The West should have left Taliban alone and just hit al-Qaida: former commander

The notion that the West made a mistake deposing the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 -- as advocated by a former Canadian commander who led NATO into southern Afghanistan — was greeted with skepticism and some dismay on Wednesday.

OTTAWA — The notion that the West made a mistake deposing the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 — as advocated by a former Canadian commander who led NATO into southern Afghanistan — was greeted with skepticism and some dismay on Wednesday.

Retired major-general Dave Fraser commanded both the Canadian task force and the military alliance’s expanded mission to extend the authority of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai beyond the capital of Kabul in 2006.

At the time, it was just over four-and-a-half years into the Afghan war and three years into the larger, bloodier struggle in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

“We thought, naively, that regime change was the solution to the problem,” Fraser told The Canadian Press in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the Canadian combat deployment into Kandahar.

No one, back then, seemed to appreciate how profound the power vacuum was and that the West had “created for ourselves a 30- or 40-year problem” not only in Afghanistan, he said, but throughout the Middle East.

“Looking backwards, I would have actually left the Taliban government in power and said (to them): ‘Stay out of the way. We’re here to find al-Qaida. And as long as you stay out of the way, the special forces will go in there, they will do what is necessary to get al-Qaida and we will leave,”‘ Fraser said.

“Had we done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The comments are unexpected and surprising, not least because they come from a soldier whose troops were the first to face a Taliban resurgence in southern Afghanistan, someone who championed the combat mission’s aims and articulated the goal of bringing stability to the ungoverned region.

“We compounded the problem by getting rid of the Taliban regime,” Fraser said. “I didn’t like the Taliban regime, but why did we go there in the first place? It was because of al-Qaida. Not because of the Taliban.”

Conservative opposition defence critic James Bezan said he disagreed with the assessment.

“We stopped the oppression, allowing, you know, girls to go back to school and women and girls to actually have proper health care again,” said Bezan, who acknowledged that Afghan forces are still locked in a death struggle with insurgents.

“So you know, yes, we’re unfortunately seeing evil continue to rise in Afghanistan, but I think that we have the ability through the Afghanistan security forces as well as their national police force to actually push back on this rise in terrorism that we’re seeing in Afghanistan.”

Fraser’s reflections come as the Afghan government is expected to resume face-to-face talks with Taliban leaders next week in Pakistan. The negotiations are aimed at reviving a peace process that dissolved last summer after it was revealed that Mullah Omar, the movement’s reclusive leader, died a few years ago — an event kept secret by the insurgent group.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who worked for Fraser in Afghanistan as a liaison officer and intelligence analyst, was reluctant to comment Wednesday on the remarks.

Since being appointed to cabinet, Sajjan has been an outspoken advocate for a more thoughtful use of military force — one that better accounts for consequences. He’s even argued that in reshaping the strategy for the war against ISIL, he wanted to avoid the “mistakes” of Afghanistan.

Steve Saideman, an international affairs professor at Carleton University, said he only agrees with part of Fraser’s argument.

“I do think there’s something to this notion that we do regime change very, very badly and we cannot create legitimate governments from nothing,” said Saideman, the author of the new book “Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan.”

“On the other hand, leaving the Taliban in place is like leaving ISIL in place, which is you leave in place a government that is ideologically predisposed to supporting terrorism, and has a proven track record of supporting terrorism.”

Fraser argues that the Taliban did not have a global agenda, but that still raises the issue of human rights, said Saideman.

“The Taliban were an awful, awful regime,” he said. “Even though things are not great, (the Afghans) are better off than they were under the Taliban under most measures like infant mortality, economy and everything else.”

But Fraser said the West has only repeated the same mistakes over the last decade.

“We repeated it in Iraq,” he said. “In Libya, we didn’t put any ground troops in and we created an even bigger mess because there’s no government whatsoever in Libya. We went back into Iraq and now for the very first time the international community is beginning to appreciate that regime change is not the solution — hence why we’re not pushing to do a regime change in Syria.”

The West has insisted that Syrian president Bashar Assad should go, but it has not pushed him out of power — one of the factors in that country’s long, bloody civil war.

Just Posted

More police presence in Red Deer’s downtown starts this month

“We recognize… that citizens are concerned about safety,” said Mayor Veer

Red Deer RCMP look for fraud suspect

Purse stolen from fitness locker

One strong wind leaves years of replanting work for Red Deer parks staff

High visibility boulevards already replanted, neighbourhood work starts next year

Red Deer-area indigenous filmmakers invited to apply for $20,000 grant

Storyhive launches Indigenous Storyteller Edition

Restaurant closed after compliance team patrol

Public Safety Compliance Team checked eight bars and restaurants on Oct. 19

WATCH: Make-A-Wish grants Star Wars loving teen’s wish

The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Anakin Suerink’s wish in Red Deer Saturday afternoon

Montreal Alouettes defensive lineman Woody Baron co-authors children’s book

TORONTO — Woody Baron finds the spectre of tangling with a hulking… Continue reading

Sundin not surprised Leafs asking stars to take less money to stay together

TORONTO — Mats Sundin isn’t surprised the Toronto Maple Leafs are asking… Continue reading

Anywhere but Washington: Why DC stories rarely film in DC

WASHINGTON — It’s a hobby among District of Columbia locals: Picking apart… Continue reading

‘Halloween’ scares up $77.5 million in ticket sales

LOS ANGELES — Forty years after he first appeared in theatres, Michael… Continue reading

iPhone XR makes the right trade-offs for a cheaper price

NEW YORK — Apple offers you a simple trade-off with its new… Continue reading

BMW to recall 1.6 million vehicles worldwide over fire risk

FRANKFURT — Automaker BMW says it is expanding a recall to cover… Continue reading

Calgary awaits federal financing on 2026, Notley suggests IOC could pay more

CALGARY — With the clock ticking towards a Calgary vote on hosting… Continue reading

Toronto Mayor John Tory cruises to victory; tech issues extend voting elsewhere

Toronto Mayor John Tory easily won re-election on Monday after a spirited… Continue reading

Most Read