It's not as if the news out of Afghanistan has ever been reassuring. From the deaths of four Canadian soldiers by friendly fire in April 2002, to the suicide attacker who took the life of Cpl. Jamie Murphy, 26, of Conception Harbour, Nfld., in January 2004, to the axe assault early this month that wounded Capt. Trevor Greene - Canada's post-9/11 Afghan missions have provided one jolt of violent news after another. Can there really be a Canadian left who imagines this was ever an old-style PEACEKEEPING mission? The impoverished country at the turbulent crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent has more than lived up to its ancient reputation for testing the will of foreigners who put their boots down in its dust. It should have come as no real shock that public opinion, measured in two polls, showed a marked lack of enthusiasm for Canada's ongoing commitment to one of the more unforgiving places on earth.
And yet the poll findings did seem to unsettle politicians and military officers. Stephen HARPER's new government had to deal not only with a recent string of attacks and accidents suffered by Canada's contingent - now 2,300 soldiers strong, leading the international mission in the dangerous southern region around Kandahar - but also with some hard numbers. A Strategic Counsel poll found that 62 per cent of Canadians oppose sending troops to Afghanistan; Ipsos-Reid discovered a nation divided, with 52 per cent feeling that Canadian troops are performing a vital mission, but 48 per cent saying the troops should be brought home as soon as possible. Harper staunchly reaffirmed the government's resolve not to "cut and run" from Afghanistan, lashing out at oppo...
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...n was going to be in a future Afghanistan."
Feeling secure about the future of Afghanistan isn't easy for anybody. But O'Connor insists that a queasy public need not fear that Canadian troops there are being drawn into ever-increasing jeopardy. "Our role in Afghanistan is not to conduct combat operations," he said. "The overall role of the military is to provide a security environment for the people. Now, some of that may be rooting out insurgents, but we're not there primarily for combat operations." Far from going on the offensive, O'Connor stressed, Canadian troops are mainly expected to meet with local leaders, interact with ordinary Afghans, help train Afghanistan's forces, and generally enhance safety. The harsh reality, though, is they must try to do all that while constantly watching for the next roadside bomb or suicide attack.
Maclean's March 20, 2006
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