questioning orders

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Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance has it wrong.

Vance has suggested Canada’s Afghanistan mission should not be challenged by civilian critics back home.

Specifically, he was taking a shot at Senator Colin Kenny, who recently wrote an op-ed questioning Canada’s Afghan mission.

Vance, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, made his remarks while announcing the death of Pte. Patrick Lormand. The 21-year-old soldier was killed in the Panjwaii district by a improvised explosive device on Sunday.

“He did not come here as a potential victim, he came here to help and he did,” said Vance. “He does not need to be told his efforts are futile for he could see positive results in the communities he was protecting.

“You need only look into those young, clear eyes to know that he was a good soul, who tried every day to do the right thing and saw in the results a chance to succeed on a wider scale on behalf of Canadians and Afghans

alike.

“Neither he nor his family benefit from uninformed opinions about what his goals were and the techniques he used to achieve them.”

And that’s where Vance is dead wrong.

Lormand probably had a good heart and sound intentions. He was serving as a protector of the Afghan people.

But he was doing so under orders from military commanders, who follow the dictates of Parliament.

And Lormand, and the other 700 troops in Kabul, depend on the scrutiny of critics like Kenny for their survival.

Contrary to Vance’s assertion, Kenny is not uninformed. He’s the chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, and has seen, firsthand, the Afghanistan conflict.

He’s got concerns.

The conflict began as a fight against terrorism, specifically al Qaeda training camps in the nation, and the brutally repressive Taliban regime.

Today, the conflict is a lot murkier, noted Kenny, who questions whether the military is performing effectively under the changing conditions.

Specifically, can less than 2,000 Canadian soldiers transform Afghanistan into a peaceful democracy?

The mission costs Canada $115 million a year, but because it has to maintain Kabul’s Camp Julien, keep it secure and man a rapid-reaction force for NATO personnel across Kabul, there is little to show the Afghan people

for our 700-person deployment, wrote Kenny.

Our troops have little opportunity to mix with the local populace, to introduce them to Canadian values.

Canada supports a defence, diplomacy and development approach to rebuilding failed states, but there is little evidence of co-operation between the military and the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, said Kenny.

Instead, Afghan citizens simply see Canadians racing through town in armoured cars, behind a machine gun.

And our soldiers will soon move into Kandahar, which is far more dangerous than Kabul. Any military victories are quickly countered as the region is constantly resupplied with troops and arms from Pakistan, noted Kenny.

Canadian soldiers will die in far greater numbers in that region.

Is there any hope of making a difference? he wrote.

The Soviet army tried to subdue Afghanistan, and it shared a border with the nation. It failed, worn down by the relentless patience of the Afghan resistance.

A Major told Kenny the mission will be a “five-generational project.” That is, it will take generations to effect change.

“I can’t think of anyone I know who wants a Canadian presence in Afghanistan five generations from now,” wrote Kenny. “How long will it take to accomplish … what?”

He’s got a right to ask questions. In fact, more Canadians should be asking them, especially in light of the bogus election recently held in that country.

Asking such questions lies at the heart of the freedom we’re championing in Afghanistan.

Lormand was willing to fight for those freedoms.

But he died following orders.

Soldiers can’t question orders. Or missions. But Canadian politicians and citizens can, and should.

Doing so is integral to the freedom we cherish.

Vance is doing something else. He’s using Lormand’s death to stifle relevant questions about the mission.

And that’s not only wrong, it’s disturbing. (Richard Mostyn)