Fighting someone else’s war

Watching the headlines in Canadian papers as Canadian soldiers die for the United States in Afghanistan, I’ve wondered what Canadians were thinking about all this. A reported survey indicates that “a majority of Canadians support military participation in ‘conventional combat missions,’ such as the Afghan counter-insurgency, as long as they’re convinced the cause is just and progress is being made.”

But another article challenges one of those assumptions.

“It is really impossible to win there. No positive result can be expected,” [Senior Sgt. Sergei] Kirjushin, whose shaved head gives him a ferocious look, said during a long, often grim conversation at the Afghan War Veterans Association in the centre of the Russian capital.

“As every nation that goes to fight in Afghanistan discovers, nobody has ever conquered that place. Even children were involved. They would blow up our tanks.”

The article is based largely on the experience of Red Army soldiers who fought for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is a chilling reminder, but relies on a vision of NATO forces as “invaders:” “Any attempt to bring outside principles to Afghanistan by military force cannot work because this is a traditional society that simply does not understand principles, whether they are principles of freedom or principles of communism. They only see us as invaders,” says military analyst Alexander Golts.

I haven’t been obtaining solid information on progress in the war in Afghanistan. A few weeks ago, it was alleged the Taliban were in control of much of the south of the country. Shortly after hints of a counteroffensive, I saw hints that if “we” didn’t soon make substantial progress, Afghans desperate for peace would support the Taliban just to bring an end to the fighting. The trouble with this is that it is unclear to me that with all the factions fighting for control of Afghanistan, that “ordinary people” have any voice whatsoever. Ordinary Afghan males seem to be misogynist, but less vicious about it than the Taliban; they would likely prefer a more liberal regime. Even if this is so, it is unclear that such a regime can be established in Afghanistan.

The progress upon which Canadians premise their support may be long in coming.

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