Troops set for lengthy stay in Afghanistan

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      The minority Conservative government has stated in the speech from the throne that Canadian troops should remain in Afghanistan until 2011. "Our government does not believe that Canada should simply abandon the people of Afghanistan after February 2009," Gov. Gen. Michaí«lle Jean stated in Parliament on October 16 as Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat in a chair to her right. "Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so that the Afghan government can defend its own sovereignty."

      In this, the Harper government is pursuing a policy similar to that of the Bush administration in Iraq, arguing that the best way to defend against an insurgency is to train local police. The speech from the throne claimed that the Harper government believes it can achieve its objective by 2011.

      In the meantime, Harper has appointed former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley to chair a five-person panel to examine Canada's options in Afghanistan. Federal NDP leader Jack Layton has called for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. Federal Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre introduced a motion last April calling upon Canada to inform the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that its troops would be withdrawn by early 2009. The motion failed by a 150–134 margin because of opposition from the Conservatives and the NDP.

      Shortly before the Straight went to press on October 17, federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion told the House of Commons that his party won't force an election by voting against the speech from the throne. "The throne speech we heard–with all of its weaknesses–has to be assessed in light of the fact that Canadians don't want another election right now," Dion said, adding that his party will propose amendments. If those amendments fail, the Liberals will abstain, which would enable the speech to pass.

      The Harper government's support for Canadian troops in Afghanistan beyond 2009 echoes a report last June from the standing committee on national defence. Chaired by Conservative MP Rick Casson, the report stated: "Not one of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee expected the military problem in Afghanistan to be solved by February 2009. Everyone thinks it will take a long time. Some spoke of decades; some spoke of generations; but all spoke of a long-term commitment. This raises the question of whether the mission mandate ought to be extended or not."

      The committee report emphasized that Canada is providing 2,500 military personnel to an international force of nearly 12,000 troops in the southern part of Afghanistan. "Our troops have seen extensive combat and have been successful in every major tactical battle against the Taliban, but the cost has been heavy," the report noted. At the time of the report, 58 Canadians had died in Afghanistan.

      New Westminster–Coquitlam NDP MP Dawn Black submitted a dissenting report, which claimed that neither the previous Liberal government nor the Conservative government had spelled out criteria for assessing the effectiveness of the mission. Black, the NDP defence critic, suggested that it should be judged on by "its capacity to protect Afghans and decrease violence against them".

      She also stated that the mission should be judged by its capacity to support a vibrant Afghan civil society, and its capacity to "support, facilitate and catalyze efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict".

      "Afghan women are not being adequately protected or supported by the international military presence in their country," Black claimed in her report. "Women's rights have not been made a central priority by either the new Afghan government, or the broader international community in Afghanistan."

      The Harper government announced its intention to maintain Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2011 less than two weeks before an articulate Afghan critic of NATO will visit Vancouver. On October 27, Afghan parliamentarian and women's- rights activist Malalai Joya will speak at a rally at 2 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The title of the event is Bring Our Troops Home Now!, and it is sponsored by

      According to her Web site (, the Afghan Parliament, which she has accused of being dominated by "war lords and drug-lords", suspended her for three years in May after she criticized the government of president Hamid Karzai in an interview with a Kabul television station. Joya stated that the Parliament has ordered the High Court to file a case against her.