Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Concerns Over War in Afghanistan

Our War in Afghanistan has hit the news again with the mishandling of the repatriation of the latest Canadian victim of Harper's foreign policy, Karine Blais.

I recently watched a movie called Taking Chance and was amazed at the respect given to fallen U.S. soldiers when they are brought home by their military escort, and naturally expected that we would do the same. Apparently not.

Defence minister sorry for repatriation 'error'
Edmonton Sun
Sat, April 18, 2009

HALIFAX -- Defence Minister Peter MacKay is apologizing for the way the military handled the repatriation of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, and he says such a mistake won't happen again.

MacKay said yesterday an "operational error" was made when a plane carrying the remains of Trooper Karine Blais, 21, stopped in Ottawa and then carried on to Canadian Forces Base Trenton.

Military officials say about 117 soldiers got off the plane in Ottawa before the flight continued on for the repatriation ceremony in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday. MacKay said he believes officials wanted to allow the soldiers to return home faster, rather than have them land in Trenton and then make the trip back to Ottawa.

It is customary, as a sign of respect, that no one leaves the transport plane before the deceased has been removed.

"Clearly it was a mistake."

MacKay said Canada's chief of defence staff apologized immediately. The minister said he spoke with the family of Blais, who died when the armoured vehicle she was riding was struck by a roadside bomb.

"Certainly the last thing we would ever want to do is show any disrespect to our fallen heroes," he added. "I don't think it was meant to be insensitive or to show any disrespect. I think it was an operational decision that was meant to get soldiers home sooner.

If he is really dedicated to getting soldiers home sooner, he should give the orders to withdraw.

This war has gone on too long and we must now work toward diplomacy, not further combat missions. When Stephen Harper was elected in 2006 one of the first things he did was change our mandate from a 'Peacekeeping' initiative to a 'Peacemaking' one, and the devastating results were immediate.

Afghanistan – Harper imitates Bush's cut-and-run, support-the-troops rhetoric

Canada became involved in the NATO occupation of Afghanistan to placate the Americans for not sending troops to Iraq. The nature of Canadian involvement changed radically, however, once Stephen Harper's minority government was elected in January 2006.

Harper has always backed the aggressive military behaviour of the United States. He enthusiastically supported the US invasion of Iraq and complained bitterly when Canada did not send troops there. "I don't know all the facts on Iraq, but I think we should work closely with the Americans," he told Report Newsmagazine, March 25th 2002. He voted against a motion urging the Canadian government not to participate in the US military intervention in Iraq on March 20, 2003.

Most Canadians, however, did not support Canadian involvement in Iraq. Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien arranged to send a few troops to relatively safe parts of Afghanistan as a quiet, face-saving endorsement of America without high costs. Later under Prime Minister Paul Martin and Defence Minister Bill Graham, Canadian troops were deployed to more dangerous southern regions on the advice of newly-appointed chief of Canada's land forces Rick Hillier. When the Harper Conservatives won their minority government, things intensified.

Canada rapidly became involved in the same kind of high-stakes, high-risk war-fighting activities as the US. With this new emphasis came casualties. "As Canada's troop casualties in Afghanistan mounted in the summer and fall of 2006, so did the calls for us to stay the course and 'rally behind our troops.'" writes Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig in her 2007 book Holding the Bully's Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire, "With each new death there were new pledges not to 'cut and run,'" echoing the rhetoric of George W Bush.

McQuaig points out that the war in Afghanistan was an illegal war of aggression at the outset with questionable status today. It was launched without regard for international convention, negotiation attempts made by the Taliban government or the human rights abuses of its Northern Alliance allies. By definition it is illegal. She quotes Canadian international law professor Michael Mandel as saying that Afghan civilian deaths represent "'very serious crimes, in fact supreme international crimes,' because according to international law asserted at the post-World War 2 Nuremburg Trials, 'To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime... '."

"The Harper government claims (among other things) that the fight in Afghanistan is about the establishment of a democratic government that respects human rights, in particular the rights of women. In fact, this fight is not about human rights and never has been," wrote political scientist James Laxer in Straight Goods in February 2007.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda grew out of the earlier struggles of the Mujahideen from the 1970s to the 1990s to overturn the pro-Soviet regime that was kept in power by Soviet troops. The United States provided enormous financial aid and direction to the Mujahideen, knowing that they were virulently opposed to the rights of women. Now the US and its NATO allies are fighting the political forces Washington helped create.

"While the human rights record of the Taliban government was atrocious... we must never forget that the US played a large role in creating the Taliban. Moreover, the Northern Alliance and other allies of the US in the struggle to overturn the Taliban government have been guilty of major human rights abuses including rape, public executions, bombing of civilians and the massacre of prisoners."

From the beginning of Harper's new campaign of aggression he followed George Bush's lead, including his ridiculous "cut and run" mentality. But like his U.S. Counter part he tried to hide the results of his horrendous policies.

Canadian Govt bans media coverage of return of soldiers bodies

Tories won't lower flag for troop deaths

This war has not only been a financial drain, but a human one. The recent death of Karine Blais has brought the total number of Canadian soldiers killed to 117, more than one hundred of those during the 'reign' of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives.

Mr. Obama has a new strategy for Afghanistan, that includes a massive push to rout out insurgents in both Afghanistan and Palestine. This may be a too little too late, or too much too soon, but there definitely needs to be a new direction. But what role can Canada expect to play in this?

It's clear that we can no longer focus on combat. Our top general, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, has stated that our troops are ill-equipped and battle weary, and the Prime Minister himself has openly declared that we can't win this war. When Fox News broadcast the parody on our military situation with the news from our military leader that we may need a year off to revamp; many Canadians were outraged, especially those in the Harper government.

However, it should have been an eye opener for us as well. The tank boondoggle and over ambitious goals of military might, need to be addressed, not swept under the rug. Fox apologized, but I don't think they needed to. Sadly, they were right.

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