That sounds more like a potential route to expansion than a withdrawal: “Well, we said we’d withdraw from Afghanistan, we didn’t say anything about not getting involved in Pakistan”
Flashback: Full Afghan withdrawal ‘wrong,’ top Tory says | U.S. to press for Canada to keep troops in Afghanistan | No way to escape Afghan combat post-2011, Hillier says | Troops get non-combat role in Afghanistan after 2011 | Conservatives claim ‘no decision’ made on leaving some troops in Afghanistan past 2011 | Canada eyes arms sales to Pakistan | MacKay to discuss security concerns with Pakistan | ‘Some’ Troops to stay in Afghanistan past 2011: McKay
Allan Woods, The Toronto Star
April 16, 2010
OTTAWA — Canada wants to use Pakistani airbases to withdraw from Afghanistan next year, a development that provides the first hard glimpse of the military’s pullout plans and signals to both the pro-war and anti-war segments of the country that an end to Canada’s decade-long war is at hand.
A spokesman with Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed to the Daily Times newspaper Friday that a formal request had been received from Ottawa but Islamabad is still considering whether to grant its approval.
The foreign office must first consult Pakistan’s powerful defence ministry before giving the green light to Canada’s massive logistical undertaking.
The request to use Pakistan’s military facilities for the pullout suggests there are problems using Camp Mirage, Canada’s secret airbase located near Dubai, which is the transit point for Canadian troops and supplies entering and leaving the Afghan battlefield.
And experts say moving through Pakistan is less-than-ideal from a security standpoint. The country has a weak government compared to the United Arab Emirates, many Pakistanis have built-up resentment toward western countries and there is a strong force of insurgent fighters and Taliban sympathizers who are relatively free to plan and carry out attacks from Pakistan’s tribal regions, said Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel and logistics expert.
Just last year Islamabad was under attack by Taliban militants, a threat that prompted a massive offensive on the Swat Valley to beat back insurgents in the country’s tribal regions, which border on Afghanistan.
Those hostile elements make no distinction between American forces, and the Canadians, Drapeau said.
“We look the same, come to the same region and fight shoulder-to-shoulder,” he said.
“Pakistan is not exactly a more secure base to be operating in … I don’t know why they would do this.”
Canadian diplomatic and military officials refused to explain the request to use Pakistan as a thoroughfare for the 2011 withdrawal.
“It is too early to provide any details at this time,” said Catherine Loubier, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
A spokesperson with the Canadian Forces Expeditionary Command, which plans and oversees international military missions, said military officials need to move hulking metal seacans, tanks and armoured vehicles and thousands of pounds of other equipment out of Afghanistan between the time the mission ends in July 2011 and the parliamentary deadline for the withdrawal from Kandahar in December 2011.
“The exact processes of how that will occur are not available for two reasons,” said Capt. JosÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©e Bilodeau. “The plan is being worked on, and operational security considerations.”
The very fact that Canada has had to request Pakistan’s help suggests there are difficulties conducting the pullout through Camp Mirage, a base that was “designed” for staging Canadian military operations in the Middle East and Asia. All Canadian military personnel, supplies and equipment currently pass through the base and Canadian air force crew are posted to Mirage because of how frequently it is used.
“There’s an issue with Mirage as to why they can’t use it, or won’t use it,” Drapeau asserted.
Those issues could range from the absence of permission to fly over certain countries on the way out of Afghanistan, or limitations imposed on Canada by the United Arab Emirates, where Camp Mirage is located.
The UAE has reportedly threatened to kick Canada out of Camp Mirage if the federal government does not approve requests for additional landing rights at Canadian airports for two of the country’s commercial airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
Canada’s decision to approach Pakistan could be intended as a backup plan to be used if government officials in UAE try to pressure Ottawa into granting their carriers better access to Canadian markets. It could also be a tactic to play “hard ball with Dubai” by threatening to take the millions of dollars necessary to carry off the pullout to Pakistan, said Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, a military advocacy group.
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, issued formal orders last August to begin planning Canada’s Afghanistan withdrawal, though a number of military boosters and retired officials have remained optimistic that the government would further extend the country’s mission. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself dashed those hopes last month after a request by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an extended Canadian effort in Afghanistan.
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