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Why is Canada at war in Kandahar?

In his review of Rick Hillier’s book A Soldier First, Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese writes about “the decision several years ago to send large numbers of troops into Kandahar, the home of the Taliban.”

This is a war that has (so far) claimed the lives of 133 Canadian soldiers, affected numerous more with life-altering physical injuries and mental traumas, and will have diverted an estimated $18.1 billion from the social good.

This is a war that has also claimed the lives of thousands of Afghans, hundreds of coalition soldiers, and has left the country less secure for development work.

This is also a war that does not have the support of the majority of Canadians, and, despite these heavy sacrifices, very likely cannot be ‘won’.

So, it is important to get to the root causes of why Canada is at war in Kandahar.

“In A Soldier First, Hillier distances himself from the original decision-making process, which eventually sent Canadian soldiers to Kandahar in late 2005 and early 2006. He writes that he wanted the Canadian Forces to stay in the relative safety of Kabul and take on responsibility for the international airport there, but that no one in Ottawa would listen to his proposal. Hiller also claims the government had already made the decision to go to Kandahar, and that the Defence Department, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs were already well into planning that mission by the time he came onto the scene.”

“‘It’s Mr. Hillier’s war,’ historian Jack Granatstein concluded in the summer of 2007. ‘He was the one who persuaded the Liberals to go into it.'”

“Political scientist Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang, an assistant to former Liberal defence minister Bill Graham, wrote in The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, about Hillier as the architect of the plan that ‘would get Canada deeper and deeper into the most troubled part of Afghanistan.’ The general pushed for such a deployment to Kandahar as part of an initiative to impress the Pentagon and then-U. S. president George W. Bush, they write.”

“In his book, Hell or High Water, former prime minister Paul Martin also recalls that ‘General Hillier was enthusiastic’ about the Kandahar mission.”

David Pugliese himself wrote in the Ottawa Citizen on March 25, 2006 that, “In a July 2005 interview …(then Defence Minister Bill) Graham …acknowledged that mending fences with the Bush administration played a role in the government’s decision to take on the Kandahar mission. The U.S. was still angry over Canada’s refusal to join its invasion of Iraq and it didn’t help that the Martin government had declined to participate in the Pentagon’s controversial missile defence system.”

Columnist Lawrence Martin wrote in the Globe and Mail on April 6, 2006 that, “A former, highly placed Defence Department official, whose hands were all over the Afghan file …tells me the reason the Liberals took up the mission was not out of any great noble purpose. It was principally because they had no choice. They had to appease Washington for not having joined the invasion of Iraq.”

The “Soldiers, Not Peacekeepers” article in the March 2006 issue of The Walrus political affairs magazine noted, “Those who see a link between trade and foreign affairs believe Canada has good reason for…(sending troops to Afghanistan). The American security agenda extends overseas and across North America, and, as the United States consumes nearly 80 percent of Canadian exports and provides nearly 65 percent of our foreign direct investment, its demands for beefed-up Canadian military support…can be rebuffed for only so long…In the entwined corridors between (the ministries of) Defence, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade, and through shuttle diplomacy between Ottawa and Washington, the thinking may be that we will finally resolve the softwood-lumber issue and keep our border open to trade by lessening America’s burden in Afghanistan.”

Despite the tragic and arguably futile losses in Afghanistan, there are still those that argue that “sensible” war-fighting can benefit Canada.

McGill University Professor Stephen Saideman wrote in an August 20, 2009 op-ed in the Globe and Mail that, “Canada has gained a great deal of influence because of its willingness to lead and bleed in Kandahar. While it does not see itself as a power-seeking country, having more influence, whether it is over operations in Afghanistan or in bilateral discussions with the United States, is a significant and undervalued benefit.”

On November 8, 2008, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that, “How do we get a new U.S. administration …to help solve our problem (of a thickening border)? Cut off their oil and gas? We can’t – it’s illegal. Offer them our water? Unthinkable. Remind them we’re best friends? Countries don’t need friends. They need allies that have something hard and useful to offer.  We have to be able to offer the President something he needs if we are going to convince his new administration that it should resist inevitable congressional pressure to shut Canadian products out of U.S. markets. That something is significant military assistance, both to defend the continent and deploy abroad when it makes sense… Sensible military assistance is not too much to offer an ally so essential to our well being – especially if it gives us a preferred seat at the table in Washington when issues are discussed that are vital to Canadian job creation.”

On Wednesday, let us recommit ourselves to stop the war in Afghanistan and to work to end all wars.

For our action alert ‘Demand the immediate, safe and orderly withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan’, go to

To read the names of the Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan, please go to

To read the Council of Canadians ‘Statement on Canada’s Role in Afghanistan and other conflicts’, go to

Additionally to read Janice Kennedy’s thoughtful column ‘Poppy-wearing is not simple’, go to

The photograph of Hillier accompanying the book review by Pugliese shows Hillier wearing a poppy with a ‘support our troops’ pin in its centre, linking the poppy to support for the war rather than as a symbol of remembrance and the imperative for peace.

To see our action alert opposed to ‘support our troops’ decals on public vehicles, go to

David Pugliese’s review of Rick Hillier’s book, which ran in several Canwest News Service newspapers yesterday, can be read at