Goddard, Mellish paid with their lives to help Afghanistan

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Warrant Officer Frank Mellish and Capt. Nichola Goddard, both killed in Afghanistan in 2006.

Canadian veterans believe NATO mission is a success in terms of Afghan youth

Inevitably, with the close of Canada’s active role in Afghanistan, the debate is already swirling if our more than 10-year involvement was really worth it — in terms of lives lost and if the future for the country will improve when NATO leaves. Part one of that question can only be answered by the veterans of the war against terror and by the families of those who died. The families of Frank Mellish and Nichola Goddard are still mourning their deaths. Both deceased vets have deep P.E.I. connections and their deaths in 2006 brought the war to doorsteps across this province.

Other Islanders came back with deep physical and emotional wounds that are still healing. These are the people who put their lives on the line and who can best conclude if Canada’s involvement was worth the cost. It should certainly not be up to politicians to make the final assessment.

The last of about 100 Canadian Forces left Kabul last week, ending a three-year training mission for Afghan security forces. That followed Canada’s five-year combat mission that ended in 2011, almost a decade after the first Canadian special forces troops arrived in Afghanistan to fight the Taiban and al-Qaida. There was a feeling when Canada decided to join NATO action in Afghanistan it was going to be a sort of peace-keeping mission and that threats to our troops were going to be rare. In the days of shock and anger following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre towers, there was agreement that such groups were a danger to world peace and had to be removed from power.

But once the number of Canadian dead started to mount, it became clear we were in an active war. No longer was Afghanistan a far away, forgotten country. The war and its heavy toll on Afghanis civilians and NATO military were brought into our homes within minutes. Many expect that as soon as the Americans pull out, the Afghan civilian government will fall. The Taliban will then take over again and we’re back to square one.  

Part two of the question won’t be answered for decades. We can only hope there has been a fundamental shift in Afghan society, that a respect for democracy has taken firm root and that the future will be more than a return to warlords and degradation of women and children. The best hope lies with the education of young Afghans but it will take years for long term stability, progress and peace to take hold.

The majority of comments from veterans over the past week suggest most believe the war was worthwhile. Canadians dodged bombs to build schools, roads, hospitals and clinics to provide the opportunity for young Afghans to get an education and receive proper medical care. They are assessing victory in terms of the living, not in terms of Taliban or NATO dead. Canadian veterans were quoted last week that final victory is indeed possible by the fact that eight million Afghan children are in school today, one-third of them girls, compared to only 900,000 children in school in 2001, virtually none of them girls.

A recent poll shows a fading Canadian desire to be reminded of the war in Afghanistan and that two-thirds of respondents said they would withhold judgment on whether the military mission was a success or failure. Let’s hope the government doesn’t try and treat the war and its veterans like the U.S. did in Viet Nam — a kind of national embarrassment that is best forgotten.

While there is no clear victory in Afghanistan yet, we can only hope that the supreme sacrifices paid by heroes like Frank Mellish and Nichola Goddard will not be in vain.

Organizations: NATO, Taliban, Canadian Forces Al-Qaida World Trade Centre

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Canada, Kabul U.S. Viet Nam

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