In this world of ours where it's so easy to forget things when they are no longer front-page news, it's useful to be able to stumble across pictures or other memory stimulants that remind us of events that have been ongoing for years. Everyday the headlines scream out news about events in Iraq, but before Iraq was Afghanistan, and it too is still the scene of ongoing attacks and death.
I know this is an exaggeration, but at times, it feels like Afghanistan has been forgotten about. You very rarely hear or see about it on the news; press conferences are dominated by information sessions about Iraq; and all people care about is when do the troops come home from the Middle East, perhaps forgetting how many thousands of troops, including American and Canadian, are still stationed in Afghanistan.
Perhaps we in Canada are more sensitive to that situation because we have troops there, and our role is increasing in responsibility. On Tuesday, a Canadian, Brigadier-General David Fraser took command of the International force in Southern Afghanistan that is replacing an American security force that had been patrolling the area.
During the acrimony over Canada's refusal to participate in the Iraq coalition, it was conveniently forgotten by many critics that Canada had been one of the first to agree to participate in Afghanistan. Canada does not have a standing army of any real size, so at the time of the Iraq invasion, we couldn't have contributed in any significant manner anyway without having to drastically reduce our commitments in other arenas.
Although recent polls are showing that more Canadians are against our involvement than in favour, there was initial support for our involvement. Americans can understand that as casualties have mounted, more people have started to question why we are still there.
The answer to that is unfortunately painfully obvious. Afghanistan is no more stable now than it was four years ago when the invasion took place. The Taliban and their allies are highly experienced guerrilla fighters and know how to use the mountainous terrain of their homeland to full advantage.
They were never defeated. As far as they were concerned, the war has just moved into a phase that is familiar to them from when they fought the Russians back in the 1980's. Like the Viet Cong in Viet Nam, they just fade back into the villages and towns of the hill countries when they are not fighting and are next to impossible to monitor.