Thursday, August 6, 2009

Canada and Afghanistan in 2011 and beyond

I get asked fairly frequently by all kinds of folks, including as I warm up for ultimate, what is Canada going to do in 2011--pull out of Afghanistan entirely or what? Well, apparently, I am not the only one who is curious about it as the new Secretary General of NATO and former PM of Denmark, Anders Rasmussen, has asked Canada to stick around.

There are two questions here: what is Canada going to do and what it should do?
  1. Will Canada stick around? Depends on the next general election. If it occurs before 2011 and produces a Conservative majority (not likely), then Canada might keep its forces in Kandahar. If there is yet another minority government, then Canada is quite likely to pull out most, but perhaps not all of its troops. I concur with THE Canadian military historian, Granatstein that Canada is likely to keep its Provincial Reconstruction Team and probably the mentors to the Afghan military (OMLT's or omelets), as these are not so costly, not very visible, less risky, yet can have a big influence. This gives Canada and the PM of the day the ability to say that we are still helping out, providing key resources for the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan and yet meet the domestic requirement reduce the big costs and casualties that the current mission incurs.
  2. Should Canada stick around? I always admit that it is hard for me to say since I am an American, so only tax dollars and not my family is at risk in the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Also, I am admittedly biased, given where I was on 9/11. With those caveats, let assert that Canada should keep its forces in Afghanistan. Why? Because Canada is making a difference in an important part of the world, and that matters in two ways--directly on the ground but also it increases Canada's status in the world. Canada has more influence in Afghanistan and elsewhere because its soldiers are doing what others are unwilling to do. Further, it seems to be the case that the Canadians have done counter-insurgency better than the Americans at least until lately (meaning the US has gotten better). It is hard for me to tell Canadians that they should let some soldiers die in a far off land for Canada to have more influence, but if Canada can influence events so that policies and outcomes conform with Canadian values, perhaps it might be worth it.
Of course, the mission is costly, and we have seen many rotations and many lives disrupted. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to have longer and fewer rotations. While the senior Canadian officers serve for longer periods, each battlegroup is there for only six months. That is longer than many allies, but perhaps a year might make more sense--less cost in shipping units over and back, more local knowledge and relationships built, greater expertise, better situational awareness, etc.

Ultimately, it is easy for me to make politically impossible recommendations--Canada is not going to do what I recommended. My best guess is that a small Canadian force is going to stick around and have to rely upon the Americans to provide security. Not a horrible outcome, but disappointing nonetheless.

No comments: