Harper: No Afghan mission extension

Prime Minister Harper has pledged that no Canadian troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of the current training mission in 2014:

We will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy. We will not be undertaking any kind of activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission.

Oops! That was what he said in 2010 — before he broke that promise, at the urging of the current and former leaders of the Liberal Party, and extended Canada’s military presence to 2014.

Here is this week’s news story (Campbell Clark, “Harper remains firm on date for leaving Afghanistan,” Globe and Mail, 21 May 2012):

As alliance leaders set timetables for leaving Afghanistan, Mr. Harper stuck to his own. NATO, focused on getting combat troops out in two years, but keen to send a message that Afghanistan will not be abandoned, had pressured Mr. Harper to extend the mission of 950 Canadian Forces trainers.

He refused. “There will be no Canadian military mission to Afghanistan after March, 2014,” he said, adding that his was a blanket “no” that applied to trainers, troops and special forces.

Given the prime minister’s history on this topic, reporter David Pugliese asks the obvious question: Should Canadians believe Mr. Harper this time around? (“No Canadian Troops for Afghanistan Beyond 2014 But Can Harper Be Trusted On That Commitment?Defence Watch blog, 22 May 2012)

With President Obama intent on winding down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and other participants in the NATO operation heading for the exits as fast as they can declare some semblence of victory (Scott Baldauf, “Chicago NATO summit sets stage for Afghan withdrawal,” Christian Science Monitor, 22 May 2012), it is highly unlikely that any major Canadian military mission will find itself sent to Afghanistan post-2014.

But U.S. special forces and a number of other units will probably remain in the country for many years afterwards, aided by the special forces of the U.K. and other allies, and Canada has already been asked to contribute to that presence.

It would be most unwise to imagine that the prime minister’s categorical rejection of such a role necessarily will remain his last words on that subject.


Tags: Afghanistan, Bob Rae, Canadian military mission in Afghanistan, Canadian Special Operations Regiment, Joint Task Force-2, NATO Afghanistan, Stephen Harper