The clamor over assessing blame for the chaos of the H1N1 Flu immunization efforts has dimmed media's attention to the war effort in Afghanistan. Though sadly the recent deaths of two more Canadian military personnel has not erased the Afghan issue from coverage in the national dailies and the network newscasts.
Canada's grim total of war dead inches ever so closely to 140, and the number of injured Canadians exceeds over 500. Astounding numbers considering our rotational commitment of troops on the ground in Afghanistan has never exceeded 2,500 soldiers. On a per capita basis, Canadian casualties in the war are the worse of any of the NATO partners.
Amidst frequent American media reminders that he was elected on promises to bring home the troops from America's two war fronts (Iraq / Afghanistan) President Obama hesitates, mulls and dithers about complying with requests from his military commanders to send in as many as 40,000 additional troops. Any substantial growth in America's commitment to Afghanistan will intensify pressure on Canadian authorities to soften our firm resolve to "get out of there" by the end of February 2011. Politicians, including Prime-Minister Harper and the Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay, have already hinted that somehow we'll remain committed to the Afghan war though not in a combat role. Despite dwindling public support for the mission, They appear to argue somewhat differently than the firm position in the Parliamentary debates which led to extending the deployment to 2011 in the first place.
At whatever point and on whatever terms Canada finally calls it quits on Afghanistan its legacy will extend far beyond the generation of young men and women who have served the effort. Entering the annual solemn week of remembrance which will culminate with the tributes that mark the November 11th end of the "War to End All Wars", Canadians can ponder Great Britain's grim legacy of recent military commitments in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, and (like us) Afghanistan: - A report prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers of the United-Kingdom confirms that 10% of Britain's prison population (8,500 prisoners) are veterans of the country's recent war deployments. The alarming report notes further that in total, about 20,000 veterans most of whom suffer from chronic alcohol or drug related problems; and many with post-traumatic stress disorder are in prison, on parole or on probation.
The stress, fatigue and mental anguish of those involved directly in war's theatre are real, long lasting and frequently debilitating. Fifteen active-duty members of the Canadian military took their own lives in 2008 versus 11 confirmed suicides in 2007. The real numbers are higher because our country does not track suicides among Canadian military reservists though they too serve 6 month rotations in southern Afghanistan.
It's seems ironic that Canada's Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, advocates increased penalties and longer jail terms for chronic criminals when there is compelling evidence that down the road, perhaps too soon, a substantial number of Canada's prison population could be made-up of the men and women the nation first sent to serve a failing overseas war effort.