Monday, May 29, 2006

The troubling truth about Afghanistan

Like a lot of Canadians, I supported Canada's role in Afghanistan over the last few years. Getting rid of the Taliban seemed like a good idea, so if our troops were able to help the citizens of that country get back on their feet, then it made sense for us to be involved.

But in recent months, the issue has become a lot more complicated, as the fact that Canada is in a war zone became more and more evident. While we might still be there for the right reasons, what is the likely outcome of our involvement in this country - where news reports indicate the Taliban are regaining their influence?

Although there has been a lot more press attention on Afghans recently, it was only this past weekend that I started to feel like I was getting the real story. In an excellent review of the history of the war (I hope it's still available there) and the current situation, the Globe and Mail's Geoffrey York sweeps away a lot of the fog of war and exposes the truth of what is facing our troops in that country.
The Taliban know they cannot beat the coalition in a head-to-head battle. But they don't need a military victory. They only need to terrorize the "soft targets" -- doctors, teachers, government officials and villagers -- and destabilize the country. By destroying the economy and killing any sense of hope, they are creating a potential army of disillusioned young men.

It's a classic guerrilla strategy, and it's working. "The conventional army loses if it does not win," former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said. "The guerrilla wins if he does not lose."

As I read Geoff's piece, I couldn't help but think that the writing may be on the wall for this country. It's hard to imagine a good ending.

Having my eyes opened to the truth by reading a Geoffrey York article has happened many, many times before. I worked with Geoff almost 20 years ago, when I was a reporter in Regina and he was the Globe's Prairies Bureau Chief, based in Winnipeg.

He had a tremendous ability to find "the real story" when he came to town, often making those of us working there every day look silly for missing it. As a foreign correspondent for many years with the Globe, he consistently demonstrates the same ability to get to the heart of any story.

In his most recent set of stories from Afghanistan, he has brought a freshness to the Canadian angle and a harsh view of the reality of the situation that has been missing. I continue to be amazed at just how good reporters like him are, and how much we owe to these brave men and women who risk their life to tell us a story. (For another example, see Christopher Albritton's Back to Iqaq blog.)

I'm still not sure what Canada's future is in Afghanistan. Should we stay or go? I vote for stay for now, because when we make a commitment to the world community, we have a duty to fulfill our promise. But we can't afford to overlook the disaster that the government there has become. And if it's at all possible, we need to use our position there to influence and try to make a difference. But Geoff's stark story demonstrates just what a tough job that is going to be.

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