Legion president visits Afghanistan
RetiredBrigadier-General Robin Gagnon, who is also the president of the Ayer’s Cliff Legion Branch 128, spent eight days in Afghanistan, in January, on his first overseas mission as Canada’s Colonel Commandant of the Infantry. “I visited the troops in Kandahar and ‘went out of the wire’. It was outstanding. But what I found was a discrepancy between what’s said at the House of Commons and what is happening on the ground.”
According to Brig.-Gen. Gagnon, rather than being involved in offensive missions, the Canadian troops are currently training and supporting the Afghani military who plan and conduct their own offensive operations against the Taliban. “This is not well-advertised and that is the aspect that was most striking to me. They fail to acknowledge the progress that has been made; the Canadian troops are no longer chasing the Taliban.” When asked if that meant the Canadian troops were safer, he answered: “It’s not really safer. There is always a risk, all of the time. Most of the loss of life has been caused by IED’s.”
During the eight-day mission, he also learnt how challenging it was for military personnel to communicate with Afghani women. They will only speak with military women who usually must use an interpreter, sometimes a man who is apart from the group and using a walkietalkie.
“I found the members of the Canadian army to be in high spirits. They see progress being made every day and that’s rewarding for them. What’s ironic is that they are already doing the support work which is our exit
strategy: for the Afghani army and police to maintain law and order within their own borders. At the end of the day, the Taliban are just criminals.”
Brig.-Gen. Gagnon wanted to share his perspective about why the Canadian military was in Afghanistan: “Some say we went to Afghanistan to please the Bush administration but that is a short-sighted view. That may have been a part but a small part. Our best ally is the Americans and maintaining good relations with them is of vital interest to Canadians.”
According to Mr. Gagnon, there are several reasons for the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, besides the fact that it is a NATO led operation and Canada is one of the twelve founding members of NATO. “In Afghanistan, girls are forbidden to attend schools and teachers who teach girls are killed. This goes deeply against our values. In situations like this we can either pretend it does not exist or choose to be there.” The Afghanistan mission is under a United Nations Security Council mandate which gives it the “highest degree of legitimacy.” Furthermore, Canada has “multi-lateralism running through its diplomatic blood. The multi-lateral approach is very important to us and we are there with many other nations.”
There are presently 3000 Canadian troops in Afghanistan. That number will go down to 1000, this July, when the mission changes to solely focussing on mentoring the Afghan army.
Brig.-Gen. Gagnon was also recently in Mali, on the African continent, to teach a two-week course in peace-keeping and mission planning to military officials from over a dozen African countries, a project that is sponsored by Foreign Affairs Canada and the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. “We teach within the framework of democracy and human rights values. It is one stage in a nation-building plan.”
Brig.-Gen. (ret’d) Robin Gagnon visited Canadian troops in Afghanistan, earlier this year, in his position as Canada’s honorary Colonel Commandant of the Infantry.