Canada's future in Afghanistan

Captain Joel Chartrand, a construction engineer of the Canadian Forces Fire Marshall in Ottawa, mentors an Afghan soldier on setting up an explosive charge at the demolition range (Photo from Flickr Creative Commons)

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.

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