A major topic that I hear about most often is the War in Afghanistan. Should we be there? A large majority say no, but are they really that informed? I honestly don’t think so. I am coming from the perspective of a family member of a soldier. I have seen information that is there for the public, but is behind what is on the front page. You have to do a little digging to find it. I am offering contradictory information on the most used points. Why we are there, the progress that has been made, the point of view of the Afghanis, and soldiers, who the Taliban are, and more in-depth information. Most of this information is buried deep where it is harder to find. Putting this information out there is important, because if people are not informed about what they are dealing with than they are liable to make mistakes that could compromise lives.
The first thing that should be addressed is why we are there. There are different opinions depending on who you talk to. The first, more factual reason, is because of the NATO treaty; “an attack against any one of them is an attack on all.” This is the mutual aid pact that involves all the members of the United Nations. The 9/11 attack on the USA by Al Qaeda was what started it and is the main reason for us being there. The more moral reasons for us being there is to give women and children rights, which they had before the Taliban took over, freedom, which they also used to have, stopping torture and public execution, and right to have access to information. They are also working on a major drug problem. Opium that is grown in Afghanistan is actually where the majority of it is grown. Crop areas are all over Afghanistan and Soldiers are trying to convince farmers to turn their drug farms into wheat farms. This proves to be difficult when the public is so ruled by fear when most of their drug lords are either a member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Canada is also building a relationship with the people, contrary to popular belief that the people of Afghanistan hate us and want us gone. Most of the Soldiers know why we are there, like Major Brent Purcell who when asked why we were in Afghanistan replied, “To prevent terrorism from spreading and to bring security and development to Afghanistan.” These soldiers know why we are there, and they believe in the mission. “Radical Islam has already demonstrated that they know no boundaries regarding who they kill, or who they will use to kill. They will escalate the violence at every opportunity, and the more potent the weapons they can get their hands on the more likely they are to use them. Our being in Afghanistan is not only trying to help the failed state, it is keeping radical Islam occupied and focused there,” says Noel Dykes, a retired Artillery officer of 35 years. This mission is important, the danger is real and it will not just go away if we ignore it.
The Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996. Before they took over Afghanistan was nowhere near as brutal as it is now. Woman’s rights for one, was not much of an issue, nor did it need to be. Girls were allowed to attend not only grade school but also University. Women used to be allowed to work, especially in Kabul, the Capital city. At Kabul University, 50% of students were girls, and 60% of teachers were women. Of all school teachers in Kabul, 70% were women. As for two other important jobs in Kabul, 50% of women were civilian government workers and 40% were doctors. Kabul was also the first place that the Taliban took over. They went in and took away all women’s rights. Forced them to cover themselves completely, forbid them to go outside the home without their husband escort, and took away all of their basic human rights. They could not go to see a doctor most of the time and when they could they had to sit with a hanging sheet separating them. Many women died of curable deceases because of this. If they showed even a small part of skin or were raped they were stoned to death. Anything to do with making themselves more beautiful was forbidden. Civilians used to have television, sports and games, which were banned when the Taliban took over. The sports stadiums were used to murder people who misbehaved, questioned, or refused the Taliban. Men also were not required to have long beards. When the Taliban came they arrested anyone whose beard was too short. They ruled by fear and brutality that was not known to the Afghanistan people before they took over.
There are a lot of people who think that there has not, nor there ever will be, progress in Afghanistan. There has been plenty of progress, you just have to look for it. Some of these include the Kandahar Rapid Village Development Project, Integrated Alternative Livelihoods Program in Kandahar Province, Education Quality Improvement Project, Vocational Training for Afghan Women, Food aid to Vulnerable Families, Tuberculosis Control and Polio Eradication Program, Maternal Health Initiative in Kandahar Province, National Solidarity Program, Afghanistan Sub-national Governance Program, and two of the larger projects that will make the most impact are the Dahla Dam and Irrigation System and Training and Mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces. Working on repairing the Dahla Dam is important to strengthening the Government, and economic growth of Afghanistan. It will provide water to most of Kandahar’s population. It will also create 10,000 seasonal jobs and will provide irrigated land to farmers which will help build up agriculture. In order for Afghanistan to be able to stand on its own, they must have stable security. Training the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) is one of the top priorities. About 2,400 ANA are stationed in Kandahar which is a large improvement over 2006 when there were only 600. Right now Canada is managing five battalions that have about 650 soldiers in each one. Training is still needed to ensure that the ANA will be capable of keeping things in check. More than 650 ANP have been trained but there is still literacy, corruption, and drug abuse problems that are still, and need to be, addressed. These are only the bare minimum of a long list of what is being done in Afghanistan.
We hardly ever hear about all the good that is being done in Afghanistan. We will hear about all the explosive IED’s that kill a few solders, but never why they are risking life and limb. Just a fun fact, they defuse 25 IED’s a day, which is a lot more than the number that get set off. Does the media report stuff like that? Not of course not. Michael Bergan, a soldier who was overseas, feels that the media is not informing the public of everything. “No the media does not report everything. Remember that they are a company with shareholders ect and ‘bad’ news sells better than ‘good’ news. Also a lot of these journalists stay within the confines of the camps too. Not all those do as I’m sure you are aware of the Canadian Journalist that was killed recently. Lastly, it is to be noted that if you were to watch Al Jezeera you will have a totally different view. I myself have never held much faith in the media as I have seen such clear mistakes in editing ect that I do not believe half of it as being correct.” This reporter that he mentions, Michelle Lang, was out of the safe zone because she knew that the truth was not being told and she wanted to find it for herself and share it with everyone else. Bergan also feels that the public is not informed of the war the way they should be. When asked if they were he replied, “Not really unless you are willing to research many different views and opinions on your own. I think the mainstream media such as CTV etc is just showing a very slim picture of what actually goes on.” Some reporters do not even bother reporting on certain things because they know that the story would get buried before it could reach the public. Soldiers know it, reporters know it, and so shouldn’t the public know it too?
The general public that has basically nothing to do with the war form all sorts of opinions based on what they think is concern for the soldiers and their families. I have heard the argument that the soldiers should be brought back, like they know how the solders feel. The majority of them do not want to come back. Most that are severely injured wish to go back as soon as possible. They know that their mission is important because they have actually been there. They have experienced things first hand. Major Brent Purcell expressed just how important he thinks the mission is. “I feel the mission is extremely important and I believe in it. I only hope that we do not abandon the Afghan people too early before they are ready to take on the responsibility for their own security.” If you ask other soldiers, many will answerer the same way. The families also have to suffer through letting their loved ones go into danger, and although people think they are helping by saying that “the troops should be brought back”, they have no idea just how much worse they are making it for the families. Speaking to many families who have gone through such trauma, it is obvious how frustrated they are towards the general public. One military wife who was so sick of what she had to hear wrote a blog entry about it. “Why are we In Afghanistan? A question very abstractedly answered by the media and interpretations from the general public. However, for us, as military, it is very simple… We are there to create peace and stability, infrastructure, water, primarily, and to help organize and build the ANA and police forces period. It is our job to be there, we were not forced to be there we want to be there.” A snippet from a very moving article “A Voice that is Seldom Heard” which is absolutely right, who ever hears these things from anyone? Who bothers to ask? It is rare to find a military family that does not support the war or who is not angered by the statements of the public. The daughter of the fallen soldier MCpl Allan Stewart, Brittany Stewart, says, “well most of my friends made fun of me (well there not really my friends), and saying mean things. and it made me really sad and saying that they are wasting their time and stuff. I try not to listen to them.” For those that are against the war because it is unfair to the soldiers or their families please don’t use us as an excuse for your own ignorance; it’s insulting.
Another reason people use to not be at war is that it is cruel to the people of Afghanistan. The truth is that they have seen much crueler things than a country fighting for their freedom. They once had the basic human rights only to watch them get taken away by the Taliban. They will be tortured or killed for even the smallest things. One thing we all have in common is that every person wants the freedom to do as they please. The majority of civilians want our help. In Brent Purcell’s experience, he knows how they feel. “I would say that the majority of the Afghan people are grateful we are there. The average Afghan citizen wants the same things as we Canadians want. They want safety, security, food and a better life for their children.” Michael Bergan shares his opinion. “Yes and no. of course the ‘yes’ ones are the people that have seen us as a non threat i.e. the civilians that we are helping via medical help and security and the ‘no’ ones are the ones fighting against us i.e. the Taliban and radical extremist groups.” Afghan people are willing to risk their lives for the freedom we are trying to give them. One Muslim women is very clear in her opinion. Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Prime Minister of Pakistan, talks about how many large Muslim leaders were outraged on the attack on their people after 9/11, “Obviously (and embarrassingly), Muslim leaders, masses, and even intellectuals are quite comfortable criticizing outsiders for the harm inflicted of fellow Muslims, but there is deadly silence when they are confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence.” Over 80 women who were still trapped in their brutal lives without hope of escape committed suicide by lighting themselves on fire. This is better than a few years of war and eventually peace? The right to vote was given to Afghanistan and in the first year especially, it was a threat to anyone’s life to participate. Anyone who voted had to get a mark on their finger, and the Taliban targeted anyone with this mark. Did people shy away and not use this new right they were given? No, they risked their lives just to vote. When hairdressers were banned for women, and anyone who was caught running or going to a salon would be shot on the spot, did they give up and stay home? No, women set up salons in their basement and got great business. Women risked their lives just to get a haircut. It was not about the haircut, it was about getting freedom where they had none. If the people of Afghanistan don’t want the freedom we are giving them, then why do they risk there lives for the little things we take for granted every day?
Should we be in Afghanistan? The answer is in another two questions. Do we want to let others suffer while we sit comfortably at home? Do we want to risk the lives of each other on the hope that the radical terrorists will leave us alone? The answer is clear but most people don’t want to see it. I for one know that I don’t want to take the risk.
Written by Melissa Garrison a grade twelve student whos brother is currently serving with the Canadian Forces, Please free to leave a comment and I will share them with their family. Thank You