It's a wonder how a human being can remain optimistic after seeing a child turned into a human bomb, but even after witnessing that, Canada's former deputy commander of the Afghanistan mission insists Afghanistan is not a barbaric place, just culturally different.
Colonel Jamie Cade was the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan during May 2008 to February 2009-- the most active period for NATO forces since entering Afghanistan. The force faced more acts of violence and improvised explosive devices than previous years. He spoke at the University of Calgary on Monday about Canada's role in the mission.
Canada, Cade explained, is putting in security, governance, reconstruction and development systems to assist the downsizing of the Taliban and build a sustainable country. These systems are designed to pay for lawful policemen, build schools, hire credible teachers, create irrigation systems to boost agriculture and build a bureaucracy-- no small task to complete before Canada's involvement ends in 2011.
"2011 is a government decision, a political decision," he said. "Quite honestly, we know where we need to go and we will continue to work towards that."
According to the Canadian National Defence website, since May 2008, 34 Canadians soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, 25 by IEDs. With 116 fallen Canadians since the beginning of the Afghan mission, the ability to detect explosives and prevent more losses is a priority for Canadians back home and for those on the ground who have lost comrades.
"The find rates have been going up," said Cade. "When we came in the countryside it was about 30 per cent, and when we left it was about 60 per cent. Kandahar City was more dramatic, [it was] about 40 per cent and it went up to 85 per cent."
The Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police conduct sweeps to find explosives, which can be considered a success in itself, Cade said.
Another success was the Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province, said Cade. The dam was the result of a multinational operation which transported a turbine for the dam to bring that area electricity. Access to electricity averages six hours a day and also downsizes Taliban influence over the Afghan people.
"You will never get rid of the Taliban, the Taliban is a religious movement," explained Cade. "It's a question of how much influence over the political process does an extremist religious movement have."
Cade also said that the real enemy was not insurgents, but illiteracy.
"If people can't read, they can't challenge what they are being told," he said. "It's very hard to get them to understand, to accept changes or other ideas without education. It's a very, very poor country, people are going to feed their families and if the system doesn't provide employment, then the insurgents and drug industry will."
Cade boasted that Canada was the best at seeing these obstacles and creating systems to bring employment. He said that focused assets have helped change Canada's reputation.
"We can draw on money for developments, we can put security forces in, we can put more money into the law and order fund," he said. "We are the leaders in Kandahar."
However, Canada stepped back on a major issue: the eradication of the narcotics trade. While abolishing all poppy crops could reduce drug trade, Cade foresaw that it would have counterproductive effects.
"The reason our national policy right now is against eradication is because [it's] only hurting the farmers," said Cade. "And how are they going to get money to buy food? Well, they're going to go work for the Taliban."