Jack Layton didn't waste any time in handing the Taliban a propaganda victory yesterday. No sooner did news reach Canadian shores about the death of six of our soldiers than the NDP leader again urged an end to Canadian military operations in Afghanistan. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Layton declared that "this simply underlines, with this escalating death toll of the soldiers and of civilians in Afghanistan, that this mission is going in the wrong way."
Mr. Layton symbolizes why the West may just lose the battle against militant Islam: As soon as our enemies draw blood, he reflexively raises the white flag higher, offering to withdraw from whatever part of the world the jihadis happen to be targeting.
In this respect, Mr. Layton is a sad example of what has become of leftist politics: The same bleeding hearts who once urged Western politicians to help the world's poor and afflicted now run for the exits when peacemaking and nation-building turn tough.
In the case of Afghanistan, in particular, this defeatism is grimly ironic coming, as it is, from a politician who postures as the champion of gay rights and feminism: But not for the presence of brave NATO troops, the country would fall into the hands of medieval theocrats who behead homosexuals and treat women like burka-clad dogs.
The best way to honour the memories of the six fallen Canadians is not by issuing cynical calls to scuttle the mission for which they died. Rather, we must renew our efforts to defeat the Taliban and ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a base for global terror, as it did in the years leading up to 9/11.
In the short run, this means providing more protection for our troops. Canadian soldiers do an outstanding job in combat encounters with Taliban gunmen: When the two sides meet on the battlefield, it is not uncommon for dozens of Taliban to be killed without any friendly casualties. Our troops are far more vulnerable, however, when they travel through the dangerous Afghan outback in convoys that can be attacked with suicide bombers or -- as was the case yesterday -- hidden roadside explosives.
The United States, Netherlands and other NATO countries have countered this Taliban tactic by avoiding the roads as much as possible; instead, they use helicopters to move troops and supplies to forward operating bases. But Canada, having sold its seven twin-rotor Chinooks to the Dutch in 1994, doesn't have any large helicopters in Afghanistan. Our government has ordered 16 new Chinooks -- but those won't be available till 2011.
Until those helicopters arrive, Canada must acquire the use of helicopters from other NATO powers, particularly those nations, such as Germany, Spain and France, who will not position troops in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban are most active. Canadians soldiers are paying with their lives for our lack of air power.
Secondly, NATO must do a better job protecting Afghan civilians. On this issue, we must concede that Mr. Layton has a point: Recent reports suggest that stray NATO bombs are killing more civilians than are the Taliban. As well as being inhumane, this tragic lack of precision discredits NATO's very good work in the country, and acts as a recruiting tool for the Taliban.
Thirdly, we must acknowledge that the Taliban are not an independent fighting force, but part of a larger regional Islamist uprising extending into Pakistan and Indian-held Kashmir.
This uprising has been gaining steam since the government of Pakistan signed a series of "peace" deals with insurgents in the country's lawless tribal areas in 2006, where many Taliban recruits and munitions originate. A Pakistani Interior Ministry document obtained by The New York Times last week concluded that Pakistan's security forces in North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the badlands on the Afghan border, were being overpowered by the Taliban and allied local militia. Without "swift and decisive action," the rest of Pakistan could be at risk, the authors found.
This grim finding highlights the challenges our troops will continue to face: So long as the Taliban have a safe harbour in neighbouring Pakistan, we will never completely be able to eliminate the scourge of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
But it also demonstrates how important our mission in Afghanistan is: The battle for Afghanistan is not an isolated struggle that the West can take or leave -- as Mr. Layton would have Canadians believe. Rather it is part of a critical fight that will determine whether a great swathe of Central Asia is to be ruled by men of the 21st century -- or the 7th.
As Canada mourns, we should not let our sadness distract from this fact: Our soldiers died for a good cause.