Monday, January 28, 2008

The Future of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan

The Canadian Forces role in Afghanistan has been a hot issue and a very partisan one at that. To give a little background, when Jean (The Worst Prime Minster Ever) Chretien was elected to office one of the first things he did was to axe a major military helicopter purchase that he had made on the Liberal Party campaign trail. It was partisan, it was petty, it was plain wrong.

This decision lead to the neglect of our military both personnel and equipment. Under his reign of error Chretien talked big about our military while destroying it behind the scenes.

After September 11, 2001, it was time to s***t or get off the pot. So in early 2002 we sent troops to Afghanistan, mainly to Kabul, in what was essentially a relatively safe tour of duty for the troops. Meanwhile back in the back stabbing world of Canadian politics a guy named Paul Martin managed to oust Chretien, after much plotting, and usurp the role of Prime Minister, which as it turned out he wasn't very good at. (They called him MR Dithers, 'nuff said)

One thing he did do however was let himself be persuaded by NATO that Canada really needed to step up to the plate in Afghanistan and take on some heavy lifting in a combat role in the Southern Afghanistan province of Khanadar which was to begin in early 2006. As a former Canadian Soldier I was pleased as punch.

I was even more pleased (thrilled would be more like it) when Martin called an election and promptly lost to the Conservatives of Stephen Harper. To be certain Harper only has a minority government but he quickly proved to be a major political strategist.

With Liberal party in disarray (oh, the back stabbing was a sight to behold) they held a convention which was basically split between the centre right and the loony left with a few moderates in between. This led to a stalemate that caused Stephane Dion become the Leader of the Liberal Part of Canada. (Like Martin before him he's not very good at it)

To make a long story short Harper called a surprise vote in the House of Commons to extend the mission for February 2008 to February 2009. He won. Then he started beefing up the military.

This has caused a stir in the population as the mission has never properly been explained to Canadians either by the Liberals who started the mission or the Conservatives who prosecute the war.

Now, back the lack of Military helicopters I mentioned above. We only have a relatively small number of Soldiers in the 'Stan, 2,500 to be more exact, but per capita we are taking casualties out of proportion to our allies who are also engaged in combat operations there. I. e. the Americans and the British. That's because our troops have to DRIVE every where. No helicopter insertions or re-supply.

To shed some light on the subject for the populace Prime Minister Harper commissioned an independent panel to report on the situation on the ground currently and recommendations for the way forward. Heading up this panel as Chairman would be John Manley a former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government. The report has now been tabled. What follows is the forward to the report.

Chair’s Foreword

If I learned one thing from this enquiry, it is that there is no obvious answer to the question of Canada’s future role in Afghanistan. But our presence in that distant land does matter.

Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan matters because it concerns global and Canadian security, Canada’s international reputation, and the well-being of some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people. Our commitment is important because it has already involved the
sacrifice of Canadian lives.

At the same time, I realize many Canadians are uneasy about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. They wonder what it’s all for, whether success is achievable, and in the end, whether the results will justify the human and other costs. The most difficult decision a country can make is to send its young men and women into harm’s way, particularly when the outcome may appear less than certain. I can assure Canadians that each of us on the Panel wrestled with this question throughout our enquiry.

We find ourselves, with our allies, in a situation of conflict in a land that is far from us, little known by us and where our interests do not seem self-evident. We are trying to help a country whose recent history has been one long, unending tragedy, and whose prospects still appear bleak.

The question of Canada’s future role defies a simple answer. It is complicated by the challenging nature of the mission and by the difficult neighborhood in which Afghanistan is situated, made even more volatile by the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It is made more complex because we assumed responsibility for fighting an insurgency in a dangerous province of the country and we did so with little political debate and not much public engagement. And that insurgency is far from defeated.

Our Panel consulted very broadly – both here at home and abroad. We traveled through four provinces in Afghanistan. We tried to assess progress made to date and the requirements for improved prospects. And we sought to answer the question of Canada’s appropriate role in the future.

Our assessment of the situation recognizes the enormity of the challenge: regional instability; slow progress on reconstruction and development; mounting insecurity and violence; corruption, criminality and increasing poppy production. But there can be no doubt that compared to the starting point in 2001, living conditions in Afghanistan have seen measurable, even significant improvement.

Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, there was never any hesitation: “We want you to stay; we need you to stay.” Without the presence of the international security forces, they said, chaos would surely ensue.

The Panel learned early that we must be careful to define our expectations for success. Afghanistan is a deeply divided tribal society. It has been wracked by decades of war and is one of the poorest countries on Earth. There should be no thought that after five or even ten years of western military presence and aid, Afghanistan will resemble Europe or North America. But we came to the conviction that with patience, commitment, financial and other forms of assistance, there is a reasonable prospect that its people will be able to live together in relative peace and security, while living standards slowly improve.

The essential questions for Canada are: how do we move from a military role to a civilian one, and how do we oversee a shift in responsibility for Afghanistan’s security from the international community to Afghans themselves?

To achieve these objectives, much still needs to be done.

Institutions that are respected need to be built and the Afghan National Army and Police need to be further recruited and trained.

Agricultural districts need to be reclaimed from land mines and poppy fields, so that traditional crops can once again flourish where they have in the past.

Both the reality and the perception of corruption in the Government of Afghanistan must be rooted out. They are undermining not only the hope for an Afghan solution but also support for the Western forces sacrificing their lives to help secure the situation.

Roads, bridges and electrification must be enhanced, so that ordinary Afghans can see progress.

With all that needs to be done, no end date makes sense at this point. Afghanistan presents an opportunity for Canada. For the first time in many years, we have brought a level of commitment to an international problem that gives us real weight and credibility. For once, our 3Ds (defense, diplomacy and development assistance) are all pointed at the same problem, and officials from three departments are beginning to work together.

But the cost is real, and it is high.

Canadians don’t need any lessons in sacrifice. Our history is replete with examples of courage and fortitude in conflict against difficult odds when the cause was just and the determination to prevail was present. But our Panel concluded that the sacrifice of Canadian lives could only be justified if we and our allies and the Afghans share a coherent, comprehensive plan that can lead to success, and if our allies are willing to stand with us with the resources and commitment that are necessary to make success possible.

We like to talk about Canada’s role in the world. Well, we have a meaningful one in Afghanistan. As our report states, it should not be faint-hearted nor should it be open-ended. Above all, we must not abandon it prematurely.

Rather, we should use our hard-earned influence to ensure the job gets done and gets done properly.

Honourable John Manley, P.C.

Ottawa, January, 2008

More on the report later but for me reading the words: "Canadians don't need any lessons in sacrifice." Coming from a very powerful member of the Liberal Party of Canada is music. To any Americans reading this John Manley = Joe Lieberman; Stephane Dion = Nancy Pelosi.

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