The Harper government has confirmed that it is extending Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan until 2014 (Jane Taber, “Conservatives bump Afghan withdrawal date back three years,” Globe and Mail, 16 November 2010).
Approximately 950 Canadian soldiers, to be based mostly in the Kabul area, will be assigned to training Afghan forces under the new plan:
Up to 950 soldiers who would normally have been facing combat in Kandahar will now be dispatched to walled-off bases around Kabul to lead Afghan soldiers in basic training exercises between 2011 and 2014.
Jogging, marching, push-ups and firing weapons will replace Taliban hunting in the Canadian playbook, under a plan rolled out Tuesday by the ministers of foreign affairs, defence and international development. They said the new task is crucial if Afghanistan is to take control of its own security in four years’ time, when NATO nations hope to begin withdrawing from the country en masse. (Allan Woods, “Jogging, marching, push-ups to replace Taliban hunting,” Toronto Star, 16 November 2010)
Unaddressed by the ministers is whether the government really believes in the training mission it has committed Canadian troops to fulfill.
No one seriously expects Afghanistan’s army and police forces to be ready to hold off the Taliban on their own in four years’ time. But it is still unclear whether NATO’s efforts to Vietnamize Afghanize the war are intended merely to provide a face-saving way for foreign forces to withdraw from a dead-end war or remain based on the illusory prospect of creating an ARVN ANA that can hold the field against the Taliban even in the south of Afghanistan.
If the government (and its NATO allies) are intent on pursuing the latter vision, we can expect the 2014 extension to eventually become the 2017 extension, and perhaps even the 2020 extension, before the final ignominious pull-out takes place.
If, on the other hand, the extension is merely an exercise in sacrificing lives in the cause of saving faces, the cynicism of the Prime Minister in choosing Remembrance Day to confirm the extension is breathtaking (Bill Curry, “PM acknowledges changing mind on continuing Afghan role,” Globe and Mail, 11 November 2010).
That the decision does not reflect confidence in the long-term prospects of the government of President Thiệu Karzai is suggested by the Harper government’s simultaneous decision to slash Canadian development assistance to South Vietnam Afghanistan (Campbell Clark, “Canada to pull civilian staff from Kandahar, base trainers in Kabul,” Globe and Mail, 16 November 2010).
A recent Canadian Press/Harris Decima poll, meanwhile, reports that Canadians are split over the planned extension, with 48% wanting all troops brought back to Canada in 2011, 42% supportive of the intended training role, and 6% in favour of extending the combat mission. The same poll also reports that 60% of Canadians oppose or strongly oppose “the government’s commitment to have troops in Afghanistan” (presumably relating to the existing mission in Kandahar).