Push­ing out Tal­iban was a mis­take, says for­mer com­man­der.

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Mur­ray Brew­ster

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.

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