In a Recent Globe and Mail column Christie Blatchford succinctly describes a strategy the Government of Canada needs to make its own. She quotes Canadian Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) commander Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Eyre as saying, “We're teaching them to function on their own … we've got to create something that's going to last after we depart. And we have to leave some time." That sums up the next phase of Canada’s military mission: helping the Afghans build lasting security as a preparatory step to securing the victory and bringing the troops home.
It is evident that there will be no consensus in Canada’s parliament
for continuing the current commitment of a battle group in combat
operations in Kandahar, despite the fact that this is a just war, as we have said,
a good war. Too few politicians have any real concern for Canada’s
vital interests – not compared to gaining short term political
Despite the overblown political rhetoric, most Canadians want to
continue helping with Afghan development, they want us to keep the
commitment we made to the Afghans. The work Canadians want to do is
being done by CIDA and the military Provincial Reconstruction Team
(PRT) in Kandahar, but it must be clear that unless the Canadian battle
group is replaced by another which is just as capable then the Taliban
and the other insurgents will prevent that.
Few NGOs are willing to go
to Kandahar to do their good works even with one of the toughest, most
effective military forces in the world providing the security. The few
who are there will cut and run if the Canadian battle group is replaced
with a less capable force – as most ISAF forces will be.
The Canadian Forces and Canadian diplomats, aid workers and police
officers can win the war in Afghanistan but we are very likely to be
defeated in Canada, by Canadians – if we are forced to withdraw. We can
win if the mission evolves – as most military planners apparently think
it is doing – but we cannot win if we run away and hide.
If the Parliament of Canada refuses to renew the combat mission then
the best possible solution is for the British, or someone very like
them, to move in to Kandahar to pick up the combat role and for Canada
to radically expand its PRT and OMLT. Both need increased combat power:
the PRT needs more combat power to protect its project teams and the
OMLT needs formed sub-units to integrate into and work with the Afghan kandaks
(battalion sized units) to continue to strengthen their effectiveness
so that, sooner rather than later, they can carry most of the security
burden in Kandahar – without too much Canadian help. There is an old
saying about nothing succeeding like success. Our mission will be
accomplished when the Afghan national Army (ANA) succeeds.
It is more
likely to do that sooner if it has some integral Canadian combat
support – maybe artillery, tank, engineer, infantry, reconnaissance and
command/control communications support.
There are also plenty of functions inside the wire at Kandahar Airfield
which should stay in place to support the Canadians PRT and mentors and
the Afghan National Army units.
We need to reduce the total numbers in Afghanistan so that we have
adequate numbers of military personnel available in Canada for the 2010
Winter Olympics. At the same time we need to integrate our forces more
tightly with the ANA and we need to improve the cooperation between a
better trained ANA and a steadily improving, Canadian mentored Afghan
National Police (ANP) in Kandahar. In essence we need a combined AFCAN
brigade – mostly ANA units with a few hundred Canadians, in formed
combat sub units and as individuals, ‘seeded’ throughout the
headquarters staffs, combat units and logistics units. Our soldiers
need to ‘live rough’ with the Afghans – depending upon a much smaller
National Support Element (NSE). But: our sophisticated equipment still
needs to be supported and maintained; the fuel and ammunition need to
flow; and excellent medical care – from rifle platoon medic through to
base hospital - needs to be available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
An educated guess is that we could do the job, in and after 2009, with
1,500 troops in the AFCAN brigade, the PRT and the national Command and
There will still be fighting; there will still be
casualties; but the cause is just and the war is winnable. Initially,
in 2009/2010 we will still have tanks and LAVs in theatre. Gradually,
as the ANA improves – as it can improve under firm tutelage – our heavy
weapons and combat soldiers will come home, followed, later, by light
infantry soldiers and combat service support personnel and the command
and control elements.
Prime Minister Harper should tell parliament that he will not seek a
resolution to extend the current combat mission past February 2009; he
should tell NATO that, too. He should also tell Canada’s parliament and
NATO that, subject to NATO providing acceptable security forces in
Kandahar, Canada will beef up both its PRT and OMLT to conduct the next
phase of its mission – the phase focused on strengthening the Afghans’
abilities to manage their own affairs in their own way.