And the big fool said to push on

Canadian MPs ready to see the Afghan war through to the end?

"We have an obligation to see this thing through," said Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae

More talk of retaining a Canadian military role in Afghanistan following the scheduled end of the Kandahar mission in 2012 (Matthew Fisher, “Canada could fill training role in Afghanistan post-2011, MPs say,” Canwest News Service, 3 June 2010):

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae has provided the strongest indication yet that a deal may be possible between his party and the minority Harper government to keep some Canadian troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission in Kandahar ends next summer.

“The door is open to serious discussion in Canada and between Canada and NATO about what the future looks like,” Rae said during a five-day fact-finding mission to Kandahar and Kabul by 10 members of Parliament from all the parties, who sit on the Commons’ special committee on the mission in Afghanistan.

One possibility being closely examined is whether to dispatch Canadian military trainers to help “increase the capacity of both the Afghan police and Afghan military,” the former premier of Ontario said.

“There is no deal done, but there are elements that could be brought together to make a deal,” Bryon Wilfert, the Liberal vice-chair of the committee, said after the delegation met Thursday in Kabul with U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commands more than 100,000 NATO troops, and another American, Lt.-Gen. William Caldwell, whose remit it is to train Afghan forces to a level that would permit alliance forces to leave the country.

At a meeting with the MPs on Thursday, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul also requested that if Canada’s combat troops were leaving, that some of them be replaced by military trainers.

There have been private discussions for some time in Ottawa, with both Liberal and Conservative MPs and senators putting out discrete feelers about what Canada might do militarily when its combat mission ends.

While not as specific as Rae or Wilfert, Kevin Sorenson, the Tory who heads the Afghan committee, said, “We all realize the Afghan police, as well as the military, are going to have to increase capacity if they are going to secure their own country. Canada may have a role in that.”

The outlines of a new arrangement might involve Canada sending as many as 600 military trainers to an academy in Afghanistan, if Parliament approves. Caldwell indicated in an interview with Canwest News Service last month that any trainers sent by Canada would work within a heavily fortified base where they would not even have to wear body army.

Senior Canadian officers believe that providing 600 trainers at a time would likely be too much for the army, because so many of the instructors would have to be highly experienced sergeants and warrant officers. Asked if the Armed Forces could generate a force of 400 or 450 trainers, they said, that was possible, particularly if some of the trainers were logisticians, signalers, medics and mechanics.

“We have an obligation to see this thing through,” Rae said. “We came in with NATO and I think that we want to work through with NATO what our future will be, based upon the resolution of Parliament . . .

“I just want to say on behalf of the Liberal party that we are very committed to a role post-2011. We believe that that is very important.”

NDP Defence critic Jack Harris, who sits on the Afghan committee, was less sure about Canada doing anything more in Afghanistan militarily.

“Obviously, there are considerable humanitarian and institution-building concerns about Afghanistan,” Harris said Monday in Kandahar. “Whether that involves the military or not is another question, indeed.

“There are other ways we can help build institutions.”

Further coverage

Tara Brautigam, “MPs say Canadian trainers may stay in Afghanistan after 2011,” Globe and Mail, 3 June 2010

Jane Taber, “Harper remains firm on 2011 deadline for Afghan military mission,” Globe and Mail, 4 June 2010

Tags: Afghanistan, Bob Rae, Byron Wilfert, Canada's role, Jack Harris, Kevin Sorenson, Post-2011