February 19, 2008
Our combat role IS necessary...
Liberal demand would endanger soldiers
By: LEWIS MACKENZIE
After 36 years wearing her majesty's uniform, I am well aware that political direction, no matter how impossible or ridiculous, has to be obeyed - except in the rare circumstances when the order is illegal. Regrettably, in Canada, we have a dearth of any kind of military experience represented in Parliament in general and in the Liberal Party in particular.
Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's latest opinion on Canada's future in Afghanistan calls for us "remaining engaged" in Afghanistan with roles including "training, protection of civilians and reconstruction."
The last time I received an order regarding the "protection of civilians" was in 1992 when the UN Security Council, as is its habit, came up with its usual lowest-common-denominator direction and told the United Nation's Protection Force in Croatia to "protect civilians" without engaging in combat.
After shaking our collective heads at the idiocy of the order, we came up with a scheme to place our troops in badly sited defensive positions around the civilian concentrations so that anyone attacking them would have to pass through our positions and we could, therefore, use deadly force in our own self-defence.
In other words, rather than taking the initiative to defeat the threat to the civilians, we were forced to put our soldiers at increased risk to life and limb to appease the sensibilities of the Security Council. Any of our units given the task of protecting civilians in Afghanistan, having abandoned their "combat emphasis," would face the same dilemma.
Dion also would have us emphasize "reconstruction" in our post-February-2009 role. Surely, he realizes we are already dedicating significant resources to just that. Witness the paved highways, the causeways, the bridge, the wells, the police stations Canadian soldiers have "reconstructed." These projects that could not have been completed without the security provided by other Canadian soldiers carrying out the seemingly politically incorrect "combat role."
Presumably attempting to make excuses for previous decisions by his predecessors, Dion's party's submission to the government-appointed panel on the future of the mission stated the combat role was never intended to be "a life-long effort or even a 10-year commitment."
When in the history of mankind was there some sort of contractual agreement regarding how long a nation would sign up and stick around for the fight? It was assumed you would not abandon your allies until the job was done. Like so many critics Dion seems to be confusing Afghanistan's counter-insurgency with UN peacekeeping operations that operate on six-month mandates issued by the Security Council. If a country gives an indication it will leave the UN peacekeeping mission in a year's time, as Canada did regarding Cyprus in 1992, there is ample opportunity for the UN to find a replacement contingent. With $150 U.S. per soldier per month paid to the coffers of the contributing nations plus free food and accommodation for their soldiers, there is a lineup of Third World countries eager to fill the void.
Perhaps not by coincidence Dion's recommendations are actually in line with what is happening on the ground in Kandahar province. It's just too bad the language in his presentation to the Manley panel is presumably designed to sound like something new and, therefore, misleading to the uninformed.
Training of the Afghan army continues at an accelerated pace as new units stand up and can train some of their own soldiers. Reconstruction is taking place where security permits and those secure areas are being expanded by, dare I say the words, combat operations.
If Dion had recommended abandoning Kandahar province because of the fact Canada has paid a heavy price bringing a degree of security to the area while the vast majority of the 26 NATO nations watch from the bleachers I would have been sympathetic with the argument. I have harboured the same feeling many times during the past year.
Unfortunately, I have come to the painful realization that no other nation is willing to replace us. If we left, the NATO commander in the south would be forced to extend the U.S. and British boundaries into Kandahar province, thereby diluting the already inadequate number of boots on the ground even more.
NATO's future as a creditable alliance is in serious jeopardy; however, this is not the time for Canada to abandon its obligations or Kandahar province as only the Afghans will pay the price.
Retired Canadian general Lewis MacKenzie was the first commander of the United Nations' Sector Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war.
© The Gazette (Montreal), 2008