Flag Lowering Ceremony Speech - Ambassador Deborah Lyons

General Lawson, General Lorimer, General Anderson, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and most importantly members of the Canadian military and policing mission.

I am honoured to speak to you today as Canada's Ambassador as we lower the flag to mark the end of our military engagement in Afghanistan.  

The completion of our longest military mission is a historic moment.  A time filled with pride, some sadness, and many memories of fallen and wounded colleagues.

My words today are for the many Canadian members of the Armed Forces and the Canadian Police mission.  It is because of you that we stand here.  Because you made this happen.

For more than 12 years now, you have worked with our international and Afghan partners to bring security to a land ravaged by war; to plant the seeds of development and governance in soil blighted by poverty and tyranny.  You have laid the building blocks, whether through roads, schools, bridges for the brighter future that the resilient Afghan people so richly deserve.

The illegitimate, barbaric, and misogynistic Taliban regime has been driven from power.  The Al Qaeda training camps that threatened all of us have been destroyed.  The international community showed its resolve to deal with the global menace of terrorism.  And the NATO alliance showed that the bonds forged amongst our nations in the aftermath of the Second World War have grown stronger over time. 

Throughout your engagement in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces have worked closely with the Afghans, our NATO allies, and other partners, as well as with Canada’s Whole of Government team of diplomats, aid workers, police officers, and many others.  We are all stronger when working together and we have accomplished more through teamwork than any of us could have done on our own.

Nevertheless, the role of the Canadian Forces has been unique, extraordinary, and essential.  The progress that we have achieved here would not have been possible without your courage, your dedication, and your sacrifice.  You have upheld the finest traditions of our armed forces, ensuring that our military role in Afghanistan will be remembered alongside Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, Kapyong, Kosovo, and the many other places around the world where the Canadian Forces have shown their unmatched valour.

Your strength has protected the weak; your bravery has brought hope to the hopeless; and the helping hand you have extended to the Afghan people has given them faith that a better future is within their grasp.

Thanks to your efforts, there are now nearly 8 million Afghan children attending school, nearly 40% are girls. 

Today, 70% more mothers having babies will give birth to a healthy child without fear of their own or their child's death.

Today parents can watch their children play without fear of the crippling polio, as over 8 million children have been vaccinated and the number of confirmed cases of polio in Afghanistan dropped to an all-time low of only 14 last year.

The number of health clinics has doubled since 2001 and over 9,000 health professionals have been trained. 

It is not an exaggeration, but a simple statement of fact to say that there will be generations of Afghan boys and girls who will now have the chance to be born, grow up healthy, and be educated thanks to your efforts.

The potential of this human infrastructure that you have helped to build is unlimited, and we can already see the relentless drive in our Afghan partners to build upon the foundation that you have put in place.

If these remarkable accomplishments were not enough by themselves, remember that we now stand on the cusp of an election that will bring about the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in the history of Afghanistan.  An election whose results will be decided by Afghan men AND Afghan women.  Let me say this again; and Afghan women.

All of this is happening because of you.

As with many countries, the situation in Afghanistan remains imperfect and its future remains uncertain.  Challenges still need to be addressed and many problems still need to be confronted.  This, however, is not an indication of failure, but rather of progress, because the Afghans themselves are now taking the lead in dealing with these issues.

Your work has created a better trained Afghan military and police force.  The Government of Afghanistan can now take responsibility for its own security, just as the international community has always intended.  We respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and right to self-government, and you have given the security forces the skills they need to fulfil their responsibilities. 

You have left a legacy here, one that you can look back on with pride as you depart for your most highly deserved journey back home to Canada.  More than this, though, you have also contributed to Canada’s national legacy, to our role in the world, to our reputation with our allies, and to the very nature of what it is to be Canadian.  This is a legacy that must and will be remembered, that must and will be shared.

And so, to that end, in a few short hours, school children in communities across Canada will join us in commemorating this special occasion.  Students will participate in an online classroom videoconference to learn more about our military and development engagement in Afghanistan.  As the school day begins flags will be lowered to honour your work here and the end of the mission.  Then at midday, the flags will be raised again  to celebrate you and welcome you home.

Sadly, as is always the case in war, this progress has not come without tragic costs; without losses that can never be replaced; nor without wounds that will never heal.  A soldier once told me that every warrior wants to be remembered, and I say that every warrior SHOULD be remembered.  Most importantly, we will remember the fallen, the 161 men and women who paid with their lives, and the painful and ongoing sacrifice of their families.  We will also remember all those who have suffered physical and mental injuries that remain with them and their loved ones.

To paraphrase the words of one of Canada’s greatest generals, Sir Arthur Currie:  To those who have fallen I say “You have not died, but stepped into immortality.  Your families may lament your fate, but are proud to have borne such sons and daughters.  Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country, and your God will welcome you home."

We do share the grief of the families of the fallen.  Of all the emotions, grief is the one that is best shared.  The only comfort comes from the knowledge that the sacrifice of lost loved ones was not in vain, that they made a difference.  War is sad, it is tragic, and it can be brutal beyond words, but it is at times also unavoidable.

It is said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.  Your actions and those of your fallen colleagues have stopped the triumph of evil.  This JUST war has freed Afghan men and especially Afghan women from Taliban oppression.  It has kept multitudes around the world from suffering from the scourge of terrorism.   It has given people who have known generations of war hope for a peaceful future.

It is precisely because your brave efforts and noble sacrifices have been worthwhile that we will remain in Afghanistan and continue your legacy after you return home.  Although today, in these next few minutes, the Canadian flag will be lowered at this military base, tomorrow it will rise again with the Afghan sun at the Canadian Embassy.  It will fly in memory of all that you have accomplished and to symbolise all that we will continue to do with our Afghan partners in the days to come. 

The Afghan story is not ending, nor is Canada’s role in it.  An important chapter ends today, but tomorrow we turn the page and begin the next stage of our journey with the Afghan people.  Our diplomacy, our development, and our business partnerships will continue to strengthen the bonds between Afghanistan and Canada – bonds that have been heroically forged by your unceasing toil and your unforgettable sacrifices.  This work will be challenging and, as the tragic deaths of two Canadian civilians in the recent attack on the Taverna restaurant reminded us, it will at times be dangerous, but it is nevertheless vital.  We will continue our work after you leave because you have made it possible for us to do so.

Go home now to the welcoming arms of a proud and grateful nation.  Go home to the admiring faces of the school children, who will go to bed tonight even prouder to be Canadian and with a greater appreciation of what it means to be global citizens.  Most importantly, go home to the loving reunion with your families and friends that is so richly deserved after so much time apart.

We will stay.  We will work with our international and Afghan partners to carry on the mission you began all those years ago.  We will work each day to be worthy of you and of the legacy you leave behind. 

We will miss you and we will always know that we are here because of you.  YOU made this possible.  And that is something that WE and all Canadians will never forget.  Nous nous souviendrons.  Merci.  Thank you.  And now “safe home” everyone.