Canada is heading into what is supposed to be its last full year of combat in Kandahar, just as the U.S. pours thousands more troops into the embattled province in what experts believe will be the ultimate showdown with the Taliban.
The increased fighting is expected to unfold against a backdrop of a widening political controversy in Ottawa over the alleged torture of Afghan prisoners early in the war, what the Conservative government knew about it, and what it did to stop it.
There is no denying 2010 will be the watershed year in the eight-year-old Afghan conflict.
NATO’s top commander and architect of the rebooted war strategy said recently it will be the end of 2010 before the allies know if they are winning or losing.
The Conservative government and war-weary Canadians will have a choice to make whether they like it or not: Stick to the country’s self-imposed 2011 withdrawal date and perhaps risk alienating the Obama administration; continue with the reconstituted war effort; or find some other way to remain meaningfully involved.
Everyone from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on down has taken pains to emphasize that the strategy is to remain involved, but out of combat. It’s a position critics question, given Kandahar’s tenuous security.
But while Canadian soldiers head into what could be their decisive year, the attention in Ottawa will be fixed at least initially on the Conservative government’s management of prisoners and their possible torture in Afghan jails during the critical early years of the war.