Last week the war on terror ended... didn't it? Israel ended its horrific bombing campaign in Gaza; Iraqi troops are slowly taking over control of the US operations in their country; In his second day in office; Obama closed down the illegal torture prison at Guantanamo. Indeed, with the passing of presidential power from Bush to Obama, the war on terror is now officially over. We can all take a big sigh of relief as hope and change washes over the Middle East, bringing peace to us all.
Oh wait... are we still in Afghanistan?
As it turns out, we are! There are over 2500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan conducting operations at a cost to the Canadian taxpayers of $1.3 million per day (Just imagine what that money could be doing for our crumbling infrastructure and cash-strapped municipalities back at home). Canada forms one of the largest contingents of the 31,000 troops from 37 countries currently there. Over 107 Canadians have died there, and of course there is no telling how many innocent civilians have died at the hands of our soldiers, our bombs, our guns (nobody seems to keep count of "collateral damage" like innocent civilians).
But it's not like we're at war there.. we're just providing security for development projects, right?
The fact is we're still hunting down militants and trying to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda... very similar to the way Israel recently tried to hunt down and destroy Hamas in the Gaza strip. Recall that during the Israeli incursion of Gaza some thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were killed in the barrage of missiles and bombs and bullets aimed at the militants hiding amongst them. If you think the situation is any different in Afghanistan, you're wrong. As it turns out, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission issued a report in December 2008 that accuses the Canadian and American forces of exacerbating the war because of air strikes and nighttime raids on civilian homes that often result in violence, destruction and death. The report notes "Afghan families experienced their family members killed or injured, their houses or other property destroyed, or homes invaded at night without any perceived justification or legal authorization." The UN notes that 25% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by air strikes. Of course, the Canadian commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Denis Thompson, denies that air strikes or home invasions - which undoubtedly terrorize the civilian population - are a problem and he claims that Canadian soldiers always follow "proper escalation of force procedures"... (just like the IDF soldiers in Gaza followed proper procedures there, right?).
But... don't we have a responsibility to NATO?
Our responsibility to NATO is to bring informed, intelligent debate to the table and explore all possible diplomatic options before making rash decisions like joining in a protracted war against an insurgent army. Like a good friend, we should be trying to convince our fellow NATO members that an invasion by a coalition like the ISAF is wrong-headed and will only strengthen the Taliban's resolve. If we were really interested in "development", we wouldn't be spending 5 times as much on our military mission as on our 'development' mission; we would have 2500 aid workers there, not 2500 soldiers. Besides, every NATO member has the reserved right to NOT declare war if another member of the alliance is attacked... but let's be clear, Afghanistan never attacked the United States (al Qaeda did), so why are we punishing innocent Afghan civilians?
If we're going to accept the hope and change rhetoric, then we're going to have to bring hope and change to Afghanistan. Let's pull our troops out and quadruple our efforts towards non-militaristic aid - genuine development aid. If we must provide such development projects with security, let's do it the right way, let's get the United Nations involved - particularly neighboring Muslim countries - to bring in and supply Peacekeepers to protect international aid organizations. The last thing we should be sending to Afghanistan is a malicious military force that invades civilian homes at night looking for suspected militants.
Amidst the economic woes and starspangled Obamamania that has taken over our full attention here in North America, we must not forget the fact that we are still at war, even though the warmongers have all been voted out of office.