province of Kandahar they have never had enough boots on the ground to hold the well fought terrain.
The Canadian Forces have lost troops from not only the Army, but from the Air force and even the Navy there is still a desire to return to Afghanistan.
We return home and see the joy on the faces of our loved ones, we see the horror in the parents of a fallen son or daughter, we also see that we are better people because we have bled in Afghanistan. We also see a life in Canada that is untouched by war, untouched by true hatred and we see that it is all humans want no matter where they live. The infantry have proven themselves in combat, the medics have saved lives, the engineers have defused IED's that were targeting not just us but kids on their way to school. I had a friend who asks this question when someone says that the war in Afghanistan is illegal or immoral.....
"What have you done for the third world today?"
The mission for many of us is easy... it's just the right thing to do.
"I have no intention of being one of those generals where the situation didn't work out so well. We're here at the invitation of the Afghan people. Every single d ay, everywhere you go, we hear nothing from those people other than: "We love you, we want you here, you're our only hope in life and we'd actually like more of you." So we're here as their guests, and the relationship is superb. I believe the soldiers have won the hearts and minds of the people and given them some hope for the future. And that, I think, gives us great reason for optimism for what we do here." Lt.-Gen. Rick Hillier
Interview with Peter Mansbridge, CBC, Feb 2004