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Our Afghan Mission Isn’t Finished Yet

Our Afghan Mission Isn’t Finished Yet

by Pamela Wallin & Romeo Dallaire
Pamela Wallin and Romeo Dallaire
As Originally Published In The Globe & Mail
Publication Date: Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2010
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With a year to go before the Canadian Forces start withdrawing from Afghanistan, Canadians are waking up to the import of the military mission and the fact that we are about to leave. Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is leading the multinational force there, is quietly pressing Canada to keep making a troop contribution. Now, the House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan says it is time for Parliament “to begin a serious discussion on the future of the Canadian mission.”

We are delighted that the debate has been joined. Our Senate committee, studying the same issue, has heard from key Canadian and other players in Afghanistan. None has said the mission should end. Many believe that at least some troops should stay. And all agree our contribution has been remarkable.

From the beginning, Canada has been part of the United Nations-sanctioned international force for one overriding reason: our national security. When al-Qaeda terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, they killed 2,976 people from 77 countries, including 24 Canadians, and brought home the threat of terrorism to us all. Those terrorists and others had trained in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. NATO took the unprecedented step of invoking Article 5 of its founding treaty whereby an attack on one member is an attack on all.

The Canadian Forces hit the ground in Afghanistan in 2002, and since 2005 have nearly single-handedly held the line in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, as part of the International Security Assistance Force. They are commanding American forces, conducting combat patrols, protecting and assisting the Provincial Reconstruction Team and training and mentoring the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. They have also developed a counterinsurgency strategy much admired by the American military – moving into and living in small numbers in villages so that the Afghan government, agencies of other governments as well as civilian organizations can safely go in to help rebuild the civil society to enable it to resist coercion by the Taliban.

Canada is playing a big part in this reconstruction of the civil society. We have been building schools, advising government ministries, helping to repair the Dahla Dam and its irrigation system to provide vital water – and much more. When it comes to building Afghanistan’s capacity to govern, there is no point in training police officers if there is no functional judicial system to back them up. Likewise, it would be easier to develop both the police and army if the recruits had some education and were able to read and write. NATO’s goal, and Canada’s, is to help Afghanistan stand on its own.

As for the work of our nearly 3,000 troops, whether it was from top U.S. military officials or a policy lobbying group, our committee heard nothing but praise. As Terry Glavin, with the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, told us, “It is hard to draw direct cause-and-effect lines between the death of a soldier and a young girl who learns how to write her name for the first time, but those lines are there.”

Training and mentoring units of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is a key part of what the Canadian Forces are doing in Kandahar. After all, their soldiers and police will have to provide security and law enforcement after the international forces leave – and they are still far from ready. Our 200 or so troops that do this are part of Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams and a Police Operational Mentor and Liaison Team.

One of the most eloquent pleas our committee heard for keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan came from Canadian Brigadier-General (Retired) Serge Labbé, who is now in Kabul as deputy to the NATO Senior Civilian Representative. He says the time doesn’t seem right for removing all the troops when “we need more troops to turn the tide.” He called for the training of another Afghan army brigade, adding, “We cannot leave them in the lurch.”
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Jawed Ludin, also urged Canada to remain involved in ensuring security by helping to build up the Afghan forces. That is Afghanistan’s most important strategic priority, he said. “We would like to get it right with your help.”

We agree.

The interim report of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Where We Go From Here: Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan, was tabled Tuesday in the Senate.  Click  here for the Senate Committee’s report tabled on Tues.,  June 22, 2010