During the 12 year mission 2312 U.S. soldier paid the ultimate price and more than 19,000 were wounded in action. This figure does not include the number of soldier affected by non visible injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In total over 3,300 allied troops, including U.S. troops were killed. After the U.S., the UK lost 448 and Canada 158 troops. Both the UK and Canada operated in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, deep in Taliban country.
Colonel Pat Stogran, who commanded the first Canadian Battle Group in Kandahar Province, was recently interviewed by Canada’s SUN News. According to the interviewer the battle wary soldier knew right away which question would be asked.
“You want to know whether it was worth it,” he says, putting down his guitar and checking on the supper he has cooking on a stove. “Well, the short answer is no.”
“The mission was a failure. We are leaving Afghanistan with our tail between our legs. Lots of people don’t want to admit that, but I don’t see how it can be seen any other way. In a year or two, it will be like we were never there.”
His voice is not angry when he says this. Or bitter. Simply sad.
The Colonel says that the mission got all screwed up when we started hunting bad guys and that troops should never have gone into Pajwaii to start search and destroy missions. In his opinion this is when the mission went south. He says winning the hearts and minds was the only effective counter insurgency ever devised, but the mission became all about hunting bad guys and training Afghans to hunt bad guys.
Shortly after the arrival of Canadian troops in Kandahar, Tim Horton’s, a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain was established inside the wire. Pat opines that this should have been set up outside the wire. He says most of the mission was about politics, maybe all politics.
“When we opened a Tim Horton’s inside the wire at the Kandahar airport I knew we had lost the mission,” he says. “If we were really making progress, we would have opened it OUTSIDE the wire. We would have opened a Tim Horton’s that the AFGHANS could use.”
Based on recent events in the Afghan capital, prior to next week’s election, there are also serious questions on whether or not Afghans can assure their own security. Non Government Organizations (NGO) are concerned about their ability to deliver the services, they currently provide, with out the protection of allied troops. Pat may very well have a valid point. On the other hand can one change the mindset of a tribal society in a short period of 12 years?
Canadian Defense Minister reflects: More could have been done to prepare troops.
Afhanistan was a complex mission and war weary Americans and Canadians wonder if the mission was even worth it. Politicians like to convince the public that it was a success, but one has to question how so?
Former Canadian Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, during an interview on CBC Radio’s “The House,” reflects that in some ways he wishes that the government could have done more to prepare troops for the mission. He wishes that Canada had provided more helicopters and mine clearing equipment during the early days of the mission.
“I don’t think the ferocity of the mission perhaps dawned on even military leaders, let alone political leaders of two different governments. In retrospect, we could have perhaps prepared our soldiers better through both equipment and training.”
Preparation of Canadian Troops
During the first deployment of Canadian troops, Pat Stogran’s unit, The Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, a light infantry unit with airborne, heliborne and mountain warfare capability, deployed on short notice in early Janauary 2002. The unit was thrown into the fray at Kandahar, in the middle of Taliban country. Approximately 40 Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) troops were deployed in December 2001 secretly.
Regular forces arrived in Kandahar during January–February 2002. In March 2002, three Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry snipers fought alongside U.S. Army units during Operation Anaconda. In the operation the team broke, and re-broke, the kill record for a long distance sniper kill set in the Vietnam War by a U.S. Marine, Staff Sergeant Carlos Hathcock. Operation Anaconda was also the first time since the Korean War that Canadian soldiers relieved American soldiers in a combat situation. Canadian forces also undertook Operation Harpoon in the Shah-i-Kot Valley. Other forces in the country provided garrison and security troops.
From 2003 to 2005 Canadians moved to the capital city Kabul and became the commanding nation of the newly formed International Security Force. The Canadian government then moved a brigade size force to Kanadahar province with a strength of 2,300 and Brigadier General David Fraser became commander of the Multi National Brigade of Southern Command.
Preparation for this brigade was almost a year, with command post exercises, interface with Canadian government and non-governmental agencies and training of combat units.
Subsequent deployment of Task Forces underwent one year training, which included training in the desert and preparation for general war. As Canadian troops gained first hand experience with combat in Afghanistan, training was adjusted to mission specific training.
Pat Stogran made the point that the mission was lost when the focus was shifted to hunting bad guys. He has a point. Once the Taliban and Al Qaeda were chased out of Afghanistan, an effort should have been undertaken to win the heart and minds. In the early days Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) achieved a lot. Once the bad guys were chased, not only the bad guys were killed, but also civilians. This resulted in a negative outcome.
The early stages of the war were a sharp learning curve for Canadians. Despite previous deployment in the former Yugoslavia, this was a totally unfamiliar environment and culture. Training can only try to replicate situations in theater, but can never be totally real.
It should be no surprise that so many soldiers are suffering with PTSD. It took both the military and their civilian masters to recognize the immensity of the problem. Suicides have spiked recently and more can be done to treat those with PTSD.
The eventual outcome in Afghanistan is yet to be seen. The Taliban have ramped up their violence and in the end it will boil down to how Afghan Security Forces can deal with it. The future for Afghanistan doesn’t look good.