As I write this, our Canadians Forces are reporting the death of six more soldiers and their Afghani interpreter while on patrol on a “safe road” near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The troops did not die in combat with the Taliban or al Quaeda, but like too many of our soldiers they were the victims of a roadside bomb. The only consolation we can take from this is that they most likely never knew what hit them.
They were all young, in their 20s mostly, and came from small towns across Canada where military careers are still held in high esteem — places with legion halls and memorials etched with names dating back to the first World War. All were much too young for their fates, but accepted the risks that come with serving. All our soldiers have ever asked in return for their commitment that we never put them into harm’s way casually, without the possibility of achieving a greater good.
Most soldiers these days accept that Canada’s military role is geared to peacekeeping. Canada itself does not have the kind of standing army that could repel a massive invasion by another country, but in that respect we’re well-protected by diplomacy and the arms of our allies. We haven’t been invaded by another country since the War of 1812.
That has not stopped Canadians from fighting alongside our allies in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. We wisely stayed out of the war on Iraq, a decision made easier by the lack of a UN resolution specifically authorizing military intervention.
We are, however, committed to Afghanistan through our participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assembled under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The ISAF is made up of 36,000 personnel from 37 countries, although only the U.S., U.K. and Canada are authorized to participate in combat operations — effectively making the Maple Leaf a target to Taliban insurgents and terrorists looking to reclaim their control of the country.
Our role there is to disarm the insurgents, root out terror leaders, and maintain some semblance of law and order until the new Afghani government can impose order on its own. It’s been five years already, going back to 2002, and little of note has been achieved by the central government outside the capital city of Kabul. The rest of the country is still in the clutches of warlords (on our side until we try to disarm them or disrupt the drug trade), terrorists and Taliban.
The death of the last six soldiers brings the total number of Canadian dead to 66, including 54 combat deaths, six friendly-fire deaths, five accidental deaths and two deaths still under investigation.