Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More Confusion about Canada's Next Mission in Afghanistan

There is so much suspicion about the next phase of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan that any utterance by a  military officer provides an opportunity for folks to raise heaps of questions about the intent of the government.  Whose fault is that?  Well, mostly the government's for proposing a poorly conceived idea about what the next steps should be.  That is, they said 1000 troops for training in Kabul behind the wire, nice and safe.  But it turns out that there was no slot for one thousand folks to train in Kabul behind the wire (the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements [CJSOR] that NATO has developed has spots for trainers that need filling, but not in Kabul and not behind the wire). 

So, does that mean that the Canadians will be going into combat?  In a word, NO!  What the commentators forget is that Canada can be quite good at imposing restrictions on their troops to keep them out of harm's way.  The opponents are leaping on the move from Kabul to Kabul-centric in the various discussions.  This does reflect that the Harper government had not consulted with anyone when they made the initial announcement, but it is a leap to go from that to Canadians going to dangerous places.  It is in all likelihood that the Canadians will be sent to bases in safer parts of the country (no place is 100%, but the risks do vary quite widely), and they will be restricted from engaging in combat.  While the CJSOR has heaps of spots available for mentors that go into combat (OMLTs--observer, mentor, liaison teams), these are not the spots that the Canadians will be filling.  They will be doing the work that Americans have been doing, and the Americans will be re-allocated (sent into combat). 

I am not a big fan of the government's decision--I would have preferred to see Canada build on its knowledge gained in Kandahar, but Harper refused to try to lead Canada there and the opposition parties didn't want to there anyway.  I am also not a big fan of the process--I could be wrong, but it seems very clear that the government made its initial announcement without getting the best military advice from the military.  That is, they proposed something that was not really going to happen because it didn't fit the situation on the ground, so now everybody thinks they are liars rather than just ill-informed.  And ill-informed by choice.  They could have asked the military to figure out what kinds of contributions Canada could make, but that would have required discussions, thinking and perhaps leaks.  Better to go with a poorly conceived but closely held idea.

Still, I don't think the government or the military is being deliberately deceptive.  Their words have shown some changes precisely because now there is better information about the possibilities.  Learning is ok, right?  I hate it when folks get accused of waffling or being deceptive when they are actually responding to new information.  Staying true to a path is good for ideologues but not so good for policy.

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