Canada's future in Afghanistan
While Canada’s defence department is mapping out its biggest military exodus in almost 60 years, a spokesperson for BC troops said future training of the Afghan army is a grey area.
The decision to train the Afghan army beyond 2011 rests with Parliament; however, there is dissension among the ranks. Last week, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae expressed a new-found openness to training the Afghan army past next year, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he remains committed to the 2011 military exit date.
“There has been no indication either way, it remains to be seen,” said Captain Chris Poulton, spokesperson for BC’s army, the 39 Canadian Brigade. The Vancouver-based Brigade has sent about 300 soldiers to Afghanistan since Canada entered the war in 2002.
The Canadian military must stop combat operations in Kandahar by July 2011, due to a parliamentary motion passed in March 2008. The motion states that Canadian troops will be replaced by the Afghan National Army so that a full transition will occur by December 2011.
Canadian Forces soldiers provide combat first aid training to the Afghan National Army at the Canadian Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Ma'sum Ghar, Afghanistan (Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)
“Canada is committed to providing the support necessary to ensure Afghans have the capacity, training, and capability to assume responsibility for their own security and stability,” said Katie Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, in an e-mail.
Canadian troops assigned to mentor and liaison teams already train the Afghan army so that they can provide stand-alone security when foreign troops leave Kandahar. The local army is still developing; however, there are now 2,400 members of the Afghan army operating in Kandahar, compared to 600 soldiers in 2006.
Captain Poulton cautioned that the debate surrounding Canadian troops remaining in a mentoring role is premature. Yet he said, “If there are positions available we would certainly be willing to fill those positions.”
NATO has repeatedly urged Canada to remain in Afghanistan past 2011 to help train the local army and police force. The Afghan army has grown steadily since the conflict started but is still developing its capabilities while the local police are marred by corruption. NATO's exit strategy for Afghanistan, earmarked for 2013, centres on increasing the size and strength of the Afghan army and police.
A graduate of the Basic Engineers course taught by members of the Canadian Operational Mentoring Liaison Team (OMLT) holds his certificate of completion during a ceremony held at Camp Hero on February 5, 2009 (Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)
Canada is one of 41 countries that operate under NATO's international security assistance force. The ISAF aims to provide the security necessary for development and good governance to emerge.
NATO, the US and Afghan soldiers are preparing their biggest military offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. A surge strategy will cause foreign troop numbers to spike to 150,000 by August, with the aim of breaking the Taliban before next year.
The Taliban has refused to participate in recent Afghan peace talks until foreign troops withdraw. While Afghan delegates, ranging from tribal leaders to Afghan refugees, debated the conditions necessary for peace earlier this week, the Taliban remained defiant. In the deadliest day this year, Islamic insurgents killed 10 NATO soldiers on June 8.
Canada's military mission to Afghanistan began soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Initially, Canada's military operations in the rugged and volatile south were part of a US-led coalition. The first deployment of regular soldiers occurred in January 2002 with the Princess Patricia's Regiment shipping 750 infantry to Kandahar. They were part of a counter-insurgency task force directed by the US. However, early on, the bulk of Canada's military operations were part of a NATO contingent that centered on Kabul.
About 6,000 Canadian soldiers were assigned to Kabul between 2003 and 2005, as part of a NATO-led force backed by the UN. The aim of the international coalition was to provide security as a foundation for elections. The transitional leader, President Hamid Karzai, was initially chosen by anti-Taliban allies until elections could take place in October 2004.
In 2006, NATO expanded its military efforts and took command of the south, the Taliban's birthplace, in order to relieve the US. The international coalition ramped up its military presence from 9,000 to 20,000 personnel so that the US could focus on providing security for the mid-term elections in Iraq. The south has been a bloody battleground with higher casualty rates as a mountainous border with Pakistan allows the Taliban to strategically switchback in and out of Afghanistan and evade the enemy.
Canadian Parliament debated if the Afghanistan mission should continue past its February 2009 commitment. Whether the war was worth fighting was debated due to the high death tolls exacted on Canadian soldiers and, on the Conservative side, the danger of letting a safe haven for terrorism re-emerge.
In October 2007, an independent panel assessed Canada's future military role in Afghanistan. The Manley report recommended that the Canadian military remain in Afghanistan but on two conditions. NATO allies needed to assign 1,000 more soldiers to reinforce Canadian troops in Kandahar and the federal government needed to provide new, medium-lift helicopters and unmanned intelligence aircraft before the 2009 deadline.
The Manley report stated “an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan would cause more harm than good.” Moving beyond 2009, the report recommended the Canadian military shift in focus from combat to training Afghan National Security forces.
NATO met Canada's demand for more troops with France offering to deploy additional troops to the east, which freed up US troops for southern Afghanistan.
A confidence motion passed that extended the mission and kept Canadian soldiers in Kandahar until 2011. Canada's exit date parallels the date that US forces are expected to pullout.
Of the 29 NATO countries, Canada has deployed the third largest number of foreign troops, after the US and Britain. More than 2,800 Canadian troops are in Afghanistan and a large majority is stationed in Kandahar.
Canada's military operations in Afghanistan became the subject of scrutiny when Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin testified before a parliamentary committee that Afghan detainees captured by Canadians and turned over to Afghan authorities were being tortured in Afghan prisons. Colvin alleged that he warned senior government officials and military brass about the abuses with little change. The Prime Minister and Defence Minister Peter MacKay maintain that they did not know about the abuses.
Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, William Crosbie, commented on the blurring boundary of justice shortly after Colvin’s allegations of Canadian complicity in human rights abuses. “The reality in this country is that the crimes have been committed by so many people from many different sides [to the point] where it’s difficult to separate the bad guys from the good guys,” he said on April 19.
Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2002, 147 Canadian soldiers have been killed mainly by improvised explosive devices. Nine of these fallen soldiers called BC home. Two soldiers from the 39 Canadian Brigade have died in Afghanistan, Bombardier Myles Mansell and Master Corporal Colin Bason.
According to the UN, 2009 marked the highest number of civilian casualties with 2,400 deaths.
A government report found that the military mission could cost Canadians up to $18.1 billion by 2011. This works out to $1,500 for every Canadian household. The report headed by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page noted the lack of transparency in military spending for Afghanistan and concluded that any estimate would be conservative.
Canada’s military exit from Afghanistan is the largest redeployment of troops and equipment since the Korean War.
Canada’s future role in Afghanistan will transition to a civilian and development mission, Harper has said. The Provincial Reconstruction Team, made up of individuals from Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency and the RCMP, will continue to focus on Afghanistan’s development after 2011.