Who should be training whom?

Michael Johansen
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Normally there’s little about Prime Minister Stephen Harper that deserves praise, but his decision to send almost 1,000 Canadian troops to Afghanistan for training sounds like an excellent idea.

True, as usual, he seems to have made this big decision without consulting anyone else at all, but that shouldn’t be held against him in this case. It would have been nice to at least have informed Parliament, the citizens of Canada and the Department of National Defence beforehand, before the whole country was actually committed to the plan, but since this move so clearly speaks to the interests of the future defence of Canada, the PM can perhaps be forgiven his latest trend towards dictatorship.

After all, if Canadian servicemen and servicewomen need to be sent out of the country for battle training, they’ll find no better teachers than the Afghans.

Unlike Canada, Afghanistan has been a battleground for millennia, often no fault of the hardy people who live in the remote, mountainous, but much coveted land. Afghan armies have rarely ventured outside their territory to bother their neighbours, but those neighbours and others from far away keep coming to bother them. The Persians, the Macedonians, the Parthians and even the Sasanians had a go at Afghanistan in ancient times.

Afghanis fared no better in the Middle Ages. Starting with Genghis Khan riding in with his Mongol horde to thoroughly wreck the place in the 13th century, Afghanistan had to endure several waves of invasion and conquest from both east and west.

Naturally, this violent history has made the Afghan people well acquainted with the horrors of war and well-practiced at defending themselves, as well. By the modern age (by the time Europe industrialized, that is), they were widely known for protecting their mountain homes with considerable strength and tenacity.

Unfortunately, in the 19th century, the British chose to ignore the Afghani reputation and sought to expand their empire westwards from India over the Khyber Pass. After the bloody First, Second and Third Anglo-Afghan Wars, London managed to establish some control over some parts of Afghanistan, but it didn’t last long. The British adventure, however, set the stage for the later Soviet Army invasion.

The Soviets’ eventual retreat (leaving almost two million dead behind them) led to a period of civil war that was eventually (albeit temporarily) won by the militarily skilled and religiously political Taliban movement, the persistent remnants of which NATO is fighting today.

Canadian troops, as history amply shows, are second to none when it comes to fighting abroad. In burning the White House in Washington, in storming the beaches of Normandy, in liberating Holland, and in every UN and NATO mission since, Canadians have proven themselves to be the finest of soldiers, sure in their courage, fair in their determination and magnanimous in victory.

However, the Canadian military has woefully little experience in fighting wars on Canadian soil. There have been no hostile foreign armies in Canada since the last time the Americans invaded and were repulsed, which was almost 200 years ago.

Obviously, then, if DND wants soldiers trained in homeland defence, the department could hardly find better teachers than the Afghanis, since there are few people in the world with more experience. You never know when Canadian troops will need those skills. With oil growing short and water in high demand, and with the United States appearing a little shaky, that long, undefended border starts to look rather thin. …

   What? Oh … Harper’s not sending them to get training? I  see. Canadians are going there to do the training.

Actually, no. I don’t see.

Harper is sending 950 Canadian troops to train an army for the inept government of a corrupt and unstable president who thinks nothing of stealing his elections — an army, by the way, that is not only on the losing side of the reconstituted civil war, but is also one that has probably been heavily infiltrated by the enemy.

That mission makes no sense at all.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Department of National Defence, NATO, Soviet Army Taliban UN

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Canada, Middle Ages Europe India London Washington Normandy Holland United States Labrador

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