Canada to withdraw from Afghanistan?

Canada is considering withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, according to an interim report by the Canadian Senate committee on national security and defence. The report demands more money for the operation and a bigger commitment from other NATO countries within a year. If these demands are not met, Ottawa should reconsider its mission, the head of the Senate committee Colin Kenny said when releasing the report. He asked: “Are Canadians willing to commit themselves to decades of involvement in Afghanistan, which could cost hundreds of Canadian lives and billions of dollars with no guarantee of ending up with anything like the kind of society that makes sense to us?” Canada presently has 2,500 troops in the Afghan province of Kandahar, where they have sustained 42 fatalities. (DPA, Feb. 14)

President Bush angered some northern neighbors Feb. 15 when his speech calling for an all-out allied effort against the Taliban failed to mention Canada. Bush singled out for praise Britain, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Greece and Iceland.

Asked about the omission, White House spokeswoman Kate Starr noted other allies like the Netherlands weren’t mentioned. “Canada is a key ally and the president appreciates Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper for his leadership,” she said. “He thanks Harper and the Canadian people who’ve dedicated personnel to support NATO’s efforts and for leading a multinational headquarters brigade responsible for southern Afghanistan.”

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was conciliatory. “I’m certain it’s just, maybe, a little error,” he said in French, noting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice often praises Canada’s role in Afghanistan. Opposition leaders were far less sanguine. “Maybe with Harper leading Canada, he thinks it’s become the 51st American state,” said Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe. “That might explain it.” (Canadian Press, Feb. 15)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and Canada.

  1. Update
    From Reuters, April 24:

    Canada’s House of Commons defeated a motion by opposition legislators on Tuesday to pull Canadian troops from Afghanistan on schedule in February 2009.

    Legislators voted 150 to 134 against a nonbinding Liberal Party motion calling for the withdrawal of the 2,500 soldiers in early 2009. The Conservative government says the mission will end on time, but opposition parties suspect the troops will stay longer.

    The NATO-led mission was supposed to end in February 2007 but in May 2006 the Conservatives persuaded Parliament to approve a two-year extension.

    Since then, the number of Canadian soldiers killed in clashes with Taliban militants has spiked upward. Canada has lost 54 troops so far, nine in the last two weeks.

    Critics say Canada is paying too much attention to fighting the Taliban and not enough to rebuilding the shattered country.

    “Parliament did not vote for an open-ended counter-insurgency mission,” Liberal Defence Critic Denis Coderre said in a statement decrying Conservative opposition to the motion.

    The left-leaning New Democratic Party joined with the Conservatives to defeat the motion. The NDP says the troops should be brought home immediately.