Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sacrifice

In recent days, two Canadian soldiers died after their LAV III armoured vehicle rolled-over after a collision near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Their deaths are a tragedy for their families and their colleagues. Speed is a defence to ambush but it brings its own dangers. However, the attack on Lieutenant Trevor Greene is as tragic for the future of Afghanistan as the manner of the attack was lurid.

Greene, an infantry reservist on a six month tour, was not working for Joint Task Force 2 or any other anti-AlQaeda unit. A writer and former naval officer, his post in Afghanistan was with Canadian Forces Civil Military Co-ordination (CIMIC) where he had meetings (called shura) with local elders in areas devoid of running water, education, medicine or roads. It was at one of these meetings, 70 kilometers north of Kandahar that he was attacked by a man who stepped out of the crowd carrying an axe, who struck Greene in the head - on which he was not wearing a helmet in a sign of openness and acceptance of local hospitality. The attacker was killed by Greene's fellow soldiers, and then the unit was attacked by others. With the assistance of air support the attack was repelled and at time of writing he is in critical condition at the US medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany.

The meshing of civil reconstruction and the military is of course a tricky subject in any conflict zone but it is the violation of traditional hospitality that I can only hope other Afghans will find sickening. All of the adult men disappeared from the shura after the attack which is not a good sign of their good faith in this incident.

Greene had spoken about plans to continue the work after his reserve tour, telling the Toronto Star journalists attached to his unit that he knew of western Canadians who had made money in the oil boom but were sceptical of the UN's ability to efficiently help and who could finance direct efforts to improve the lives of Afghans.

Afghanistan is of particular note to me as I was six when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and thus it was the first international conflict I was aware of. Later I was fascinated by Peregrine Hodson's book "Under a Sickle Moon" which was an account of the writer's journey there in 1984 during the occupation. As a country it has been written off as ungovernable since Kipling's time, and now intervention there is dismissed as a springboard for oil-mongering. People like Greene could have offered something better. Fortunately, the unit leader has committed to continuing the meetings, albeit with security modifications.

(Update: the CBC report has been updated to note that Greene has been promoted to Captain).
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