U.S. soldiers and private contractors are expected to provide security for Canadian development teams in Afghanistan after Canadian troops pull out, according to Ottawa's top envoy to Afghanistan.
"We know Canada will be in this country well beyond 2011," Ambassador Ron Hoffmann told reporters in a briefing yesterday. Soldiers or no soldiers, he said, a "robust" civilian contingent will remain on the ground.
Parliament has yet to provide any guidance on the Canadian mission beyond the military pullout scheduled two years hence. This has left diplomats struggling to figure out how to keep delivering aid amid an insurgency that's growing more dangerous.
Hundreds of Canadian Forces soldiers now guard dozens of Canadian government officials attached to Kandahar's Provincial Reconstruction Team. When these civilians venture outside protected bases, they usually do so in heavily armoured vehicles and escorted by soldiers carrying assault rifles.
It is unclear how many Canadian soldiers, if any, could legally remain in Afghanistan to keep providing this protection after 2011.
Ottawa has promised to make its mark on Afghanistan with aid projects - by training Afghan security forces, building schools and rebuilding infrastructure - but some of these programs may not be completed before the military pullout.
Some seemingly stopgap measures are in place. The Canada-based contractors working on a $50-million plan to restore a decrepit dam are poised to bring in their own private security contractors later this year, Mr. Hoffmann pointed out.
He added that negotiations are under way with the Pentagon for additional protection. The United States is "also looking at ways that it can play a role in bringing security to the Dahla dam area," he said.
Thousands of U.S troops are pouring into south Afghanistan, including Kandahar province, which has been largely managed by the Canadian Forces since 2006.
One U.S. military official has said he expects his troops would "respect the primacy of the Canadian PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team] and "simply plug into the existing Canadian mechanisms."
The PRT model has faced criticism by some aid agencies and Afghan government officials, who argue the tightly knit soldier-civilian program "militarizes" aid and tacks on exorbitantly high security costs.
But there is little question protection is crucial.
Three U.S. soldiers and three Afghans were killed Tuesday when a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a convoy.
A North Atlantic Treaty Organization spokesman said he could not comment on reports that the leader of the local PRT was killed.