Understandings of Afghanistan
'The genuine arrival of morning brought a worrying report from a Canadian patrol: The night before, the soldiers had laid tripwire in the grape fields around their positions and rigged flares to give away the presence of intruders -- but now the flares were gone. It seemed that insurgents had snuck to within a few dozen metres of the Canadians, snipped the tripwires, and stolen the flares.
Later in the day, Captain Piers Pappin, the Nomads' commander, stood on the farmhouse rooftop and showed Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie the spot where the flares disappeared. "It's pretty ballsy," Capt. Pappin said.
"I'm surprised they could even find them, out there," replied Col. Lavoie, the Canadian battle-group commander, peering over the mud parapet at the dense warren of grape vines.
"Well, the only explanation for that, sir, is that they watched us put them in," the captain said.'
-- from Graeme Smith's article in the Globe and Mail, Sept. 9 2006
Laments for a lack of clear understanding, on the part of the Canadian populace, for this country's military presence in Afghanistan are rapidly taking on the feel of an emerged trend. Typically, this fogginess with regards to public apprehension is blamed primarily -- and, I would say, rightly -- on the failure of the Harper Machine to provide sufficient explanation and justification for our most recent military excursion.
However, 'understanding' can and does take on a number of different forms. We might expect the government to provide a clear strategic or moral rationale for our presence in Afghanistan -- and for the media to exert pressure on the government to proffer these things, and to provide adequate explanation of the government's motives if/when they become clear. Yet if what we're looking for is a sense of what how things 'really are' on the ground in that country, we would presumably do best to seek that information elsewhere. To wit: while I confess to having so far paid much less attention than should be the case to the Afghanistan conflict and Canada's role in it, it has only taken one extremely well-written newspaper article to convince me that my willed state of semi-ignorance is a patently self-defeating one.
The article, 'Canadian and U.S. troops score victory in rural battle', runs in today's Globe and Mail, nestled towards the back of the paper's front section (though it is teased on the cover, while the lead piece on the war actually begins on A1 and talks about, among other things, sending more Canadian troops into the Hot Zone and about Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's 'clarification' of previous remarks which I would prefer not to go into here, since to do so would only serve to perpetuate what some call Substantive Controversy but which might be more aptly labeled Farcical Drivel).
In any event, the reporter who wrote the non-lead piece, Graeme Smith, is in Afghanistan and has been traveling with Canadian troops on the ground there. Granted, his article focuses only on one particular offensive and does not aim to shed any penetrating light on why Canadians are in that country engaged in that offensive in the first place. Yet the quality of his writing and his observations of both the soldiers and their immediate environment, provide a kind of understanding of what is happening in that country which could never be gleaned from Ottawa's hacks and flacks.