An Incomplete Mission: For Chris Nobrega, no wars were won after 9/11

For the past two decades, Nobrega has had a unique, occasionally jarring vision of a world in flux. Afghanistan was simply the first stage.

Chris Nobrega, 2021 (Johnny CY Lam for Maclean's; Wall photo: Getty Images)

Chris Nobrega, 2021 (Johnny CY Lam for Maclean’s; Wall photo: Getty Images)

This profile is part of a series called ‘Living in the Shadow of September 11’, which looks at how the world of five extraordinary people changed, twenty years later.

The scariest burrow any soldier can fall is to look back at his years of service and try to analyze, from a distance, if it was worth it. It’s a question that most vets hate to be asked: if you look too deep, you’ll find the worst kind of self-hatred and self-doubt; not deep enough and there is avoidance and denial.

After 34 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, Major Chris Nobrega has a lot to ponder, but the question of whether it was worth it or not rarely arises. The most important lesson he has learned, he says, is that his job is to complete the mission assigned to him. It is better to leave everything else to historians.

Still, the problem with the post-9/11 war on terror, Nobrega, 52, admits, is that its logic is so twisting that it can be used to justify almost any mission. “It is not just a problem with the way the war has been run,” he says. “We are also talking about an adversary who has the ability to move quickly and refocus his attention endlessly.”

Nobrega has closely experienced the rapid evolution of the post-9/11 wars. In 2001, he was one of the first soldiers deployed to Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission after the fall of the Taliban regime and was sent back to Kandahar in 2007. In 2014, he was sent to Sinai as part of the contribution of Canada to the international force overseeing the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, at a time when Islamic State militants were stepping up attacks on the volatile peninsula.

MORE: After 9/11, young Afghans got a taste of peace. Now, Hadia Essazada is in exile

For the past two decades, Nobrega has had a unique, occasionally jarring vision of a world in flux. Afghanistan was simply the first stage. As the war dragged on and new scenarios opened up in the war on terror, he witnessed the evolution of a new kind of warfare, against an agile and adaptable enemy who paid little attention to the rules of war and was constantly developing new ones. ways of fighting. murder. The “war on terror” was being lost, although he is reluctant to use that term, in part because the very notion of winning and losing makes no sense in this new era of counterinsurgency warfare.

“From my perspective, defeating the Taliban was never the main mission in Afghanistan,” says Nobrega. “We were there to help the people of Afghanistan get out of tough times.”

That mission remains incomplete and that lack of fulfillment bothers him. From an “end-state” perspective, he says, the Afghanistan mission should have been considered generational. But as the post-9/11 world spiraled into uncertainty, the political will to stay the course faded. Canada left Afghanistan in 2014; The United States and the rest of NATO forces will be out for the 20th anniversary of the attacks that triggered the invasion. But life in Afghanistan will go on and, Nobrega fears, it will go back to what it was before Canadians came, fought and died. It was worth it? Better to leave that terrible question unanswered.

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