Thursday, August 31, 2006

After a deadly August, Canadian soldiers prepare for a major battle in Afghanistan

Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are apparently on the eve of a major confrontation with Taliban forces, in a sector of the country that has brought much misery and sadness over the last few months.

In a blunt warning to those in Afghans living in the Panjwaii district, NATO commanders warned that the NATO forces massing outside the district will soon be launching an operation designed to retake and hold the area for the long term.

Afghanis in the area suggest that the Taliban members in the area are prepared for a long and bloody fight, having been told to stay and to fight. They say that the Taliban are unlikely to heed the warning to prepare to give up; or prepare to die warning that NATO has issued.

The area of engagement is one which has cost many Canadians their lives in the last few months, a section of scrub land that has become well known to the Canadians and other NATO allies in the area. It’s an area that they have repeatedly gone into and cleared out only to see the Taliban return time and time again.

August was a particularly deadly month for the Canadian Forces in the area, with the highest monthly amount of casualties being recorded in the last 31 days, as 8 Canadian soldiers were killed and 7 wounded in the hostilities, most in the area in question today.

The clashes while on patrol can be frightening things to behold, YouTube is full of snippets of these engagements such as the one below. They can be profane and violent, so obviously not for the younger eyes in the household, yet for Canadians who don’t follow events that closely, they do make for an eye opening experience. They make for a blunt reminder of the dangers that soldiers sent on behalf of us, face each and every day.

Whether you think the commitment is valid, or believe we should leave as soon as possible, the one thing that Canadians should do is become better informed. The CBC offers up a fairly in-depth web feature about the Canadian involvement as do CTV , the Globe and Mail , the Toronto Star. There is also a rather useful background rescource site, operated under the name of Maple Leaf Web, from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.

This current military engagement is unlike any other we have been involved in for a good number of years. It’s dangerous work, facing a foe that has made violence a part of its fabric over a number of decades, having fought in the mountains and the scrub lands in a most violent fashion. It’s a far cry from the days of the Blue berets and the peace keeping missions that we may have remembered from years gone by. The closest this operation comes to in modern times, may be our involvement in the Balkans, which was another part of the world steeped in ancient hatreds.

There is a fascinating book by Eric Margolis, The War at the Top of the World; that examines the history of Afghanistan and the surrounding nations of that part of Asia. It paints a picture of lands that seem to have known nothing but war, for times dating back to the days of Genghis Khan. If you want to try to understand just what Afghanistan is all about its well worth a read. It certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, but it surely gives you a glimpse of the area and its ancient troubles.

If nothing else, it will provide you with a vivid picture of what Canadian soldiers are facing day after day, in a bid to try and secure a peaceful existence to a people who haven’t seen much of it in their history. You just hope that they can complete their mission without further casualties, but somehow you know that sadly that most likely won’t be the case in the short term.

History is showing us that it’s a dangerous place where we walk today, names have already been added to the rolls of the fallen, let us just pray that not many more have to follow, before the mission is complete and our contingent has returned home.