No way to escape Afghan combat post-2011, Hillier says
A prominent theme in retired general's new book is a distaste for politicians, bureaucrats who acted in their own interests
Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
I certainly agree with Hiller that if Canada stays in Afghanistan in a non-combat role that troops will still be involved in combat. In fact that is the reason why Canada should put out period. No doubt whatever govt. is in power will try to argue for a new role. Perhaps even the NDP could be sold on this. My own view is that Canada should not have been in Afghanistan in the first, that the occupation was illegal and the fig leaf now covering ISAF is a travesty just as was the UN resolution that legalised the US and allies occupation of Iraq.
OTTAWA – Pulling Canadian soldiers out of Afghanistan in 2011 will leave a gaping hole in security efforts and won't necessarily ensure the end of combat operations, former chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier says.
As MPs prepare to debate the future of the country's military mission in Afghanistan, Hillier delivered some plain-spoken advice in an interview with the Toronto Star: don't trust the twisted rhetoric and outright lies that will surely be delivered by the Conservative government or the opposition parties.
There will still be a need for security and counter-insurgency operations when Canada's current mandate expires in 2011, he said. If experienced Canadian troops leave Kanadhar, some other nation, likely less familiar with the local terrain and power brokers, will have to do the job.
Hillier also said there's also no need for Canadian troops, except in Kandahar or the northeast, and there's no way Canada can carry out a goodwill mission without encountering frequent violence.
"If you stay in the south and try to do something like training, you will still be in combat. I don't care what (political) staffers say in the media about how they can find a way to do it. You simply will not. You will be in combat," Hillier said during a promotional interview for his new book, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War.
Living behind blast walls and trying to carry out aid and reconstruction projects are futile, and potentially dangerous in a country where NATO and insurgent forces are battling for the trust of the local population.
"It would be like going to shore at Normandy on the sixth of June (1944) and driving around . . . sightseeing and leaving the enemy the opportunity, flexibility and initiative to attack you when they want," Hillier said.
The advice from the most politically savvy soldier to lead the Canadian Forces in memory won't be welcomed by MPs of any stripe: all are driving for a reduced presence in Afghanistan eight years after it was invaded by the United States.
But Hillier said his intent, both as chief of defence staff and now as a former general, was never to be "politically palatable."
He rarely was. His three-year term will be remembered for dubbing the years of mostly Liberal rule in the 1990s the "Decade of Darkness," branding the Taliban "scumbags and murderers," and for musing about a 10-year fight for the future of Afghanistan when the government had committed Canadian troops to only two years down the line.
"I always tried to speak frankly and clearly and to say whatever I believed was right," Hillier said. "The military knew what it was doing on the ground there and what was needed, and to have people and staffers coming out and saying that we can do this job in two years or five years, or we can train without being in combat . . . it's just baloney."
The most prominent theme in Hillier's autobiography is a distaste for politicians who cast aside responsible, realistic and professional assessments to impose their own torqued political imperatives and for bureaucrats who would rather protect their turf in Ottawa than Canadian soldiers in a war zone.
Those were the defining characteristics of the capital during the Liberal and Conservative minority parliaments from 2005 to 2008. he said.
"It's a terrible, terrible environment in which to work," he said. "Very vitriolic. We've been in that now for five years and it doesn't appear that we're going to break out of it."
What's lost are the courageous long-term commitments necessary to fight a tough war, or rebuild the Canadian military, in favour of short-term government gambles or unfair opposition criticisms that sell well with the electorate.
An analysis he conducted of the daily question-and-answer question period in the House of Commons found about 150 questions in one session of Parliament on military and defence issues. The vast majority focused on the treatment of suspected insurgents by Canadian soldiers, and whether they were abused in local Afghan-run jails – a matter Hillier views as a tempest in an Afghan teapot.
"I'm not sure our parliamentary system right now is delivering really what Canadians would like to have," he said. "That's a big thing to wrestle to the ground, but it was a tough environment in which to work, and many times it was disappointing."