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Jan 23, 2008
Manley recommends extending Afghan mission
OTTAWA — Canada should indefinitely extend its military mission in Afghanistan, but only on condition of additional equipment and more support from other countries, says a high-profile panel headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley.
The panel also suggests gradually refocusing the mission on reconstruction, training and diplomacy rather than combat.
The blue-ribbon panel concluded that Afghanistan's security situation has been deteriorating amid increased insurgent attacks, but noted that the country has also made economic and social progress.
“Many would have preferred us to find a basis on which to recommend an end to the Canadian military roles by a certain date,” the report states.
The military mission in the war-torn country is due to end in February 2009, but the 90-page report says the mission should be extended if:
• A new battle group – about 1,000 soldiers – is deployed by the ISAF to Kandahar province, enabling Canadian forces to accelerate training of the Afghan National Army.
• The government secures new, medium-lift helicopters and high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles by February 2009.
“The most damaging and obvious deficiency in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan is the insufficiency of the military forces deployed against the insurgents,” the panel wrote.
Harper must 'step up'
At a press conference, Mr. Manley said the Prime Minister must “step up” and make the Afghan mission a top priority by appointing a cabinet committee responsible for the co-ordination of Canada's efforts.
“Even more important, [Mr. Harper] must personally lead our diplomatic initiative, making our voice heard to a degree commensurate with our contribution. He should urge the international community get its act together both in Afghanistan and with other key countries in the regions,” Mr. Manley added.
“The mission is in jeopardy,” he told reporters. “We are going to need to see more troops in Kandahar province or this mission will not succeed.”
Mr. Harper, who called the report “substantial,” said the government will respond to the recommendations later in the week.
“The government has every intention of looking at it carefully in detail,” he said. “We'll respond thoroughly within the next few days.”
The report is critical of the Canadian International Development Agency, suggesting its reconstruction efforts are hampered not only by the dangerous security environment in Kandahar, but by the agency's “own administrative constraints.”
Little of CIDA's funding in Afghanistan flows to locally managed “quick-action projects that bring immediate improvements to everyday life for Afghans,” says the report, which calls for more targeted aid, including a “signature project” such as a hospital or major irrigation project.
The panel notes that CIDA staffers in Kandahar do not often venture beyond their base.
“It makes little sense to post brave and talented professional staff to Kandahar only to restrict them from making regular contact with the people they are expected to help,” they wrote.
The panel noted that only 47 Canadian government civilians are working in Afghanistan, compared with 2,500 soldiers.
The panel said there must also be better tracking of the effectiveness of military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan, and that Ottawa must “rebalance” its communications with Canadians to provide “more information and analysis on the diplomatic and reconstruction-development dimensions.”
Behind the scenes
The report is sure to reignite debate over one of the thorniest issues facing Parliament and the Conservatives.
Polls suggest most Canadians would like to see Canadian troops come home as scheduled next year.
Mr. Harper has promised a vote on the mission's future, and Canada's NATO allies need to be informed by May or June at the latest.
Just days after naming the panel, the Conservative throne speech made it clear the government wanted to maintain the military mission in Afghanistan until at least 2011.
All evidence since then suggests planning has continued behind the scenes based on that scenario.
Regiments to cover the next three years have already been identified by staff officers at National Defence.
A source said the call went out within the army in November for reservists to volunteer for rotations in the fall of 2010.
Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, is staffing positions at the provincial reconstruction base in Kandahar City well into 2009.
And earlier this month, National Defence posted a call for tenders on major construction projects worth between $500,000 and $10-million in Kandahar — suggesting military planners don't anticipate a major shift of Canadian operations in just 12 months time.
'There are times when it matters'
Mr. Harper appointed the five-member group in October to, in the Prime Minister's words, “make sure we have a rational and considered debate.”
Mr. Manley, a prominent former Liberal foreign affairs minister, was a hawkish member of the Jean Chrétien government.
By naming the well-respected Mr. Manley to lead the group, Mr. Harper insulated himself from official Opposition criticism.
“When you have a tough job to do I guess you have to find a Liberal to give you the advice,” Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said at the time.
Mr. Manley responded Tuesday by saying that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is entirely consistent with Liberal values and the legacy of former prime minister Lester B. Pearson.
“There are times when we have to count. There are times when it matters,” he said. “It would be nice to have a peace-keeping mission in Kandahar. Unfortunately, as we said in the report, there isn't a peace to keep there.”
The report comes as federal officials prepare to attend a meeting of NATO countries in Romania in April where the issue of troop commitments is expected to be raised.
The panel urged political parties to wait to see what happens at that meeting before making any decisions in Parliament about how to proceed.
Mr. Manley was joined on the panel by: Derek Burney, former ambassador to Washington, chief of staff to Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney and the leader of Mr. Harper's 2006 transition team; Jake Epp, a former Mulroney cabinet minister; Paul Tellier, former clerk of the privy council; and broadcaster Pamela Wallin, a former consul general in New York.
“I'm very confident that we will get a report that the government will be very comfortable with having a public debate on,” Mr. Harper told reporters last Oct. 12 as he announced the panel.
In Kitchener, Ont., at a meeting of the party's caucus of MPs and senators, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said his party will not change its insistence that the Canadian “combat” mission must end in 2009 – but he said the Liberals want Canadian efforts to continue in other ways.
“Our position, as you know, is that the combat mission must end in 2009. And, after that, we'll help Afghanistan in other ways – for development, for security and for training.”
However, foreign affairs critic Bob Rae didn't rule out the possibility that the party might be able to live with the Manley panel's call for an indefinite extension provided soldiers get more equipment and NATO allies step up with more troops.
“I think we're in for a period of intense discussion and consideration,” Mr. Rae told the Canadian Press on Tuesday.
He said there's no need for Liberals to immediately take a hard position on the Manley report until it's clear how the Conservative government and Canada's NATO allies intend to respond to the recommendations.
“Until we know what the reaction is of NATO and all the other partners, quite frankly, it's hard to say if the recommendations are realistic.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton said the report is “out of touch with a great many Canadians.” He called for a complete change of direction in Afghanistan, including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from combat operations and a United Nations-led peace process.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe also rejected the report and called for a vote on the issue in the House of Commons.
“We're in total disagreement with the Harper government,” he said. “For the Bloc Québécois, there is no question we should not extend this combat mission beyond February 2009. [The] Canadian and Quebec military have done more than their share. Other countries must now step in and take up the challenge.”
Dawn Black, the NDP defence critic, said the report only bolsters her party's long-held belief that the security situation is worsening in Afghanistan.
“The evidence is that [Afhganistan] has become a less secure place. Drug production is up. Corruption is up. Loss of life is up,” Ms. Black told CBC Newsworld.
“We need to pull Canadian troops out of the counterinsurgency combat mission and find a way to bring a peace process that starts with a ceasefire.”
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