Canadians are growing increasingly jittery about their country's military participation in Afghanistan. A majority of Canadians now wonder if the political cost of maintaining troops in Afghanistan is too high. They should realize that the cost of not being there would be even higher.
According to a recent public opinion poll, 55 percent of respondents favor a pullout of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, if the casualty rate continues to climb. Meanwhile, more Canadians oppose their government's handling of the war (48 percent) than approve of it (44 percent). And perhaps most disturbingly, 67 percent believe the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan renders the country more prone to a terrorist attack. The poll was conducted from April 26-May 1 by SES Research for Sun Media.
While such concerns are understandable, Canadians need to keep in mind that a Canadian troop withdrawal from the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan would have a disastrous impact on reconstruction efforts. It would also stand to make Canada less secure, given the global threats posed by narco-terrorism. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
At present there are about 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, many of them concentrated in and around Kandahar, long considered a Taliban stronghold. The Canadian contingent has made key contributions to the ongoing effort to contain the Taliban cross-border insurgency. In September 2006, for example, Canadian forces led Operation Medusa, a two-week-long offensive that succeeded in driving Taliban militants out of Panjwayi, a town roughly 30 kilometers west of Kandahar City.
When Canadians and citizens of other NATO countries look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask:
M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC.