Afghanistan in Review: Looking back at Canada’s longest war

An aerial view of Kandahar, Afghanistan, May 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Canada’s war in Afghanistan cost Ottawa at least $18 billion, with more than 40,000 members of the Canadian Forces serving there from 2001-2014, helping to overthrow the Taliban and chase out al-Qaeda. Many other Canadians spent time in the country working in a government capacity, doing development work with NGOs, or bearing witness as journalists. Battles were fought and blood was spilled — 158 Canadian soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians lost their lives — in an effort to stem corruption, shore up human rights and build schools and dams.

Today, Canada’s combat role is over, and our focus is on training Afghan forces and contributing to development projects. A delicate democracy exists in Afghanistan and many women enjoy a freedom unknown under the Taliban. But levels of violence are frighteningly high, poverty and corruption are widespread, and human rights advances seem fragile at best.

In this series, we revisit Canada’s war effort in Afghanistan, and ask what role we may still have to play in the country. Naheed Mustafa reminds us we still need a national conversation over our impact there. In advance of Canada’s defence review, Steve Saideman lists the lessons that can be learned from the mission, and, in his history of occupation in Afghanistan, John Duncan reminds us that military failure there isn’t new. An excerpt from former minister Bill Graham’s memoir gives insight into the Canadian government’s decision to take command in Kandahar, and reporter May Jeong visits the province to look at what became of the promises Canadians made there. Former diplomat Bruce Mabley renews calls for an inquiry into the detainee scandal, while an interview with the former director of human rights for the United Nations in Afghanistan, Georgette Gagnon, explores the gains – however tenuous – that were made on Afghan human rights.

In the series


Stories from Kandahar, the Afghan province Canada left behind

Canada’s multibillion-dollar war effort in Afghanistan largely focused on peace-building and development in Kandahar, but 15 years after the war began, residents there are still wondering what it accomplished. 


The Afghan Mission: Canada’s military is willing to learn, but has it done so?

In the lead up to the Canadian government’s defence review, Steve Saideman lists three lessons learned in Afghanistan: honesty should trump optimism; sometimes we must admit when more resources are needed; and a war cannot be won with force alone.   


Canadians closed the book on Afghanistan long ago — and that’s a shame

Ghost schools. Unusable health facilities. Corruption and violence. The state of Afghanistan should concern all Canadians, but we moved on without a national reckoning over our impact there, argues Naheed Mustafa.  

Chinook helicopter Afghanistan

The war that never left Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been notoriously easy to seize but difficult to hold. John Duncan explains why the country’s lack of centralized government has kept effective and ongoing occupation out of reach for one great power after another.


Hypocrisy and the Afghan detainee scandal

The Canadian government condemned the recent suicide attack on its embassy guards in Kabul as ‘cowardly’ while simultaneously backing away from an inquiry into the Afghan detainee scandal. Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?


Bill Graham on Canada’s 3D war: A mission to be proud of

In The Call of the World: A Political Memoir, former foreign and defence minister Bill Graham looks back at the challenges and successes that stretched across party lines during Canada’s time in Afghanistan.   


Not for nothing: The fight to improve human and women’s rights in Afghanistan

International human rights lawyer and activist Georgette Gagnon spent five years in Afghanistan and saw first-hand the contribution made by Canadians. Here she shares her takeaways from her time as director of human rights for the UN in Afghanistan.