Ray of Light: Afghanistan foray did little to help solve problems

Time to assess what has been accomplished and at what cost.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement this week that the Canadian Armed Forces will not be serving in Afghanistan beyond March 2014, it is good time to assess what has been accomplished and at what cost.

No reservists based at the Trail Armories or local soldiers serving with other units in Afghanistan have been killed during more than a decade of fighting. But Canada counts158 dead among the almost 3,000 coalition forces killed in Afghanistan, plus a diplomat and a couple of aid workers.

The dollar cost to Canadians will continue to mount for years. It has been projected to eventually reach over $20 billion, with about half going for the long-term cost of caring for and supporting Canadian veterans of the Afghan conflict.

What did this accomplish? Schools, roads and other facilities were built. But there are plenty of countries in need of these where the aid workers and soldiers building them aren’t regularly killed, a form of tribute that has increasingly been doled out in recent years by the coalition’s comrades in arms in the Afghan army.

Afghanistan is no more stable or less impoverished than when the coalition forces arrived. The brutal, corrupt, and hopelessly inept Kabul government represents little but itself, and certainly not the majority Pashtan people.

Osama bin Laden is dead but he was found hiding in Pakistan, a far larger and more than dangerous country that the U.S. and its allies, thankfully, dare not invade.

The terrorists of al-Qaeda may be less dangerous, but pushing them out of Afghanistan toward other hellholes seems an unlikely cause of that development.

What has been demonstrated once again is that the West’s armed forces are as ineffective at nation building as they are at fighting guerrilla wars. They and the citizens who support them are neither determined nor brutal enough to wage the kind of decades-long, take-no-prisoners campaigns required to root out and quash insurgents living in far away jungles and mountain regions.

The Canadian Forces served honourably and professionally, as they were asked to. But they are better suited to fighting limited campaigns where NATO firepower can really make a difference.

Not since the Soviet Union collapsed have large numbers of Canadians taken to the streets in support of peace. But the next time a Canadian government – the Liberals got us into Afghanistan and Harper, while still in opposition, was all for joining the U.S. in Iraq – wants to ensnare us in some harebrained military campaign, we should all rise up like Quebec students (sans les Molotov cocktails) and yell ‘enough is enough.’


Moving along in the you’re-never-going-to-win-this-one department, we come to Trail city council’s efforts to convince West Kootenay communities to ante up for a $2-million second access to Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

This campaign is being waged simultaneously with the ongoing fight against the notion that a regional hospital for the West Kootenay should be located somewhere other than on a cliff overlooking downtown Trail.

As a Warfield resident, I enjoy having the regional hospital four kilometres from my door. I am also a fan of having all those health-care workers supporting the local economy. I might even be convinced to help pay for it. But what’s in it for someone from Kaslo or New Denver? They’re so far away that a landing strip to go with the helipad would be a more plausible pitch to make to them.

As for selling the project to Trail citizens and their neighbours, how serious is the risk of a slide or washout that would close the existing road for long enough to be a serious threat to public health or even a long-term inconvenience?

In an emergency, there is another regional hospital in Cranbrook that isn’t any further from Trail than parts of the West Kootenay are from KBRH. And there is that helipad that could be used to receive the more specialized emergency cases while others are diverted to smaller hospitals in Castlegar and Nelson.

Given the number of heavy equipment operators and amount of equipment in these parts, surely a temporary road could be quickly punched through most blockages. If the hospital bench access is potentially more unstable than that, is not the hospital itself in peril?

I am all for solid planning but given the projected cost of a second access road, the risks and alternatives might well be reassessed.

Raymond Masleck is a retired former Trail Times reporter.