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Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.


Our soldiers aren't trying to 'kill everybody'

Christie Blatchford, Globe & Mail, 28 Nov 06

Column Link


The identification came so late that as I write this, I know almost nothing about the two Canadian soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar yesterday, except that they were with the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment from Petawawa, Ont.


I don't know the names of their parents, I don't know whether they were good students or graduated with honours or dropped out or whether they played hockey at the local rink. I don't know whether they joined the army out of a sense of adventure, or idealism, or because they wanted the money that comes with deployment to a dangerous place or because the military ran in the family.


But I know one thing.


I know that whatever else these two Canadians were doing in Afghanistan, or what their fellows are still doing, they weren't and aren't out trying to “kill everybody.”


That was in a story that started on the front page of The Globe and Mail yesterday.


Before “the turn” as we call it in newspaper lingo — before the front-page portion was continued inside — a Taliban commander identified only by alias was quoted saying, “If we attack the Canadians, they call for aircraft and bomb everything in the area. The U.S. only tried to kill the Taliban. The Canadians try to kill everybody.”


That is so outrageously untrue, and demonstrably untrue, that it should require no answer. Yet there is so much conflicting information in the public domain about the Canadian mission to Afghanistan that the dialogue is confused, as a perusal of comments on yesterday confirmed. Left unchallenged, even such transparent nonsense acquires a sheen of truth.


The story by The Globe's Graeme Smith was compelling. He was the first reporter for a Canadian media outlet to visit Baluchistan, a notoriously lawless Pakistani province, since Canada sent troops to nearby Kandahar. There he interviewed two men who purported to be “foot soldiers” of the Taliban, described them by the admittedly fake names they gave him (Mullah Azizullah and Mullah Manan), judged them remarkably frank, and quoted them at length in his story. I have one trustworthy source, a friend reasonably well placed in the Canadian Forces to know about such things, and he said yesterday that some of what the story said rang true for him, though he doubted the two mullahs were foot soldiers (as Mr. Smith noted, they had soft, manicured hands, and my friend said that only fairly senior Taliban commanders would have hands like that) and found the “killing everybody” line as jarring as I did.


I affect no expertise about the Taliban, its hierarchy or Baluchistan, and readily defer to Mr. Smith, and my friend, and others. I'm not interested in the Taliban particularly.


When I go to Kandahar — my third trip there since March starts next month — I go because I am interested in writing about Canadians who for the usual amalgam of reasons are risking their lives there. I spend my time as an embedded journalist, travelling with the troops when I can and staying at coalition bases when I can't go out with soldiers.


So it's Canadian soldiers I know. Over the course of my time in Afghanistan and in dozens more interviews with the returned members of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and others back at home, I know the young men and women (and let's put aside the gender correctness for the moment, the majority of our troops are men) who wear the Maple Leaf well, and the one bloody thing I am sure of is that they are not indiscriminate killers.


In truth, they are precisely the opposite. They are highly discriminating killers. There is a sizable segment of the Canadian public that apparently reels at the notion that our soldiers should ever kill, or that any soldiers ever do, but they do. Canadians are among the best soldiers on the planet at the moment, and that means that they have fired their weapons with predictable results.


But they have done so with in the main what amounts to exquisite care. Indeed, the combination of their careful training, the decisions of their commanders and the detailed rules of engagement that govern them has sometimes seen Canadians, and our allies in combat there, choose a course of action that sees them suffer casualties rather than the easier one, which might cause civilian deaths.


Instead of first bombing a Taliban stronghold, for instance, Canadians go in on foot, or in light armoured vehicles and the like, and physically fight insurgents, calling in allied air support only if their troops find themselves in dire trouble; instead of shooting at vehicles that come too close to their convoys, Canadians and their NATO allies have spent big dollars and time on information campaigns to tell Afghans to stay away from convoys (and as recently as July, when I was last there, Canadians were still throwing water bottles at the cars, to keep them back).


It isn't Canadian soldiers who have killed scores of ordinary Afghan civilians, women and children, in suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices on the gutted roads of that country, who bomb schools and threaten teachers with death. It isn't Canadian generals who sit in briefing rooms and plan devastating attacks in busy markets; it is the men like those my colleague interviewed, with their soft hands and hennaed nails, who do, and who send in as cannon fodder any sufficiently poor, illiterate, desperate young Afghan men they can find.


Canadian soldiers try to kill everybody? Yes, and as my friend said yesterday, “My mother met Elvis during her abduction by aliens.”


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