With Christmas just around the corner and the end of 2007 only days afterwards, for many, this time of year is often a time of reflection. Each of us, in our own way, will recall moments in the past year that remind us of joy and sorrow, of successes and defeats, of moments we wish we could hold onto forever and of moments we wish we could take back. Each year, my own personal moments of reflection are generally brought on through the ever-slightly melancholy song “Happy Christmas” by the late John Lennon.
However, perhaps this year, in my own personal moment of reflection, this song has a somewhat different meaning. For those who are unaware, Lennon’s song “Happy Christmas” is also sometimes referred to as “War is Over” and those very words are repeated in the background and fade out as the song ends. Unfortunately, as you know, the war in Afghanistan is not over. And for many thousands of troops from many nations, a happy Christmas this year will be spent away from our family and friends.
But my message this week is not to seek pity for having to spend the holiday season away from my family and friends. My message this week is to reflect on the past year in Afghanistan. It is my hope that in discovering the events of the last year, that you will look upon your own lives of the past year through the lens of the unfortunate events that happen in this country on an almost daily basis. The joys and sorrows of our lives are often put into perspective when we compare our situation to those who are significantly less fortunate than ourselves.
This year is often referred to by the media as the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US led invasion in 2001. Over 240 coalition soldiers have lost their lives this year in Afghanistan – 29 of them were Canadian. This number is up from under 200 last year. But the number of coalition soldiers killed is not the only statistic that has seen an increase. Although it is difficult to maintain an accurate count of civilian casualties, estimates put the number close to 1400. Approximately one half of those are due to coalition attacks. Such a high count has caused UN officials, as well as President Karzai, to call for coalition forces to act with restraint.
The Taliban continues to target civilians and has claimed the lives of around 300 individuals in suicide attacks this year. There have been over 140 suicide attacks aimed at coalition and Afghan security forces as well as ordinary civilians. This is almost double the amount of similar attacks mounted last year. In all, including insurgent deaths, there have been over 6000 people killed this year. This is by far the highest total since 2001.
Fighting, which was mostly contained to the southern and eastern part of the country, has now moved into more peaceful parts of the country. The coalition claims to have the enemy on the run and states that it is an indication of their desperation. The enemy claims that it is the failure of the Afghan Government to govern throughout the country and that this lack of security has left most of the country vulnerable.
Lack of security, poverty, corruption and drug production continue to pose problems. This year, the opium crop in Afghanistan grew to 93 percent of the world’s supply and remains a major source of income for the Taliban. Corruption exists at every level of government, more than half the population lives in poverty and in many parts of the country, security continues to dwindle.
So it is through this lens that I look at 2007. I have experienced joy and sorrow. There have been personal successes and defeats. There are moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life and there are moments I wish I could take back. But, I do not live in fear that someone close to me will not return home at the end of the day. I do not fear that police forces in my neighborhood will rob me in order to supplement their wages. I do not fear that a desperate man will walk into a crowded street and detonate a vest that is laden with explosives. Instead, I will spend but only one Christmas out of many with others who are also separated from their families and do my small part to make 2008 a little better for those who do not have the choice to leave.
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun