The Growing Canadian Sacrifice in Afghanistan
Over the past several days, a wave of stories has highlighted the deepening crisis in Afghanistan. One day after the New York Times detailed American plans to deploy thousands of new troops just to secure the capital Kabul came word that a U.S. resupply convoy in Pakistan was destroyed by Taliban insurgents. But largely overlooked in the discussion of American casualties and a looming overhaul of U.S. strategy under President Obama is the growing sacrifice of our Canadian allies in Afghanistan.
With the deaths of three soldiers in a roadside bombing Friday, Canada reached the grim milestone of 100 service personnel killed in Afghanistan. With 2,500 troops stationed in violent Kandahar province, Canadian forces have seen absorbed some of the most brutal attacks of the intensifying conflict. To help reduce the risks of dangerous foot patrols, a new Canadian air wing with additional planes, helicopters and unmanned drones is being dispatched to the theater.
By way of context, Americans currently make up 32,000 of the 53,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. presence is set to jump by 20,000 beginning early next. As of last week, 556 Americans had been killed in the Afghan conflict, including 148 so far this year.
But unlike their American counterparts denied by their government, fallen Canadian soldiers are publicly welcomed home by their grieving countrymen. As NBC News detailed last month for Veteran's Day here (Remembrance Day in Canada), Canadians take to the overpasses of Route 401 - the Highway of Heroes - to honor their dead on their final ride from the airport in Ontario (video here). "Each time a Canadian soldier dies in Afghanistan fighting alongside Americans in the war on terror," noted correspondent Kevin Tibbles, "people simply gather on the bridges out of respect." As he described the scenes he witnessed:
"I noticed a few people on the overpass standing with flags.
On the next bridge, same thing.
Then there was a bridge with a fire truck on it, and more flags, and more people. Essentially I had driven, I dunno...50 or 60 miles...and there were people gathered on every single bridge.
Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, pickups, sedans...moms, dads, the elderly, kids."
The Canadian role in Afghanistan remains controversial in Ottawa. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper campaigned on bringing his country's troops home in 2011, a date extended by Parliament in March.
Whether Harper's pledge comes to fruition remains to be seen. But while all eyes focus on the evolving American strategy in Afghanistan under the new Obama administration and whether the Harper government even survives an apparently inevitable no-confidence vote, the Canadian sacrifice will quietly continue.