The Canadian flag was lowered at NATO HQ in Kabul on March 12th as Canada’s mission in Afghanistan officially came to an end (“Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan formally ends,” Canadian Press, 12 March 2014).
158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the 12 years Canada was present in Afghanistan.
Steven Staples was interviewed on CBC Radio in twelve different cities from coast to coast about Canada’s role in the war. Here’s how he describes the interviews:
This morning, CBC radio asked me how the war in Afghanistan changed the way that we look at the military, especially soldiers.
There are so many things that could be said to answer that question, but I focused on two.
First, what a tremendous cost there was associated to be paid for that war. Think of the more than 150 soldiers killed, thousands more who were injured – both physically and mentally, as the nine suicides of soldiers in the last few months have demonstrated. And the financial cost: at least $20 billion and we are still counting.
Second, that Canadians greatly admired the soldiers who literally risked life and limb on the ground in Afghanistan. They were fighting in a country that we did not understand and most Canadians still couldn’t point out on a map.
“How would that admiration for the soldiers affect future missions?” they asked.
I replied that it would be a mistake for the government to assume that the public’s support for the troops equals a willingness to engage in more combat, or pay for terribly expensive stealth aircraft or warships. On the contrary – Canadians are war-weary, and now realize that there are limits to what can be accomplished through military power. Once politicians send our forces to war, it is very difficult to get them out again. Canadians have not embraced the “warrior nation” role that many had hoped they would, and still want our forces to support peacekeeping.
“With the lowering of the Canadian flag and a symbolic end to our involvement, what will be remembered?”
I said that this chapter of Canadian history is unwritten, and that we are already engaged in a discussion that has been colloquially called, the “Was it worth it?” debate. Can we say that we lost the war? Well, war-proponents cannot claim victory, because while our troops are returning home, the future of Afghanistan is still very much in doubt.
Photo credit: DND