Manley's Afghan equipment list to cost $1.1 billion: documents - Metro US

Manley’s Afghan equipment list to cost $1.1 billion: documents

OTTAWA – Fulfilling the Manley commission’s conditions to extend Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan to 2011 will cost more than $1.1 billion, say federal budget documents.

The Conservative government is asking for an extra $822 million in the current budget year to pay for “basic infrastructure to support air enhancements” and “mission close out costs.”

That request is in addition to the $292 million set aside last year for six used Chinook CH-47D helicopters from the U.S. Army.

The final price tag for the two-year extension, which would include troops and armoured vehicles, is still being worked out by National Defence.

The latest request before Parliament refers to the operational expenses of deploying helicopters and unmanned surveillance aircraft to support ground forces, said a spokesman for the Canadian Forces Expeditionary Force Command, the headquarters that oversees the war.

“Additional funding was required to support the air wing in Kandahar,” said spokesman Capt. Dean Menard.

“These initiatives were implemented to support the Manley (commission) recommendations concerning the Canadian-Afghan mission.”

The helicopters and drones were two key requirements of the independent panel that recommended Ottawa continue the fight in southern Afghanistan past the previous withdrawal date of February 2009.

It’s the first time a price tag has been affixed to the Manley conditions, which were tabled in January 2008.

When Parliament debated the extension a few months later, scant attention was paid to the cost. Instead, MPs – divided along political lines – chose to debate the more high-minded aspects of the mission and whether it was succeeding.

In the end, the Conservative government, backed by the Liberal opposition, voted to stay in Kandahar.

And that is the bottom line, said a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

“Parliament decided to extend the Afghanistan military mission based on certain criteria, including the addition of Canadian air assets in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters,” Jay Paxton said in an email note.

“The government’s priority is the safety and security of Canadian Forces members carrying out this mission.”

When the extension was approved, National Defence was sent into a frenzy scouring the world for helicopters and drones.

It eventually settled on the purchase of six used U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook helicopters, which were joined by eight CH-149 Griffon helicopters, which provided armed escort and roadside-bomb reconnaissance.

The federal government also rented eight civilian helicopters to shuttle supplies between desert bases.

The drones were acquired through a two-year, $94-million lease involving Israeli defence contractors and Canadian Aerospace giant MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris, whose party opposed the extension, said Canadians deserved to see the figures – or at least estimates – at the time of the debate, not a year afterward.

“This is not the kind of thing you want to see pop up in supplementary estimates without any public discussion or public notification,” he said Tuesday.

“It’s a substantial amount of money. … It’s unreasonable for Canadians to be spending this kind of money without greater public foreknowledge and explanation.”

Harris said the Conservative government has failed when it comes to one of the other key Manley report recommendations, public disclosure and accountability.

There is disagreement between the federal government and Parliament’s budget officer about the price tag of the entire mission from 2001 to the end of 2011.

In a report last fall, Kevin Page estimated taxpayers would fork out roughly $18 billion, including development aid and the cost of long-term care for wounded soldiers.

But the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the prime minister’s office, put that figure at $11.3 billion.

The independent commission – headed by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley – also recommended that the country’s NATO partners deliver an extra battalion of ground troops to reinforce Canadian operations.

The Americans last year provided 650 soldiers, belonging to the famed 1st Infantry Division, who deployed to western Kandahar under Canadian command.

Canadian taxpayers are not on the hook for the U.S. reinforcements.

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