Focus must be on al Qaeda

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE

The longer the war in Afghanistan continues and the more troops are killed, the harder it will be to justify pulling out.

We hear all the time from those on the right with a seemingly insatiable appetite for war: “We dishonour the memory of our fallen if we do not finish the job, if we do not win the war.”

The problem with that logic is, the longer we stay, the more troops we will lose. When we do pull out, as we must – and will – there will be a lot more fallen to “dishonour”.

Just a few days ago, six Italian troops were killed and Canada’s body count has now reached 131.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama now seems to be reconsidering his options. We were concerned when he announced, after taking office, that he would focus U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while drawing down the troops in Iraq. Now, he says he wants to know that there is a clear strategy for winning the war.

There is no clear strategy. There never was and never will be. What is needed is a clear strategy for going after al Qaeda.

The U.S. led the invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11, ostensibly to seek out and destroy those responsible for the most deadly terrorist attacks ever on American soil. That was determined to be the work of al Qaeda. And we wholeheartedly – and rightly – supported that mission.

But the focus of then president, George W. Bush, vice-president, Dick Cheney and their administration was really on Iraq and its large oil deposits. There never was, it would now seem, a defined focus on seeking out and killing al Qaeda terrorists.

It was easier to go after the Taliban who were ruling Afghanistan – as it was to go after Saddam Hussein in Iraq – because they had an identifiable and established presence in their respective countries, never mind that neither had anything to do with 9/11. Not so with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Getting rid of the Taliban left the U.S. and its allies with ownership of the fallout of the invasion. We broke it, now we own it.

So, we have tried to make the best of a bad situation by turning our attention to helping the people. We are building schools so that girls can get an education; we are protecting villages from the Taliban; we are meeting with and trying to work with the village elders; we are training their army and police; we are helping them to set up an electoral process.

What we are, in fact, trying to do is make that country into something it has never been and probably never will be. This was never the mission.

This is not to blame the troops or minimize their efforts. They are doing the job they have been assigned and with a lot of courage.

When we watch the crowds lining the bridges and roads to salute the remains of the fallen, we understand the sadness and sense of helplessness Canadians feel. They don’t want to be welcoming home dead soldiers, they would rather see the troops come home alive and well. Most will say their vigil is not a show of support for the war or our government’s involvement in it, but for the soldiers and their loved ones; simply to show that we care.

As for the war, most Canadians want to see an end to it, however it ends.

Most Americans too and, we would assume, most Italians and other allies.

Those who know say that Afghanistan is a very difficult place to govern, even for Afghans. So, why would we think we could do better? The last world power to try and tame Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, had some 130,000 troops in that country and left after almost 10 years without a victory.

All this talk about making the world safe for us by fighting the Taliban is foolishness. Any war on terror must be taken directly to al Qaeda. If the U.S. and its allies were able to fine-tune the mission and focus on al Qaeda as Obama now says he wants to do, that will be a real war on terror. That will make us safe.

Meanwhile, Bush is relaxing on his ranch in Texas while we are left to try and clean up his mess.

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