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Canadian soldiers fire a field artillery gun at Taliban fighting positions near the Sangin District Center of Afghanistan. Creative Commons

War takes rising toll

Was Afghanistan really worth it?

By Dennis Gruending

The long war in Afghanistan has receded from our attention, but as we finally prepare to leave, the media spin cycle has been renewed due to an article published in the Canadian Military Journal (CMJ) by Sean Maloney. He teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada and is an historical advisor to the Canadian Army.  

Maloney writes, rather bitterly, about being invited in 2012 to give a presentation at the University of Manitoba about Canadian operations in Afghanistan. He says his audience was uninformed but convinced of what he calls a common idea or “meme,” which had been created by the media and pollsters alike.  According to Maloney, this meme focuses on the body count of Canadian soldiers as a measure of whether the war was worth it. He believes it was and that the “crippling and discrediting of the al Qaeda movement was worth the effort alone.” He also writes, albeit briefly, about social development and the building of infrastructure in Afghanistan.

Writing in the National Post, the always acerbic Terry Glavin quickly took up Maloney’s case, talking about the “outright malpractice” of the Toronto media, as well as the “fop intellectuals” who he says have dominated the Afghan debate. Glavin wrote in an earlier article that in the past decade, “Afghanistan has exhibited the fastest upward pace in the United Nations’ Development Index . . . ” Also, he referred to statistics that purportedly show that individual Afghanis have a positive attitude toward the UN/NATO effort.    

The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders , however, holds a contrary view. He agrees that “we did kick al Qaeda out” but doubts the claims of continued military and civic progress. For example, Saunders says that military leaders claim that life expectancy has improved markedly over the past decade, but he quotes the CIA’s own figures that contradict their proclamations.  He also cites a poll that indicates that Afghans “overwhelmingly favour the Taliban over NATO forces and their own chosen government.”  Needless to say, the debate continues.

Despite Mr. Maloney’s chiding, it is well worth discussing the war’s human and economic costs. Our government would not release financial estimates, but former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said in 2008 that the total cost would be between $14 and $18 billion by 2011. A more recent estimate has placed the cost at more than $22 billion.

In total, as many as 45,000 people have died as a result of the war in Afghanistan, according to 2011 estimates. Canada and its military allies record their own fatalities, but not — at least publicly — the deaths of Afghans, particularly civilians. The UN reports that between 2006 and 2012, alone, 16,000 Afghan civilians died. And about 3,400 allied soldiers perished in the country between 2001 and 2014 — of these, 158 were Canadians. In addition, seven Canadian civilians have died — the most recent being two accountants, who were killed in a bomb blast in a Kabul in February.

So was Canada’s war in Afghanistan really worth it? I would say no. But what do you think?  

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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