I am often asked about Canada’s accomplishments in Afghanistan. Our longest war cost Canada 158 of her best and brightest. The decision was made in 2004 to leave the relative safety of Kabul for combat operations in volatile Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban.
As of 2004, we were still called peacekeepers even though there was no peace to keep. As the roadside bombs took their terrible toll, Canadians came to realize that it was soldiers who were dying in the dust. I was part of one of the first Canadian battle groups to deploy to Kandahar.
From 2005, the Canadian Forces, the 74th largest in the world, took the lead in Kandahar, holding the ground and preventing the Taliban from retaking its strategic birthplace.
Canadian soldiers found a broken, dysfunctional country in 2002. It is still broken but slowly putting itself back together and Canadians are helping.
Prior to 2001, girls were not allowed to go to school, and only 700,000 students, all of them boys, were attending school. Today, more than 2.2 million girls, over a third of all students, are enrolled in school.
As of October 2011, a total of 26 schools have been built in the Canadian area of operations, with another 27 schools currently under construction. Teacher training has been delivered to over 2,500 people since 2008.
In Kandahar Province, literacy training was provided to over 23,500 and more than 6,736 people have completed vocational training and skills development programs respectively.
My good friend and CIMIC colleague, Tony Petrilli who is an engineer in civilian life, was instrumental in the planning phase for one of Canada’s three signature projects; rehabilitating the Dahla Dam, the largest in Kandahar, and its irrigation system. After being in ruins for decades, water is flowing again and Afghan farmers have renewed opportunities to return this area to a major centre of food production for their country and the region.
TRAINING AND MENTORING
Our army is training the Afghan National Army to protect their country. Canadian police officers are training Afghan police to protect their citizens. Canadian government officials and administrators are training their counterparts to manage their country efficiently and effectively.
Today 66 percent of the Afghan population has access to primary health-care services within two hours’ walking distance of their homes. That is up from 9 percent in 2000.
Canada has helped provide polio vaccinations to over 7 million children and helped deliver a million microfinance loans, mostly to women.
The last Canadian soldier will leave Afghanistan in 2014. I know we will leave the country better for our passing.