Harper floats Afghanistan trial balloon

Possibly hoping to extend its record of foreign policy blunders, the Harper government is considering continuing Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan past the scheduled mid-2011 end of the mission.

According to the Toronto Star (Bruce Campion-Smith, “Troops may stay in Afghanistan as ‘trainers’,” 6 November 2010), “a senior government official” has confirmed that a military training mission is one of three options under active consideration by the government:

While the Conservative government is holding firm that the combat mission will end in 2011, one of three options emerging is that some soldiers could remain in the troubled nation, well away from combat zones, as trainers.

The other two potential roles on the table are aid and development, a senior government official told the Star.

There are roughly 3,000 soldiers involved in Canada’s Afghan mission. The size of the training contingent would be “much smaller” and would be away from Kandahar, a hotbed of the insurgency, the official said.

Canada’s future presence in Afghanistan will likely involve all three elements as it looks to put renewed emphasis on rebuilding the country’s institutions and assisting its impoverished population.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae declared themselves in favour of establishing such a mission earlier this year, as did a farcical Senate “report” that was based on hearings that invited only supporters of the war.

In January, Prime Minister Harper pledged that “we will not be undertaking any activities [post 2011] that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy.”

The Liberal party’s support for extending the military mission opened the door for the Prime Minister to break that pledge, however, by effectively removing the possibility of losing a parliamentary vote over mission extension.

In contrast to the Liberal and Conservative parties, the Canadian public continues to oppose any extension of the military mission in Afghanistan. An Angus Reid poll taken in mid-October found that Canadian support for the Afghanistan mission has hit a new low, with just 35% supporting the Canadian military presence in the country, and an August Ipsos-Reid poll showed that almost 80% of Canadians want Canadian troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Campbell Clark & Doug Saunders, “Canada ponders plan to keep nearly 1,000 troops in Afghanistan,” Globe and Mail, 8 November 2010

Tags: Afghanistan, Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff, Public opinion, Stephen Harper