The Conservative government has spelled out reasonable parameters for Canada's continuing involvement in Afghanistan. As the New Democrats said, more soldiers may die, though the three-year extension is to be focused on training that will take place on an army base near the capital of Kabul, and in classrooms in Kabul, but not out in the field. Soldiers can be attacked in transit. Military bases have been attacked before. It remains to be seen whether all the training will indeed be tucked safely "inside the wire." But the NDP is wrong - that does not make it a combat mission. Nor does it mean Canada should shy away.
Canada has served its time in Afghanistan and done its fair share, and then some. But leaving entirely would be foolish. Having come this far, it makes more sense to make constructive use of the expertise it has built up. Training Afghan soldiers and police is consistent with the goals Canada had when it entered the war - to help Afghans secure their own country, for the benefit of Canada and the West. It is also a way to continue to play a meaningful role in NATO. It would be strange if Canada, after years of such brave and devoted service to a NATO mission, were simply to take its helmets and bats and go home. To say no to NATO now would be to squander years of relationship-building.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accuses Prime Minister Stephen Harper of improvising on foreign policy. On many occasions Mr. Harper expressed reluctance about a presence in Afghanistan beyond next July. But foreign policy requires improvisation, if that means responding to fluid conditions and changing demands. Still, as Mr. Ignatieff knows, the government's response is within the framework envisioned in the March, 2008 resolution of Parliament, which expressly called for an end to this country's presence in Kandahar by July, 2011.
The government's commitment of 950 Canadian military and support staff is sizable, and larger than expected. At the same time, Mr. Harper reflected the ambivalence of Canadians (and the political risks of exposing soldiers to a high risk of death) by rejecting a request from the United States that training be done "outside the wire," in the field. The financial costs of $500-million a year, plus $100-million for development and aid, are a reasonable contribution to global security.
In the end, his government's position, and the Liberal one, are similar. It is right that Canada remain useful to the cause for which 156 Canadians have died