Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In War, Soldiers and Sailors Get Killed

When Justin Trudeau brought Canada's CF-18's back from Iraq, Canadians might have thought that our armed forces personnel were out of harm's way. But, Tom Walkom writes:

On Thursday, a senior general acknowledged that, over the last few months, Canadian special forces operating in northern Iraq have become increasingly involved in front-line skirmishes against Daesh fighters.

“The mission has changed,” said Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe. “We are more engaged on the line … the risk has increased.”

The truth, whether the government wants to admit it or not, is that Canada's soldiers are in harm's way: 

Both the current Liberal government and the Conservative one it replaced have gone to great lengths to assure Canadians that Iraq is not another Afghanistan. So these semantic debates over the definition of word “combat” have taken on great political meaning.

The Conservatives used to say shooting in self-defence was not real combat.

Under the Liberals, the military brass is engaging in similar linguistic contortions to avoid the dreaded word.

According to one, Canadian troops have to be the “principal combatants” to engage in combat. 

According to another, combat only occurs once soldiers have crossed an imaginary line on the battlefield.

In Iraq, it's always been hard to distinguish the difference between enemy and ally:

But in the real world of war, the differences become blurred — particularly when the battle lines are fluid.

Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish forces don’t trust one another. Moreover, as the Financial Times reported last week, the fissures that have always existed within these three major groups are beginning to widen.

It’s not that long ago that rival Kurdish parties in northern Iraq were involved in a murderous shooting war with one another.
So let's stop fogging things up with semantic distinctions. Canada is at war. Our troops are in the middle of it. In war, soldiers and sailors get killed.

Image: Michelle Clelland Toronto Star


Toby said...

Canada is in the middle of someone else's civil war. That sort of meddling is stupid. There is nothing to be accomplished, nothing to gain. Civil wars tend to continue until the principal participants become tired and put down their weapons. That's what will happen in Syria and Iraq whether Canada is involved or not.

What makes it more painful is that Canada cannot defend its own borders or even patrol its own coast line. All our Prime Ministers since WWII should be ashamed. Trudeau has his priorities wrong.

Owen Gray said...

Given the condition of the fleet, it's true we could not adequately defend our own coastlines, Toby. I admit a bias on that score. We have a son in the navy.

The Mound of Sound said...

No one will admit to being at war. That means exposing yourself to the prospect of having to accept defeat. Wars are the use of violence to achieve political ends. Wars are to be bookended by peace. Restoration of peace is supposed to be the intended purpose of waging war.

Harper, before he was struck dumb and incapable of mouthing the name, "Afghanistan," foolishly went on a war footing. He declared our purposes - to drive the Taliban from that country for good, to facilitate the establishment of democracy and democratic governance, and to bring human rights, especially for women and children, to the country. He failed on all three which means that Canada and its forces failed, lost, were defeated. When we took out leave our defined enemy still held the field. It won and has made considerable progress ever since.

It's not only foolish but near impossible to wage war, as the term is understood in the West, these days. Conventional warfare of the type we fought and won is over. If it returns we'll probably have to resort to some sort of conscription, mass mobilization and casualty levels of the sort unknown since WWII.

What military science defines as "new war," war for the 21st Century is chaotic. Government forces on one side squaring off against a loose alliance that may include quasi-state militias, rebels, insurgents, terrorists and criminal gangs. These are alliances of convenience that can shift rapidly because each component element may be pursuing slightly different goals. Allegiances can break down with former allies at each other's throats in short order and as quickly back again.

America succumbed to this confusion in the Middle East where it began on the side of the Sunni before Iraq drew it to back the Shia. Later it backed both on a region by region basis - Sunni here, Shia there. When you're drawn into what is a glorified sectarian proxy war, you can't count on much coherence in your response.

The other lesson new war teaches us is that all the King's horses and all the King's men no longer guarantees military success. During our sojourn in Afghanistan, the US and ISAF had the Talibs heavily outnumbered. We also had highly trained personnel and absolute dominance in firepower, mobility, communications and logistics. How then did we get our asses handed to us by a gaggle of illiterate farm boys with Korean war-vintage light arms?

Owen Gray said...

Lyndon Johnson called Vietnam "a raggedy-ass country," Mound. But the raggedy ass country made a fool of him.

Anonymous said...

When you consider the knowledge of the average Canadian, American or any other Westerner on Middle East politics both you and I know you would vomit.
Not that the situation is easy to understand ; the more I read the more I have to modify my stance.
Politicians are no smarter than the average citizen of country A , B or C. they just have an image that is electable.
The average voter that puts these people into a position of power has no frekking clue to the ME situation other than to cheer for his or her winner of the day .
Politics to the masses is about winning or being on the winning side! with little regard for the truth or outcome.
Politics is the true machismo.