Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Afghan Member of Parliament shows why Canadian troops should leave Afghanistan

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday February 12, 2008

Get out of A-stan already


You cannot hide the sun. Truth is truth and truth is very powerful - but it is very risky.

- Afghanistan Member of Parliament Malalai Joya

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper now wants to extend the military mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan past an existing commitment till 2009.

Parliament will vote on an extension in March. Canada has already lost 78 soldiers and a diplomat in combat in that tragic country, which we simply do not understand.

And yet, neither Harper nor any government members bothered to meet the most courageous woman in Afghanistan when she visited Canada late last year to learn more.

But I did, and what I heard was deeply disturbing, about Canada's role and about the Afghanistan government we support.

Malalai Joya is an elected member of the Wolesi Jirga, the Afghani parliament, a 29-year-old woman who has already faced four assassination attempts and numerous death threats.

Why? Because she is fearless in speaking out against the current Afghanistan government of President Hamid Karzai and the warlords and druglords who are current legislators.

Her criticism caused the Wolesi Jirga to undemocratically suspend her from parliament - but it has not stopped her from speaking out.

And when I interviewed her, it was clear why the overwhelmingly male Wolesi Jirga tried to silence her - and why Canada should end its military role in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Joya says working with the current Afghani government dooms our mission.

And she sympathizes with the families of Canadian soldiers killed in the war.

"To those parents who lost their sons and daughters in Afghanistan, it is not too late. They must raise their voices against the wrong policies of the government," Joya says.

"We need a helping hand, not occupation," she told me. "No country can bring liberation to us."

Joya condemns the Taliban guerrillas who are in combat with NATO troops, but she also condemns the Northern Alliance, mujahideen warriors who now run Afghanistan.

And Joya strongly opposes the death sentence facing Afghani journalist Sayed Parwez Kambaksh.

His crime? Allegedly "insulting Islam" by questioning discrimination against women in Afghanistan.

"Kambaksh has not broken any law, but he is a real journalist, one who is not afraid to write articles exposing the corruption of the fundamentalists in power," Joya told a British newspaper in January.

Is this the kind of government and democracy our troops should die to protect?

A country where a courageous woman is suspended from parliament and a brave journalist is sentenced to death?

It's time our own members of Parliament found some fraction of the courage Joya demonstrates and voted to end this disastrous military mission before more lives are lost.


Budd Campbell said...

Try telling any of this to Terry Glavin and Ian King.

Anonymous said...

Malalai Joya should be president of that beautiful crazy place. She is a voice of reason in a highly charged, complex place..a place that may be mad after so much violence and contradiction...absurdities.
Of course she can`t this she back in Afghanistan?
I hope she doesn`t return she not more effective now speaking from a distance? From safety?
She is the person we all should be listening to..and no doubt there are others as well.
Thanks for this Bill. I hope there are people looking out for Malalai.

Anonymous said...

That country has been having tribal wars for hundred of year so why do we think they want a bunch from Canada showing up to show them democracy? The fellow in charge was handpicked by George Bush and there is little improvement since.Mind you the poppy crop is the best ever. Canada jumps into the toughest part of the country to show them how things are when the Canadian army shows up. Their loss rate is pretty bad. They were origionally going to doing restoration but restoration doesn't work well if one is driving a 40 ton tank and shooting at anything that moved. The rate of usage of bullets idicates to me there isn't much peacfull reconstruction going on. Now it seems we need some armed helicopters to go with the tanks and long range artillary.What's next? Some submarines maybe? All this to fight a inter tribal war against folks driving unarmoured half ton trucks and since the country is full of discared shells, a improvided bomb doesn't take much work to build and the bigger the target, the bigger the pile of shells needed to blow up the Canadians who the locals see are folks in their way of running their local wars. It's tought for the women and kids but they are unfortunatly the victims. And the sad thing is that our so called leaders show no interest in speaking to a very brave woman member of Parliament. If she can on all gung ho for the troops McKay and his boss would be standing with her on the front page of Canadian newspapers. DL

Terry Glavin said...


I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't read my response to your last comment at my place. You will see I warned you against even so much as typing my name again, anywhere. Read it.

Dear Bill:

The thing I like about you - among the many things I have always liked about you - is that you're an honest and decent comrade, and you persist in an old-fashioned loyalty to the primacy of fact, which I share.

It is my sincere contention that what separates us on the question of Afghanistan (which you might be surprised to find is probably not all that much, by the way) has nothing to do with our basic views on life, and certainly not our basic politics. It about a wholly different understanding of the facts.

So. I hope you're enjoying your holiday, and I hope you won't bother to read any of this until you get back, but when you do, please take what I have to say in the spirit that it's given.

"Canada has already lost 78 soldiers and a diplomat in combat in that tragic country, which we simply do not understand."

That sentence contains two things. The first is an honest mistake. The second is an honest observation about how little Canadians know about what's really going on in Afghanistan. The two are more closely related than you might think.

On the first matter: We have not lost 78 soldiers to combat in Afghanistan. Most of those 78 deaths, which have occurred over a six-year period, had nothing at all to do with combat. It is now 2008; not one Canadian soldier has died in any active-combat incident since 2006.

This is not to trivialize the deaths of any of those brave worker-soldiers. It is to caution against politicizing their deaths, and against getting basic facts wrong. It is precisely because Canada's news media so often gets the basic facts wrong on Afghanistan that so many Canadians "simply do not understand" what is happening there.

As for Malalai Joya, I fear you will one day deeply regret the way the New Democratic Party and its supporters have more or less decided to let her do their thinking for them on the Afghanistan question. As for whether she's "the most courageous woman in Afghanistan," what is more to the point is that she appears to be the only Afghan woman most New Democrats have ever even heard of.

Among the many thousands of courageous Afghan feminists and human rights activists, you will also find a view that wholly opposes the "troops out" position commonly attributed to Joya, and is instead in keeping with the views of the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people with respect to Canadian and other NATO troops.

"Finish the job you started," is the way Dr. Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, put it to me the other day. (If you doubt that this reflects the majority opinion of the Afghan people, send me a note and I will send you a dozen public-opinion surveys and similar sources of data to support that contention).

It's easy to simply say "Canada should end its military role in Afghanistan as soon as possible." I agree with it. But the obvious implication in your statement is that it is possible, and indeed adviseable, for Canada to "end its military role" right around, say, now. It isn;t possible or adviseable. Not even close.

For Canada to simply pull its soldiers out "as soon as possible" wold be to defy the UN and turn its back on the nearly 40 ISAF countries in Afghanisan, most of which are nowhere near as rich and privileged as Canada.

If Canada withdraws from Afghanistan and leaves Kandahar exposed, the whole country would likely end up reverting to total warfare and chaos. If other ISAF countries followed Canada's example, this would be a dead certainty. Even Malalai Joya admits that much, so if you support what you contend is her position, you should admit the same. Joya would probably be among the first of Kabul's elite to be put to the sword. I don't call this "courageous". I call it a death wish.

And there's nothing in your column, not even some statement uttered by Joya in the heat of one of her fine rhetorical moments, that comes even close to showing why "working with the current Afghani [sic] government dooms our mission." We don't get to pick the Afghan government we work with. The Afghan people do, and we're stuck with Karzai and the rest for at least another year.

We may not be stuck with Stephen Harper's government for even that long. To my heartfelt and anguished regret, the left's default "troops out" position has doomed the NDP on this most terrible and difficult of foreign-policy matters.

The NDP's friends do the party no favour by encouraging a "stay the course" attitude to the troops-out posture the NDP has adopted.

What is at stake here is nothing less than the future of the NDP as a viable, credible, left-wing Canadian alternative.

I'm not going to come back here to engage anyone in debate. I am sick to the teeth of thugs like "Budd Campbell" responding to the claims I make on the facts by accusing me of being some sort of Liberal Party mole or spy. I am also tired of being called a warmonger, a neocon, a Zionist, and other such names.

You've got my number, Bill. You know where I am. My heart and my home are always open to you.

In solidarity,

Terry Glavin.

Anonymous said...

There's something remarkable about Tieleman's evasive language on this matter, dontcha think though? He's normally a blunt writer, our Mr T., and doesn't elide much.

But if you mention our Canadian Forces' bloody struggle in the Afghan desert, his prose vanishes in a sandstorm of "combat roles" and "military operations." WTF?

I think Tielemanic euphemism just shows how the Canadian left has degenerated, in general. Wait, hear me out!

Remember our horrific clash with the Communists on the Korean peninsula, and how the nascent UN tried to designate it a "police action"? Lots of tough-minded liberal and leftish folks rejected that bland bureaucratic term; it was the Korean War. I believe Alan Alda was born about then.

Fast-forward to 2008, and a new war erupts, another brutal, absurd, terrifying struggle that will cost us some – but not all – of the human decency we are duty-bound to fight for.

And all our Bill Tielemans and Alan Aldas, our sleek institutional Boomer lefties, respond with gassy doubletalk, politely overlooking key terms like “Islamist”, “fanatics”, “defeat “, “victory” and of course “war”.

ARK said...

Good column. So good, I wish I could be optimistic enough to believe that the pen (/keyboard) is mightier than the sword (/foreign policy establishment).

David Rieff's said some pretty provocative yet sensible things about Western human rights interventions being imperialism in a new guise.

Anyway, you're right: most Canuck pols (& most Canucks, incl yrs tly) don't have a clue about Afghanistan, its people, its culture, nor the geopolitical implications...

I recall Evan Solomon's interview last year with Maximus Bernier, our foreign ministry CEO, before his first visit to Afghanistan. Maximus was asked something along the lines of: Why do you want to go? Maximus answered: So he could come back and tell Canadians how much progress was being made building schools, entrenching human rights, protecting the rights of women...

I remember thinking to myself at the time: Why bother going Maximus? You've already made up your mind, you'll see what you want to see (possibly at the same chalk-outlined tarmac Laura Bush had scrutinized months before)... so just save a few bucks.

Well, I digress. Thanks for drawing attention to the human security factor. That too often gets lost in the shuffle, especially now that Canada's once more ostensibly noble foreign policy aims have been buried by exigencies of State Department and Pentagon outsourcing.

Ian King said...

Well, Bill, truth is dangerous indeed -- and playing fast and loose with it moreso.

Er, you were aware that Malalai has never denied that a withdrawal of forces would send the country back into civil war, weren't you? In fact, she's said as much. The inaccurately named "anti-war" movement doesn't seem to bother with that truth; too busy parading her around like a prize catch. She's talking out of both sides of her mouth, but seems to be shown off a lot, telling people what they want to hear.

I do not know of too many people that think that the Afghan government is some shining beacon in Central Asia, but Canada does not get to choose between it and some hypothetical alternative with less corruption and no warlords. It's a choice between the Afghan government with all its flaws -- but one that's possible to improve -- and a civil war. Canada and the rest of the international community can work to reduce corruption, or to overturn Syed Parwez Kaambaksh's death sentence. Can't do that in a state of anarchy -- let alone the Taliban. Holding out hope for some imagined perfection is a nice dream, but it's not going to address the current situation.

For that matter, we don't get to do any development where there's no stability. If there's a civil war, aid workers have are lucky to get in let alone deliver much beyond substenance; don't even bother to think about building schoolhouses or infrastructure when it'll be destroyed in short order. "UN peacekeeping?" Sure. There was a toothless UN mission in Afghanistan between 1993 and 2001. A great success. Not.

Of course, maybe we just pull up stakes, but enough forces replace them that the country doesn't fall into anarchy. Maybe there's just destabilization. Maybe nothing happens except that Canada's reputation reverts to that of providing all assistance short of help. To hell with those alternatives.

What the New Democrats (and you, as their faithful propagandist) are proposing is a Canada in the narrow, parochial mold advocated by the Laytonites, the Council of Canadians, and wherever Steven Staples is working today. A timid and lazy lightweight preferring to look inward rather than engage the rest of the world. Last to help, first to flee, ready to walk away regardless of what happens next.

Never mind that the democratically elected Afghan government wants us there, that every survey of Afghan opinion supports ISAF and foreign involvement. Never mind that the last thing they want is another decade where the world abandons them to become pawns in an uncontrolled conflict between mujahadeen factions. Never mind that there will be more violence, not less. Never mind that with an Afghan government not yet ready to take control, it means abandoning every last bit of progress in that country -- every school, every bit of infrastructure, every bit of education and representation for women that's been gained -- and going right back to square one after putting them through more years of war, with millions displaced and thousands more dead. That's what "troops out now" amounts to. More war. Afghans are the victims.

Pay it no mind. "Support our troops, bring 'em home" and to hell with the people of Afghanistan. That's what your position is, Bill. That's the truth.

Canada owes Afghanistan better -- for their welfare, for our security, because it's the right thing to do and the alternative is unthinkable. Stability, development and assistance to those in need and seeking relief from decades of war are Canadian values. The responsibility to protect came from Canada. The "troops out" crowd ignore all this.

I'll leave you with this from Lauryn Oates, who's somewhere between here and Afghanistan right now, and who's been on this file while the rest of us were obsessing with fast cats and Monica Lewinsky:

"In Canada, we have the NDP, the traditional leftist party, arguing on that postion to with draw troops. To me, that's a pro-war position because the results of that would be further conflict and the worsening of the security situation.

"They're pro-war, which goes against everything I think the left should stand for. I think it It's a huge betrayal of leftist values and that caused me to abandon that party."

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for the comments so far - I will reply to Terry Glavin and Ian King upon my return on the weekend.

G West said...

The thing that troubles me most about the ad hominem nature of the attack which is always leveled at people from the left or elsewhere who disagree with the Canadian 'mission' in Afghanistan is the utter ease with which they mangle the language and avoid the facts on the ground. A situation they mostly know little or nothing about and which they have learned at the knee of people who are so deeply imbued with right wing thinking about the ‘moral’ nature of war as to make their analysis useless. This is so clearly illustrated in the make up and report of the Manley Commission and its Amerophile conclusions as to be quite laughable.

The idea that the "NATO" force in Afghanistan is anything like an association of equals being directed independent of Washington is so utterly absurd as to be laughable. We are doing the bidding of our American masters; riding in American helicopters; being directed by American generals and espousing American policy: policy which has everything to do with geo-politics and nothing to do with human rights.

Scoring a few facile debating points about the 'length' or the nature of the 'combat' mission appears to be about all the supporters of this failing exercise is actually capable of doing.

The Afghan people themselves are not exactly unanimous in support of their own government; let alone united in their desire to have foreigners continue on in 'any' role.
People like Mr. Glavin who see it as their duty to excoriate the left for a problem it had little or nothing to do with creating is absurd.

If you have a case for continuing the mission, you ought to be able to make it without the kind of name calling which characterizes virtually all your writing these days.

Why not just do it and stop calling people who honestly disagree with the mission traitors, sell-outs and thugs.

The use of such language is almost always directly proportional to the weakness of the case being advanced.

Even the most even-handed critical commentary such as Bill Tieleman has written here will quickly attract a buzz of personal derision and opprobrium.

Even to the point of preaching that only one party to the argument 'really' understands the facts.

Such generosity of spirit is quite refreshing!

Anonymous said...

In the last couple of weeks the masses have been fed crap about whether Canadian soldiers have died in "combat".

It is ridiculous. And Glavin also engages in this splitting of hairs, and then accuses Tieleman of equivocation - of being misleading (maybe for an audience of psychopathic generals?).

So, lets say after a battle, Canadian troops return to their base and a Pakistani-trained ISI sniper starts to pick them off at the base or maybe an unemployed teacher just rigs an IED down the road. So, technically the Canadians are not currently in combat, according to their commander. But, just becuase one returns to base, doesn't mean the fight is over. Maybe the commanding officer has declared it to be over. And this leads to what Glavin wants us to do: follow the military commanders. Accept their terms and definitions in their profession of government sanctioned killing. When captain X says the soldiers are in combat, they are in combat. Dammit!!! Is the military going to start up some P3 project with Glavin writing press releases?

What would a mob boss think? If a mob boss could treat his men as so much chattle as the military does, the January gang war in Vancouver would probably still be going on.

It is disturbing to write on what constitutes combat deaths. Only a sick mind paid to play in the Great Game would raise such an arugument. In my community that person would not be given the time of day. That argument is so far beyond the pale of acceptable discourse. It cheapens life - makes it meaningless even. It is an idea that is formed in the mind of a ghoul in a torture chamber, brought to the light of day during gin-soaked lunches amongst arms dealers, and then presented as a vocabulary term at military academies. It should stop there. It should not enter our airwaves.

This argument over what constitutes a combat death is utterly psychopathic. And it is usually mentioned in the same breath about Canadian soldiers not being aggressive enough - that soldiers are not being sent out into combat enough.

I believe Canadian soldiers were compared with the American 82nd airborne in a CBC news report last week when the message was sent out. How utterly disgusting. Our airborne was dismantled after the torture and killings in Somalia. The American airborne, whose atrocities in Fallujah have been reported as those of "murdering maniacs", now serves as a model to us in what is considered a civilized society.

Glavin has stepped outside of civilized discourse and is detailing gore and pornography.

So, the 82nd airborne are the extremists that Glavin would want Canadians to become? Oh, so they can then become cops to fight the gangland wars in his former hometown. Get off your little island Glavin and back to reality.

Anonymous said...

I did a large number of years serving the King, the Queen,and the Canadian government and find it strange that Terry considered being blown apart during a war by a roadside explosive device not the same as dying in combat. If there is no combat condition it's sort of unlikly there is any road side bombs. Tell the army guy who got his head wacking in with an axe,that it wasn't a war. I notice they now wear their helmets and have a armed guy behind when talking to the local elders.

It's technically correct that folks weren't shooting each other at the time. What does one think of being shelled on a regular basis at the only safe base around should be called? I would suggest a lot of us don't have experience in that country so may I suggest reading of a couple of recent books on the subject. The first is well know, written by an Irish chap who walked across the country just after the Taliban were routed( i don't have the title as my copy is loaned out.)He wrote about the inter tribal fighting and the often threat so death which appeared to be the norm. He covered the poppy crop as well. Gwynne Dyer wrote "The Mess they Made. The Middle East after IRAQ, and : The unexpected war. Canada in Kandahar. All those writers certainly have more knowledge than those of us who answer blogs.I mentionedbeing ex military because we were all there as volunteers We went where sent. Questiom authority and it's out the door after a suitable amount of time in the digger. Folks died doing their jobs without shooting at people. Thousands of folks spent up to 38 years and are still not considered veterans. They and I don't collect any verterans allowances. One half om my course on C130's( the same aircraft serving in the war right now, modified somewhat the but the same kites as in the mid 60's)

We hear the gung ho crippled guy who says I'll go back tomorrow, or the families saying our son/daughter died doing what they wanted to do. But the odd story comes out from returning troops about lack of equipment even though our troops have bigger guns, tanks than the USA. Some of those guys talk to guys they used to know prior to that deployment and many are not so shit hot ready to go back for more medals. Many have damaged minds besides damanged bodies, What they don't have is transport helicopters nor support aircraft as the US uses in their combat operations. One does not get killed at altitude shooting and anyone that shows up on the ground.A suisidebomber on a bike is as dangerous as any other type of weapon at short range.

Some folks are using sematics to downplay the woman MP who showed up in this country. One hopes she will survive opening her mouth.

We won't be letting any one down by leaving, our extended tour of so called (restoring the buildings water, sewers can be handed to others) is till next year. Go find some other country that is willing to carry the freight. We have a limited amount of infrantryfolks, many who have done a number of tours in assorted places. They have repeat tours in the works because, contrary to what General " kill those scum bags" Hilliers has to say, recruiting is no where near where they hoped it would be. My God, to see a corporal with four or five medals shows me a shortage of bodies to fill boots in the army. The origional role Canada signed on to is not the one they are doing now. I really hope you experts read the books I mentioned. Dyer used to be a navy officer and writes a lot for papers around the world. Eugean Lang worked served as Chief of Staff to two Defence Minister from 2002 2006. His co author Janice Gross Stein holds a number of positions and is a has awards as the outstanding contribution by a social scientist to public debate. I do wish I had my other book for reference, The Irishfellow who walked the country and spent so much time in assorted villages under control of so many tribes.
One writer talks of the Korean war. Is he aware that Canada used to called it, not a war but armed conflict. It took years for those fellows to get benefits for putting their lives on the line. Cheaper to twist words and some folks on this and other blogs like to do.

If you are armed and aresubject to being attacked by someone in a vehicle or you step on a concealed bomb there is no other word for it, it's a war.
Canada never likes to callanything a war as it ends up costing them money for the damaged ones.

Bill you can sure stir up the folks, even when out of the country

Budd Campbell said...

I don't claim to be an expert on Afganistan. However, the parallels between supporting the Diem regime and supporting the Karzai regime need to be recognized. Supporting or working with a corrupt or otherwise failed regime brings endless trouble to Western armies.

As to what overall strategic purpose is served by American or Nato troops in that country, it obviously flows from Sept 2001. But since then, according to an article in Foreign Affairs, Al Qaeda has simply removed its HQ to Pakistan, and is now stronger than ever before because of very successful recruitment in Iraq and a generally prospering atmosphere for its cells in Europe and elsewhere. Surely this calls the basic strategic nature of the mission, and therefore its price in terms of combat casualties, into question.

In the opinion of the Foreign Affairs author, a former CIA employee, Al Qaeda's number one objective at this time is to lure the United States into a war with Iran, with the further hope that an American military already stretched thin next door will resort to the use of nuclear weapons. At some point in the future, a new terrorist attack on US soil would be all but inevitable.

I find it hard to imagine the combined consequences of an American nuclear assualt on Iran coupled with new Qaeda terrorist bombings in the continental United States.

I think Layton is right, and Karzai for once may be on the right track, by recommending a negotiated settlement with the Taliban units in exchange for Western financed development and assistance, predicated on a cleanup of the Afgan administration and the elimination of warlord influence.

Anonymous said...

When you poke your head above the trees, it seems a simple enough problem. Afghanistan's factions have been warring forever because none has a clear enough power advantage to enforce itself as the dominant force in the country. A semblance of peace has only ever been achieved with very carefully-wrought power-sharing deals.

We come in our our white horses and oust the wicked Taliban, who were wreaking havoc after managing to consolidate too much power. We set up a new power sharing arrangement that excludes them.

We now have 3 choices. 1) We stay forever to give the other factions the edge they need to keep the Taliban from ever regaining a share of power. 2) We withdraw and let them fight it out and eventually settle it through another bloody civil war; or 3) We face the no less ugly reality that peace will only come through another political power-sharing deal that includes all factions.

We know that #1 won't work indefinitely because our resolve will eventually crumple, probably leading to #2, which will be tragic for the Afghan people.

While #3 makes most sense, it's hard for Canadian politicians to argue for a power-sharing deal that includes those evil folks that we invaded the country to oust in the first place. So hopefully public support will hang on until Canadians' memories of the wicked Taliban grow fuzzy enough to allow such an option to be put on the table.

Bill Tieleman said...


Dear Terry,

I’ve now had a chance to thoroughly read your comments here about my column on Afghanistan, as well as on your own website.

On your website, echoed here, you state about my column:

“The first mistake is an honest but outrageous mistake that also skates perilously close to making partisan politics out of dead soldiers: We have not lost 78 soldiers to combat in Afghanistan. Most of those 78 deaths, which have occurred over a six-year period, had nothing at all to do with combat. It is now 2008. Not one Canadian soldier has died from engaging in "combat" since 2006.”

I find your point about the definition of “combat” to be bizarre. When soldiers die as a result of violent enemy actions, in particular Improvised Explosive Devices, that’s combat to me.

I don’t understand what useful purpose defining combat differently serves anyone.

Now let’s deal with your claim that this “skates perilously close to making partisan politics out of dead soldiers”. What are you talking about?

I seriously do not understand where you are going with this or why. Partisan? In what way?

And to say it is “outrageous” makes me shake my head even more.

Now let’s address Malalai Joya’s comments about foreign troops in Afghanistan.

You and Ian King both approvingly quote Joya from a 24 hours interview with Irwin Loy as saying that “civil war” would result if NATO’s military mission ended.

But you conveniently ignore what Joya said before and after that statement, leaving out all the context and contradictory information.

Here are the parts of the 24 hours story of October 26, 2007 that you haven’t quoted:

“Foreign troops in Afghanistan, she says, are not helping.

‘No nation can donate liberation to another nation,’ she said. ‘These past six years are a clear example.’

Joya then continued:

“Asked what will happen if the foreign military withdrew from Afghanistan, and Joya is sure of her answer.

‘Civil war,’ she said.

But if the troops remain?

‘If the U.S. and its allies continue to support the Northern Alliance, tomorrow another 11th of September will happen,’ Joya said.

‘Our only hope is other countries like Canada will act independently and support freedom-loving democratic parties in Afghanistan.’

Joya’s position is more complex than you give credit for.

As for myself, it’s obvious that after seven years of massive military and economic support from Canada and other countries, Afghanistan remains a battleground.

The situation is not a longer Canadian military mission or more troops – we cannot defeat the Taliban, certainly not while supporting a government composed of key repressive warlords and drug lords who profit from the radical expansion of the opium trade.

That evil business, by the way, which puts heroin on the streets of Vancouver and cities around the world, is centred in Afghanistan. A full 92% of all opium now comes from that country, a huge increase since the time when the Taliban almost eradicated the trade in 2000.

Terry - both of us believe in democracy and human rights.

But where we part paths is in the use of military means to promote social change in a foreign country.

I believe, as even Hamid Karzai has said, that talks with the Taliban – difficult as that would be – are the eventual solution.

Like it or not, the Taliban have significant support amongst the Afghani people and they will not be militarily defeated.

Sacrificing untold numbers of Canadian soldiers in a war that cannot be won is irresponsible and immoral.

Withdrawing our troops must be done wisely and while supporting an end to the conflict – which may not be possible, given the U.S. position.

But to continue a military role in Afghanistan indefinitely, as the Conservatives and perhaps now the Liberals support, is unsustainable, illogical and dangerous.

Dr. Sima Simar of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, you quote as saying: “Finish the job you started.”

Unfortunately military intervention in a country’s internal war has rarely succeeded in achieving results unless peace talks are the goal, not defeat of one side.

Finishing the job should mean finding a solution to the war that rages in Afghanistan, not committing Canadian soldiers to the eradication of the Taliban, which is impossible.

Afghanistan has a long history of defeating foreign armies with a vengeance. Canada is not going to be the exception to that rule – unless we dramatically change our approach.

I appreciate your contribution to this debate and regret that some comments posted here by readers make personal attacks more than informed points but I prefer that this website remains as open as possible to all perspectives rather than appoint myself as content editor.

Your views are always welcome here, even when we disagree.

Yours warmly,

Bill Tieleman

Bill Tieleman said...



I think most of my comments directed above to Terry Glavin apply equally to your posting here, but with a few additions.

First of all, I regret your need to make personal attacks in what I think should be a debate of facts and opinions.

You can accuse me of playing “fast and loose” with the truth if you wish but it only lessens the impact of your words, not amplifies them.

I also don’t appreciate being called the NDP’s “faithful propagandist” either. I do generally support the federal NDP but I don’t work for them and I criticize their position and that of the BC NDP whenever I see reason to do so. You might ask Carol James about that or read some of my past columns if you don’t believe me.

As to what would happen if Canada withdraws its military, it is obvious that a negotiated settlement is the only solution to Afghanistan’s woes.

Your solution – fight on till the Taliban are eradicated – is neither possible nor sustainable.

And if any position is “pro-war” I would argue it is the one you put forward.

Regards - Bill Tieleman

Terry Glavin said...


I appreciate your response. I'm dealing with it over at my place, where you also posted.

Any anonymous wankers and trolls from who follow you over from here will be deleted.

Terry Glavin said...

Ah, screw it.

I was just going to have this over at my place where you also posted your response, but I'll save you the trouble and copy it here:

Dear Bill:

As I said in my original message to you, our positions are probably a lot closer than you might think.

Where we differ is in our understanding of the facts, but please, let's also be honest: Your position and the NDP's position are one and the same. I'm not saying this to encourage people to draw any unseemly inferences, so be fair: What you say and what Jack Layton says, right down to the rote citations from Malalai Joya, are the same. Your assertions about "combat" and Canada's "combat role" are exactly the same as Jack Layton's.

In your case, at least, I will take it on faith that you sincerely mean it when you say you find my statements about "combat" bizarre. I hope to show you that the reason you find them bizarre is that your understanding of the facts about our "combat" role in Afghanistan is wholly and utterly wrong. I hope also to show that when you get your facts right on this question, the entire Canadian "troops out" position crumbles into dust.

But we'll start with Jack Layton on the subject. The first words out of Jack Layton's mouth when the Manley Panel report was released were: "For six years, the Liberals and Conservatives have had Canada involved in a counter-insurgency combat mission in southern Afghanistan."

Here's just how wrong that is.

Roughly 850 Canadian troops were deployed to Kandahar - that's in southern Afghanistan - between February and August of 2002. They were engaged in a variety of combat situations, including a major three week "combat" operation that ended March 18 of that year.

Then we left Afghanistan. We came home. We returned in August, 2003, to Kabul (not southern Afghanistan) where we engaged in a variety of non-combat roles and activities, certainly nothing resembling a "counterinsurgency" or "combat mission" of any description.

The Afghan Women's Network began to mobilize across Afghanistan, begging ISAF to extend the rule of law throughout the country; the world listened, various international commitments were hammered down and even Hamid Karzai, "the mayor of Kabul" got on board.

In November of 2005, Camp Julien, outside Kabul, was shut down, and Canada took control of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team.

It was not until February of 2006 that "Operation Archer" put Canada in the lead for security within the Kandahar PRT's jurisdiction. It was not until September 2006 that Canadian Forces engaged in a full-bore combat operation, called Operation Medusa - the mythical "George Bush style counterinsurgency warfighting combat mission" we keep hearing about.

Our soldiers have not been engaged in any "counterinsurgency combat" of any consequence for the past several months.

That's it.

You wrote: "Canada has already lost 78 soldiers and a diplomat in combat in that tragic country, which we simply do not understand."

"In combat," you wrote.

I'm not defining the word combat in any bizarre way. I use the term the way it's found in the Oxford English Dictionary, and in the matter of our engagement in Afghanistan, I look to the facts of our soldiers' deaths there when I consider the truth of your claim that "Canada has already lost 78 soldiers and a diplomat in combat". I invite you now to look at those same facts, yourself, and reconsider the truth of your claim.

The overwhelming majority of Canadian soldiers' deaths in Afghanistan have had nothing to do with anything resembling combat. They mostly died from IEDs, vehicle accidents, helicopter crashes, suicide bombings, and so on. As you will have noticed from the timeline I provided above, there has been hardly any combat to speak of.

Let's look at the more recent record.

Number of Canadian soldiers to die in combat in 2007: Zero.

In 2007, we lost 12 soldiers to IEDs - which would have killed them just as dead if they were completely unarmed, or weren't even soldiers. Roadside-bomb and landmine deaths in 2007:

The last Canadian soldier to die in combat was in 2006.

This goes to the very core of the way the "left" in Canada has got it wrong on the Afghanistan question. Call it a "George Bush style warfighting counterinsurgency combat mission" until you're blue in the face, it will still be a lie.

And it will still make decent people like you, Bill, look completely silly when you say these things. And you make it worse for yourself when you say, when a soldier gets killed by an IED, "that looks like combat to me." You can't decide to call something "combat" just to make it suit your claims. That's called making the facts fit your rhetoric, and people will notice, and people will see that you're trying to make the truth conform to a preconceived political position.

You write: "I don’t understand what useful purpose defining combat differently serves anyone."

Great. Take your own advice, then. Don't. Just say no, Bill. The NDP has apparently decided to define "combat" any way it wants, to serve its own purposes, and I agree with you. It should stop.

And that's the trouble Jack Layton is in. The more people learn about Afghanistan, the worse he looks.

The more effort that goes into bending the truth to make the NDP look good, the more transparently bogus the rhetoric gets, and the more obvious it becomes that "troops out" politics are based on fiction - and in this particular case, a very specific fiction. A myth.

Here's how the "warfighting counterinsurgency combat role" myth evolved.

"Combat" is just one term military strategists use in setting out the terms of what are known as "rules of engagement." These terms become a kind of shorthand when journalists and headline writers use them, and then they enter the language of common speech - often finding their way back, in distorted form, into the terms journalists use. As soon as self-proclaimed "anti-war" polemicists and politicians pick them up these terms immediately mutate into tropes and memes that have nothing to do with words' original meaning.

The next thing you know, people are writing things about Afghanistan that have nothing to do with the facts, with the truth.

You can't simply define "combat" any way you want - you do, and you end up saying things that “skate perilously close to making partisan politics out of dead soldiers”. That's what I was talking about.

The term "counterinsurgency" is an another example. Unlike most of Afghanistan, Kandahar is a hellhole of lawlessness and Taliban whackjobs, foreign and domestic. The shorthand for that is "insurgency." Our soldiers' rules of engagement there have to reflect that fact - they can't just invent some new soundbyte or fancy word to make it go away. They have to deal with it.

When our soldiers get shot at, their rules of engagement say they should shoot back, and if they can, they should sometimes go looking for the whackjobs doing all the shooting, and shoot them. That's what the "counterinsurgency" is. That's it. That's all.

And this: ". . .where we part paths is in the use of military means to promote social change in a foreign country."

No we don't. That's nuts. I'm not proposing that we use "military means" to "promote social change" in Afghanistan. Nobody is. It's not happening. It isn't true.

"I believe, as even Hamid Karzai has said, that talks with the Taliban – difficult as that would be – are the eventual solution."

There have been "talks with the Taliban" and other armed groups underway since 2002, Bill. Canada and the UN have participated in the demobilization of almost 60,000 former mujahadin since then.

What's new is a very dangerous move afoot - which Layton got himself sucked into - to effectively acquiesce to the hardline holdouts through a UN-driven process of "bringing the different sides to the table" that has already been tried. It was called the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan. It began in January 1994. It accomplished absolutely nothing.It ended on September 11, 2001.

Read my op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, based on that interview with Sima Samar, if you're interested in what the "left" in Afghanistan thinks about doing all that over again.

Even Malalai Joya doesn't want that, Bill. You can't have it both ways.

"Like it or not, the Taliban have significant support amongst the Afghani people and they will not be militarily defeated."

This is a myth of scandalous proportions. I offered to send you 12 sets of empirical data on what the Afghans say about the Taliban (and by the way, it's not "Afghani people"; an Afghani is a unit of currency). The last numbers I saw had nine per cent reporting favourable views of the Taliban.

And as a conventional fighting force, the Taliban actually were quite soundly "militarily defeated" long ago. That's what the suicide bombing is about. What to do about it? Start by reading the Manley Panel report, or any of the recent Senlis Council reports, or the U.S. Afghanistan Study Group report. Read anything, and you will find that "Sacrificing untold numbers of Canadian soldiers in a war that cannot be won" isn't what anyone is proposing.


"Withdrawing our troops must be done wisely and while supporting an end to the conflict – which may not be possible, given the U.S. position."

I have no idea what that means. It reads like one of those weird gaffes Stephane Dion always makes. "Supporting an end to the conflict?" Is there someone you're not telling us about who does not support "an end to the conflict?"

Which U.S. position? The only U.S. position that counts right now are the positions the Democratic Party candidates have staked out. And they're much less likely to withdraw troops than Bush would be if he were still hanging around. And they're much more committed than Harper ever was.

What counts is what NATO/ISAF does, and if we pulled out, we'd be the first and only country out of nearly 40 ISAF countries to do so.

I'm going to start winding up here, Bill, because I'm afraid there is a fish-in-a-barrel opportunity in pretty well each and every sentence you wrote, and this could go on for a while. Forgive me, but I can't resist the temptation for just this one:

"Afghanistan has a long history of defeating foreign armies with a vengeance."

The exact opposite is true. If there is another country in the world that has been defeated as many times as Afghanistan has, go see if you can find it. And the only relevance your statement has to anything relies on the presumption that Canada's NATO/ISAF engagement is some sort of unwelcome foreign occupation that "Afghanistan" is fighing to defeat.

That's one of the most outrageous myths about Afghanistan out there right now. It's lala-land.

In fact, at long last, the Afghan people are finally winning. Canada is playing a major role in making that happen. The overwhelming majority of the Afghan people want us there.

I'm with them, and so are an increasing number of Canadian socialists, liberals, and progressives.

The NDP is not. The mainstream "left" in this country is not. And I am sadly resigned to the prospect that the "troops out" position that the NDP has adopted - and which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon describes as "a misjudgment of historic proportions" - will prove perhaps the greatest single misjudgment, on any issue, that the NDP has ever made.

My opinion is that the NDP's friends should do something about this, instead of making things worse. And that, Bill, as far as "opinions" go, is pretty well the only major point where you and I appear to differ.


Terry Glavin

Ian King said...


I'm not of the view that expressing my judgment of your argument or commenting on your party loyally are in any way personal attack. My view is that you have ignored the implications of withdrawing, and drawn much of your argument from a quixotic (to put it mildly) source. Second, you don't just generally support the NDP; you're a member and regular financial contributor, and you've been running (and working) in those circles for an awful long time. It's fair to say that you've got an awful lot of ties to the party that extend beyond social ones. Not being in the party's direct employ is an awful low bar for passing yourself off as an independent. If you don't want to be seen as acting on tribal loyalties, it's best not to be part of the tribe. (In all seriousness, have you ever disagreed with the Layton NDP?)

You are misrepresenting my position. I'm against any immediate pullout for all the reasons I've stated, and don't favour any arbitrary pullout date for time simple reason that we don't know what the situation will be in 2009, or 2011. There is nothing to indicate that this is the time for a negotiated settlement, as the results will be unacceptable.

I certainly don't subscribe to the defeatist attitude that we are in an unwinnable war and we should therefore pull out -- or negotiate something, anything, then pull out. There needs to be a stable Afghan government, and reasonable parties to negotiate with. The question is always this: what happens next? A negotiated solution that leaves a government that'll quickly be disorganized by civil war is worse than staying. So are negotiations where the first thing sold off are women's rights, followed by those of ethnic and religious minorities. Recall the Taliban's (who, by the way are strongly supported by only a few percent of Afghans, with "somewhat" support being in the teens) opening position from last year.

A simplistic call for a negotiated settlement now is asking for disaster. I don't think there will be a grand negotiated end (though some groups will inevitably do so, including the lower-level chunks of Taliban fighters), but a gradual change in the nature of Canada's presence and its role. I'm sure that Canada will remain in some sort of role for a long time -- think Cyprus.

Abandoning Afghanistan to civil war is far more "pro-war" than that.

Malalai Joya is an odd case; she's flamboyant, has garnered a certain cult status among the activist set, and her heart seems to be in the right place. Kinda reminds me of Roslyn Cassells that way. She knows how to dish out the rhetoric (and real, intense personal attacks that would get her tossed from most parliaments), bit it's mostly just that. You won't find her views mirrored much over at the Afghan Women's Network, which spans a wide range of activists and NGOs. They'll criticize the government or the insensitivity of the mission or development to local concerns when it's warranted, but you'll not hear many calls for a pullout. We don't get the so-called peace movement trotting any of them through Canada on speaking tours.

Problem with relying on Malalai is that she is, as you say, contradictory. In one breath, she's warning of war in Afghanistan by withdrawing, then asking for it. She wants us to support freedom-loving and democratic parties. How are those parties (such as the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan) supposed to grow and gain experience in leadership in the midst of a civil war? The only ones who gain power in that situation are the warlords. Then there's the rhetorical nonsense about how we'll face another 9/11 by supporting the current government -- the same one packed with those who fought against the government that gave safe harbout to al-Qaida. A lot of it just doesn't add up, but it sure sounds good to the "anti-war" set. Suppose they need an Afghan pol whose rhetoric is mostly compatible with their own.

Now for my favourite Malalai line, "No nation can donate liberation to another nation." Well, no, except for two-thirds of Germany, much of Continental Europe, Japan, South Korea, Bosnia, East Timor (arguably, and too damned late), and Kosovo. None of those places progressed toward freedom without help from the international community. In too many cases, it's dithered for too long before doing the job.

It's ironic that you're repeating this quote on the same day that Kosovo declared independence. It probably wouldn't be happening had NATO, including Canada, not stepped in to avert another genocide (and weaken Slobo, much as that didn't sit well with fringe pseudo-leftists), which in turn allow the Kosovars to gain the stability and security to form a government without constant threats. I'm sure you know who initially supported that mission, then wanted to stop the strikes and special forces ops when the job was only halfway done. That's where I lost a lot of affection toward the New Democrats on foreign-policy matters.

Isolationism and defeatism -- let alone the radical defeatism spouted by the fringe left and paleocon right -- does not work for me on any level, and it is possible for concerted international efforts to improve human security, sometimes with the use of force. That's where we disagree.

Anonymous said...

Easy there, gentlemen! Look, Terry's point about our Army's non-combat deaths is a subtle one. He ain't "detailing gore and pornography" as Mr Cheerful above has said, nor is he pretending there's no war.

He is just noting that our men did not die in battle, but were murdered. Not attacked, but executed. Which is a significant distinction. I think some posters here have deliberately misconstrued Terry's meaning. It's good of Tieleman to admit he doesn't get it.

It's astonishing the Scholars ever tried to engage the Princess Pats in open battle, actually, since they are really *only* murderers, and mostly murderers of Afghans at that, as they have shown in power, in defeat, and at the dogfight in Kandahar today.

Don't forget that these murderous non-soldiers are allied with innumerable other Islamist murder-gangs in a vast global movement dedicated to the mass murder of, mostly, their fellow Muslims. Yes, they are. Let's not pretend otherwise.

I think Terry's saying this is a new species of enemy in the human world, and we shouldn't play our usual political parsing games while it gains strength. I could be wrong.

Finally, it's a bit mathematically nutty, isn't it, to declare that killing jihadi murderers just encourages 'em? This is the crux of Tieleman's "unwinnable war" argument -- like, Al-Qaeda and Talib operatives are superhuman hydra-monsters or something. Actually, they are men; we can win any kind of war against 'em; and we're going to have to, sooner or later, citizens.

Budd Campbell said...

Further to my last post, here is a link to the Foreign Affairs article, the summary and a bio sketch of the author.

Al Qaeda Strikes Back
Bruce Riedel

From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007

Summary: By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa -- and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda's leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.

Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95).

Anonymous said...

Somebody blew up a bunch more civilians in the coutry today and did damage to three Canadian soldiers. Some would say i'ts a war action others will say it's not because the Canadians wern't shot.Others ay it's murder Its all word twisting. We went there under the UN to help rebuild the country, shifted down south under a different control NATO. Which NATO country was attacked?

I figure if someone is about to kill you because you are not on their group, its war folks. Just as dead or wounded by a gun, rocket, driving fast to prevent getting shot and rolling over the vehicle, or roadside bomb.

Anonymous said...

It really comes down to differing best guesses on whether one of several plausible past scenarios from history will be repeated if we do this or that in Afghanistan. No one has an edge on "the facts" because you're all projecting the future and as such there's no winning the argument, just acceptance that opinions differ, depending how much weight you put on this or that factor or assessment.

So there's no way to predict with certainty what happens if... (if we stay, if we pull out, if we encourage a negotiated settlement) in order to gauge which is the wisest course of action. In any case, the decision in the end will come down to the will of Canadians and what they are prepared to believe, whether or not it has any basis in reason. No facts or elegant arguments will count in the end, just the national gut feeling.

History suggests that Canadians are prepared to accept some "reasonable" fatality rate in overseas missions, and to dig in for the short or medium haul, as long as there is a sense that our boys (and girls) are doing us proud and building a better world.

We have not indicated a willingness for great sacrifice unless we see our way of life directly threatened, as in the World Wars. Right now, Canadians are far more concerned about climate change and the stock market than Muslim fanaticism, and I don't expect that to change. Even Americans, who did see themselves under direct attack, have tired of supporting an overseas war on terror.

So IMHO, it's just a question of how much longer Canadians will be prepared to wait things out in Afghanistan. My best guess is another year or two - perhaps more if things go well, less if we suffer heavy casualties (from any cause) or bad press.

So the question I think is really worth addressing is whether it makes more sense starting to work on a political compromise in Afghanistan now or whether this is better left to the last minute.

G West said...

Not exactly Terry:

Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan began soon after Sept 11, 2001 when a naval group deployed to the Persian Gulf in October of that year.

In February of 2002, a battle group of PPCLI soldiers was sent to Kandahar for six months as part of the American effort called Operation Enduring Freedom. Our troops were active in the unsuccessful offensive against elements of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the rugged southern regions.

From August 2003 to December 2005, our military commitment was as part of Operation Athena, based in Kabul, as part of the International Assistance Force, which had the aim of providing intelligence and security to allow "rebuilding the democratic process," something which eventually saw elections in the fall of 2005. Only from that point forward can it be said that there were any foreign troops in the country at the request of the Afghan government.

On July 31, 2006, NATO troops assumed command of all military operations in southern Afghanistan. The ISAF already had troops elsewhere in Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, and in the north and the west of the country.

At that time Lt.-Gen. David Richards took charge of the NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. He deployed 8,000 NATO soldiers - including 2,200 Canadians - and some largely ineffectual Afghan units to the six southern provinces by mid-September 2006. That deployment was subsequently increased to 2,500.

To suggest that activities in theatre have not been military and that they are not combat operations is to understand nothing of asymmetrical guerilla warfare. Exactly the kind of war the IRA fought against the British for generations and precisely the kind of thing the Mujahdeen/Taliban are fighting now.

Nasty and brutish – but war none the less.

To call it anything else is to suggest that Gen Ricky Hillier is a bold-faced liar and his crusade to kill scum-bags is little more than a lark. If the Canadians who are coming back to Canada in coffins and body-bags aren't dying as soldiers then they shouldn't be dying there at all.

If we want, as a nation to adopt Afghanistan as our pet project then lets do it whole-hog: institute conscription and send 100,000 troops there for the next 10 - 15 years.

Only that kind of commitment will work and you know damn well that's not going to happen.

Half-way measures are pointless; a pointless waste of time, lives and resources.

The sooner we realize this, the better.

Get real!

kootcoot said...

Mr. Glavin:
As usual reading your typed version of mutterings it is difficult to imagine just how your brain functions. I usually just assume that you are consciously trying to stir people up with illogical statements.

For starters, how you can deny anyone the right to type your name is baffling. But maybe you have it copyrighted.

How you can conclude that no Canadian soldiers' death since 2006 is combat related, is an egregious example of trying to make logic dance on the head of a pimple. If one is "outside the wire" guarding a convoy or "on patrol" in "enemy" territory and gets blown up by an IED, is that an industrial accident? Maybe we should discuss what the meaning of "is" is.

During WWI, if a soldier was killed by an artillery shell while sleeping in his trench, I guess he wasn't a combat casualty, at least according to Logic 3-Z as taught by Professor Glavin.

I prefer to read the thoughts of someone who tries to apply logic to his discussion rather than someone who seems to be trying to be a terrorist with words.

Many decades ago the Brits "left" Afghanistan, of course not before they left many more than 78 or 79 dead behind. More recently the Russians found Afghanistan a bit too much to bite off, and they had a lot more troops and equipment invested than the current American effort disguised as NATO. What is it about Afghanistan that seems to cry out to the Imperialistic hubris in otherwise sane nations, "send us your finest, we've got an unlimited amount of available space for graves."

Any student of history might notice that Afghans don't particularly like each other, but they tend to come together and patch up their differences, at least temporarily, to deal with real outsiders.

Terry Glavin said...


So many anonymous shut-ins, so many semi-literate pseuds. So many own goals, so little time, and none of it worth taking here.

G West said...

Pretty typical Terry - just about exactly what I've come to expect from you: Small minded, mean-spirited, self-centered, arrogant and just plain bad mannered and rude from start to finish.

I now understand why you and Ian make such a fine pair. The only sad part is that you're NOT anonymous - you'd be so much easier to ignore then.

kootcoot said...

Terry, you seem to claim to be literate. I haven't really seen any evidence of that, however!