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Ruxted’s Response to the Senate Committee’s Report

Ruxted commends the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence for its Interim Report issued on 13 Feb 07, but feels it falls short of its full potential. While some of the ideas contained in the Report are excellent, we are disappointed with a number of its proposals. As well, it is noted that, while the Report was written with the cooperation of DND, not all Committee members were able to visit Afghanistan. It is hoped that this will be rectified before a final report is issued.
The Senate’s ideas to force greater participation by NATO in southern Afghanistan run from the obvious – “continue to apply pressure on its NATO allies” – to proposals that seriously call into question the role of NATO and Europe in Canadian foreign policy. While Ruxted recognizes that Canadians seek to avoid close association with American foreign policy and military missions, the reality is that continental Europe lacks the will to carry the war to the Taliban. Threatening to withdraw from ISAF if Europe does not add more forces to the south, as the committee recommends, is counter-productive. Canadian posturing cannot trump other nation's domestic politics. Withdrawing our contingent and abandoning our true allies, the US, UK, and the Netherlands, would only damage the credibility we have been slowly rebuilding over the past several years. The solution, Ruxted believes, is to reorganize ISAF to reflect the reality of contributions and roles, perhaps replacing NATO in the theatre with a new alliance of like-minded states. We hope the Senate Committee will closely examine Canada’s role in NATO and the role of such coalitions in future military deployments.*

The report discusses several courses of action it believes the Government of Canada should implement in Afghanistan. Ruxted unequivocally condemns an unwritten suggestion in point five. The statement reads: “The Government of Canada, in order to minimize civilian casualties, continue with the “gentle approach” of providing advance warning to civilians of forays against Taliban fighters”. This advice is gratuitous and we resent the implication that Canadian commanders fail to do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties. The recommendation is a cheap shot from the safety of the Red Chamber.

The Committee makes several recommendations on Canadian policy that merit examination. Deploying 250 military instructors to help train the Afghan National Army is unrealistic. Given our requirements for force expansion, the creation of new units, and the other operational requirements, the Canadian Forces, even if the current combat force in Afghanistan is re-organized and reduced, simply does not have 250 extra Army NCOs/Instructors. Ruxted supports more trainers for the ANA; Canada is not the best source.

The recommendation for the creation of a “defensible buffer zone” leaves Ruxted questioning what exactly this may mean. Are the Senators suggesting a free fire zone on the border? Minefields? If so, what about the Ottawa Treaty? The region is both remote and isolated, lacks basic infrastructure and, as the Committee itself noted, is devoid of law and order - what more does the Committee want? The magnitude and complexity of the task make Robert McNamara's plan to build an electronic barrier along the border between North and South Vietnam seem easy in comparison. This idea may have appeared feasible to the senators when they looked at a map in a Dubai hotel room, it seems a little silly in reality.

Several of the Committee’s ideas are, however, excellent, and The Ruxted Group hopes that the Government will give them due attention.

The Committee makes two recommendations on the use of the RCMP and civilian police in the effort. We agree that the small size of the civilian police presence in the reconstruction effort is disappointing, and endorse the Committee’s recommendation to dramatically increase its size. Despite their importance in reconstruction and training Afghan police, Ruxted is skeptical that RCMP “intelligence gathering” techniques will aid in interrupting the opium trade in the region. While we favour an increased role for the RCMP in the theatre, one cannot see how "RCMP intelligence gathering" techniques are particularly suited to Afghanistan. This isn't like tracking grow ops in BC, or tracing organized crime links in Quebec. The troops on the ground and the Afghan National Army and Police know where the poppy fields are and who grows the crops. The real problem, Senators, is the fellows with the AK-47s who kill farmers unless they plant poppies and those, including Canadian soldiers, who try to convince them to plant something else.

On the subject of aid, the Senators make the excellent suggestion that CIDA funds earmarked for Afghanistan flow directly to the military for use on their projects in the region. While Ruxted is generally against the use of the CF as a reconstruction agency, the lack of civilian agencies in the theatre and the dire need for such assistance means that the military must assume this responsibility until the security situation improves. The PRT and the company commanders, on the ground, are in the best position to determine need and potential ‘payback;’ their decisions can have major long term political impacts.

One of the biggest development hurdles is that Canadian domestic accounting and fiscal responsibility practices have been applied to that theatre. The rules need to be changed to allow faster and more direct aide to get to the proper place. Ruxted understands that there must be controls which support the goal of getting the aide to those who desperately need it in a timely manner. There is a long tradition of quite junior, local commanders having – and only very rarely abusing – considerable political and financial authority; Canada should revisit those traditions for the Afghan mission. In any case, the possible misuse of the relatively small amounts spent on local projects hardly looms large compared to the funds allegedly diverted by corrupt local officials that the Senators have noted.

The Interim Report also recommends that more funds be allocated to buy the Afghan National Police uniforms and increase their salaries and benefits. Ruxted believes it is useful to expand this program, and suggests giving the ANP surplus Canadian equipment. Further, in view of the problem of corruption in the country, we believe having a Canadian manufacturer supply such equipment through the PRT is a viable alternative.

The problem of corruption is identified by the Committee, but Ruxted must challenge the goal of requiring the Karzai Government to present a comprehensive plan to reduce corruption “as a condition of Canada’s continued long-term involvement in Afghanistan.” While this appears a laudable goal, it is beyond what we can reasonably expect of the Karzai Government given the patchwork of loyalties, ethnicities, and clans that make up the country and the government. We would be happy if most Afghans stop shooting at each other, renounce violence as a daily political tool, and cease supporting the Taliban. Until the shooting stops, corruption is a secondary issue, and if eradicating it is a measure of success, we’re doomed to fail.

As Ruxted has already pointed out, regarding putting the Karzai government’s feet to the fire: The difficulty with the Afghan Compact is that donor nations “cannot be held to its commitments whereas Afghanistan can – and, we contend, will - be held to the timelines contained within the Compact.” It is the ISAF and Afghan Compact nations which must be pressed to work harder and to fight harder so that the Afghan government can make some progress. There is enough talk in Afghanistan; more and better action is needed - especially by some ISAF partners.

The final point – the role of opium in the Afghan economy – is a difficult issue. The Senate Committee recommends increasing agricultural aid and commercial assistance to help farmers move away from poppy cultivation, but Ruxted sees this as an impossible task. We - the Military, Canada, or NATO – cannot, quickly, replace the role the poppy plays in the economy of some regions of Afghanistan, and any attempt to do so can only destabilize the country. The idea floated earlier in the year by the Senlis Council, of developing opium production towards pharmaceutical use, seems a much better plan. But, in the Kandahar region, fruit trees were the crop of choice. Agricultural renewal must go hand in hand with any poppy eradication or redirection programme, and if there is a practical way to do this, reforestation should also be high on the list. If Afghan farmers and landowners can produce crops that provide equal or greater return than poppies, the drug lords and their allies the Taliban will have less of a hold, and the local economy can prosper.

The Ruxted Group commends Sen. Kenny and his committee for their Interim Report and recommends that they take account of these points when they prepare their follow on reports.

* See our already published views on NATO as the centrepiece of Canada’s foreign and defence policies; and the possible ‘new alliance of like-minded states.’


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Edward Campbell on :

The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence says at - p. 8:

“The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) insists that it has a number of development projects underway in the province, but no one was able to show us. Canada did contribute to the building of a road that makes military forays less dangerous; but building one kilometer of road, no matter how strategically-important, isn’t going to win any hearts and minds. Journalists say they have seen some evidence of useful programs, but these appear to be limited. It appears obvious to us that the kind of widespread development and aid that is said to be winning hearts and minds in other regions of the country can happen in Kandahar only if and when Kandahar, which is now essentially a war zone, is militarily stabilized.

There is a chicken-and-egg element here, however. Unless Canada can gain credit for some useful and prominently-seen development efforts in Kandahar, it will remain difficult to gain the support of Afghans in that province, and therefore to stabilize the region. If our troops are to be seen as liberators rather than invaders, their image needs all the help it can get. That is why the Committee believes that CIDA should be funneling significant amounts of development money through our military, and doing so in Kandahar.”

Another Senate Committee, this one on Foreign Affairs, says at - pps. 15 & 97:

“Given the failure of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in Africa over the past 38 years to make an effective foreign aid difference, the Government of Canada should conduct an immediate review of whether or not this organization should continue to exist in its present non-statutory form. If CIDA is to be abolished, necessary Canadian development staff and decision-making authority should be transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. If CIDA is to be retained, it should be given a stand-alone statutory mandate incorporating clear objectives against which the performance of the agency can be monitored by the Parliament of Canada.”

Two different Senate Committees looking at different aid projects in different parts of the world – or, rather, at the lack of aid – conclude that CIDA is ineffective, at best.

As a start point, Canada – the Government of Canada and ‘ordinary Canadians’ alike – needs to consider why, how and to whom it gives ‘aid.’ The how, today, is through CIDA and, evidently, the huge majority of CIDA’s people who are bureaucrats in Ottawa are unable to help the minority in the field to do much good with the billions of dollars they spend each year.

Perhaps the best bet is to disband CIDA and make aid an integral part of our foreign and trade policies. It looks like anything, even amateurish bungling by diplomats and soldiers, is preferable to the status quo.

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