Essay: Canadian involvement in the War in Afghanistan

Canadian involvement in the War in Afghanistan has been the conflict that the current generation has grown up watching on television and reading in the papers. Canadian engagement began in early 2002 and just recently the last Canadian forces have withdrawn. This paper will look at a brief history of Afghanistan, development of mission goals, CAF operations, and challenges facing the mission. The primary purpose of this paper is to determine the goals of Canada in the Afghanistan War, and to determine if these goals where successfully completed.
In late 1979 the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Afghanistan, for the next ten years the country would be occupied by Soviet forces. The wheels began to roll in Russia after Hafizuallh Amin came to power after murdering the president. Moscow was worried that Amin was attempting to reach a more balanced foreign policy approach, which would lead to less reliance on Moscow. Moscow wanted to install Barbrak Karmal as the new leader of Afghanistan, believing that he would ensure that Afghanistan maintained under Moscow’s control. The main invasion began in late December 1979 and was met with little resistance. Many believed that the Soviets had entered to keep Amin in power, but Soviet forces assaulted his palace and executed him. Karmal was quickly installed as the new leader, but need the Russian forces to stay around to be able to maintain control. The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan would last for another ten years. The Soviets as soon as the invasion began would be challenged by the Mujahidin, a rebel group. The Mujahidin would launch a holy war against the Russians, eventually forcing them out of the country. The U.S government secretly supported the Mujahidin, with the goal of forcing the Russians out of Afghanistan. By early 1989 the Russians had fully withdrew from Afghanistan, but this was just the end of one problem and the beginning of another. Soon after the withdrawal of Soviet forces Afghanistan would be launched into civil war. This civil war would last from 1989 until 1996; it would see the destruction of communism in Afghanistan, and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. On September, 11th 2001 two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York. The 9/11 attacks would forever change the shape of the world around us, but is the catalyst that would force the War in Afghanistan. Taliban control Afghanistan had become a safe-haven for Al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. The UN and NATO quickly went to work after these attacks, and within weeks NATO Coalition forces where on the ground fighting in Afghanistan. In November 2001 the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had collapsed, which resulted in the launch of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom.’ This U.S-led coalition was created to support the reconstruction of the Afghanistan Government. Operation Enduring Freedom would be the beginning of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, which would eventually become the International Security Assistant Force (ISAF)
The question arises to why Canada would engage itself into a conflict half way across the world. The goals of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan have changed multiple times since 2001. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 NATO launched a U.S-led international coalition composed of forty countries into Afghanistan. Canada being an active member of NATO, and a long-time ally of the United States supported this coalition. Also the Canadian Government understood the unprecedented threat to global security and peace, if a Taliban controlled Afghanistan was ignored. A Taliban controlled Afghanistan would continue to act as a staging ground for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, if left alone. Canada also had the obligation to enter Afghanistan on humanitarian and development means. Being one of the richest countries in the world we could not just idly stand by, while one of the poorest countries in the world suffered. These are the reasons that pushed Canada into the War in Afghanistan. From 2002-2006 the goals of the Canadian Mission was to assist Afghans in governance, security, and development. These are broad ranging topics, with many factors which could affect success. In 2006 to ensure that the 40 countries participating in the Afghanistan Mission where on the same page the ‘Afghanistan Compact’ was signed in London. This document declared the three areas of focus for all countries involved in Afghanistan. These three areas of focus were security; governance, rule of law, and Human Rights; economic and social development. Roughly 40 objectives where stated with timelines, to determine the success of this agreement. This document was meant to guide the mission until the end of the 2011. The CAF would follow this document until it expiration in 2011. With the War in Afghanistan nearing an end the Canadian government released its own four priorities to guide the CAF until withdrawal in 2014. The four priorities stated for the CAF mission in Afghanistan where education and health; security; regional diplomacy; development. The CAF where deployed in Afghanistan for over ten years. This paragraph will briefly provide insight into the operations conducted by the CAF over that period, and their objectives. CAF engaged in seven major operations over the course of its engagement in Afghanistan. Operation Apollo was the deployment of the Canadian battle group to Afghanistan, under the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. This was the first operation conducted by the CAF and was the beginning of the Canadian Mission. After the deployment of the CAF, Operation Athena was launched. This had Canada leading the way in making the international mission reflect more NATO values in Afghanistan and Kabul. Following Operation Athena Canada launched Operation Angus. Operation Angus involved Canadian expertise providing guidance to the Afghanistan Government on the creation of a national development plan. These three operations were largely focused on humanitarian and development issues. Operation Archer involved the CAF taking command of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar province. The PRT worked to correct and identity major issues plaguing Kandahar Province Operation Athena II was the counterinsurgency mission that was mounted by CAF. It goal was to insure limited disruption to humanitarian and development projects in Kandahar. One of the final operations executed by the CAF was Operation Attention, which shifted the priorities of the mission. The CAF began to act in a more advising and mentorship role for the Afghan National Army, which would take over all combat operations in Afghanistan.
These operations and objectives where not without challenges though. In 2007 the Canadian Government released a document outlining thirteen problems facing the CAF and the mission in Afghanistan. Problem one is the warrior culture in Afghanistan. For the roughly the last two centuries the country has been in a state of war, which has developed a tolerance to killing, and being killed in Afghan culture. Problem two and three are the advantages that the locals have over NATO forces and the disadvantages that the visiting NATO forces have as being foreigners. Problems four and five are related to how limited time, difficult geography, and easily accessible safe heavens happens the effectiveness of the CAF. Problems eight, ten, eleven, and thirteen all deal with the cultural aspects and societal effects on attempted reform. If a negative view is perceived of the CAF, and corruption still dominates Afghan politics no progress can be made. Problem seven is that we are fighting a rich enemy, who has the ability to easily bribe and recruit the large majority of the population. Problems nine and eleven deal with the civilian cost of the war, and how it is too high. Also if Afghanistan is the test for the newly reform NATO, it is truly testing the alliance to its limits. The report also outlines what criteria needs to be used to identify the success of the CAF when dealing with these problems. Stability needs to be created in Kandahar Province to allow for economic and political development. Improved governance and crackdown on corruption needs to occur to counter many of these problems. The Canadian military mission in Afghanistan officially ended in March of 2014. 158 Canadian solders lost their lives over the twelve year conflict and war has estimated to have cost taxpayers nineteen billion dollars. Critics and scholars began to debate if the cost of the War in Afghanistan was worth it, and if Canada was successful with its goals. Understanding the historical context of Afghanistan, reasons for Canada’s entrance into the Afghanistan War, development of mission goals, and challenges faced by the mission allows the determination of what Canada wanted to accomplish in Afghanistan. The 3D approach, or also referred to as the ‘whole of government’ approach best outlines the grand overall mission goals of Canada. The 3D approach places focus up defense, diplomacy, and development. These goals are evident in how goals of the Canadian mission have developed over the course of the war. They would focus on different specific areas, but would always return to fall under the 3D approach.
The three ‘signature’ projects launched by the Canadian government show the focus on development in the Kandahar region. Each one focuses on a different area of development. The first signature projects places a focus on infrastructure and economic developed. The revitalization of the Dahala Dam irrigation and canal system will allow for the development of jobs for locals. Also it will aid in the development of sustainability and agriculture in Kandahar Province. The second signature project places focus upon education for the population of Kandahar Province. Revitalization, expansion, and construction of fifty schools in crucial Kandahar districts will allow for better education of the population especially youth. The final signature project focused upon the health of the residents in Kandahar Province. Expanded support for immunization across the Province, with the goal of eliminating polio within Kandahar Province. The success of Canadian diplomacy needs to be examined with Afghanistan, and with the larger international framework that Canada operated under in Afghanistan. Canada participated within two inner NATO conferences and played an active role in pursuing more support for the War in Afghanistan. The Brussels Conference ran from February 17th-19th 2008 and involved roughly one-hundred NATO delegates. Canada strongly pushed for more international troops in Afghanistan, especially after it was a key recommendation in the recently released Manley report. The delegates at the Brussels conference dodged bring up increased support, with troop deployment and placed more focus on development and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Canada continued to push for increased NATO allied state support even after the end of the conference. The Bucharest Summit, which was held from April 2-4 and involved the same delegates present in Brussels. Unlike Brussels though the focus on this summit was the increased troop support being offered by NATO states, specifically France and the United States in support of the mission within Afghanistan. On are more national level, Canadian relations with Afghanistan have been reinvigorated. Canada first began diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in the early 1960s until roughly 1979. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Canada cut all diplomatic ties with the country. Even after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, Canada still had not formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, due in part to disagreement with the Taliban regime placed in charge. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Canada became engaged in the War in Afghanistan, which Canada understood would require diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. In January of 2002 Canada officially reestablished diplomatic relations with the Afghanistan government. The Canadian diplomatic presence plays a crucial role in the 3D approach, as it fully supports and enables the development and defense goals. Also working closely with the Afghanistan government to aid the objects of the PRT requires the diplomatic presence of Canadians diplomats to help coordinate on a governmental level. These accomplishments show the success of the Canadian diplomatic mission within Afghanistan and can lead to future prosperity. They often most popular item in the media is defense, or security. CAF troops were deployed to Afghanistan and have played a crucial role insuring the mission success. The CAF played a crucial role in Kandahar Province, by counter the Taliban forces operating within that area. Without these troops the PRT would have not been able to focus on development within the province. Also the CAF acted as the public face of Canada, building stronger relationships with the local populace. The achievements of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan in the three areas of defense, development, and diplomacy have shown the success of the 3D approach. Since 2001 Canada and the world have been working hard within Afghanistan to improve the country. Without them though Afghanistan would be in shambles, and not a better country as it is today. Currently looking at the situation the Canadian mission within Afghanistan can be considered a success, but five or ten years down the line we can’t predict. It is too early to say if the Canadian mission was truly successful, or only a short term fix
Afghanistan over the last thirty years has gone through extremely drastic changes, from soviet invasions to an international security force entering the country for over a decade. Canada made sacrifices to support Afghanistan, and had stated goals to achieve. Canada’s mission in Afghanistan produced results that demonstrate that the mission was successful. Development projects, diplomatic relations, and improved security where all accomplished in various degrees. Currently we can call the Canadian mission a success, but we must wait and see to be able to call it a long-term success.

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