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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Afghan troops stoned, infiltrated by Taliban and likely to turn on their trainers, rebellious German soldiers say

| February 22, 2011

You'd never know it from Canadian mainstream media coverage of the war in Afghanistan, of course, but Spiegel Online International reported yesterday that German troops in that country are in a state of near revolt against their commanders.

The reason? The danger they face training Afghan soldiers who, in the words of one German trooper quoted by the magazine, "consider us to be infidels who don't belong in their country."

Said another Bundeswehr soldier quoted by the English-language online edition of the German newsmagazine: "One doesn't know anymore if they will suddenly turn their weapons on you."

The reason for this angst is the attack last Friday by an Afghan soldier being trained by the Germans that killed three Bundeswehr soldiers and injured six others, some of them critically. The 26-year-old Afghan attacker, who Spiegel reported is believed to be a Taliban sympathizer, was killed in a hail of return fire from the Germans' comrades.

With German morale at "rock bottom," the publication said, many Germans soldiers are "now refusing to go on further patrols or missions with Afghan troops."

Afghan trainees that don't owe their true allegiance to the Taliban, the German soldiers also report, are as likely to be ripped to the eyelids on hashish. "Many of our Afghan comrades wander around here completely stoned," said another soldier quoted in the story. "It is impossible to tell if they are fit for duty or not."

But don't worry, if the Germans won't go, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will send Canadians.

This is, after all, how unreliable foreign armies are trained and kept in line when a Western country is so foolish as to intervene in a civil war in a faraway place with a vastly different culture. Moreover, historically, so-called combat "trainers" frequently find themselves in the thick of the fiercest fighting, lest they lose credibility with their students.

So this is precisely the "behind the wire" duty that Harper and his military commanders have in mind for the large (and no doubt elastic) number of Canadian troops they plan to leave in that benighted country despite the PM's earlier pledge to end the Canadian "combat mission" this year … or is that 2014?

As has been argued here before, Canadian soldiers "training behind the wire" will continue to die in combat as 154 of them have fallen to date. Indeed, a German officer quoted by Spiegel argued that U.S. or other Western soldiers are no more likely to be successful with Afghan trainees than the Germans have been.

Moreover, Canada's latest "end date of March 2014" is no more firm than the last one was. We will be pressured by the Americans and our prime minister and his Conservative Party will fold like a tent.

The corrupt government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai will never be able to stand on its own, not in 2011, or in 2014, or ever.

The cost to our supposedly strapped national treasury will continue in the billions of dollars, while other members of the now purposeless North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance praise Canada's supposedly essential sacrifices but sensibly fail to offer their own.

Sadly, none of this appears to matter much to most Canadian voters, who may not approve of Canada's role in this war but outside a few military communities are insulated from its tragic impact.

It is hard to believe that rank and file members of the Canadian Forces are as unanimous in their support of this adventure as the government, their commanders and the media suggest. This seeming support by the troops has been a big part of the reluctance by ordinary Canadians doubtful about this war to speak out forcefully against it when doing so is made to feel like a betrayal of soldiers doing their duty in a hard posting abroad.

If this is so, and if our Canadian service personnel share the doubts of their allies, we need to hear from them loud and clear as we now have from the German contingent.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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