|Afghanistan proof of need to rebuild failing and failed states|
May 31, 2010
The recent Taliban attack on Kandahar Airfield and several other tragic incidents that have claimed the lives of Canadian soldiers show just how tough the next few months will be for our troops in Afghanistan.
Canada will again be the tip of the spear in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, this time leading American and Afghan forces into a brutal summer fighting season-a campaign that may prove decisive.
American Colonel Dave Bellon, director of operations for Regional Command South, is blunt about the stakes. "This conflict is our D-Day."
Canada, says Col. Bellon, is key: "We are relying on the Canadians. ... These guys have fought this ground for years. They have deep relations in [Kandahar] City that give them a deep understanding. They will be hugely missed when their combat mission ends next July."
At the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence we are examining the current role and suggestions for a possible future one for our Forces in Afghanistan.
Testimony before the committee has shed light on the complexities of both our civilian and military missions and on our successes, information in short supply in most media coverage.
In earlier days, the Canadian Forces pioneered the Strategic Advisory Team, where our military and civilian experts joined forces to help the new Afghanistan government get set up. It has become a model for NATO in this and future operations.
And all along Canada has been superb at training Afghan soldiers and police to better assure security for the Afghan people. According to retired Brigadier General Serge Labbé, now deputy to the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Kabul, "Canadian soldiers are held in high esteem because we seem to have a knack for being able to coach, facilitate and mentor, and to do so in a way that is not patronizing or arrogant."
We have also been building schools in Kandahar to improve literacy rates and education, especially for girls. We're a top donor for microfinance that helps Afghans-mostly women-start small businesses and buy land to better support their families. We are working to eradicate polio through vaccination of children. And by rehabilitating the Dahla Dam and its irrigation canals, a signature Canadian project, we will help provide water for 75 per cent of Kandahar province. "It will revolutionize people's lives," we were told by General Labbé.
When we embarked on the mission to Afghanistan we were forced to face the hard fact that we had so greatly diminished our military capacity that our responses were too often dictated by economics and politics, not foreign policy imperatives or conviction.
We seized the opportunity in Afghanistan to change that by properly equipping our Forces with sorely-needed long-haul airlift capability, and much more. Our Canadian Forces, in turn, seized the opportunity to do excellent, innovative work-not only in combat, and not just with new ideas such as the Strategic Advisory Team, but in counter-insurgency strategy, providing security and therefore stability to Afghan communities, in the process winning us international praise and respect and making us proud at home.
Today, the experience of our Forces in Afghanistan is already proving critical. For example, our military was able to respond quickly and effectively to the earthquake disaster in Haiti, thanks to their heavy airlift capacity, superb planning, and lessons learned in Afghanistan about working with civilian populations and non-military organizations. Our aid flights were on their way in less than 24 hours, and within 48 hours stranded Canadians were headed back home. This was a far cry from our slow response to the tsunami of 2004, when the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) had to wait two weeks to rent a Russian aircraft large enough to carry our people and equipment. And the Canada First Defence Strategy will ensure our readiness and self-reliance.
Now, on the verge of pulling our Forces out of Afghanistan, Canadians must again take up the debate about what we are willing and able to do, and how our military and humanitarian spirit can best be harnessed and most effectively deployed in this unfolding 21st century.
There are between 40 and 60 so-called failing or failed states where the governments are too weak to serve or protect their people, let alone meet any international commitments. Rebuilding and strengthening these states is a critical issue.
Afghanistan is proof of that. Billions have been spent, Canadian soldiers sacrificed, much innocent blood spilled, and massive military resources deployed-and yet our international institutions, such as NATO, which were designed in the aftermath of World War Two, are ill-prepared for a world of insurgencies, counter-insurgencies, and asymmetric warfare.
We are rethinking our responsibilities in this new world, not because the Americans or NATO or anyone else has asked us to, but because it is in our own interest to define who we are and what we want to do in the larger world-instead of resting on our peacekeeping, peacemaking laurels. Our military history and recent mission successes have created the pride Canadians feel-evidence that we are no longer a spectator nation.
Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin is chair of the Senate National Security and Defence Committee.