News Highlights – 23 Dec 10 News Highlights – 8 Nov 10

  • Who do you believe in the “he says, he says” surrounding Canada’s future mission in Afghanistan? In this corner, Canada’s Defence Minister telling the Canadian Press“Canada is considering NATO and allied requests to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2011 to conduct non-combat training missions, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.  MacKay said the government would likely make a decision in the coming weeks in the run-up to the Nov. 18 NATO leaders’ summit in Portugal.  MacKay stressed that any such mission would take place out of Kandahar province, where fighting is fiercest and would be “behind the wire” – military parlance for non-combat mission.  NATO has identified a shortfall of about 900 troops to conduct training and Canada is mindful of those requests, the minister said ….” (More from Postmedia News here)   This is also reinforced by anonymous voices telling the Toronto Star the same thing.
  • Meanwhile, in the other corner, likely in keeping with Quebec voters’ particular dislike (according to polls, anyway) for the mission, La Presse (link to original in French) hears the PM is pretty adamant about troops getting out of Afghanistan (Google translation of La Presse):  “…. According to information obtained by La Presse, the date of withdrawal of Canadian troops is an irrevocable decision for the Prime Minister. In fact, Harper is currently discussing with the Liberals Michael Ignatieff last few days on Canada’s intentions in Afghanistan once the military mission is complete.  And he intends to attach all the strings that option, with the support of the Liberals, before going to the NATO summit that will prioritize the future of the mission in Afghanistan.  Mr. Harper therefore formally not tell his counterparts from member countries of the Alliance military in Lisbon ….” (Shameless self promotion:  Here was my take from July 2009 on the whole March 2008 parliamentary motion.)
  • Blog Watch: Brian Platt, visiting Afghanistan, pokes all sorts of holes into the arguments of those opposing the west’s work in Afghanistan – well worth the read.
  • How one mother honours the memory of her fallen son, via“The mother of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan is now in that country, honouring his memory by working in the canteen at the Kandahar airfield serving troops coffee. Wendy Hayward took an early retirement from her job in Winnipeg to take up the unique position that holds a special meaning for her. “I can’t think of a higher honour. I really can’t,” Hayward told CBC News in a recent interview. “I see him in the eyes of every one I serve.” Her son, Cpl. James Hayward Arnal, 25, was killed July 18, 2008 by a roadside bomb explosion in southern Afghanistan during a night patrol ….”
  • According to the Canadian Press, survey says young people do remember (more about Kandahar than Vimy): “Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach are vaguely familiar, but it’s Kandahar that’s really rings a bell, especially among younger Canadians. As Remembrance Day approaches, a new poll from The Historica-Dominion Institute suggests Canadians know the most about the war in Afghanistan, with young people leading the way …. The online poll, conducted between November 1 to 5, surveyed 1,015 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points ….”
  • Speaking of surveys, remember Russell Williams, the murderer-serial rapist now a guest of the state?  While some worried his actions could make people think poorly about the Canadian Forces, a QMI/Léger Marketing survey says different“…. When asked what best represented their attitude about how the case affected their view of the Canadian military, 59% of people polled said the case had no impact on their opinion. About one in five, or 23%, said it hurt their opinion of the Canadian Forces, and 4% said it actually improved their view. Another 13% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion …. Leger did the polling online from Nov. 1-4, 2010. The company polled 1,503 Canadians 18 or older. A telephone poll of this size would have a margin of error of /- 2.6%.”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Attacks alleged in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul, while Taliban dare Congressmen to send a delegation to roam free in Afghanistan.

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

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.