Mission Accomplished


Speaking shortly after handing command of Canada’s mentoring effort to a successor, Colonel Ian Creighton announced that the Taliban have been defeated in Afghanistan and would pose no significant future threat. The effectiveness of the allied effort against the Taliban has been debated since it began, with NATO commanders and outside experts frequently agreeing that the war in Afghanistan has inded had no effect on making the world a safer place. In that context, the Colonel’s words must be music to the ears of those who have defended the war in Afghanistan, and Canada’s combat participation.

So, why does this seeming vindication of the Canadian operation seem so immediately reminiscent of another declaration of victory, a little over seven years ago? Granted, the Colonel didn’t make a dramatic and dashing landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier to the cheers of many, but carriers don’t float on sand, and the Colonel isn’t the great “decider.” You can hardly blame him, can you?

I would like to see an end to the atrocity in Afghanistan as much as the next guy, whether that be through an improbable victory by force of arms or by some miraculous diplomatic dance. While I’m not going to take up a chant of Pink Floyd’s lyric, “Bring the boys back home,” I think we can all agree that it will be a great day when we’ve stopped killing and dying in the sand of the Middle East. And, although I would not likely change my position on whether the war was the right war, I would even be willing to admit that I was wrong to think that it couldn’t be won, if we in fact did.

But, are declarations of victory coming a bit premature?

When George Bush made his dramatic and stirring landing in a fighter jet on the deck of the USS Lincoln on May 2nd, 2003, more than a few were surprised by his smiling declaration of “Mission Accomplished.” The war in Iraq has continued for seven more years, and thousands more have died since the Great Decider decided that the day had been won. In defence of the declaration, excuses and semantic justifications have been given over the years to try and portray the event as something less than the collosal failure to well-wish reality into a more puiblic relations oriented shape, and many could justifiably argue that the United States just needed a victory, even if an illusory one. The less public relations friendly reality is that there have been countless deaths and casualties since Dubyah’s smiling, drawling speech, and Iraq remains a hell of a dangerous place plagued by terrorism.

Colonel Creighton insists that the lull in fighting has nothing to do with the annual lull that comes with the change in weather from fall to winter. This time, it’s all on account of the victories on the battlefield, says the Colonel, despite a greater degree of caution in the words of his American and NATO counterparts, who believe we will have to wait until spring before we will know if the lull will last.

Canada’s combat mission is set to end in 2011. Maybe I’m just a cynical turd, but I find it interesting that we are so boisterously declaring the Taliban routed right in time for our mission to reach its end. Almost like a scheduled “We’re done here, and see how well we’ve done?”

The truth is the lull has always been followed by a resurgence. Taliban leaders have used the very presence of western troops, seen as an occupying presence, as a recruitment tool to bolster their number. In a war superficially being fought over religious zeal, Islamic extremists are drawn to battle just by the very fact that Christian soldiers are in their homeland. The killing of one extremist incites the anger and ardour of another. Kill fifty militants, and a hundred more arrive.

This is one of the reasons I honestly feel that seeking out and shooting extremists is a poor way to change the situation. Violence begets violence.

No, I do not hug trees, nor do I have flowers embroidered on my bell bottoms.

It’s hard not to be cynical about an announcement of victory. Really, where’s the proof? Bodies littering the ground have not been a good barometer for success in this war, and each year the militants go on winter vacation in Pakistan about this time of year. Maybe we’re just not being told the whole story, and that’s quite likely, but even those in the know on the American and NATO side are preaching caution and a more humble opinion.

Which begs the question, how will we ever know that we’ve won?

It’s like punching smoke. The objective is so loose, so prone to change and obfuscation, that you can’t ever really tell if you’ve reached it. We’re fighting, presumably, a war on “terror.” If the Taliban are defeated in their homeland, does that mean terror has been defeated? Of course not; terrorism has been around since the Israelis self-servingly coined the term back in the 70s, and many groups have fallen only to be replaced by others. “Terror” is a tool, a method or weapon, not a bogeyman. Even then, “terror” is the result of actions, not an action in itself. There are plenty who would argue that Canadians and Americans are guilty of spreading “terror” as well.

Those with a cause who are driven to violence to further their agenda will always resort to the tactics and employment of the means that are available to them. Greater nations will resort to bombs and guns and superior technology, and those lesser nations or less organized factions will find whatever weapon they can get their hands on to inflict damage and “promote” their cause. It’s great that we, as a greater nation in a group of greater nations, have declared IEDs, car bombs and so on to be “implements of terror,” but I would imagine our strike aircraft and unmanned drones are considered terrifying to the opposition. Even armed equally, inferior numbers always try and find a tactic that will allow them to succeed over superior numbers. It’s the way battles and wars are fought, and to call one tactic less humane or proper than another is probably one of the most ironic and false things you can say.

We’ll know we’ve won the war in Afghanistan if we find ourselves living and working cordially with them. The day that we can safely vacation in the dunes would be a further indicator. The day when we see a man with a beard wearing a head scarf and >em>not have the immediate, knee-jerk impulse to wonder “maybe?” will also be a good indicator. More to the point, the day that we no longer look at the Middle East and feel that we have to civilize their culture is the day when the war is over. To win the war we have to change minds, including our own.

“Mission Accomplished?”

Hardly.

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