Friday, February 13, 2009

U.S. declines to press Canada on Afghanistan

This is from the Globe and Mail.

It seems that already even when the deadline is in 2011 that the government is leaving room to leave some troops. As many military analysts have said before the distinction between a combat and non-combat mission is somewhat disingenuous. Non-combat missions are often attacked and will respond. Given the security situation non-combat missions could often also result in Canadian casualties. However the new emphasis would certainly be enough to have the Liberals come on board and support the Tories as they have done all along anyway. Ignatieff is anxious to promote Canada as a reliable partner in US imperialist schemes.

U.S. declines to press Canada on Afghanistan
Military leaders say they did not discuss withdrawal date, though analysts believe Canadian troops will remain beyond 2011
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
February 11, 2009 at 3:43 AM EST
OTTAWA — The top soldiers from Canada and the United States met to talk business in Ottawa yesterday but insisted they didn't broach the very real possibility that significant numbers of Canadian troops could end up staying in Afghanistan beyond 2011.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he didn't even raise the topic with Canadian counterpart Walter Natynczyk in a get-together undertaken in the lead-up to U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa next week.
Military analysts, however, expect that as many as 1,000 to 1,500 Canadian soldiers could remain in Afghanistan past 2011 in a reconfigured mission focusing on training and security. That's more than one-third of Canada's current commitment of about 2,800 troops.
Adm. Mullen, who is currently pressing NATO allies to boost their military commitment in Afghanistan, left the impression yesterday that he is giving Canada a pass in his recruiting drive.

"I am aware that 2011 is out there. But, literally, I have not discussed that policy or the impacts of it with General Natynczyk or the government leaders here," he told reporters in Ottawa yesterday.
It's a delicate issue in Canadian politics - one that Adm. Mullen has unquestionably been briefed about. The Harper government has managed to contain political concern over mounting costs and deaths in the eight-year mission by issuing what appeared to be a hard and fast promise to withdraw troops in 2011.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said parsing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments reveals significant margin for manoeuvre.
"He said we would be departing the combat mission: not the military mission but the combat mission," Mr. MacKenzie said.
"That gives lots of wiggle room."
The loophole leaves many roles for Canadian soldiers to play in Afghanistan beyond 2011, including protection and security for development projects and reconstruction as well as mentoring and training Afghan forces. "You could wordsmith it so that it's not combat because they're providing security," Mr. MacKenzie said.
Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, said he believes the Tories have no wish to reignite debate over Afghanistan by publicly discussing the size and scope of the post-2011 mission.
"I guess because they don't want the Afghan mission to come back on the front burner ... until it's required. They've got enough problems with the budget and whatever," he said.
"It's a question of timing, I guess. They've just gone through an election. The Prime Minister said we're leaving in 2011 and now is not the time to go public and say we are reconsidering our position."
Mr. Pellerin said he thinks Ottawa will ultimately be able to sell the idea of keeping troops in Afghanistan to support goals the Harper government has outlined, including development and training. He doesn't envision combat soldiers remaining though.
"I would not be surprised if we remain there in Kandahar with a robust presence beyond 2011," Mr. Pellerin said. "I could see a possibility of a ... force of 1,000 to 1,500 remaining on the ground to do what the Prime Minister said needs to be done."
Mr. MacKenzie said the lack of official discussion with the U.S. government about extending Canada's mission doesn't rule out behind-the-scenes talks. Gen. Natynczyk has close ties to the Americans, having served with them in Iraq.
"There are things that are discussed officially and things that are discussed unofficially," Mr. MacKenzie said.
Yesterday, Adm. Mullen said it is "absolutely critical" to have a strong military presence in Afghanistan, but he added the United States will leave the decision about extending the Canadian mission to Canadians.
"Certainly if it is the intent, as stated right now, of Canada to leave in 2011 [then] we will adjust," he told reporters.

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