Ninety years ago, Canada’s victory at Vimy Ridge seemingly solidified the role of the Canadian military in the world. The recent announcement of six more fatalities in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll to 51, has caused many Canadians to question that role. The questions raised when Canada committed troops to the mission in 2002 have resurfaced: why are Canadian troops there and when are they leaving? Once again, the Canadian government is offering plenty of rhetoric and few answers.
In a statement, National Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor noted that Canadian troops are increasingly under attack in southern Afghanistan because they’re succeeding in making the country a more secure and stable place. The justification for Canadian involvement in the UN-sanctioned, NATO-led mission was that clearing out the Taliban government would allow Afghanistan to become stable, secure and democratic.
Five years later, insurgencies continue and Canadian fatalities continue to chug along at the same torrid pace–36 Canadian troops died in Afghanistan in 2006 and the 2007 figures are on par so far. Assuming fatalities continue at the same pace, approximately 78 troops will have perished by the sixth anniversary of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan early next year, and well cross into three digits next summer.
This leads to the other question: when does the Harper government decide to pull out? The short answer is likely never. With the recent budget allocating more for military spending, the Conservative government has made it clear that Canada’s role on the international stage–as a peacekeeper and military role model–is one they intend to maintain. The irony is that Canada’s increased presence in Afghanistan has seemingly come at the price of its other commitments. According to UN reports, Canada only has 139 active peacekeepers, placing its commitment below that of Fiji, Zimbabwe and Cameroon. To contrast, Ghana has committed nearly 3,000 troops to peacekeeping duties.
Ever since Vimy Ridge, Canada has been an international role model when it comes to military activity. Former prime minister Lester B. Pearson is regarded as the father of modern peacekeeping, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Canada has been a staunch supporter of UN efforts around the globe ever since. Now we’re being beaten at our own game by Fiji. The Conservative government has made their bed, stating that the 2,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan will likely remain there for the foreseeable future. Thankfully for Canadian troops, how long the Conservative government stays in power is still up for debate.