I met my new brothers-in-arms at the old Tilston Armouries in Windsor before we bussed up to Meaford, Ont., for Army Reserve basic and infantry training in the summer of 2001.
We beamed that August when we earned our Essex & Kent Scottish Regiment capbadges.
Terrorists hit the twin towers just a month into our military careers. While many of us would put in a few years of Reserve service here in Canada and then head off to university or work, others deployed to Afghanistan to attack al Qaeda at root.
In 2006 during Operation Medusa, one Class of 2001 recruit was severely wounded as American bullets rained down from the sky in one of Canada’s worst friendly fire incidents since Korea.
I’m thinking about him a lot these days.
The Americans are engaged in fresh rounds of diplomacy with the Taliban. Both sides are looking for a political settlement so that the Americans can go home under Trump’s “America First” isolationism and the Taliban can get on with whatever radical Islamists do all day.
And where is Canada? When’s the last time you heard Prime Minister Trudeau or Foreign Minister Freeland lay out a serious vision for the future of a place that hundreds of Canadians died or bled for?
In late January the Americans and the Taliban hammered out the outlines of a deal. It would swap steady US withdrawal — save for a small counter-terror combat force and some extended European support for training Afghan troops — for promises from the Taliban that they wouldn’t harbour international terrorists. Canada is nowhere to be seen at these talks. Apparently our leaders have accepted this will be an America-First exercise. They exclude not only us but the legitimate Afghan government, whose senior national security advisor said the talks are “a humiliation for the Afghan government.”
This is a mistake that could have huge ramifications for the legacy Canada will leave in Afghanistan.
Trump’s impulse to retreat risks throwing away all of the real — though unfinished and halting — progress made in that country. Legitimate Afghan political control exists over most cities and a majority of the population. Education in that country remains a tremendous challenge, but there’s a foothold to build on. And most importantly, having 15,000 or so allied troops in Afghanistan means credibility for the fledgling rule of law, a forward presence to disrupt and destroy terror cells, and a watchful allied presence in a region rife with geopolitical and terror risks to the US and its friends and allies.
No one is more concerned about the US pull-out than Afghan women. In February, at an event unthinkable under the country’s once and potentially future Taliban rule, a gathering of more than 700 Afghan women came together to express to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani their fear about what an allied withdrawal will mean for their well-being. “You should put (Taliban) killers in prison, not make peace with them,” said one attendee according to reporting from the New York Times.
In all this, Canada’s legacy in Afghanistan is at stake.
Canadians fought there to destroy the thugs who murdered our American friends and to address 21st century security threats like clear-eyed adults. Will Canada’s leadership allow Trump to throw that all away?
It won’t take long. Locking in defeat will be easy. The Jihadists are itching to re-enslave swaths of the Afghan population temporarily empowered by western and indigenous Afghan efforts — especially women. Terrorist organizations such as ISIS-K, Islamic State’s Afghan subsidiary, are lying in wait.
Of course it’s true that nothing — even wars — lasts forever. And it’s legitimate, however misguided, for the Trump administration to want to cut losses.
But Canadians died and suffered gross injury in Afghanistan. We deserve a seat at the table.
It should be remembered that after World War One, Canada insisted on our own seat and our own say in the councils of the world like the League of Nations. It was a right our citizens earned with blood.
Given Canada’s role combating post-9/11 terror, we deserve no less a say in western Asia’s future this century than we did in Europe’s a hundred years ago.
At the very least, we deserve political leadership that will doggedly pursue it.