Canada’s Unexplained Military Presence in Afghanistan

Disinformation Distorts Public Opinion Surrounding the Occupation

Since Ottawa sent military support to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Canadian public opinion has generally hovered in a state of confusion, with many people unsure of exactly why troops have been sent there in the first place.

Now, however, that befuddlement is steadily being combined, if not replaced, with a sense of distrust and agitation.

And understandably so. Canadians largely remain perplexed as to why Ottawa has sent troops to a war which many see as unjustified, and even more seem to feel is still unexplained. No solid reasoning has come from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to elaborate on the very general statements released this far, which have simply declared that Canada is now “committed” to the war. Despite the rising military and civilian death toll overseas, he claims that Canada now has a “better military” from the experience.

Contrasting with the tranquil and vague rationalization from the federal government has been a rabidly defensive outcry by the armed forces. Conveniently disregarding the large number of innocent people killed in the invasion and consequent occupation, military officials have been quick to respond to anti-war sentiments by offering up the suggestion that the public often forgets about “all the good things” which Canadian soldiers contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

An intensified pro-military advertising campaign in Canada over recent years has been coupled with corporate media refusing to carry out a critical analysis of the political and economic reality of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. This has fostered the conditions for at least partial support of the war by working class Canadians.

But the attempts at winning over public opinion have not been as successful as some political leaders and military brass had hoped. According to recent polls, nearly 50 per cent of Canadians are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Public demonstrations against the occupation are still strong, with thousands protesting in the streets throughout 37 cities last October 25, in order to spread the truth about the Conservatives’ agenda.

When examined, the often ignored numbers don’t lie either. Canada entered a war that aroused international popular condemnation, and which is now responsible for the deaths of between 20,000 and 49,600 Afghanis, according to Jonathan Steele of the Guardian. Canada’s participation in Afghanistan provides essential logistical support to the simultaneous US war in Iraq. Canada’s death count in the Afghan “theater of operations” is now at 45 troops, with an additional 150+ injured. In analyzing the number of dead, the math paints a dreary picture which is difficult to understand. Great Britain, which currently has 4,700 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, has had fewer troops killed than Canada, which has fewer than half the number of British soldiers stationed there. Meaning that Canada’s fatality rate is double that of the British rate. Yet these realities do not penetrate Canadian media.

Further displaying the success of wartime propaganda at work, an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of CanWest News Service this past September showed that of just over 1,000 Canadians questioned, 80 per cent actually believe that Canadian forces are conducting a “vital humanitarian mission” in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the truth is far different from this common misconception of the Canadian military as being one of peacekeepers eager to reconstruct war-torn communities.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan currently have approximately 90 per cent of their work consisting of combat missions, and only 10 per cent allocated to humanitarian projects — a scandalous injustice when it is considered that 1.5 million people in Afghanistan are suffering from imminent starvation. Canada’s participation in this US-instigated war helps maintain the annual deaths of 268,000 Afghani children under the age of five who pass away from easily treatable diseases such as diarrhea and pulmonary conditions.

Since Canadian forces arrived in the region in late 2001 (and actively engaged in on-ground missions beginning in early 2002), the US government has been able to utilize more of its military resources in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Mainstream press in Canada has been largely silent on this matter. There was an equal lack of publication on the confirmation from Ottawa in April 2003 that over 50 Canadians were actually fighting in Iraq, placed there via exchange programs with the “allied” forces.

Canadians are faced with the challenge of choosing between blind nationalism and a critical perspective on the economic realities underlying the occupation of Afghanistan, through which Canada has enrolled itself as a military junior partner of the US global empire. As the body count of both Afghanis and Canadians grows higher, the facts are becoming clearer as to the true intentions behind the war, and the necessary illusions which cloak them.

Shane Ruttle Martinez is a Catalan Canadian independent journalist and human rights activist based in Toronto, Canada. Read other articles by Shane, or visit Shane's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Kim Petersen said on May 26th, 2007 at 6:42am #

    Canada’s service of empire in Afghanistan did not begin with the Conservative Party. It began with the lesser evil of the Liberal Party, which has abetted US imperialism all along.

  2. sk said on May 26th, 2007 at 7:32am #

    FYI, an insightful audio interview of a Russian vet from that country’s war on Afghanistan in the 80’s:

  3. Emily Young said on May 26th, 2007 at 2:02pm #

    The war in Afghanistan is a noble cause for Canada to be involved in. The war began as a practical response to the 9/11 attacks. Now, the West — who overthrew the Taliban — are obligated to help Afghanistan emerge from the misery it has felt for decades.

    If you believe the war in Afghanistan is “unjustified” then you are either pro-Taliban or you are living in a world of make-believe. If the western forces leave, the Taliban and Al Qaeda will rule Afghanistan.

    Do you seriously think that is better? If you do, then you certainly do not care for people as much as you pretend to do with your knee-jerk, far left rhetoric. Do a poll of Afghan Canadians and see what they think about your ideas. Or would you rather impose your own views of the world on people because “you know better.” Certainly you would never do that. Only the “corporate” governments do that.

  4. stephen said on May 26th, 2007 at 6:22pm #

    one could also point out that so far, the wars have only created more terrorism — the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do. military intervention has never stopped terrorism. other countries in the region have always turned, internally, to what works: policing. policing has also not led to the destruction of two societies, one of which (afghanistan) somehow actually got worse than it already was, while the other (iraq) has been turned into a terrorist den and hell-hole in what was, up until foreign intervention in the early 90’s, on the verge of turning itself into something resembling a “first” world country.

    under a brutal dictatorship, yes, but that’s never stopped the west from dealing with a country in the past. or openly supperting it. which then led to the current mess.

    perhaps if the west started minding their own business, there wouldn’t be so many problems. it hasn’t ever been tried before, so who knows?

  5. David said on May 27th, 2007 at 6:15am #

    “Despite the rising military and civilian death toll overseas, he claims that Canada now has a “better military” from the experience.”

    Absolutely true. Anyone in the military will state, without any doubt, that limited combat experience makes soldiers and the army as a whole much better, even if a few good people die in the process.

    If you don’t understand why, try reading:

    “Meaning that Canada’s fatality rate is double that of the British rate.”

    Your analysis of this is wrong in so many ways that I don’t know where to start. So, in no particular order: Many of our casualties are blue on blue (friendly fire). If we had our own close air support, instead of relying on Americans, we might have fewer of these. The British are engaged in combat just as much as our soldiers – comparing casualty rates with them merely shows the luck of the draw. Actually, it probably shows that the Taliban figure the Canadian public is more inclined to be swayed by propaganda attacks and so preferentially target our people, rather than the British. Your comparison of casualty rates would be more appropriate with the Germans, which also have more troops on the ground than we do. However, they are not engaged in combat because of national caveats. You can gripe about these but you’re wasting your time; Canadians, in the past, have operated under similar restrictions while other nations did the dirty work. Rest assured that the German soldiers are just as upset by this as the Canadians are. Soldiers generally don’t want to be left out of the fight.

    And, really, the whole “should we be there” argument boils down to the question: what do we want our army to do? National defense, peacekeeping, or peacemaking? Again, read
    for another prospective on this. If you don’t want to read, just ask yourself one question: Does the UN Secretary General want Canadian soldiers to abandon combat operations in Afghanistan and join blue-beret peacekeeping operations somewhere else instead? (Hint, the answer is a resounding “NO”) Canadian soldiers are engaged in combat in Afghanistan under UN mandate – get over it.

    As for the comment: “one could also point out that so far, the wars have only created more terrorism — the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do.”

    Well, I agree that attacking a country is only going to create more terrorists. I would surely become one if, for example, the US invaded Canada. However, invading Afghanistan is about eliminating SAFE HAVENS for terrorists. In this, it is surely a success. Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to operate openly; there is no doubt in this.


  6. sk said on May 27th, 2007 at 6:25am #

    Minding their own business? And what would come of democracy promotion?

  7. sk said on May 27th, 2007 at 9:37am #

    Interesting thoughts on how Afghans themselves might view the matter by a man who founded an NGO there 20 years ago (near the latter part of this Q/A):

  8. al on Vancouver Island said on May 27th, 2007 at 10:59am #

    The Bush administration could have “fixed” Afghanistan long ago – could have destroyed the Taliban, could have made the country a half-decent place to live – could have rebuilt the infrastructure, built hospitals, schools, clinics, bridges…

    “could have” set an example of Western resolve – and Western benevolence – for all of the Muslim Middle East to witness.

    Of course, going that route (I doubt they even imagined it for a second) would have risked bringing about “peace” in the region, which was the furthest thing from their minds.

    The had their eye on the bigger prize in Iraq – and the benefits of “endless war”, which their annexation of Iraq guarantees.

  9. Joakim said on May 30th, 2007 at 4:44pm #

    It is hard to see canadians soldier dying for the sake of drug barons, war lords, rapists and othe human right abusers sitting in Afghan government and parliment.

    Now withstanding the rightness or wrongness of war. Canadians should ask their government that what this war has achieved? Except replacing one set of repressive people with other more violent and repressive.So what difference it made to lives of Afghans?

    Today Taliban attacks are limited to south of the country which most country is out of their reach.What is going on there. Drug trade is blossoming and recorde production happening. It is all happening right under the noses of ISAF.What is the use of scarificing so many lives when they cant stop those drugs which are ultimatelty going to end up at the streets of Canada.

  10. Richard said on May 30th, 2007 at 8:49pm #

    The “Taliban” is just an scare-word for “Afghans who oppose the presence of foreign troops.

    This war is complete insanity. Our soldiers are raiding homes in the middle of the night, holding women and children at gunpoint while any male over five feet tall is dragged away, some to be abused and tortured. Newspapers are filled with evidence that NATO troops are shooting wildly and randomly, sometimes in revenge at what they deem to be a hostile populace. Tens of thousands of people have died, most directly at the hands of NATO, not the Taliban.

    It’s funny, because one person on here admitted that if the US invaded Canada then he would become a terrorist, almost but not in jest, so I don’t understand why it’s hard to believe that an Afghan living in a rural area who has been affected by our “war of choice” would take up arms against NATO.

    Honestly people is this your solution for societies that are wracked by divisions? Takes sides and promote civil war? If the southern part of Afghanistan does not want to ruled from Kabul, what right does Canada have to “pacifiy” the population (i.e. commit murder) and impose the will of Hamid Karzai?

    I honestly cannot believe how pro-war Canadians fool themselves into believing this Bush-like logic to justify launching wars against other countries – and by extension whole societies – in order to “better the society”.

    There have now been 20,000-49,000 deaths in Afghanistan, and these people never attacked Canada! Not only are we creating more terrorism, but we are simply taking part in state terror. Every young Afghan that is shot, whether Taliban or not, is a STAKE IN THE HEART of democracy and freedom. These are the people on this planet who had the least number of options. If any of you people who drag out the “taliban” bogeyman spoke with an insurgent to find out why they fight. If you had been born in Afghanistan, there’s a good chance, espeically if you are a young man, that you would have become “Taliban”.

    The people attacking NATO troops are defending their country. They have seen loved ones, friends and innocent people killed and are acting as many people in the West would.

    Of course they are attacking NATO troops. Remember, Canada along with NATO attacked Afghanistan, killed almost every member of the government during the initial invasion and have since made it their mission to hunt down anyone opposing their rule or force. The very decision to use deadly force (i.e. – declare war) to change a culture and society represents a huge moral failure, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, and a legacy of sorrow for Aghans that will take a generation to heal.

  11. Kevin said on July 10th, 2007 at 9:10am #

    War is not easy. War is not pretty. War is never ideal. War is not about making huge profits for oil and defense industry companies. The left will have us believe this in another futile attempt to persuade us that this war is not for a noble cause. I believe in this mission 100%. I am so proud of my fellow Canadians brave enough to put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and democratic values we hold dear, yet take for granted. This includes your right to oppose this war without any repercussions. This right was won through war not diplomacy. Funny how many seem to forget that fact.
    Doing nothing cost us (by us I mean civilization) almost 3000 innocent deaths on 9/11/2001. Billions of dollars sucked from the economy, lives destroyed. What are we supposed to do? Say to Osama and al-Qaida we’re sorry for using you to defeat the evil threat of communism. To take your land back from Russian oppressors. We’re sorry for trying to support Israel, the most democratically free country in the Middle East, and to secure it from 100 million + Islamic fanatics hell bent on its destruction. We’re sorry for trying to influence the Middle East to embrace western culture and values, a new Enlightenment. To help lift a region ravaged by conflict,dictatorship,oppression,hate, religious fanaticsm that has kept it from evolving and realizing the fruits of freedom and the wealth that comes along with it. Well forget that. No matter how long it takes our goal should be to rid that region, by any means necessary, of the scourge that has plagued it since it was borne. To give the people the chance to sip from the cup of freedom, something more powerful than any Stealth fighter or Tomahawk missile. To win we need to stay the course.

  12. Larkin the Irish said on July 12th, 2007 at 4:06pm #

    The bottom line is you just can’t trust Canadians. They gave us Celine Dion, Brian Addams, The Baldwin brothers, and have lured our vulnerable elders to sneak across the border for drugs. Just because they happen to be life sustaining prescriptions isn’t the point. Have you ever played their National Anthem backwards? You can clearly hear Rosie O’Donnel saying “eat more babies” and “why does this Steely Dan smell like old tuna” . I believe the answer to this Canada problem could be solved by giving the country a new name. The following are some suggestions;
    Bring it on you Muslim pussies.
    O Ramadan.
    United States the Sequel
    Fuck the French
    Mexico 2
    (and my personal favorite) UCanado me

    how much difference does it make????????????????

  13. dan said on September 1st, 2007 at 1:14pm #

    people who do not know why we are in afganistan simply do not know much about current events period. they get fed sayings from the left such as…”war is bad, people are dying for nothing, bush is evil, etc…” and some just feel ignorance is bliss. people need to wake up!!!!!! and look at what is really going on!! WE ARE FIGHTING FOR OUR FREEDOM AGINST TYRANNY, EVIL, AND TERRORISM!!! please do not be so quick to make irrational judgements. dont be fooled by letf slanted propoganda. sometimes you must fight for what is right.

    ps- very good blog emily