The Canadian government has made the decision to extend this country's mission in Afghanistan. It will end its combat role and continue, in a more intensive way, to train the Afghan army and police. It is the right decision. Should it be put to Parliament to debate and vote on, as MP Paul Dewar, the New Democratic Party's foreign affairs critic, says?
No. Such a vote is not necessary or helpful. It is not required by law or custom, as Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae points out. It's "the government's choice," said Mr. Rae, and he understands the choice in the circumstances. Mr. Dewar implies there is something nefarious in Mr. Rae discussing the extension with the government. Not so. The two main parties representing the majority of voters support the extension, and their comments suggest a non-partisanship that can only benefit the mission.
The extension can still be debated in Question Period. There will be opportunity to discuss it. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be clear about how many Canadians will be involved, what the costs will be, and how success will be measured and reported for this country to assess.
But Parliament has already adopted a resolution that expressly supports the training mission beyond July, 2011. That resolution of March, 2008, called for an end only to Canada's presence in Kandahar. It went to say that Canada, with its allies, including Afghanistan, "must set firm targets and timelines for the training, equipping and paying of the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, the members of the judicial system and the members of the correctional system." The Canadian government's decision to stay in Afghanistan to train soldiers is entirely consistent with that resolution. For quite a while now, Mr. Harper has given the public the impression that Canada's military would be leaving the country entirely. But there is nothing in the resolution's letter or spirit to suggest that.
The Canadian military has developed some hard-earned expertise in fighting an insurgency and should continue to share it, without exposing themselves to chronic dangers of the Kandahar mission. With a legal mandate already in place from Parliament, it should be directed to press on.
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