In a recent conversation with The Canadian Press, Canada’s top soldier says he’s having some difficulty keeping Canada’s soldiers, sailors and air personnel satisfied with staying out of major combat zones for the time being.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk said the fact that Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan will come to an end in 2014 once the current training mission concludes, has been a disappointment for many of our men and women in uniform.
For those Canadians who have heard and heeded the call to military duty, it only makes sense that they would want to use their training and expertise abroad, to get some real world operational experience and hopefully do some good in the world. This is especially so in the wake of the decade-long mission in Afghanistan that has augmented Canada’s reputation for military prowess in the eyes of our Western allies.
Afghanistan is not the only place in the world where Canadian troops serve — Canadian Forces personnel are currently taking part in at least 25 operations around the world, according to the Department of National Defence website, including the Sinai Peninsula, the Congo, other parts of the Middle East and the high Arctic.
By far, however, Afghanistan has set the standard. In 2006, when Canada took on a larger role in Afghanistan and our troops were deployed to the volatile Kandahar province, there were 2,500 Canadian forces personnel stationed there, 1,200 of which made up the combat battle group. Since 2002, when our involvement first began, 158 Canadian soldiers have died in the war or in support of that war.
While Canada may be winding down its work in Afghanistan, there are plenty of other international hot spots where Canadian Forces may take an active role in the future. Among the most notable right now is the bloody strife between Syria’s government under President Bashar Assad and opposition members who want the dictator taken out of power. The Toronto Star reports that in the past 16 months of the Syrian protests, nearly 17,000 people have been killed.
Just this past week, Canada and the United States blasted Russia and China for blocking a United Nations plan to force Assad from power.
It is not unimaginable that at some point in the not-too-distant future, Canadian troops may be called upon for some kind of military operation in Syria. Nevertheless, while Canadian soldiers may be ready to take on the world, are Canadians ready to send them into harms way?
That may be a tough sell. In 2011, an Angus Reid public opinion poll showed that nearly 60 per cent of Canadians opposed extending Canada’s mission in Afghanistan past 2014. Recent embarrassments, over the procurement of new helicopters and the F-35 fighter jets, come just as budget cuts loom over the Department of National Defence.
Our federal leaders also know the public has very little appetite to see more soldiers come home physically or mentally wounded, or worse — have them die while in combat.
As the general said, “the world is turbulent right now” and allies such as the cash-strapped United States will be asking more of Canada in the future.
After a decade of war, it may be time for the Canadian Forces and the federal government to do a little soul searching. How has Afghanistan changed the way Canadians perceive our role in the world? Is there a different role Canada can play? And what, it must be asked, can we afford, both financially and socially?
We simply cannot continue to operate internationally without a new sense of purpose for our armed forces. While that reality may disappoint newly minted military personnel and seasoned veterans eager for the next operation, taking stock is a necessary operation too.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 9, 2012