NATO Chief Wants Canada to Extend Afghan Mission

NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (AP/The Globe and Mail)

New NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, addressing the media at NATO Headquarters (AP/The Globe and Mail)

As domestic support for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan grows, the government is facing new calls for a renewed commitment.  Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s newly installed Secretary-General, made the plea on Thursday for Canada to maintain its military presence in the central Asian nation past 2011.  Despite reassurances he is “not going to interfere with the domestic politics in individual allied nations”, Rasmussen did place some pressure on the Ottawa, noting he “would strongly regret if [withdrawal] became the final outcome of the Canadian considerations.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon denied the Harper government would be swayed by Rasmussen’s comments, and stated that the country is intent on following through on its commitment to leave Afghanistan by 2011.  However, further pressure on Canada to stay in Afghanistan is to be expected in the coming, as the American forces renew their focus on Afghanistan, deploying 20 000 new troops in the country.

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NATO chief calls on Canada to extend Afghan mission

Omar El Akkad and Steven Chase

Deh-e-Bagh, Afghanistan, and Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

NATO’s new secretary-general has called on Canada to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2011 – becoming the most high-profile official to publicly tackle the disconnect between Ottawa’s decision to end its military mission and other NATO members’ intentions to continue theirs.

“Of course I’m not going to interfere with domestic politics in individual allied nations, but seen from an alliance point of view, I would strongly regret if that became the final outcome of the Canadian considerations,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday when asked about Ottawa’s decision to end the combat mission in 2011.

“At the end of the day it is a question of our own security – we cannot allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists – and I also think it is in Canada’s interest to ensure a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.”

But Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the Harper government won’t be swayed by Mr. Rasmussen’s comments.

He said Ottawa is intent on ending Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011. That’s the plan laid out in a House of Commons motion adopted in March of 2008 by the Conservatives and the Liberal opposition – a deal that essentially ended their partisan feuding on the timing of the mission.

“As you know the resolution calls for us to end and stop our military intervention in 2011 and that is exactly what we will be doing,” he said. “The government of Canada has made a decision. That decision’s been made known. It’s public and we are going to stay the course.”

Just a few days into his role as head of the most powerful military alliance in the world, Mr. Rasmussen was in war-torn southern Afghanistan Thursday, part of a whirlwind trip that began in Kabul earlier this week. In a coup for the Canadians, Mr. Rasmussen’s only stop in Kandahar besides the main NATO airfield was the tiny village of Deh-e Bagh, the site of a Canadian pilot project that appears to have morphed into a blueprint for how NATO as a whole will attempt to rebuild Afghanistan.

In the village of 900, Canadian forces worked to provide a simultaneous package of security, good governance and access to vital services. The hope was to give villagers the complete makings of a stable life, and in the process give them reason to reject the insurgency that is so rife in Afghanistan’s southern provinces. Now it appears that the United States – which is in the middle of a massive surge of military and civilian personnel to the country – as well as other NATO members will attempt to recreate the Deh-e Bagh model many times over.

“This is exactly the approach we will pursue in the coming years,” Mr. Rasmussen told reporters after a quick and heavily guarded tour of the village. “Obviously we need to strengthen the military efforts to improve the security situation, but we also have to realize that there is no military solution solely. So we have to – in parallel with our military efforts – to step up our efforts regarding civil reconstruction. This project is just an example of how we will do it in the future.”

Ken Lewis, Canada’s most senior diplomat in Kandahar, said U.S. “stabilization teams” are working on recreating the Deh-e-Bagh model in 12 other districts. The Canadian military is rolling out the program in three more villages.

Both Mr. Lewis and Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, were at Deh-e-Bagh for Mr. Rasmussen’s visit, as was General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Ottawa’s decision to end Canada’s combat mission here in 2011 is in sharp contrast to Washington’s renewed focus on Afghanistan. The U.S. is currently in the middle of deploying some 20,000 more troops in the country, and President Barack Obama has said more troops are needed in the country. That renewed focus led some to believe that the U.S. and other NATO nations would push Canada to support that effort by keeping its military on the ground beyond 2011 – a position Mr. Rasmussen essentially took on Thursday.

“The alliance is based on the principle that it is for each individual member state to decide how they will contribute to our common efforts,” he said. “What I can do is to encourage alliance members to do their utmost to ensure continued solidarity with our alliance.”

Ironically, Canada would have been unable to employ the Deh-e Bagh model on any significant scale without the benefit of the U.S. troop surge. For years, security in southern Afghanistan has been in a downward spiral, and the idea of providing a focused package of security, good governance and vital services is dependent on the extra American troops turning the rising tide of insecurity and violence.

“Up till now we’ve been in a position of using military forces to keep the insurgency at bay, but haven’t really been able to do an awful lot of primary security tasking for the population, and we’re going to be in that position soon,” said Brig.-Gen. Vance.
The top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan was careful not to overtly support Mr. Rasmussen’s request for the Canadian military to remain in Afghanistan, however he said he’d like to see the international community stay, and painted Ottawa’s military future in Kandahar beyond 2011 as an open question.

“That someone like the secretary-general would like us to stay is vindication I suppose, or certainly reinforces the fact that our men and women, military and civilian, have done tremendous work here,” Brig.-Gen. Vance said.

“Whether or not we stay beyond 2011 is a decision for Canada, and when that decision is made the Canadian forces and those who are affected by that decision will obey and carry on. So we may be looking at this as a job well done to the point where we left, or we may be facing other decisions.”

Tags: Afghanistan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Fogh of war, Lawrence Cannon, NATO