Two Question Periods, Two Messages on Afghanistan

I’ve been ranting about this since July – the Motion passed by Parliament 18 months ago only says Canada is out of Kandahar, NOT Afghanistan, by end of 2011.

Yesterday, during Question Period, the Prime Minister gave another version of what’s next for Canada in Afghanistan post-2011 (highlights mine):

“Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, the House of Commons voted last year to have all troops out of Kandahar by 2011, but now we hear hints from the Minister of National Defence that the troops may stay in Afghanistan longer.  It is now the established practice in the House that there be a vote in the House of Commons on the deployment of Canadian troops. Does the Prime Minister believe that he can keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2011 without a vote in the House authorizing such a deployment?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, let us be clear that it was this government that brought in the practice that military deployments have to be approved by the House of Commons.  The position of the government is clear. The military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011. I have said it here and I have said it across the country. In fact, I think I said it recently in the White House.”

The day before, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon shared this  message during Question Period:

“I will say this clearly and succinctly so that the member will understand. Yes, we are sticking to that motion. Yes, the Minister of National Defence answered that question previously with the same response that we always give. We are putting an end to our military combat mission by 2011, and that is clear.”

On my highlights above:

1)  No, the government’s position is NOT clear, at least so far – check here and over at the Torch for the range of what’s been said in the debate.

2)  That’s NOT what the Motion says – it only says Canadian Forces troops will be out of Kandahar by the end of 2011.

E.R. Campbell over at Milnet.ca sums it up quite well:

“Political leaders, including Prime Minister Harper, Ministers Cannon and MacKay, and Michael Ignatieff have all been careless with the facts and, almost without exception, Canadian politicians have done a real disservice to Canadians, especially to the Canadian men and women who are prosecuting this war. They should all be ashamed.”

I offer only a couple of changes to ERC’s masterful summary to express my feelings:

“Political leaders, including Prime Minister Harper, Ministers Cannon and MacKay, and Michael Ignatieff have all been careless and inconsistent in the facts their statements to the public and, almost without exception, Canadian politicians have done a real disservice to Canadians, especially to the Canadian men and women who are prosecuting this war. They should all be ashamed.”

HERE’S Why a TRAINING Mission is a COMBAT Mission

In all the back and forth regarding Canada’s post-2011 mission in Afghanistan, there are those who say CF troops could stay to train Afghan forces without it being considered  a “combat” mission.

One point that’s shared via this post from the US Army/USMC COIN Centre Blog explains exactly why a TRAINING mission must be a COMBAT mission:

“Afghans trust and value those whose caveats permits them to go into combat with them”

Unless, of course, we want a training mission where the Afghan student troops and cops don’t have to respect the trainers.

Great use of resource, that – NOT.

Time for an “Outsider” Proposal on the Mission?

In the Globe & Mail this week, historian Jack Granatstein ran an interesting idea up the flagpole – setting up another Manley-esque commission/task force/panel to figure out what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan post-2011:

“The reality is that NATO and our friends, engaged in their own planning, need to know Canada’s intentions no later than mid-2010. A new Manley commission would allow for a careful consideration of what should and can be done.

Too much Canadian blood has already been spilled for us to simply walk away without carefully considering what we leave behind. Canadians want to help build a more peaceful Afghanistan. The real question now is how best to do that.”

The Toronto Star is now backing the idea,

“Harper will need to redefine and refocus our aims. He should hear from Canadian diplomats and the military, from regional leaders and officials, from academics, aid agencies and allies. It might be worth striking a new version of John Manley’s panel, or a Commons select committee, to chart the way forward.

And quickly. Washington will want to hear from Ottawa by the middle of next year for its own planning. That gives Harper maybe nine months to reshape the mission – and get Parliament’s backing.”

as well as, and to me this is even more important given the experience of the writer, BruceR at Flit:

“Given the departure date of mid-to-late 2011, decisions will inevitably start to be made by the second quarter of next year as to future manning, the disposal of resources, and procurement that will be either expensive or impossible to change should Canada shift course on what if anything military is to be part of the post-2011 commitment after that. We’ve got six-to-nine months to come up with any new plan, before inertial guidance starts to take over: still enough time for a Manley 2 process, but not much more than enough.”

Sounds like a good plan – the government can say, “this is the best advice we have from all the experts”, and gives some breathing room from people like me and others hounding to find out what Canada’s going to do next – “we’ll let the commission/panel/task force sort that out.”

Foreign Affairs Mininster: We’re Sticking by the Motion on the Mission

This exchange, from yesterday’s Question Period in the House of Commons, further feeds the “what happens post-2011 in Afghanistan?” sausage machine – highlights in red mine:

“Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs about Afghanistan.  The motion that we passed in the House was very unambiguous and very clear with respect to Canadian troops being redeployed out of Kandahar by December 2011. Certain comments have been made by other ministers and by other candidates for the Conservative Party with respect to the intentions of the Conservative Party post-2011.

My question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs is about Canada’s presence in Afghanistan. Is he sticking to the motion that was passed by the House in March 2008?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I will say this clearly and succinctly so that the member will understand. Yes, we are sticking to that motion. Yes, the Minister of National Defence answered that question previously with the same response that we always give. We are putting an end to our military combat mission by 2011, and that is clear.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, the problem is that yesterday outside the House the minister said something else. The other problem is—

An hon. member: No, he didn’t.

Hon. Bob Rae: The record will stand. The record will stand.

Mr. Speaker, what I would like to ask the minister is very clearly it states that Canadian forces will be redeployed out of Kandahar by December 2011. It is unambiguous and clear.

I would like to ask the minister, how is that compatible with the statements by the minister, as well as the statements of the candidate who is running in Ajax? The two statements are incompatible.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, the answer to his question is yes. I would strongly recommend that the hon. colleague read the transcript so that it will be clear. He might not understand what is written, but we all understand that is what it means.”

OK, so now we’re back to “no Canadian troops at all in Kandahar by end of 2011”.

Mark at The Torch hits the nail squarely on the head:

The government is dancing madly to avoid the clear meaning of the resolution. Any ongoing CF mission at Kandahar will require a new Commons’ vote. The last thing the government wants before an election. So the dancing will continue, regardless of the facts.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

On Politicians “Debating,” Reporters “Covering” Afghanistan

The mainstream media seems to have finally caught up with the radio discussion that led to this piece on how politicians are just throwing messages at each other when “debating” Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

What intrigued me from this column just out is this from someone who’s been there, done that (red highlights mine):

“Outside the restaurant, Ron Leblanc, a 35-year-old sergeant with the British Columbia Regiment, sat on a bench in the late summer sun. He came down, per Clark’s on-air request, to witness the debate.

Short and stocky, in green camouflage fatigues and black beret, Leblanc stiffened when questioned about Afghanistan. He completed a seven-month tour last year and is proud of his service. “We built hospitals, roads, wells, medical facilities and helped Afghan police with security,” he said, with an unsmiling stare. “It was a positive experience.”

According to Leblanc, media sensationalism misrepresents Canada’s military effort. He chastised media “imbeds” only interested in firefights and bloody casualties. “Over there, one reporter told me that nobody wants to hear about another road we’re building,” he remembered, shaking his head. “But for me, that’s the whole reason we’re there.”

Zat right?  Was that the reporter’s objective opinion, or was that driven by what the reporter’s bosses wanted here back at home?

It would be interesting to hear more on that bit in red…

Exactly WHAT is a “Non-Combat” Mission?

The latest polling done by Leger Marketing for the Toronto Sun et. al. shows 45 per cent of those surveyed saying “Canada should step out of combat role and provide training and development only” (more detailed results on this question available here via Milnet.ca).

In addition to my tea leaf reading, I have some questions I hope is addressed by Sun Media (or any outlet’s) editorial writers and/or columnists supporting this idea:

  • If you have Canadian development or aid teams working on projects, and  these projects come under attack while Canadian troops are protecting them, will shooting back at the enemy constitute a “non-combat” mission?  (I will guess quite confidently some will say it certainly is if a Canadian soldier is killed in such an exchange)
  • If you have Canadian soldiers training Afghan troops and cops, but not being with them on patrol or on operations to mentor them and reinforce what was taught, how much is this going to increase Afghan security force confidence in Canadians?  Especially considering that now, from what I understand, Canadians are sharing the risks with the forces they train and mentor?
  • Is it a “combat mission” or not if Canadian troops join their Afghan trainees on patrol or operations?  After all, there’s a case to be made that it’s not the CANADIANS fighting, it’s the AFGHANS fighting with CANADIANS watching/supporting/mentoring, right?

As long as there’s an armed adversary willing to kill and maim to prevent humanitarian and development aid or programs from being delivered, someone is going to end up in a situation that some will consider “combat” in order to keep the work going.

I await answers to such questions from both the media as well as those ultimately responsible for sending troops and civilians into harm’s way.

More Whining About Wanting More “Peacekeeping”

Just spotted this on an alternative news publication blog, the latest in the array of articles and statements out there calling for Canada to revert back to “peacekeeping” instead of “peacemaking”.

What’s interesting in this piece is the following from Joan Broughton, Public Information Officer at the United Nations Association of Canada, “a not-for-profit organization that focuses on informing and engaging the Canadian public in UN programs and missions” (emphasis mine):

“Broughton says the mission in Afghanistan does not ask troops to simply mediate but requires them to actively end a conflict. As a result, Canada has left its peacekeeping role behind for the much more contentious duties of a “peacemaker.”

“When you get involved in a situation like Afghanistan where there are significant political implications, you are clearly taking one side over the other,” said Broughton. “Peacekeepers by definition are neutral. They don’t take sides . . . and the fact that we have chosen to deploy most of our military forces into peacemaking instead of peacekeeping is a choice we’ve made as to where we will put our focus.” ”

That right?  Then I guess the United Nations has “taken sides” by sanctioning the mission in Afghanistan, right?  You would think the Public Information Officer for a group allegedly educating Canadians about the U.N. might have thrown in the fact that the mission is supported by the United Nations – the latest U.N. Security Council resolution backing the mission (23 Mar 09) available right here.

So, this means:

1)  the organization isn’t entirely sharing ALL the information on the U.N.’s role in Afghanistan;

2)  the Public Information Officer decided not to share this information;

3) the writer didn’t ask; or

4)  the writer asked, the Public Information Officer shared, and the reporter decided not to include the information.

Problems, no matter what happened.

Guess Who Else Says People Should Know More About AFG Mission?

You know how I feel about the need for better communication when it comes to explaining why Canada is in Afghanistan (if you don’t, check here & here for examples).

Someone else supporting this idea is none other than former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier – this, from a recent speech of his:

“Canadians crave information about the country’s role in Afghanistan, something they’re not getting enough of from the media, says Gen. Rick Hillier, one of the country’s most respected soldiers.  “They don’t get enough information. They desperately want information so they can make their own decisions,” Hillier said during an interview between public appearances in Niagara Falls Saturday …. “I have not looked back (since leaving the defence department). I still think about Afghanistan. So should all Canadians,” he said.”

Good point.

Kenny: Defeatist, Yes, but not Entirely Wrong

You know I’ve been cranky in the past about Canada’s politicians not being out there communicating about the Afghanistan mission.

While I agree with Mark at The Torch about Senator Colin Kenny’s recent defeatism about the mission, I have to agree with this bit from the Senator:

“The Prime Minister should be leading this dialogue, but he is not. He issues the odd platitude, but is largely mute on what seems to be going so terribly wrong, and what he thinks we can do about it.

Similarly, if Michael Ignatieff – who has in the past voiced his strong belief in the role of the noble western warrior – believes that we should dig in and continue to try to play that role in Afghanistan, I would like to hear his arguments. Let the dialogue begin.”

We wait with bated breath…

No More Faux Afghan Village Display in D.C.

Earlier this year, I was pointing out hints that Canada was painting it’s mission in Afghanistan as more of a civilian one and less of a military one (here, here, here, here and here).

Here’s yet another sign.

Earlier this month, we heard/read news that Canada was going to set up a mock Afghan village at Canada’s embassy in Washington, D.C. to educate American decision makers about Canada’s role in Afghanistan.  A lot of media ran with the fact that there was going to be a small, controlled explosion to simulate an IED.

Next, we hear/read there will be no explosion or gunfire as part of the display.

Now, we read that “the village component of the Afghanistan forum has been dropped,” in the words of the Embassy spokesperson.

Note, also, the progression of spokespersons.

In the “we’re doing the mock Afghan village” story, we hear from a military official:

“If this works the way I want it to, more Americans will know what Canada is doing in Afghanistan,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Martin, a military attaché at the Canadian embassy.

In the “no more boom-bang” story, the key quote is from the Minister of National Defence’s office:

“The Canadian defence minister decided not to include the IED blast in its program or do anything else to scare the general population, spokesman Dan Dugas said in Toronto.  “I don’t think it’s required to make loud noises on the Mall to show people what the Canadian Forces are doing in Afghanistan.” Dugas said. “We’re doing a fabulous job and at a cost. And I think it’s sufficient to remind Americans of our contribution to this international mission without having to set off pyrotechnics.” “

Finally, who gets to drop the “no more village, period” news?

“I can confirm that the village component of the Afghanistan forum has been dropped,” said Jennie Chen, spokeswoman for the embassy.

According to this staff directory, Ms. Chen is listed as “First Secretary (Public Affairs) and Spokesperson.”  I’m guessing (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) that the title suggests she works for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Certainly reinforces what the Prime Minister is quoted saying this past week:

“Canada will be transitioning from a predominantly military mission to a mission that will be a civilian humanitarian development mission after 2011.”

doesn’t it?