Canadians in Afghanistan

To: Rick Hillier
Chief of the Defence Staff
Department of National Defence
National Defence Headquarters
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0K2

Appalled Citizen
2365 West 10th Avenue
Vancouver V6K 2J2

Re: Several Questions about Afghanistan

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

–Rudyard Kipling, The Young British Soldier

Dear Rick,

I like your website, so disarmingly candid: “General Hillier enjoys most recreational pursuits but, in particular runs slowly, plays hockey poorly and golfs not well at all.” And then of course, there’s your sense of humour in discussing the amusing attempt by Canadian troops to smoke the Taliban out of giant marijuana plantations. It’s like Vietnam with much worse music. It also reminds me of my grandfather’s idea of World War I trench humour–this is Arthur Earl Kitson, Rick (Regimental Number 106337) who survived about three years with the Canadian Signal Corps by “staying low and moving fast”–when he described one of his buddies getting into a shell hole that wasn’t quite big enough, and, as my grandfather cheerfully put it, “seven machine gun bullets tapped him on the rump”, meaning his buddy got invalided out for literally having his ass shot off. The boys in the trenches thought this was pretty funny, and somehow your marjiuana story is about as funny, except I’m not sure you get the joke any more than Earl Haig might have, and the humour faded fast when two Canadians were killed in the next few days.

Like you Rick, a lot of us middle-aged guys run slowly and have families, and also happen to be in positions of authority through circumstance. I’m sure you’ll agree, and I have absolutely no doubt that you do, that we should be careful about sending young people out to die. The fact remains, Rick–and I’m sure you’d agree with this, too–if a Canadian soldier dies for a stupid idea, it doesn’t make the idea any better, and the Canadian is just as dead. Dieppe was a pretty good example of that. And as David Halberstam pointed out about Vietnam, it’s not exactly logical to think that more soldiers should die because soldiers have already died. The thing is Rick, some of us civilians think the Afghanistan “Mission” is a crock, right up there with Dieppe, and nothing you’ve said makes me any more confident that you know damn all about Afghanistan, or indeed, much outside the nuts and bolts of the military. I know you were the ISAF commander in Afghanistan and I’m a civilian doctor in Vancouver, but as my grandfather (a Manitoba farmer) liked to say, you don’t have to stand next to the horse to know horseshit when you see it.

I notice that the more recent Canadian casualties were from a rocket-propelled grenade. This is a little ominous but not unexpected, the RPG not having made much of an appearance in southern Afghanistan up till now, but it can’t be lost on the Taliban, or whomever we’re fighting, that the RPG-29 was spectacularly successful against the Merkava in the recent unpleasantness in southern Lebanon, and you are now proposing to send Canadian Leopard C4 tanks to “bolster” our presence. Yeah, well I think I’d die outside, rather than “brewing up” inside one of those damn things, and how does it make sense that a tank is going to help down Ambush Alley, in marijuana fields, or anywhere else for that matter? I realize you were a star at Fort Hood, but it’s really difficult to see how armour is gonna work out in Helmand.

As you well know I’m sure, European, and specifically British, military involvement in Afghanistan goes back a long way, three official “Afghan Wars” having occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the Russian involvement more recently, none of them ending particularly pleasingly for anyone concerned, and most of them characterized by military behaviour not approved by the Geneva Conventions, as implied by Rudyard Kipling, as observed during the Russian occupation, and more recently by reports of French troops being gutted alive, not something any of us would like to see on The National, although of course a Canadian in World War I got a Victoria Cross for bayoneting his way through a German trench, which couldn’t have been all that different, probably none of us really would want to watch that either.

What is the “Mission” and how will we know when it’s over?

The government is all very high minded about this, but it’s still a little vague, Rick. For one thing, I have a letter from Art Eggleton (somewhere) when he was the relevant minister, advising me that the legal justification for Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan was NATO’s right to “self defence” as described by the NATO Charter (Article 5, and corresponding to Article 51 of the UN Charter). You don’t have to be an international lawyer to see that this is a little “iffy”, Rick. Invading Afghanistan didn’t exactly prevent the attacks in Madrid and London, and the same theory would in any case justify the invasion of Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia for that matter, Afghanistan not being in a position, then or now, to launch any kind of attack on NATO, and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia being just as deeply implicated in what is now called “Terrorism” as Afghanistan is or was. You might as well launch the cruise missiles against the American flight schools that trained the 9/11 guys.

And it’s pretty clear from the various government websites that the primary reason we’re in Afghanistan is self interest, which suggests the legal basis for the whole thing hasn’t really changed. You would have to be seriously deluded to think that the UN was running the whole thing on a humanitarian or any other basis, what with a high level NATO meeting having “decided” to extend its mandate to the entire country, the legal basis for this not being clear, although there were certain exceptions in which US forces would not be subject to NATO “control”. It almost defies imagination, Rick, trying to figure out what’s going on in the Wild East of Afghanistan, formerly the Northwest Frontier of wild repute.

Is Afghanistan’s central government legitimate?

OK, OK, I know there was, like, an election that made Hamid Karzai president with 55% of the 8 million votes cast (from a population of 30 million). Fair enough. On the other hand, there are reports that only Karzai had access to US military transport during the election, and for that and other reasons, most people hadn’t heard of the opposition. Furthermore, we don’t know how the “election” really played in terms of tribal politics, not to mention the drug business. There was this thing of the Afghanistan Compact achieved after two days of brutal hotel living in London, but who the hell knows what that was about? Who represented Afghanistan and what was their room service bill?

I asked the Minister of National Defence the same question but haven’t heard, I know he’s busy. I read that the International Committee of the Red Cross is very impressed at how Canadian troops record their prisoner handovers to Afghan “authorities”, but where does the trail lead after that Rick? There is some pretty horrific evidence about what Americans regard as “interrogation” that doesn’t exactly fit the Geneva Conventions, and went on at Bagram Air Force Base, not to mention Guantanamo, and what guarantees are there that the prisoners taken by Canadian forces (prisoners, Rick, not “detainees”) will not end up in American prisons through the well known process of “rendition”. And by the way Rick, where are the records of these prisoners kept, meaning the Canadian records?

So what I’d be more worried about, Rick (speaking of course as a civilian) is what’s going on in Waziristan. If I was Osama bin Laden I’d see if A.Q. Khan would sell me a bomb, or even better, two bombs. A.Q. seems pretty well connected and protected–no Guantanamo for him–and perhaps no great friend of the West, unless he’s entirely venal, always a possibility, in which case money would work. I note in passing that A.Q. is currently having his prostate attended to in a private hospital owned by Imran Khan, renowned international cricketer, which raises questions about what is cricket and what isn’t, that little question having been asked recently in a more literal if no less impassioned form.

So what I’d do (I’m back to Bin Laden Construction and Deconstruction Inc.) is assemble the suckers (we’re talking nuclear weapons here) in caves–this doesn’t have to be compact, so we can “breadboard” them, then, when the prevailing winds were right (the Monsoon, from what I can gather from the great Indo-Pakistani nuclear war-planning nutbars) I’d haul one outside its cave (maybe using an ancient Massey-Ferguson tractor, courtesy Conrad Black before he destroyed the company), make the Mother of All Suicide Statements, and let it rip. The radioactivity would drift down on Kabul, causing mass panic and exodus, as indeed it should, and effectively destroy any Afghan government. The bomb site would itself of course be pulverized by subsequent American bombing, but it seems pretty futile to bomb something that just had a nuclear weapon exploded in it, and nuclear weapons would be out of the question for the very reasons that the first one had any effect anyway, so the whole American response would seem pretty limp.

Then, a few days later (having read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki) I’d let a second bomb rip from a completely different location. I would then claim I had more such bombs, and would continue to set them off until American and NATO troops withdrew from the Middle East. You see how this would work, Rick. Not exactly the surrender scene on the Missouri, but the effect on NATO might not be dissimilar. The thing is, all the pieces for this exist in Pakistan–not Iraq, not Iran, not Afghanistan–but Pakistan, whose leader has just appeared on a North American book tour, and The Daily Show to boot, to promote it. It’s a pretty weird thing you’re involved in, Rick, almost surreal, what with the marijuana plantations and everything.

You’ve got your Mike Capstick speaking across the country, at our expense, talking about “the Mission”, showing long lines of Afghans waiting to vote in 2005. It’s all very touching Rick, but nobody seemed to give a damn before 9/11, and some of us think the “scumbags” and “murderers” you seem very clear should be hunted down in Afghanistan, also exist in Washington. In fact, some of us think that the Washington scumbags might be at the root of the problem, certainly a big part of it.

Take your Iranians just for example. There was this democratic government in Iran led by a guy called Mossadeq, that was overthrown by a coup in 1953, engineered in part by the CIA (organized, interestingly enough by Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt), and the authoritarian regime of the “Shah” installed in its place, and maintained by a secret police called SAVAK, trained in part by the CIA, and every bit as brutal as whatever went on in Iraq under Saddam. People in Iran haven’t forgotten this Rick, I know that because I’ve talked to some of them, and it’s not exactly a secret anyway, although you’re little short on the facts yourself if you think people in the Middle East aren’t aware of this.

So your simplistic assessment of “The Mission” in Afghanistan is to me a mockery of everything my grandfather and my uncle (James Wilfred Elliott, Regimental Number 908082, Military Medal for defending Hill 70 at Passchendaele while wounded) fought for in World War I (itself a mismanaged travesty), that my father was lined up to land on Japanese beaches for, and all those poor bastards at Dieppe died for. And Rick–you’re a “blunt, plain-spoken general”–you can take your Afghanistan “Mission” and shove it up your ass. I don’t want anything to do with it, I don’t want my kids anywhere near it, and I don’t want my country or its honourable soldiers involved in it. It’s a disgrace: the objectives are devious, the legality is dubious, and the organization is nebulous. I completely agree that the resources are ludicrous.

I’d be happy to discuss this, Rick. I’m in the phone book.

NEIL KITSON is a Canadian citizen and incredulous observer of his country’s involvement in the group hysteria known as the “War on Terror”. He can be reached at: