Yesterday, former Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish spoke out against Canada's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Her chief complaint is that this action commits Canadian soldiers to a dangerous task, where they may not only have to kill, but may be killed themselves.
In fact, she went as far as to say that "If this thing gets any deeper in (Afghanistan) and we get a couple of dead Canadians back, I'll vote to bring the government down the first opportunity I got."
While this may seem to be in the best interests of protecting our soldiers, the fact of the matter is that this summer's deployments to Kandahar (and upcoming deployments in February) are merely an extension of on-going government policy. Canada has never undertaken a "peacekeeping" role in Afghanistan, despite a common public perception to the contrary. We were the first nation to deploy naval forces to the Persian Gulf after the September 11 2001 attacks and subsequently deployed the 3 PPCLI Battle Group to Kandahar in February 2002 specifically to engage in combat operations against Al Qaida and the Taliban. Our special forces were also extremely active during this timeframe.
Even the ISAF mission, Operation ATHENA has a decidedly non-peacekeeping focus. As NATO puts it:
ISAF's role is to assist the Government in Afghanistan and the international community in maintaining security within the force's area of operations. ISAF supports the Afghan Transitional Authority in expanding its authority to the rest of the country, and in providing a safe and secure environment conducive to free and fair elections, the spread of the rule of law, and the reconstruction of the country. (http://www.nato.int/issues/afghanistan/index.html) (emphasis added)
Ms. Parrish's comments unfortunately indicate that many Canadians, even senior politicians, fail to understand the complexity and intensity of the Afghan situation.
General Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence Staff, has recently made public comments in this area, indicating that the situation is serious and that our soldiers may be called upon to use lethal force in some situations.
Ms. Parrish ironically, did not see these comments as clarifying the situation. Instead she took an aggressive stance against implying that our forces may be involved in a genuine conflict, asking the PM to "muzzle the beast, assume command of Canada's agenda in your usual articulate, dignified and intelligent way. Let the Canadian public know Gen. Hillier does not speak for our government."
While Gen. Hillier may not speak for our Government, he speaks quite plainly for our military, and does not gloss over the unsavoury aspects of the job at hand.
As a public, we need to be aware that the Government has committed the CF to a dangerous mission in a hostile part of Afghanistan, a mission which bears little resembelance to the old style Peacekeeping missions of the 1990's.
It is straight talk - not politically motivated "muzzling" that will ensure the Canadian mindset is ready for what may come in Afghanistan.