Thursday, March 15, 2012

Backfill is Not News

Canadian papers are astir slightly over the news that the Governor-General was informed that one reason for the Canadian training mission to Kabul (and beyond) was to allow Americans serving in those billets to be re-deployed to combat posts.  The story seems to make things more shocking than they really are.

First, the GG is technically the Commander-in-Chief and frequently meets with foreign folks, so having this understanding might be useful to him.

Second, and probably more shocking to the naive is that Canadian troops being sent to do training might allow the US to send troops doing that work elsewhere, such as combat.  The NDP and Liberals are making some hay about this, but it is really, really weak sauce (not a sauce that I would ever sell or even give away).  The Canadians are doing training, and that is military training, which means the trainees are going out to do combat.  How is that much different from the trainers relieving Americans who can then go out and do combat?

What these critics are also forgetting is that the Americans were having to re-deploy troops to places where allies had departed, such as Kandahar where the Canadians left and Uruzguan where the Dutch had departed.  Plus Canada had been the beneficiary of a previous set of backfills:  the French moved to Kapisa, which allowed the Americans to send a battalion to Kandahar to satisfy the demands of the Manley Commission and of parliament for the extension to 2011.

Of course, Harper can carry some of the blame here--for how the decision was made and then sold.  When Canada agreed to fill hundreds of training billets that were explicitly not in combat positions (not embedded trainers--OMLTs), there were not hundreds of new spots needing to be filled in the NATO spreadsheet of jobs to be filled (the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements or CJSOR).  Harper, for reasons unknown to most folks (since the process was in private and apparently excluded the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff), wanted Canada to participate in a low risk effort.  This training mission was an effort to continue to support the NATO mission, to do work that was necessary but in a way that was low in political costs.  Harper's announcement of the new mission required NATO find spots where the Canadians could go, which is why the Kabul mission became Kabul-centric.  Not enough spots in Kabul.  That it freed up Americans to do other stuff was going to be the principal benefit to NATO since there was not a need to radically increase the number of behind the wire trainers.  And this is in strong contrast to the need for trainers that would go outside the war and be embedded.  Dangerous positions that have been underfilled--hence the refrain of "we need more omelets in Afghanistan!"  Chances are that some of the Americans who were doing training in safe spots became embedded, doing a job that the Canadians were no longer doing. 

Harper could have made this clearer, but the Liberals and NDP should not be outraged either.  It just makes them look silly to be objecting to a military deployment that, gasp!, meant that other countries would be doing more fighting now that the Canadians were done with combat.

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