ViewPoint: Sault Ste. Marie and the Afghan War and the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

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By Peter Chow

Sergeant John Wayne Faught and Master Cpl. Scott Francis Vernelli, both from Sault Ste Marie, were both killed by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Afghanistan.

Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard, granddaughter of a distinguished longtime local physician, the late Dr. Michael West, was killed by the Taliban in a fire fight, the first Canadian female soldier to ever die in combat.

Tragically, 159 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan.

Canada spent over $18 billion fighting in Afghanistan, in a misguided attempt to reconstruct the country.

Besides the 159 Canadian soldiers killed, more than 2,000 others were wounded or injured

In March 2014, Canada’s 12-year military role in Afghanistan came to an end.

Approximately 17% of Canadian military personnel who took part in the War in Afghanistan received a Veterans Affairs Canada pension or disability award for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

20 more Afghan War veterans committed suicide in 2020, bringing the total number of Canadian soldiers and veterans who were deployed to Afghanistan and who committed suicide to 191.

As was the case in the US military, more Canadian soldiers died from suicide than were killed in combat.

We should honour all these soldiers for their gallant service and their ultimate sacrifice, but at the same time, we should be furious at our leaders for putting them in harm’s way in the first place.

if ever there was a war with no point, it was the Afghan War, the Forever War, the War for Naught.

The Afghan War is almost over (August 31 will be the official end) with US troops and contractors (Blackwater mercenaries) having slipped out abruptly and quietly in the middle of the night, on July 4th.

There will be no victory parades when they get home.

America’s war in Afghanistan is ending in crushing, humiliating defeat.

For all its wealth and military might, America failed not only to create a strong, self-sufficient Afghan state, but also to defeat a determined insurgency.

Ste. Marie The pro-Western puppet government propped up by so much American and Canadian blood and money is corrupt, widely reviled and in shockingly rapid retreat and collapse.

The Afghan War is the longest war in US history, almost 20 years.

In 4 weeks it will be the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

The Afghan War followed the United States invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, when the US successfully drove the Taliban from power in order to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in Afghanistan, following 9/11.

After bin Laden and al-Qaeda fled Afghanistan, crossing on horseback into Pakistan on December 16, 2001, the US could have and should have just declared victory and “Mission Accomplished” and gone home.

Instead, early in 2002, a coalition of the US and NATO members formed a security mission in the country, in an unstated but obvious attempt at nation-building.

Since 2002, the war has involved mostly US and allied Afghan government troops battling Taliban insurgents.

To better understand the Afghan War, we need to go back to 1979.

On December 24, 1979, Russian troops invaded Afghanistan, and staged a coup, killing the president and installing a puppet Soviet loyalist in his place.

Insurgent Islamic groups known collectively as the Mujahideen, fought a guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and the Afghan government.

The U.S. was determined to make this “the Soviet Union’s Vietnam”, to bleed Russia dry, in an unwinnable guerrilla war.

The U.S., through the CIA,  supplied massive shipments of arms to the Mujahideen, most notably Stinger shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, which were a game-changer.

35,000 Muslims from all over the Middle East flocked to Afghanistan to join in a Jihad, a holy war against the godless Soviet invaders.

One of these was an idealistic Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

In a meat-grinder of a guerrilla war, Russia lost 14,500 killed, 54,000 wounded and 11,000 permanently disabled and the Russian army limped home in defeat in 1989.

In the chaos that followed, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, the Taliban (which means “students” in the Pashtun language) assumed control of the country.

Some of the foreign volunteers, including Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, went on to continue violent Jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan and abroad.

They turned their attention to the U.S. whom they had always considered to be the arch enemy of the Arab world, the “Great Satan”.

This led to 9/11.

Although Afghanistan was the base for al-Qaeda, none of the nineteen hijackers are Afghan nationals.

In fact, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, the “friend and ally” of the US.

9/11 was the ultimate blowback for funding and arming the Mujahideen.

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, brilliantly masterminded by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden.

The Taliban refused to extradite him unless they were provided clear evidence of his involvement in the attacks, which the US refused to provide and dismissed as a delaying tactic.

On October 7, 2001 the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

The mission, Bush said, was “to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.”

If that was the mission of the invasion, it was swiftly accomplished when overwhelming American military power quickly swept through the country, expelling al-Qaeda and bin Laden into Pakistan by December 16,  2001.

The US installed a puppet government and, with NATO partners, set out on a mission of nation-building, opposed by the Taliban.

The Taliban waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and IED bombings against coalition forces, and have continued to do so, ever since 2002.

Bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed in Pakistan in May, 2011,  another point at which the US could have, should have,  proclaimed “Complete Victory, Mission Accomplished” and gone home.

The Afghan War has cost the U.S. $2 trillion. 2,400 American soldiers and 1,700 American civilian contractors (mercenaries) have been killed, 20,000 wounded.

Tens of thousands will need ongoing medical care, for missing limbs, concussive brain injuries, PTSD, depression, all projected to cost another $1 trillion by 2040.

More than 4X as many American soldiers died by suicide than were killed on the battlefield.

An estimated 7,057 service members have died during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, while suicides among active duty personnel and veterans of those conflicts have reached 30,177.

Canada spent over $18 billion fighting in Afghanistan and trying to reconstruct the country.

The war took the lives of 159 Canadian soldiers and wounded or injured more than 2,000 others.

191 more Canadian soldiers or veterans of the war have committed suicide.

A quarter of a million people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001, including 75,344 civilians; 78,314 Afghan military and police; and 84,191 Taliban fighters.

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials lied about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 20-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war was unwinnable.

Vietnam Redux.

The U.S. and its allies, including Canada, waged an unwinnable war against a popular insurgency, to prop up an unpopular and corrupt puppet government.

This is consistent with past U.S. policy, backing unpopular, often despotic rulers – Chiang Kai-shek in pre-Communist China, Batista in pre-Castro Cuba, Diem in Vietnam, Pinochet in Chile and the Shah in Iran.

The US,  acknowledging defeat at the hands of the Taliban, is turning tail and running, abandoning its allies, just as they abandoned the Kurds in Syria and the Vietnamese in South Vietnam..

Russia, North Korea, China and Iran are taking note  –  as are America’s friends and allies and all the unaligned world..

The U.S. is reaping what they sowed  –  the ultimate blowback.

What was gained by 20 years of warfare?

After al-Qaeda fled Afghanistan in December 2001, the Taliban was no longer an existential threat to the U.S. or the West or Canada, if it ever was, even in the first place.

The Taliban insurgency was an instrument, a proxy of neighbouring Pakistan.

Without the means or the will among Canada, the US and NATO to engage Pakistan politically, or to take the war across the border, there was no chance to secure and build a safe Afghanistan state.

In the end, the Canadian and allied exertions and sacrifices in Afghanistan did absolutely nothing to change the underlying conditions of this conflict.

At best, the US is leaving behind a mess;  at worst, its withdrawal will precipitate strategic setbacks and a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing there,”  Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015.

He added:  “What are we trying to do here?  We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers.

He added,  “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”
“Who will say this was not all in vain?”