Canada`s unexpected Afghan war


Canada`s unexpected Afghan war
Global Television documentary examines the decisions behind the military mission
Canwest News Service
Global National news anchor Kevin Newman narrates Revealed:
The Path to War, which airs on Tuesday at 10 p.m.
looks at Canada’s involvement
in Afghanistan from the inside.
It’s a chronological account
built around interviews with
the politicians who made decisions on policy as the conflict
developed — including former
prime ministers Jean Chrétien
and Paul Martin, as well as former defence ministers John
McCallum and Bill Graham.
The documentary also suggests that our military leaders
— especially the current chief
of the defence staff, General
Afghanistan as an opportunity
to show the world that Canadian forces were capable not
only of peacekeeping but of a
combat role on the world stage.
9/11 attacks set
Canada on path
to Kandahar
Afghan war
Early in, early out — that was
the plan back in February 2002
when Jean Chrétien’s Liberal
government sent Canadian
troops to Afghanistan as part
of an international coalition
mandated to drive out the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks.
It was supposed to be a
short-term mission, but six
years later, Canada is still
mired in a messy war that’s
claimed the lives of 79 Canadian soldiers so far.
A new Global Television documentary examines how
Canada ended up digging itself
in deeper and deeper in
Revealed: The Path to War
airs March 11 in advance of a
parliamentary vote on an
extension of the mission that
would see Canadian troops
remain in the volatile province
of Kandahar until 2011.
“I’m fascinated by trying to
uncover how the decision was
made,” said Global National
anchor Kevin Newman, who
co-produced, co-wrote and narrated the film.
“It’s not always about helping the people of Afghanistan.”
Some of the choices made
along the way have been more
about pleasing the Americans,
the documentary suggests.
Having decided against participating in the war in Iraq,
Canada felt pressured to continue making a major contribution in Afghanistan.
“People ask why are we in
Kandahar,” said Newman. “It
has less, probably, to do with
Afghanistan than it has to do
with not going to Iraq.”
Based on the Shaughnessy
Cohen Prize-winning book The
Unexpected War: Canada in
Kandahar by political scientist
Janice Gross Stein and former
Defence Department insider
Eugene Lang, the documentary
Canada was compelled to
participate in the initial
Afghanistan mission once
NATO invoked Article 5, which
states that an attack on one
member is an attack on all.
Beyond our responsibilities as
a NATO member, there was
also the need to show our loyalty to the U.S.
Still, Canada’s part in the
war in Afghanistan was never
meant to be an open-ended contribution, notes Stein in the
film. The original plan was “Six
months in, six months out, tidy,
wrap a bow around the package.”
It’s turned out to be anything
but tidy as Canada’s role grew
to include leading the Interna-
tional Security Assistance
Force in Kabul in 2003 and
assuming responsibility for the
provincial reconstruction team
in Kandahar in 2005 — a combat zone where 2,500 Canadian
troops are still deployed.
“This is the story of Canada
going to war by incremental
steps, without ever fully realizing it,” says Stein in the documentary.
“We make a small little toe
in the water, and then we pull
out,” said Newman. “Then we
go back a little longer, and then
we pull out. . . Now we’re about
to go in the longest with the
proviso that we’re pulling out
in 2011, but as the documentary
sort of suggests, sometimes
things change in the fullness of
time and the 2011 date, which
seems permanent today, may
not end up being that at the
Newman says the documentary was inspired in part by
The Best and the Brightest,
David Halberstam’s book about
how a series of incremental
decisions led to the protracted
U.S. war in Vietnam.
The current decision makers chose not to participate in
the film, despite producers’
best efforts to persuade key
Tories, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to agree to
interviews. Gen. Hillier was
also approached.
“Nobody would agree to talk
to us,” said Newman.
The Liberals, on the other
hand, were able to speak freely
now that they’re no longer in
Former defence minister
John McCallum, in particular,
is disarmingly frank, speaking
openly about how Canada
ended up being stuck with the
unenviable job of trying to
bring security to the increasingly dangerous province of
Kandahar. “We dithered, and so
all the safe places were taken
and we were left with Kandahar.”
What: Revealed: The Path to War
When: Tuesday, 10 p.m.
Channel: Global
Canwest News Service
The story of Canada’s war in
Afghanistan has been told
before, but only in part.
Revealed: The Path to War,
an ambitious, hour-long news
program produced and narrated by Global National
anchor Kevin Newman, lays
out the entire narrative, as
recounted by the political leaders and military officials who
made the decisions — decisions that, in Newman’s words,
“Canadians have died for.”
The program begins with
the now-familiar images of
hijacked passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, but it
doesn’t dwell. Jean Chrétien,
prime minister at the time, is
shown delivering a post-9/11
eulogy to then-U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci —
“In the end, it is not the words
of your enemies that you
remember; it is the silence of
your friends . . . there will be
no silence from Canada” — and
former prime minister Paul
Martin’s assertion, in a one-onone interview with Newman,
that, “We share more than just
a continent” with the U.S.
The Path to War provides a
straight chronology of steadily
escalating events, from the initial agreement in 2002 to a
short-term combat role in Kandahar — “early in and early
out,” in the jargon of the time
— to 2003’s peacekeeping role
in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul,
to the 2005 decision to commit
more than 2,000 troops to a full
combat role in Kandahar.
Path to War is more than a
straight chronology, though.
Newman sits down with a wide
range of officials, including
Chrétien, Martin, former
defence minister Bill Graham,
former veteran affairs minister John McCallum, Martin
aide Scott Reid and Cellucci
himself. He gets them to confide what happened behind
closed doors in the chambers
of power.
How the key decisions were
made, when, and more importantly, why, prove harder to pin
Path to War relied on veteran foreign affairs policy analyst Janice Gross Stein and
former defence chief of staff
Eugene Lang’s book The Unexpected War as a template. Stein
and Lang provide frequent testimony throughout the program. That testimony is both
illuminating and sobering.
“The problem,” Stein cautions at the outset, “is it’s easy
to get in, but not so easy to get
out of a deployment.”
That’s easy to say with the
clarity of hindsight, but it’s an
important reminder just the
same. Canadian Forces have
been posted to Bosnia for 15
years, Stein notes; no one anticipated at the time they would
be there for so long.
The implication of Bosnia is
plain, as Parliament wrestles
with the dilemma about what
to do in Afghanistan.
That is the real reason for
Path to War. It’s more than a
straight history lesson. It sets
the groundwork for the
national debate: are Canadians
prepared to sacrifice for a
noble cause, and how long
should the country remain
committed to the mission if
other countries in NATO are
unwilling to commit their own
military forces to a faraway
Rapidly unfolding events in
Afghanistan frequently make
it onto the nightly news.
Instant satellite communications, 24-hour news channels
and a virtual army of experts
and foreign policy analysts
eager to jump in with their
opinions have created the disorienting effect of a faraway
combat mission unfolding in
real time, before our eyes, in
our living rooms. Path to War
tries to put those events in a
larger context.
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