Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared May 9, 2014 a National Day of Honour in recognition of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.
The last group of Canadian soldiers returned from Afghanistan in March, ending Canada’s longest military operation. Some 40,000 troops served in Afghanistan during the 12-hour mission.
In a welcoming address to the soldiers, Harper said it was important for Canadians to “pause to mark this moment. From Kabul to Kandahar, Canadians like you fought to loosen the grip of terror and repression.
“Canada has also made a tangible difference in Afghanistan to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Whatever work remains, the people of Afghanistan are better off today because of Canada’s investments.” Harper told the crowd.
When the transport jet touched Ottawa airport with 84 soldiers on board, there was jubilation among wives and children of the returning soldiers who breathed a sigh of relief for the end of the military operation. The soldiers were met with emotional hugs from the waiting loved ones. Leading Seaman Brett Price finally had the chance to hold Brynlee, the 14-month daughter he barely knew. Price had been overseas for half of her young age.
Harper said on May 9, Canada would formally recognize the contribution made by soldiers in Afghanistan. “On that day, Canada will recognize those who fought, remember those who fell and salute all who contributed,” he said.
Unfortunately 158 soldiers died, along with two civilians contractors, a diplomat and a journalist. More than 2,000 soldiers were wounded, many of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who died made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and May 9 has been set aside to pay tribute to our gallant soldiers.
Canadians should also recognize that the soldiers who returned home alive placed their lives in danger everyday while they were on duty in Afghanistan. Apart from the war, Canadian soldiers were subjected to attacks from the Taliban and in some cases, from of all the people, members of the Afghan security – the very people they went to protect. But our soldiers persevered and continued performing their duties against such odds.
U.S. may follow Canadian troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as President Barack Obama has asked the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility at the end of the year. “Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014,” the White House said. The move follows Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that the U.S. insists it must have before agreeing to leave a contingent of troops behind.
The United States was planning to leave as many as 8,000 troops after its formal withdrawal at the end of the year to conduct counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda or Taliban and to train Afghan forces.
One segment of Afghan society who will lose is the Afghan women who fear a Taliban comeback. It is also feared that women’s rights could become a bargaining concession used by Afghan or western leaders in talks with the Taliban.
Where does this leave Afghanistan is anyone’s guess. Afghanistan has just ended its third presidential election since the fall of the Taliban. The constitution bars President Karzai, who has served two terms from seeking a third term. According to recent information released by the Independent Election Commission, there is a likelihood of a runoff election between the two leading contenders – Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.
Partial results released disclose candidate Abdullah Abdullah as the front-runner. Abdullah, a former Foreign Minister has 44 percent of the votes that have been tallied so far, according to the Associated Press. Former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani received 33.2 percent of the vote. Final election results are expected on May 14.
The Obama administration, it is believed, has already been in contact with potential candidates to replace Karzai and all of them have reportedly said yes to the agreement.
Afghanistan’s new president will have to decide about the U.S. presence in his country since NATO members see American withdrawal as a disincentive to their staying past 2014. A study undertaken by the Congress indicates that it would be unwise for the U.S. to undertake any withdrawal until 2018, as it would mean the resurgence of Taliban terrorism. With or without the U.S. presence, an increase in militant activity is predicted in Afghanistan in years to come.
One only hopes that Afghanistan will return to safe and normal conditions and have a democratic government. It would be the new president’s priority to keep the Taliban at bay with the help of his own police and army. We also hope that the death of Canadian, American and NATO troops was not in vain.