Pushing out Taliban was a mistake, says former commander.
OTTAWA• The notion the West made a mistake deposing the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 — as advocated by a former Canadian commander who led NATO into southern Afghanistan — was greeted Wednesday with skepticism and some dismay.
Retired major- general Dave Fraser commanded both the Canadian task force and the military alliance’s expanded mission to extend the authority of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai beyond the capital of Kabul in 2006.
It was just over four and a half years into the Afghan war and three years into the larger, bloodier struggle in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
“We thought, naively, that regime change was the solution to the problem,” Fraser said in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the Canadian combat deployment into Kandahar.
No one, back then, seemed to appreciate how profound the power vacuum was and that the West had “created for ourselves a 30- or 40- year problem” not only in Afghanistan, he said, but throughout the Middle East.
“Looking backward, I would have actually left the Taliban government in power and said ( to them): ‘ Stay out of the way. We’re here to find al- Qaida. And as long as you stay out of the way, the special forces will go in there, they will do what is necessary to get al- Qaida and we will leave,’ ” Fraser said. “Had we done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The comments are unexpected and surprising, not least because they come from a soldier whose troops were the first to face a Taliban resurgence in southern Afghanistan, someone who championed t he combat mission’s aims and articulated the goal of bringing stability to the ungoverned region.
“We compounded t he problem by getting rid of the Taliban regime,” Fraser said.
“I didn’t like the Taliban regime, but why did we go there in the first place? It was because of al- Qaida. Not because of the Taliban.”
Conservative opposition defence critic James Bezan said he disagreed.
“We stopped the oppression, allowing, you know, girls to go back to school and women and girls to actually have proper health care again,” said Bezan, who acknowledged that Afghan forces are still locked in a death struggle with insurgents.
Fraser’s reflections come as the Afghan government is expected to resume talks with Taliban leaders next week in Pakistan.
The negotiations are aimed at reviving a peace process that dissolved last summer after it was revealed Mullah Omar, the movement’s reclusive leader, died a few years ago — an event kept secret by the insurgent group.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who worked f or Fraser in Afghanistan as a liaison officer and intelligence analyst, was reluctant to comment Wednesday on the remarks.
Sajjan has been an advocate for a more thoughtful use of military force — one that better accounts f or consequences. He has even argued that in reshaping the strategy for the war against ISIL, he wanted to avoid the “mistakes” of Afghanistan.