Army families question 2011 Afghan withdrawal
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Relatives of some soldiers killed in Kandahar openly questioned Saturday whether the Canadian military should withdraw entirely from Afghanistan next year and suggested a premature retreat calls into question the sacrifices of their sons.
The Parliamentary motion to end combat operations by July 2011 has long been a sore point among military families, many of whom have said privately that there should be no arbitrary deadlines.
The comments came only days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressured the Harper government to extend its military stay.
Pte. Kevin Kennedy, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, was among six soldiers to perish in an Easter Sunday 2007 roadside bombing and his parents and brother came to Kandahar Airfield this weekend to honour his loss.
"I don't want him to die in vain," said Myles Kennedy, a high school teacher near Smithers, B.C.
He was amazed at the scale of NATO's buildup for this spring's planned offensive in Kandahar. And for the first time since his son's death, Kennedy said he's optimistic that war can be turned around.
"We came in to do a job. And our job will not be complete, if he pulls out the whole group."
Recognizing the army is likely worn out after four years of heavy fighting, Kennedy appealed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to conduct a "phased withdrawal" by perhaps signing on to a proposed training mission in Kabul.
A complete and total pullout of troops would send "the wrong message to the world" and perhaps endanger unfinished Canadian development projects, Kennedy said.
The wording of the House of Commons motion passed in March 2008 gave the federal government leeway to continue Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. It simply stated that troops had to cease combat and withdraw from Kandahar -- leaving open the possibility of missions elsewhere in the war-torn country.
But Harper in the 2008 election campaign and at every opportunity since has made it clear the military mission was over entirely and no troops would be staying on.
That has left military families wondering: What's it all been for?
"The 141 (military) lives that have been lost; the journalist that has been lost; and the diplomat that has been lost, I don't want their deaths to be in vain," said Theresa Charbonneau, who son Cpl. Andrew Grenon died in September 2008.
"As much as I don't want any more loss of life, the cause is too important."
Charbonneau said she's still coming to terms with her son's death and wore a t-shirt with his picture to a memorial service outside of the Canadian task force headquarters here with the families of eight other fallen soldiers.
Patty Braun, whose son Cpl. David Braun died in August 2006, said she believes Canadian troops should stay in some capacity until the tide has completely turned.
The trip to Kandahar was an important personal journey, she said.
"I had to come to the place where my son was last alive. And I needed to smell it, I needed to see. I needed to taste it. And I needed to hear it," said Braun, who wore the shemagh desert scarf that belonged to him and came back with his belongings.
"Just to be where he was. We see pictures on TV, but nothing, nothing can show what it's actually like here. It's so much more."
The father and brother of Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, of the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment who died just over a year ago, also made the journey.
The father of Cpl. Stephen Bouzane said his son, who was killed in June 2007, fiercely believed in the mission and planned to sign up for a second tour.
Coming to Kandahar wasn't as much about closure for Fred Bouzane as it was seeing what had so inspired his boy.
"I'm not even sure why I wanted to come over here, but that's the one thing I did want to do," he said. "I wanted to come over and see for myself what it was like. I'm glad I came."
Other soldiers honoured Saturday included Sgt. Vaughan Ingram, Cpl. Stephen Bouzane, Cpl. Andrew Grenon, Cpl. Mark McLaren, Cpl. Aaron Williams and Sgt. Gregory Kruse.