CANADA’S MISSION IN AFG: (A Few) More Answers (Finally)

From an earlier rant of mine:

…. what are the possible mission iterations?

1)  Civilian-centred humanitarian & development mission, anywhere in Afghanistan, with no Canadian military presence. This fits A & B perfectly, but means ISAF/US troops would be protecting the Canadians doing the work.

Finally, we’re hearing more about that last bit – this from CanWest:

Canada is discussing with the United States the possibility that U.S. troops could protect about 100 Canadian civilians in Kandahar when Ottawa abandons its combat mission in the province next summer.

“We have had dialogue with the U.S. about supporting our needs as we go forward,” said International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, after a day hopscotching around Kandahar looking at Canadian aid projects and meeting with Canadian, American and Afghan officials.

“They have offered to support the ongoing efforts that we will be continuing in Kandahar. We will be talking to them as we go on.” ….

More drops from the eyedropper that is the government’s communications machine on the future mission 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 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.

Predicting Canada’s Afghan Mission Post-2011

Here’s my first crack at divining what Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is going to look like after the end of 2011, based on what’s been said out there to this point.

First, the assumptions:

A)  The March 2008 motion in Parliament and the latest quarterly report on Canada’s mission (PDF) say:  Canada’s military will be out of Kandahar by the end of 2011.  So, that means no more Canadian soldiers will be in Kandahar (we’ll assume “province” because the word “Kandahar City” wasn’t used.)

B)  The Prime Minister, if Canadian Press quoted him correctly, says, “Canada is not leaving Afghanistan; Canada will be transitioning from a predominantly military mission to a mission that will be a civilian humanitarian development mission after 2011.”

C)  A recent news release from Immigration and Citizenship Canada mentions “the end of the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar in 2011,”  and a speech given by the Prime Minister on the anniversary of 9-11 includes the phrase, “when this military mission ends.”  These turns of phrase suggest a “non-combat” mission for the CF may be possible.

So, based on these assumptions, what are the possible mission iterations?

1)  Civilian-centred humanitarian & development mission, anywhere in Afghanistan, with no Canadian military presence. This fits A & B perfectly, but means ISAF/US troops would be protecting the Canadians doing the work.

2)  Civilian-centred humanitarian & development mission, anywhere BUT Kandahar, with CF guards protecting the work being done. This works for A & B, but will only fit C as long as the bad guys don’t shart shooting at the Canadian project workers and their guardians.

3)  Civilian-centred humanitarian & development mission, with some CF presence at the higher levels in Kabul. This fits A, B and C, but let’s remember that any Canadians working in Kabul face some level of risk even if they’re in a strictly “non-combat” role.

What I don’t see happening credibly under these assumptions is any CF role training and/or mentoring Afghan troops.  You can’t “mentor” from inside the wire, you have to live with the troops you’re getting up to speed (more on this from BruceR, whose done this kind of work).  As long as the Taliban wants to shoot at Afghan troops, this won’t be a “non-combat” mission for anyone standing with them.

How about training Afghan troops without mentoring by standing with them in harm’s way?  This would give the Taliban Info-Machine a golden opportunity to ramp up the “infidel foreigners are willing to fight to the last drop of your blood” messaging.

Also, a caveat:  since this worthy program to help Afghans who’ve helped Canadians during the mission wraps up when troops leave Kandahar (by the end of 2011, according to Commons Motion), unless another one of these programs is initiated, count on ZERO help from individual Afghans as translators, fixers or security.

Comments from anyone with more/better ideas always welcome.