what are we fighting for1

Sixty-two per cent of respondents to a recent Globe and Mail survey are opposed to sending Canadian troops into combat in Afghanistan.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents to a recent Globe and Mail survey are opposed to sending Canadian troops into combat in Afghanistan.

Seventy-three per cent oppose the upcoming deployment of 2,200 troops without the approval of Parliament.

Had they a seat in the House of Commons, and if such a debate were to occur, only 27 per cent would give that approval.

On Tuesday, Canadian forces will take over the US combat mission in Kandahar, the most deadly fight in war-torn Afghanistan.

No parliamentary debate has occurred, nor is one planned. There is no disguising this action as peacekeeping. There is no peace to keep in Kandahar.

Of those few who support sending Canadian forces into combat, 31 per cent would change their position if they knew that our participation in the war would lead to casualties, which it most certainly will.

It already has, and although tragic, those casualties our soldiers have suffered so far are minor compared to what we can expect in the near future.

On January 15, 59-year-old Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry was killed and three soldiers were injured when their convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber.

The soldiers were airlifted to a special military hospital in Germany. They’ve since been transferred to Edmonton, and one has been released.

The condition of the Canadian casualties has been the subject of almost daily news reports, and no expense has been spared to give them the best medical treatment possible.

This is as it should be. If our government insists on sending troops into war zones, we owe them no less.

But Afghans who are wounded in battle fare much worse. According to a CBC report, Afghan soldiers, fighting on the same side as Canadians, are served by hospitals with no electricity, running water, or even bed sheets, and little in the way of medical supplies.

Toilet facilities consist of a bucket under the bed.

In the meantime, Canadian chief of staff General Rick Hillier is calling for the immediate release of billions in promised military spending for Afghanistan, not to provide decent medical care for our allies, but to make a stronger fighting force.

He wants to see everything from more bullets and armour to a Tim Horton’s in Kandahar.

Hillier, who still refers to the people of Afghanistan as Afghanis — actually the name of the national currency — believes the poll results demonstrate that, “Many Canadians do not know or understand the complexities of what the Afghan mission is about, why we are there and its critical importance to Canada.”

General Hillier demonstrated his own deep understanding of the complexities of the war last July when he described the enemy as “detestable murderers and scumbags.”

According to a study conducted by the US Institute of Peace, Afghanistan has been, per capita, a more deadly theatre of operations than Iraq for American soldiers.

US forces, from whom Canadians will take over on Tuesday, have suffered 208 combat deaths there since 2002, and approximately 10 times as many injuries.

There are no figures for the number suffering the extreme mental anguish of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “insurgency” period of the war is just getting underway, in which tactics perfected in Iraq — suicide attacks, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades — will push the casualty count much higher.

American tactics have only served to drive al Qaeda and the Taliban into the tribal stronghold of northern Pakistan, where they are so entrenched the Pakistani army doesn’t dare enter their territory.

From there they are able to mount strong military offensives into Afghanistan.

Given these factors, it’s likely that Kandahar will be the worst bloodbath Canadians have known since before any of our front-line troops were born, and yet they will fight and die without the consent of Parliament and against the wishes of the Canadian people.

Soon, we won’t be hearing the names of every Canadian killed or wounded in Afghanistan; there will be too many.

 Is there a good enough reason to put these young lives on the line?

Is this a war for freedom, or for oil?

If it is, as Hillier would have us believe, a war to improve the lives of Afghan people, is there any real hope of success?

Is the regime we’re fighting to protect any better than the one we’re fighting to defeat?

Has anything been achieved so far beyond deposing a gang of religious fanatics and installing a gang of bandits and drug-runners?

Will Canada establish prisoner-of-war facilities in Afghanistan, or will we feed captured enemy “scumbags” into the US system, rife with illegal detention, torture, and unexplained prisoner deaths?

Do the thousands of troops we send to Kandahar simply free up American troops to join the illegal war in Iraq?

By entering into combat as opposed to occupation, are we widening the gulf between ourselves and the millions of Muslims around the world who justifiably regard the so-called War on Terror as an extension of Western colonialism?

Are we, in fact, exposing ourselves to greater risk of terrorist attack? Who knows?

Paul Martin claimed the presidential right to send our army to war without a national debate, and now Stephen Harper is following the same policy.

Instead of a vote in the House of Commons we get the military chief of staff stumping around the country on a propaganda tour.

Let’s do the democratic thing and take the debate out of the hands of generals and put it into Parliament where it belongs.

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