It's official: Canada will remain in Afghanistan beyond the mission's scheduled conclusion in 2011.
The confirmation came Saturday; Defence minister Peter MacKay acknowledging that Canada will play a ‘non-combat' role in Afghanistan beyond the 2011 withdrawal of combat forces. MacKay stressed he'd work "within the parameters of the parliamentary motion which states very clearly that the ‘military' mission will come to an end in 2011," saying Canadian troops would "transition into some of the other important work that we're doing, that includes a focus on police training."
The proposed training role outlined by MacKay will surely be welcomed by our partners in NATO who recently requested that Canada remain in Afghanistan, in some capacity, beyond 2011. In fact, the mentoring role Canadian troops are set to undertake was specifically suggested by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. International pressure was likely a factor in the strategy shift detailed by MacKay, but the deepening rift between the Karzai government and the West calls into question the wisdom of such a decision; A decision which comes on the heels of increasingly erratic behaviour by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who's recent outlandish accusations drew international criticism and unilateral scorn.
Although many Canadians have been under the impression that Canada's Afghan contribution would come to a complete conclusion in 2011, MacKay insists "the prime minister has been clear in saying that our commitment to Afghanistan is for the long term."
You're forgiven if you don't recall the ‘clarity' MacKay suggests came from the PMO; Harper has remained intentionally muted on the issue while others privy to the details offer identically scripted answers to questions pertaining to Afghanistan.
This is why we need a public discussion about Afghanistan; Canadians want clarity on the mission they're being asked to support, and answers to fundamental questions surrounding the proposed new plan.
What is the ultimate goal of the mission? What will a continued ‘non-military' presence achieve? How many troops will be involved? Will the renewed commitment be an open ended one, or will it have a scheduled termination? Most importantly, with Canada and our NATO allies questioning the sincerity of the Karzai government, how will continuing to support a corrupt, dishonest, opportunistic regime amount to anything but a frivolous attempt toward an unachievable ideal?
The soldiers who've already served in Afghanistan, and those who died in the battle, did so with honour and conviction; Their contributions were not in vain. However, over the course of eight years the circumstances have changed; The military is exhausted, NATO forces are worn out, and the battle has shifted beyond Afghanistan into Pakistan. It's clearly become an endless crusade, and one that cannot be sustained.
Unless the Harper government is prepared to commit our troops to the indefinite struggle of creating, and maintaining a sense order in the Middle East, it's difficult to imagine that the proposed extension of Canadian involvement will result in any substantive gain. Unless there is a comprehensive strategy and detailed plan to justify a continued presence in Afghanistan, it's time to bring our troops home.
All of them.
UPDATE April 12: Afghan president Hamid Karzai threatens to block NATO offensive
UPDATE April 25: More questions than answers as RCMP plans training for Afghan police