By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 15, 2012 - 0 Comments
The National Post obtains an audit of Canadian foreign aid in Afghanistan that does not entirely flatter this country’s efforts.
One of the reviews obtained by the National Post under access-to-information legislation notes that a key goal of Canada’s development program was to bolster the capacity of Afghans to improve their own lot and carry on rebuilding long after foreign nations had left. If the aim is to have “Afghan girls and boys actually learning in functional schools,” for instance, there needs to be local school committees to monitor results, not just a drive to erect buildings, it said.
But the Kandahar action plan that guided Canada’s priority projects for the restive, crumbling province did little to ensure locals could and would take part, said the document. “The impression is of a major planning effort, meticulously documented, but divorced from reality,” said the consultants. “Artificially maintaining forward progress on a few indicators so that there is something positive to report (eg more training, more equipment, more schools built) is much like pushing a rope, and may be actually counterproductive if it ignores deeper institutional problems.”
By John Geddes - Friday, December 30, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 0 Comments
Stages in the legislative process that make a bill law in the Canadian Parliament; ministers (not including the Prime Minister) on cabinet’s powerful Priorities and Planning committee; former political figures (not including sovereigns or social activists) memorialized in bronze around Parliament Hill—twelve is the number in each of these interesting categories. But for our purposes here, in this second annual stocktaking of the year just ending, it’s the 12 calendar months that matter. Pick just one political story for each page, and 2011’s kaleidoscope might just take a turn from jumbled to intelligible.
January: We glimpsed how Ignatieff thought a leader should look
By the start of 2011, we had long since figured out Stephen Harper’s disciplined style and thought we understood the limits of Jack Layton’s appeal. But Michael Ignatieff had taken over as Liberal leader in an odd way, with no conventional leadership race to bring him into focus. Instead, Ignatieff had been defined for many Canadians by Conservative attack ads. For those who had paid attention to him before politics, his globetrotting-intellectual persona still loomed large.
Then came his Jan. 25, tone-setting address on Parliament Hill to the Liberal caucus, with the media invited in. This was no detached thinker. Sleeves rolled up, Ignatieff ripped through a 15-minute speech in which he mocked Harper, invoked Barack Obama, and answered his own question—“Are we ready to serve the people who put us here?”—with a shouted, “Yes, yes, yes!” Hopeful Liberals saw a fiery campaigner, astute Conservatives a man ripe for ridicule. We didn’t know it then, but this was a clear foreshadowing of the campaign to come.
February: We watched Conservatives smoothly execute a key transition
As an opposition leader and especially as Prime Minister, Harper has shown a remarkable ability to shed and replace chiefs of staff, communications directors, and other key advisors. But the one constant in his electoral machine was the beard and brogue of Doug Finley, his campaign director. When Finley stepped down at the very end of January as he recovered from colon cancer, the party began a testing transition. Guy Giorno and Jenni Byrne stepped into new roles.
For a lesser partisan machine, the loss of a figure as dominant as the Scottish-born Finley would have been a marked setback. Instead, the transition seemed to go off without a hitch. Spring election speculation continued unabated. As for Finely—who ran Harper’s winning 2006 and 2008 campaigns and was rewarded with a Senate appointment in 2009—Twitter awaited.
March: We marveled as the PM fell, yet defined the moment his way
It was no surprise when the Conservative minority was voted down by the opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois on March 25. The House had been an increasingly fractious and angry place. The actual non-confidence vote, only the sixth in Canadian history, found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to supply full cost estimates for fighter jets, crime bills and corporate tax cuts.
Yet Harper largely succeeded in burying those reasons by asserting doggedly that the real issue was the opposition’s refusal to support his government’s budget. “There’s nothing, nothing, in the budget that the opposition could not or should not have supported,” he said. “Thus, the vote today that disappoints me, will, I expect, disappoint Canadians.” His refusal to even minimally acknowledge that the election was triggered by anything other than a clash over economic priorities carried him into the campaign and, arguably, to victory.
April: We absorbed the potential of Layton’s NDP surge in Quebec
The orange wave surged over Quebec so unexpectedly that even senior NDP veterans had difficulty knowing what to make of it. By April 23, when Jack Layton climbed to the podium at Montréal’s Olympia Theatre to address his party’s largest ever campaign rally in the province, the possibility of an NDP breakthrough was widely acknowledged. The Bloc was running scared. The Tories and Liberals were looking elsewhere in the country for any gains.
At the back of the Olympia, Layton’s young Quebec organizers spoke, wide-eyed, of a dozen or so new Quebec seats being within reach. That seemed remarkable enough. Yet had they been able to fully take in the spectacle of Layton podium performance, and the crowd’s reaction, they might have dreamed bigger. Holding his talismanic cane aloft, smiling as only he could, hitting his applause lines like the pro he was, “Bon Jack” embodied an unlikely convergence of long, careful political preparation and recent, inspiring personal determination. You can’t make this stuff up.
May: We experienced Harper’s majority win as an inevitability
It’s an illusion of course, maybe even a delusion, to think anything in politics had to happen the way it did. There are always too many variables. Still, Harper’s May 2 election victory had that it-was-written feel about it. He steadily built toward the moment, from his near miss in 2004, through his two minority wins in 2006 and 2008. The train was rolling toward this destination.
And Harper’s campaign-trail consistency was remarkable. His rallies were a model of methodical planning and error-free execution. He refused to be badgered by media complaints into taking more reporters’ questions or exposing himself to unscripted encounters with voters. He stuck to his key economic message even when Layton’s rise might have unnerved a more skittish campaigner. Election night was full of compelling stories—Bloc and Liberal failures, NDP ascent—but it belonged, in the end, to the Prime Minister.
June: We shrugged as a political financing experiment was cancelled
On June 6 Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reintroduced his spring federal budget, which was never passed in the rush to an election, with a key twist: Flaherty added a measure to phase out the $2-per-vote subsidy to political parties by 2015-16. The taxpayer subsidy was introduced by the former Liberal government in 2004, to compensate for the curtailing of corporate and union contributions.
The Conservatives’ first attempt to get rid of the subsidy, announced in the fall of 2008, triggered the ill-fated bid by opposition parties to form a coalition and replace Harper’s minority. But with Harper leading a majority, there was no chance of his being thwarted this time. Few Canadians took much notice. And so an attempt to make raising money less central to our politics comes to an end. Constant, clever, insistent fundraising appeals to the party faithful—a Tory strong suit—will be essential to any party’ success for the foreseeable future.
July: We saluted as our troops left a battle zone still in question
When Canadian soldiers moved in large numbers into Afghanistan’s violent southern province of Kandahar in 2006, military and political leaders were unprepared for how much the mission would come to dominate foreign and defence policy. The hard fighting they were soon engaged in was unlike anything Canadians had experienced in decades. Before exit day, 158 Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, along with a diplomat, two aid workers, and a journalist.
The last Canadian commander of Task Force Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, didn’t really want to leave. He would have preferred to stay a bit longer to help the Americans, whose troop surge into the province had put the Taliban on the run and stabilized previously volatile districts. Canadian troops remain in Afghanistan, but mainly engaged in training the Afghan National Army. But the years of fighting changed the place of the military in the Canadian public imagination—and Canadian political calculations.
August: We mourned Jack Layton, moved by what he’d come to mean
The death of the NDP leader on Aug. 22 at just 61 was not entirely surprising. The previous month Layton had announced that he was battling cancer for a second time, his ravaged face and desiccated voice shocking the country. But the way he died was unprecedented. He drafted a farewell letter and organized a public funeral in Toronto, knitting together the personal and political in his final weeks and days in a way that made them indistinguishable.
Layton came at the end to represent, in an era of deep cynicism about politics, an unapologetic zeal for total immersion in public life. All through the spring campaign, struggling back from a broken hip, Layton had exuded his relish for the democratic fray. Facing death, he didn’t shy from explicit partisanship. “Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us,” he told the New Democrats in that last letter, “that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.”
September: We were reminded by judges that even majorities face setbacks
With Parliament in session again, the Conservatives sitting pretty with their fresh majority, it seemed that nothing could slow the implementation of Stephen Harper’s vision. Then came the Sept. 30 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the federal government could not shut down Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection clinic for intravenous drug users.
The unanimous 9-0 decision delivered a rebuke to the Conservative position that Insite’s clear track record since 2003 of helping addicts avoid infections and overdose deaths should be trumped by the government’s desire to send a strong anti-drug, law-and-order message. The ruling also validated the pro-Insite positions of the British Columbia provincial and Vancouver municipal governments. For those left disheartened by Harper’s resounding spring victory, the court offered a fall tonic.
October: We witnessed the lasting emotional power of a populist cause
From the time it was implemented in 1995, the federal registry for rifles and shotguns was deeply controversial. In the broadest of strokes, rural gun owners resented it, while urbanites who feared gun crime approved. Opposition gathered steam after a 2002 report from Auditor General Sheila Fraser put estimated the registry tab would climb to $1 billion by 2005.
With hot-button right-wing populist issues like abortion and capital punishment largely off the table in Canadian politics, the long-gun registry took on disproportionate importance for that portion of the Conservative base. Harper extracted maximum political benefit from attacking the registry. On Oct. 25, the bill to eliminate it was finally tabled in the House. A drawn-out, culturally fraught episode in Canadian political life was coming to a bitter close. Even the data in the registry was to be destroyed, so no province or future federal government, not to mention police force, could make use of the information. Few outcomes politics are so categorically one-sided.
November: We took comfort from a Canadian’s prominence in troubled economic times
The Cannes summit of the G20 club of major developed and developing nations was dominated by gloomy, even alarming, news about Europe’s deepening debt crisis. This was the backdrop for the appointment of Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada’s youthful governor, to head a key oversight body called the Financial Stability Board. Never mind what the FSB does—highly technical banking stuff. Pay attention to what Carney represents—solid Canadian economic management.
Carney is a fascinating story in his own right. His assessments of the state of banking regulation, economic policy and its international coordination, are parsed closely by rapt global market players. Beyond his personal qualities, he embodies the new Canadian swagger concerning our sound banks and solid government finances. But can Canada’s political and business leaders build beyond those oft-mentioned fundamentals to more innovative manufacturing and competitive service sectors?
December: We watched a familiar national shame unfold in the hinterland
On the first day of the last month of 2011, the federal government imposed what’s called third-party management on the Northern Ontario reserve community of Attawapiskat. That meant an administrator appointed by Ottawa would run the Cree community of 1,800 on James Bay, where a crisis of abysmal housing began drawing national attention in late November.
It was yet another example—they happen every few years—of a burst of media attention to the plight of an impoverished, remote First Nations village briefly forcing Canadians to contemplate the worst policy failure of successive federal governments. But how to break that desultory cycle? As Attawapiskat took centre stage, the Harper government was quietly introducing legislation to reform band council elections and improve financial transparency. Maybe this incrementalism will help where past grand gestures did little.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Without 9/11, Jody Mitic wouldn’t have lost his legs in a blast, met the love of his life and had his daughter
Aylah Mitic, a few weeks away from her third birthday, is sitting at the kitchen table, fiddling with jars of Play-Doh and pouring imaginary cups of tea. Her father, Jody, is beside her, a pair of grey running shoes covering his two prosthetic feet. “I don’t know if she’s even clued in that mom has feet and dad doesn’t,” Mitic says. “I’ve been waiting for the questions, though. At daycare, I sometimes walk in with shorts and the other kids say: ‘What’s up with your legs?’ I just say: ‘They’re my magic legs.’ ”
“It’s normal to her,” adds Aylah’s mom, Alannah Gilmore. “It’s funny, but sometimes she’ll say: ‘Daddy, put your legs on. Let’s go!’ ”
Ten years ago, when Daddy still had his real legs, Aylah’s parents-to-be were stationed at CFB Petawawa. He was a sniper in training, she was a medic, and they had never met. But like thousands of other Canadian soldiers whose careers were forever changed on that September morning, Master Cpl. Mitic and Sgt. Gilmore would be off to Afghanistan—and a fateful encounter with a land mine.
By Adnan R. Khan - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 1 Comment
In the embattled region, a legacy of respect, but no peace
Twilight in Kandahar city is not what it used to be. The light, of course, is the same as it was a half-decade ago: as the sun settles behind jagged mountain peaks, the dust kicked up by sweltering desert winds forms a natural ﬁlter in the sky, turning sunlight into an ochre-shaded mixture that settles over the city’s streets. But these days, the vermillion hues feel more ominous. Ghulam Nabi feels it: the long-time Maclean’s Kandahar ﬁxer shifts uneasily in the passenger seat of the parked taxi cab, furtively glancing at the thinning crowds on Kandahar’s eastern outskirts. The driver, sitting in the backseat, feels it as well, as he sits unusually still and silent. The man in the driver’s seat, talking animatedly with his torso twisted to face the back, is the only person who seems not to notice the fact that the streets are quickly falling silent, that the wind is picking up force and, most worryingly, that even the police have disappeared.
“The U.S. forces destroyed my village,” the man says in a deep voice, speaking of his home in Sachai, just 35 km west of Kandahar city. “They told us our village was a Taliban stronghold so they ordered all the villagers to leave and levelled the homes; they stripped the land of its gardens and orchards, built roads for their tanks and turned it into a military base. This is what has become of Sachai since the Americans took over control from the Canadians. But what do the Americans think they are doing? The Taliban are everywhere. If the U.S. is going to destroy places where they are, they will have to destroy all of Kandahar. Now the people from Sachai have all come to the city and they hate the Americans. They all support the Taliban.”
As he whips his hand around his head in a sweeping motion, the 32-year-old construction worker suddenly becomes aware of the darkness descending over Kandahar city. His features shift from the intensity of storytelling to thinly veiled panic. “I don’t know about you people,” he says urgently. “You can stay here if you want, but I’m leaving.” With that the interview abruptly ends. The man, who only agreed to speak to Maclean’s on condition of anonymity, gets out of the car and walks quickly down a narrow alleyway and disappears into a maze of mud walls.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 6:48 PM - 0 Comments
“Mr. Speaker, our government is, and has always been,” he said this afternoon in response to a question from the NDP side, “committed to handling Afghan… Taliban prisoners in accordance with our international obligations.”
Taliban prisoners is indeed the preferred honorific. And four years after the treatment of those transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian Forces became a matter of public concern—four years after allegations that Canadian-transferred detainees had been punched, choked, whipped and electrocuted by Afghan officials—much of the government’s response to so many questions of human rights, war, torture and parliamentary privilege would seem to involve this two-word phrase.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 8:51 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian Press reviews some of what was disclosed in yesterday’s document release.
— Various 2007 reports filed by Canadian officials in Afghanistan who interviewed detainees transferred by Canadian Forces noted allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation and verbal abuse;
— Human rights observers were denied access at least five times that year to Kandahar facilities run by the notorious National Directorate of Security
By Paul Wells - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 4:32 PM - 3 Comments
We have paid fairly constant attention to the quarterly Afghanistan progress reports the federal government has submitted since special advisor John Manley recommended greater transparency (along with other things) in 2008. The tale has been pretty consistent, and bleak: progress against limited, quantifiable goals on specific projects, in a general context of worsening violence and despair. It wouldn’t have been too unfair to summarize most of these reports as, “Construction continues on schedule, but the locals who haven’t died yet are terrified that they’ll be next.”
That’s changing. Quite starkly. For the better. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 10:13 AM - 2 Comments
I have recently returned from Afghanistan. The first of several articles appeared in last week’s magazine and was posted online earlier this week. A second appears in print today.
Given that I have previously criticized journalists accepting junkets, I think I’m obligated to reveal and discuss the nuts and bolts of my reporting over there.
To get to Kandahar, I accompanied Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, Canada’s chief of the land staff, on a military flight from Ottawa to Kandahar, with a stop at the Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. The Canadian Forces covered the cost of this leg.
Myself and reporter Alec Castonguay then toured throughout Panjwaii district, including several forward operating bases and patrol bases, with foot and light-armoured vehicle (LAV) patrols between them. During this time I was dependent on the Canadian Forces for food, water, and shelter. The also provided me with protective kit, including a ballistic vest, glasses, and helmet. Maclean’s covered other incidental costs, the most pricey of which was life insurance. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 12:32 PM - 2 Comments
“Maybe…Mr. Harper is an optimistic man, and I am also an optimistic man, but we shouldn’t be that confident, because the Afghan situation is pretty delicate,” Tooryalai Wesa told Embassy in an interview in Montreal during the Internal Economic Forum of the Americas on June 8. ”I don’t know him closely, but this is—from my perspective—a bit of an optimistic statement at this time of Afghanistan’s situation.”
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
In spite of the impending pullout, Canadian troops remain committed to their mission
The staccato chattering sound of machine-gun fire drifts over Canada’s forward operating base at Masum Ghar in Afghanistan’s Panjwaii district shortly after dusk. The prolonged bursts are answered by other angry shots until, after a couple of minutes, the echoes fade away and silence returns. “That’s probably Wilson killing somebody,” says a soldier relaxing on a makeshift bench outside the metal shipping containers where many of them sleep on stacked bunks. Wilson is an American patrol base a few kilometres north of Masum Ghar, across the Arghandab River in Zhari district.
At dawn, from the same direction, the muffled crunch of a distant explosion sends a mushrooming plume of dust skyward above the green cultivated fields and rough mud compounds that spread from Masum Ghar beyond the river. It might have been an improvised explosive device, discovered and intentionally triggered, or perhaps something deadlier. No gunfire follows the blast, only birdsong and the puttering hum of a man coaxing a motorbike along a rutted dirt path.
“It’s the Americans at Wilson,” says another soldier. “They get more contact than we do. It’s closer to the highway, and now, with the prison break, there are 400 more Taliban there.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 2 Comments
WikiLeaks cables prove Omar Khadr was no naive bystander, while Syria cracks down hard on protesters
Omar Khadr should never have spent nine years of his young life locked inside the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But as the Toronto native prepares for his imminent return to Canada—and the hero’s welcome he will no doubt receive—newly released Pentagon documents offer a timely reminder of why the Scarborough-born teenager was such a prized catch. According to a 2004 intelligence assessment published on the WikiLeaks website, Khadr’s father was al-Qaeda’s “fourth in command,” and young Omar provided “valuable information” about the inner workings of Osama bin Laden’s network. Child or not, Khadr was hardly a naive bystander.
Resurrecting road hockey
Another week, another doomsday report about Canada’s obesity epidemic. The latest version, from the advocacy group Active Healthy Kids Canada, says only seven per cent of children in the video game generation get the recommended 60 minutes of daily “active play.” Which is precisely why we’re rooting for Alexander Anderson, Andrew Polanyi, Liam McMahon and Bowen Pausey. The Toronto teens are petitioning the city to overturn its long-standing ban on road hockey—a misguided bylaw that has no place in any Canadian neighbourhood.
Doing the right thing
It was a good week for those who act on instinct. In Fayetteville, N.C., a high school basketball coach saved dozens from a tornado by herding 300 players and parents into a safe area of the school—just before the twister began shredding cars and flipping vans. Then on Sunday, crew members on an Alitalia ﬁight from Paris to Rome overpowered a would-be hijacker who was armed with a knife, and who demanded to be flown to Libya. Not everyone can play the saviour. But when crisis calls, it’s reassuring to know that some folks step up.
Researchers have found a natural remedy for stubbed toes and hammered thumbs: swearing at the top of your lungs. According to a British study, F-bombs and other curse words help relieve drastic pain, especially if the person cussing isn’t a typical potty mouth. Michael Ignatieff may want to remember that tip next week.
Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on Syrian protesters drove home the cost of political freedom in certain Arab countries—leaving open the question of whether the international community is willing to help pay the price. No sooner had U.S. drones levelled part of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli than al-Assad unleashed tanks and troops on his own people, killing as many as 25 in Daraa. Britain, France and other countries voiced outrage, but having already committed air and logistical support in Libya, the best they could do was seek a toothless condemnation from the UN Security Council. The long-awaited Arab Awakening may yet reach Damascus. For now, though, it must proceed without help.
Later this year, Canadian soldiers will begin the next phase of our military mission in Kandahar: training Afghan security forces. Perhaps they could help the prison guards, too. In a plot straight out of Hollywood, nearly 500 inmates—including senior Taliban commanders—escaped from the Saraposa jail through an underground tunnel burrowed by insurgent allies on the outside. A Taliban spokesman said the getaway route took five months to dig, with the help of “skilled professionals” and “trained engineers.” Said one escapee, in between giggles: “The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep.”
Spare us the spin
Well, that’s puzzling: after the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski, the mysterious death of a man in custody in Houston, B.C., a series of botched 911 calls in Saskatchewan, an officer’s kick to the face of a co-operative driver in Kelowna, and obstruction of justice charges against an allegedly drunk-driving Mountie who killed a motorcyclist, a survey has found that nearly 85 per cent of Canadians still trust the RCMP. And who commissioned this survey? The RCMP, you say? Never mind. Puzzle solved.
Head in the clouds
The union representing U.S. air traffic controllers is pushing for new measures to stop members from sleeping on the job. Their recommendation? Monitored naps. Here’s a better suggestion: a coffee maker in each tower, and a good night’s sleep. At home.
By Andrew Potter - Monday, April 25, 2011 at 12:08 PM - 16 Comments
UPDATE…: Lord, it gets worse by the minute. From the Guardian’s narrative of
UPDATE: Lord, it gets worse by the minute. From the Guardian’s narrative of the bust-out, one Taliban escapee had this to say:
Suspicions were immediately roused that the escape plot must have enjoyed support and help from prison guards to suceed, but the Taliban escaper doubted it. “They were just sleeping,” he said amidst extended laughter.
“The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep. During the whole process no one checked, there was no patrols, no shooting or anything.”
As many as five hundred Taliban prisoners were busted out of Kandahar’s Sarpoza prison yesterday. The circumstances are quite remarkable: Insurgents spent 50 months digging a 300-metre tunnel from a safe house northeast of the prison. Prison staff only realized what had happened a half hour after the prisoners had escaped. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 14, 2011 at 4:24 PM - 41 Comments
The prepared text of Jack Layton’s speech today on the mission in Afghanistan.
Thank you. And Happy New Year.
A new year — a new chance to build a better world, to learn from past mistakes, to get on the right track. Of course, this is the year we expected to welcome our troops home from Afghanistan
Fully and finally. By vote of Parliament. Long overdue. Canada’s been in this war for nine years now. Six of those in a major combat role. Longer than the second world war.
In 2006, New Democrat members from coast to coast to coast passed a resolution to bring our troops home. We said this was the wrong mission for Canada—the wrong way to bring stability to the people of Afghanistan. Continue…
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 16 Comments
In Kandahar, NATO forces have been destroying homes ‘to make them safe.’ Sound familiar?
At a summit in Lisbon last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed an agreement with NATO and UN ofﬁcials that would see international forces begin to hand over responsibility for control of the country to Afghan authorities in 2014. While observers are already wondering whether that timeline is realistic, the real question is whether by 2014 there will anything left of Afghanistan worth handing over.
Since the middle of 2009, the coalition’s strategy in Afghanistan has been based on the counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine that is credited with finally extricating the U.S. from Iraq. Unlike conventional warfare, where the goal is to defeat the army militarily, the idea behind COIN is that you protect the population, provide a bubble of stability and security in which governance and the rule of law can operate. This will win “hearts and minds” and prevent the insurgency from getting any sympathetic traction amongst the people.
When Barack Obama approved the surge of 30,000 additional troops in the country last December, the ambition was to get enough troops walking around in the villages protecting the population while quickly training the Afghan security forces. Obama extracted a promise from Gen. David Petraeus that the strategy would show clear progress within a year, so that they could begin bringing American soldiers home by the middle of 2011.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM - 102 Comments
From his scrum yesterday, the Liberal leader explains why we’re staying in Afghanistan for another three years.
Let’s get back to first principles. Why are we taking this decision? Because the only reason Canada is there is to help Afghanistan defend itself. What is not credible about the Bloc and the NDP is they say we don’t want to abandon Afghanistan. We want to make sure that Afghanistan is secure and safe. But they’re not willing to do anything that the Afghans actually want which is to train their army to be able to defend the country. We think this is a tough decision but it’s the right decision as a matter of principle …
We feel that this is a position that actually meets the national interest because the deal here is you can’t have the Bloc and the NDP coming out there and saying let’s just walk away from Afghanistan and leave them a lot of fine words. At the end of the day, this is about Canada. And when Canada is asked by its allies and when Canada is asked by the Afghan people get us ready to defend ourselves, I think Canada should respond as we are responding, as the government has responded… Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 9:16 AM - 14 Comments
Postmedia questions where Canadian soldiers will end up stationed after July 2011.
While Harper dithered for months before doing his volte-face, the Europeans took all the best (read: easy) training spots in Kabul or places nearby. As Canada is insisting that most of its trainers will be in or near the capital, which is already awash with trainers from other countries, there is immense interest in what specific training tasks Canada is to be assigned by NATO and how its trainers will be shoehorned into already-crowded bases in the capital.
The Globe says 2011 will also bring a reduction in aid and civilian officials.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 7:00 PM - 63 Comments
The Scene. The Prime Minister leaned on his left elbow and chatted happily with the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Environment Minister. He seemed entirely undaunted by the prospect of what was surely about to happen, unmoved by the gravity one might have applied to the moment at hand.
A short while later, the Liberal leader stood and asked the Prime Minister en français to assure the House that Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will not be involved in combat after July 2011. The Speaker then turned the floor over to the Right Honourable Prime Minister. And Mr. Harper here stood and, acknowledging for the first time on Canadian soil a complete and total reversal of his most recent position on this country’s involvement in a nine-year-old war, confirmed as much.
With his second opportunity, Michael Ignatieff, switching to English, sought not only a confirmation, but a guarantee. “Mr. Speaker, 20,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan since 2001, 153 brave soldiers did not survive and their sacrifices must not be in vain. We need to be clear about this new engagement of Canada after 2011,” he said, putting his hands together in front of his face as if in open prayer. “Can the Prime Minister guarantee that this is not going to involve combat, that it is going to be out of Kandahar and that the training will occur in safe conditions in Kabul?”
“The answer,” Mr. Harper responded, “is yes to all of those questions. As the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and others have said, we are looking at a non-combat mission that will occur. It will be a training mission that will occur in classrooms behind the wire in bases. The government has been very clear and we do think this is a way of ensuring we consolidate the gains that we have made and honour the sacrifices of Canadians who have served in Afghanistan.”
Here then is how Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed Canadian military forces for another three years to the defining international conflict of this generation—a thousand people in all, at a total cost to the nation of something like $1.5-billion. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 12, 2010 at 11:56 AM - 40 Comments
As futile as it may be to hold Mr. Harper’s past pronouncements as a guide to present and future action, here is what the Prime Minister said four years ago when he sought to extend the nation’s commitment in Afghanistan by two years.
Mr. Speaker, as members of the House know, we made a pledge during the last election campaign to put international treaties and military engagements to a vote in this chamber. If we made this promise, it was because before we send diplomats, relief workers and soldiers on dangerous missions abroad, it is important to be able to tell them that Canada’s parliamentarians believe in their objectives and support what they are doing…
Despite the fact that members of three of four parties in the House have consistently voiced support for a mission in Afghanistan, Canadians on the ground in Kabul, Kandahar and in the PRT have never received a clear mandate from this Parliament. That is not fair to the brave men and women who wear the maple leaf. They need to know that their Parliament is behind them.
Mr. Harper also specifically addressed what his government would do if Parliament voted against extending the engagement. Continue…
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 2 Comments
A new documentary honours the Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan
When Justin Boyes of Saskatoon announced to his mother Angela that he was going to join the Reserves, she did not approve. “This wasn’t in our plan of what we wanted for our kids,” she says. That was in January 2001, and after Sept. 11, Angela was begging her boy to quit. “Please, please, please,” she said to him. “Quit today. Go down there and quit today.”
But Justin was committed. As a teenager, he’d read about genocide and human rights violations in places like Rwanda and Afghanistan, and he wasn’t going to sit idle. So Angela resolved to support him. Still, she says, “I had a foreboding in my heart. I knew our lives were going to be affected by this.”
On Oct. 18, 2009, Justin arrived in Kandahar for his second tour of duty. The 26-year-old was leading a platoon focused on mentoring Afghan National Police officers. Ten days later, Angela’s phone rang. It was Justin’s younger brother, also a soldier, calling to say that Justin had been killed by an IED blast. “That can’t be,” she recalls saying to her son. “I had researched what would happen if the boys were hurt or killed—what the process would be—and I read that it would always involve someone coming to the door.” Within minutes, her doorbell rang.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 8, 2010 at 11:45 AM - 64 Comments
Three years ago, despite having said a year earlier that “we can’t set arbitrary deadlines and wish for the best,” the Prime Minister said, of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, “you have to put an end date on these things.”
In January, the Prime Minister’s insisted that the mission for Canada after 2011 would be “strictly civilian.” In June, the Prime Minister noted “with some interest” the comments of Liberal critic Bob Rae after Mr. Rae mused of troops remaining in Afghanistan, but maintained that the mission would transition to a “civilian and development mission at the end of 2011″ as set out in a parliamentary motion, even though that motion referred to Kandahar and the Liberal proposal referred to Kabul. Three weeks later, the Defence Minister expressed “great interest” in the Liberal proposal, but again pointed to the motion of parliament as binding. Either way, a day later, the Foreign Affairs Minister dismissed any suggestion that troops might remain past 2011, observing that “Peter might be open to the idea, but this doesn’t mean that the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada is open to the idea.”
And so it is now that a “senior government official” tells the Star that the idea of troops remaining in a training role is being considered, a revelation seemingly confirmed publicly by the Defence Minister.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 12:09 AM - 30 Comments
In an interview with CTV this evening, the Foreign Affairs Minister was fairly dismissive of the Liberal proposal for a post-2011 mandate in Afghanistan and the Defence Minister’s reported “interest” in said proposal. The following is from the end of the conversation.
Tom Clark. Would training the Afghan army in a non-combat role be considered development aide?
Cannon. Well, you know, I’ve been prodded all around on that particular question. But Tom, I’m responding in the same manner. We are, I’m not going on a hypothetical that may be and perhaps and if this is done, no that’s not it. The position, the door is firmly closed. There’s nothing other than the resolution, not the resolution, I’m sorry, the motion that was adopted in the House of Commons.
Clark. Then why is Peter MacKay open to this idea?
Cannon. Well, Peter might be open to the idea, but this doesn’t mean that the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada is open to the idea.
Now, you could, conceivably, find a difference between interest and openness. But setting aside the question of a gap between the ministers, the conclusion of this exchange with Mr. Cannon is likely relevant.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:34 PM - 7 Comments
The Defence Minister indicates some degree of interest in Michael Ignatieff’s proposal for a post-2011 mission in Afghanistan.
“I’m very interested. I know the Prime Minister has expressed interest in what Mr. Ignatieff said. But the parliamentary motion is very clear so that is where we are today,” he said.
As has been noted elsewhere, the parliamentary motion that extended the mission in 2008 spoke specifically of the Canadian deployment “in Kandahar.” The Liberal proposal would see Canada “pursue a post-combat role, for a fixed period, based on training of police and military personnel in a staff college setting in Kabul.”
By John Geddes - Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10:17 AM - 20 Comments
I find it fascinating to see Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance returning to Kandahar to command the Canadian forces there again, replacing Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard, who had to come home after being accused of engaging in an intimate relationship, which the military doesn’t allow out in the field.
Vance was our top soldier in Afghanistan not so long ago, through much of last year, and at the time I wrote about how he brought a unique analytical perspective to the job. That’s because he was the author of paper with the intriguing title “Tactics without Strategy, or Why the Canadian Forces Do Not Campaign,” published five years ago in a military textbook called The Operational Art: Context and Concepts.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 1:33 PM - 23 Comments
Gen. Stanley McCrystal checks up on the progress in Marja and discovers, in extraordinarily frank language, that there hasn’t been enough. Marja is intended to be a prelude to the push in Kandahar that will be the last major Canadian operation before the bulk of our military engagement there ends. And Marja is not going well at all.
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 16, 2010 at 10:10 AM - 57 Comments
Paul Wells: This time the tactics are different and backup has arrived
“This is the edge of the moon,” Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie told me as we dismounted from our armoured vehicles at the foot of the Soviet-built mountain fortress of Sperwan Ghar. He pointed westward. “If you go 100 m that way, you will die.”
For now, this little outpost, only 30 km from Kandahar City in the rolling farmland of the Panjwayi district, marks the outer edge of the territory Canadian troops control and patrol. It’s impenetrable: a steep man-made hill with heavy guns, a moat, and a tethered balloon whose cameras allow the 200-odd Canadian Forces soldiers there to monitor and sometimes target insurgent activity in every direction.
But to the west, Canadians have left the area to insurgent fighters. There are perhaps only a few hundred of them in a local population of 3,000, Maj. Wade Rutland told Leslie. But the bad guys have “complete freedom of manoeuvre” in and around three villages, Zangabad, Mushan and Talukan, that Rutland called the area’s “insurgent Axis of Evil.”