Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Operation Raw Deal

The latest Canadian deaths in Afghanistan bring our fatality total to 66, second only to the Americans:

Military Fatalities By Country:

Australia 1
Canada 66
Czech 1
Denmark 4
Estonia 2
Finland 1
France 9
Germany 21
Italy 9
Netherlands 8
Norway 1
Portugal 1
Romania 4
South Korea 1
Spain 21
Sweden 2
UK 63
US 408
Total 623

The British currently have around 5800 combat troops, the Americans 20000, Canada 2300. No matter how you do the math, even amongst the heavily engaged nations, Canadian soldiers are clearly suffering disporportionate casualties. This year alone, Canada has absorbed half the death total of the Americans, despite 1/10 of the deployment.

Even the hawks, like MacKenzie acknowledge a problem:
Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie said that casualties must be accepted if Canada believes in the importance of the Afghanistan mission.

But he added that unless NATO offers Canada more support in southern Afghanistan, the chaotic region where Canadian troops have endured much of the fighting, then the mission should not be extended.

"If NATO doesn't get off its butt and countries that aren't participating don't start showing up in numbers, and start increasing the number of troops in the south ... then I won't be at the head of the line in 2009 saying we should stay"

If Afghanistan has a ground zero, Canadian troops reside there, moreso than any other nation, including the "willing". What appears strange, despite some pointed rhetoric, Canadian officials seem to accept our fate with some resignation. NATO is a complete joke, with no sense of proportional accountability. Is it not time for Canada to raise the temperature, quit acting like the good citizen and demand more, or threaten to change our role unilaterally? We demand fairness, equality at home, why do we accept less away?


ottlib said...

Interesting comment from Mr. Mackenzie.

There is a persistent rumour around town that he will be running in Gordon O'Connor's riding in the next election with the plan being to make him MOD.

So his statements were probably not just random, they came from a higher source and they are a further indication of where the Harper government may be going on Afghanistan.

Wow, six weeks ago Mr. Harper was gung-ho, we will will stick the mission out until the job is done. His internal polling, particularly in Quebec, regarding the mission must be dismal for him to change his mind so quickly and completely in such a short amount of time.

The Mound of Sound said...

Great post. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I keep repeating, to no avail apparently, that NATO has become a trojan horse for US foreign policy and should not be considered otherwise. US command structure, same fields of endeavour, same strategies, same tactics, same outcomes.

If we were a serious nation regarding fighting Islamic terrorism we would disengage from NATO.

But we're no longer a serious nation, if we ever were.

We're a US client state.

So it's a perfect fit.

Olaf said...


Interesting (and upsetting) numbers. I don't really understand what explanation, however, there is for why we're sustaining greater casualties. I mean, the Dutch, US and Britain (and to a lesser degree Romania) are all with our troops in the South, so why our disproportionate casualty rate?

I mean, it may seem trite and unfeeling, but is there a possibility that our brave soldiers have just encountered a string of "bad luck"? I mean, it's not like we're sustaining any casualties in battle (leading one to conclude we're getting the more dangerous missions): it's all roadside bombings (and to a lesser extent, suicide bombings). These, to me, seem to happen largely by chance.

So, if it is just, for lack of a far better and more compassionate term, bad luck for our soldiers (I cringe to ask the question so blithely, but I'm having trouble expressing myself with adequate remorse and reverence), can we really draw any conclusion from these numbers?

This isn't to say that I don't agree that Canada's soldiers (and Britain and the US and the Dutch) are carrying a disproportionate amount of weight and risk in being the only countries willing to put their troops in direct harms way. Of course I do, and would be elated if other NATO contributors would be willing to do so in a mission I believe in. (Although their unwillingness in itself doesn't necessarily lead me to believe it's something we shouldn't be doing, in the same way you wouldn't abandon a cause you strongly believed in just because you thought not enough people were backing you up).

However, can we conclude from these numbers that Canada's getting a "raw deal" amongst those few countries willing to do what most supporters of the mission (even those countries unwilling to contribute troops themselves) agree needs to be done (eg keep the Taliban at bay in the South)?

Again, I hope the question I'm asking isn't taken the wrong way by anyone, but I think it merits consideration.

Karen said...

Olaf, I'm not sure how to take your comments.

Canada is at the sharp end of the sword, Panjwaii, and we thought we had it licked.

The Taleban, on the other hand, have adapted...for goodness sake, the best armoured vehicle we have, in an area we thought safe, and they got us.


I think we have to stand by our committment until 2009, but what we are doing now is clearly not working.

The Taleban is adapting, why isn't NATO?

Steve V said...


Sad, but true. What bothers me, despite our "sacrifice", Canada doesn't seem to have any real control, as evidenced by the aping of tactics used in Iraq, which suggests American control.


Fair points. There is a difference between the deadbeat NATO countries and others, who are also in the south. Having said that, is Canada not in this predicament because of the Iraq distraction? Bad luck, or filling a void?

It is also interesting that coalition casualties are up 30% compared to the halfway mark of last year, where they were up considerably from the year before. This reality, in spite of the fact that coalition forces have changed tactics, with less close combat and more reliance on air power, motivated by a desire to lower casualties.


Mackenzie as MOD- what a plume to see on that peacock.

Steve V said...

mound of sound

I read your post today. Layton's presser was before official confirmation, although the rumors were out earlier. Did he run to the podium, it all seemed too contrived for my tastes.

Dennis (Second Thots) said...

What's happening between Harper and Dion right now is very interesting.

Harper tried to muddy the waters a few weeks ago by suggesting we need consensus. Dion is trying to draw a stark contrast again by insisting we need to get the hell out of there.

I tend to agree with Andrew Coyne that Harper's intention was never a full withdrawal, which makes Dion's recalcitrance today all the more interesting. In other words, Dion is trying to one-up Harper.

Which sets the stage for the debate to come. Dion appears to refusing any combat role for Canada past February 2009. So, anything Harper might suggest will look like the pro-war stance.

Are Canadians that against the entire Afghanistan mission, that they'd want to drop everything and simply leave? Or would the promise of reduced casualties make Canadians feel more comfortable with keeping on in some fashion?

Dion appears to be betting on the former: that Canadians want to cut and run. He's left a lot of room for Harper to move. Maybe Dion thinks it doesn't matter. We'll see.

Steve V said...


A few weeks ago, Dion openly mused about Canada's role post-2009. At that time, Dion seemed to leave some room for a military component, albeit a far different focus. Today's comments seem to backtrack from that somewhat, in that the language is rigid. It looks like a dance, wherein Harper is trying to absolve and the Liberals are moving too, to keep a healthy gap in positions. It's all very strange, to be frank.


"Canada is at the sharp end of the sword"

That sums it up nicely :)

Anonymous said...

Canada is in this predicament because O'Connor and Hillier have been given a free hand by Harper, who since the 90s has wanted more than anything else to buttress his bona fides with the US conservative crowd.

O'Connor is playing out on a parallel line to Rumsfeld and Hillier is playing out on a parallel line to every Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that has served under Bush.

While it might be comforting to look afield to find the where's and whyfore's regarding our inflated casualty numbers the fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves.

No one forced us to change the parameters of our participation from protection to offensive combat.

Hiller talked Martin into it and then Harper advanced it.

We fought in WW2 from '39 to '45 against multiple fully militarized nation states. 6 years to victory.

We've been in Afghanistan since early '02. In early '08 we'll have been there for the same length of time.

And we're accomplishing precisely nothing.

Read Scott Taylor's latest in Esprit de Corps.

We're on a fool's errand and damn proud of it.

Anonymous said...

Scott Taylor is incoherent on a good day, wouldn't waste a minute reading anything he wrote.

Dennis (Second Thots) said...

You know, I'm sick and tired of this knee-jerk anti-Americanism every time somebody wants to bash Harper. They have no other arguments, so they simply accuse him of being a traitor to this country. Get an argument, and stop obsessing over America, will you? It makes you look like a leftist loser.

Steve V said...

"Get an argument, and stop obsessing over America, will you?"

I might be helpful if Harper and O'Connor didn't repeat Bushisms VERBATUM when discussing the conflict. It's not really American bashing, when 75% of Americans agree with the opinion.

canuckistanian said...


"in the same way you wouldn't abandon a cause you strongly believed in just because you thought not enough people were backing you up)."

but what if success could only be achieved through a strong collaborative effort, and that collaboration was non-existent? would you then not conclude that all your efforts are in vain? to conclude that a small country with the 67 largest military in the world, who is contributing 2300 troops can achieve success in afghanistan is beyond's downright embarassing. the GoC needs to signal in the fall that an extension past 2009 is wholly dependent on a changed mission with our allies deploying to the South, in order to put the pressure on NATO.

as to your numbers, i did a quickie analysis a few months ago and concluded that canadian troops in afghanistan face a greater risk of death than US troops in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Note that Layton said in the press conference that he wants the Outremont by-election to be a referendum on the Afghanistan Mission. Vote for Mulcair if you want the Canadians out of Afghanistan ASAP.

An NDP victory may force Dion to take a hardline stance towards absolute withdrawal by February 2009, if not sooner.

Steve V said...

Good point.

Anonymous said...


In reply to your question (or musing) about: " I don't really understand what explanation, however, there is for why we're sustaining greater casualties. I mean, the Dutch, US and Britain (and to a lesser degree Romania) are all with our troops in the South, so why our disproportionate casualty rate?"

This was all known at least around a year ago. Read the report titled 'Canada's Fallen' from September 2006.

It's been reported on many times since and quoted in subsequent months - do a google and/or google news search on 'Canada's Fallen'. The gist of it all is that we suffer a disproportionate casualty rate because of all the NATO nations besides the USA a) We're in the most dangerous Afghan location, and b) we're taking on, as we often do in wartime, the most dangerous mission.

Harper's response to the Staples Report (again from Sept. 2006) here
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper says there's no mystery why Canadian troops are at greater risk in Afghanistan than other NATO soldiers _ they're in the most dangerous area of the country.

Harper was responding to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which concludes that Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are six times more likely to be killed in a hostile attack than are American or British troops.

The report says that if the recent rate of casualties continued until the end of the current mission in January 2009, there would be 108 further deaths."

We've known all along that this is the case.

I'll give you all two other links - one from a left-wing Canadian site, the other from a right-wing US blogger - which also say the same thing on the issue.

Here's the 'lefty' link

The 'right-wing US blogger' link.

Olaf said...

Frank Frink,

Thanks, I'll take a look. I was under the impression that all NATO troops stationed in the South were, to slightly varying and dynamic degrees, in equally perilous waters.

Also, I generally consider the CPA's stuff crap, and did a rebuttal to some of their conclusions when the paper first came out. However I'll take a look again for their "why" section.

ottlib said...


The NDP are not going to win in Outrement.

There is a very good reason why it is considered one of the safest Liberal seats in the country.

As I have said in the past, if a reformed separatist can win the seat for the Liberals during the worst part of the fallout from the Sponsorship Scandal and the Income Trust leak affair then it will be very, very difficult for any other party to dislodge them from this seat.

mecheng said...

I believe that one of the reasons that, proportionally, the Canadians are suffering a higher rate of casualties is that they are more reliant on ground transport than the Brits or Yanks.

We don't have helicopters.

Anonymous said...


The truth is that the Liberals in Quebec are doing worse now than during the sponsorship scandal. I say the Liberals are in the same situation as 1989-1991 when Gilles Duceppe and Phil Edmundston had their day in the sun in Quebec politics.

The sponsorship scandal led to the return of Jean Lapierre, whose role as Quebec lieutenant during the Martin government helped the Grits win Outremont. Say what you think about him, but his telegenic personality was a vote winner for Quebeckers.

Now the Liberals in Quebec are in tatters. Dion's loyalists in Quebec consist of Marlene Jennings, Byron Scappaleggia, and Eleni Bakopanos to name a few. None of these are considered major players in Quebec politics. They are associated with the anglos who the Liberals have taken for granted consistently in the past. Liberal support in Outremont is increasingly being challenged by Harper's Cons who have links with the old Equality Party and Mulcair, who is working hard in winning the ethnic francophonie vote (immigrants from North Africa and the Near East).

Dion has about two months until by-election date to deal with this dilemma in Quebec. I told Steve V. that the Outremont by-election may act as a wake up call. But he believes that the optics would have far wider implications.

Steve V said...

"The upscale Montreal riding is a Liberal stronghold, but independent experts say Mr. Mulcair at least has a chance of winning." G and M

A chance.