Canadians fought in Afghanistan ‘to support the U.S. and NATO,’ but died at much higher rate than Americans

Canadian Armed Forces members were more than twice as likely to die in Afghanistan as their American counterparts, according to a study released today by the Costs of War project at Brown University.

And the reasons for Canada’s 13-year involvement in the Afghanistan conflict were far from selfless, says the study’s author.

“When the war in Afghanistan began, NATO countries widely supported the United States — including the only occasion NATO members have ever invoked Article V of the NATO Charter, which says that an attack on one is an attack on all,” said political science and international affairs professor Jason Davidson.

“From the outset, the intervention had widespread international legitimacy, including United Nations Security Council Authorization. That said, allied governments did not see Afghanistan as a threat to their own national interests. The allies supplied troops to U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and lost lives and tax revenue there in order to support the U.S. and NATO.”

More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. Of those, 158 lost their lives.

Based on fatalities during peak deployment periods, Canada’s service members were killed at a higher rate — 5.4 per cent — than any of its NATO allies. The fatality rate was 4.7 per cent for the United Kingdom and 2.3 per cent for the United States, which lost 455 and 2,316 service members, respectively.

Canada supplied the third-highest number of NATO troops as a percentage of population and was similarly ranked in terms of military spending on the Afghanistan conflict. The U.S. was first in both of these categories and the U.K. was second.

In terms of foreign aid to Afghanistan during the conflict, the U.K. spent .16 per cent of GDP, compared to .15 by the U.S. and .14 by Canada.

“The most plausible explanation for the U.K. and Canada’s higher costs in fatalities and military spending, relative to other allies, is that both countries place a higher value than the other countries on their alliance with the U.S. and NATO,” the report said. “Alliance value means that these states see the U.S. as being extremely important for their security and that a stronger alliance gives them the ability to influence decisions in Washington, D.C.”

A number of prominent military observers believe a public inquiry is needed to better understand and learn from Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan. The disproportionately high fatality rates for Canadians would likely be an area of focus for any such investigation.