September 14, 2008
Ending Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan by 2011 is consistent with the will of Parliament and not a signal that the country is going to “cut and run” from the mission, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.
Speaking to CBC News, MacKay said the Afghan pullout, announced last week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was in line with a resolution passed by the House of Commons last May, extending the mission past its original end date of 2009.
During a visit to Afghanistan just after he became prime minister in 2006, Harper told soldiers in Kandahar that people who didn’t support the combat mission wanted Canada to “cut and run” from its obligations to the Afghan people.
“Cutting and running is not your way,” he told the troops. “It’s not my way and it’s not the Canadian way.”
That’s not what will happen when Canadian soldiers end their combat role in 2011, MacKay said.
“Certainly not,” he said. “We have been there in a military developmental and diplomatic role for some time now. We made significant contributions to the development of Afghanistan. We have done our share.”
Pullout announcement criticized
Harper’s announcement last week in the opening days of the federal election campaign caught many observers by surprise, including military family members and security experts.
Retired Canadian major-general Lewis Mackenzie suggested last week that publicly setting a date for pulling troops out of a war zone could embolden the enemy, but MacKay rejected that.
“It doesn’t take much to embolden the Taliban,” the defence minister said. “They’ve been a very persistent and very aggressive insurgency, which is the challenge itself.”
He added that Canadians would continue to be engaged in rebuilding Afghanistan after the combat mission ends.
“We will … be there, and the role will change,” he said, “We’ll emphasize the humanitarian aspect, continue with training, continue with our people there that are both with the domestic police and maybe on the military side to build … capacity.”
Some Canadian soldiers will remain in Afghanistan after 2011, MacKay said, primarily working on training and reconstruction.
“We have combat engineers that are there helping with the Dahla dam, we have people building roads and supervising some of the training exercises that go on but the emphasis will change, and that’s consistent with the parliamentary resolution,” MacKay said.
Mission not yet election issue
The Afghan mission has not emerged as a major election issue, despite polls that indicate most Canadians don’t want the country’s soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
Both Liberal Leader StÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©phane Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton have criticized Harper for announcing the end of the combat mission.
Speaking in Gatineau, Que., on Sunday, Layton said he didn’t believe Harper’s pledge of an end to the mission in 2011.
“Can we really trust Mr. Harper when it comes to bringing an end to the conflict and now suddenly becoming a champion of peace?” Layton asked. “This is a prime minister who wanted to follow George Bush into Iraq. I don’t believe he can be trusted and I don’t think that Canadians will be fooled.”
Canada has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, most in the insurgency-ridden southern province of Kandahar.
Of the 36 countries contributing troops and personnel to the NATO-led Afghan mission, Canada and the Netherlands are the only ones to set a date for ending their military involvement.
The Dutch government has said its forces will pull out of Helmand province by 2010.
So far, 97 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.
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