Pull out of Kandahar if NATO doesn’t pitch in, Manley report urges
Canada should consider withdrawing its 2,500-strong military mission from southern Afghanistan next year unless NATO sends reinforcements to the area, an independent panel said yesterday.
The troops, many trained at the Edmonton Garrison, are due to leave in February 2009 and so far, 77 Canadian soldiers have died. Polls show growing unease about the mission’s future.
Panel chairman John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, said Canada should insist that NATO send a battle group of at least 1,000 soldiers.
"If this cannot be mustered over the next year, then Canada should signal its intent to transfer responsibility for security in Kandahar," he said.
"The mission is in jeopardy. There simply are not enough troops to ensure that the job can be properly done."
About 1,200 Edmonton-based troops are heading to Afghanistan this month for a six-month mission.
At a deployment ceremony last week, local soldiers said goodbye to their friends and family while receiving a pep talk from military officials.
"We’re tragically losing people," said Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie. "But in part, it’s a soldier duty, wherever a nation sends them, to fight a good fight."
The panel said yesterday, however, that it had identified "harmful shortcomings" in the NATO effort. These included the failure to send enough troops to the south and a top-heavy command structure.
Extra NATO soldiers would allow Canada to shift its focus gradually from combat to training Afghan national security forces, the panel recommended.
The minority Conservative government could fall over the issue since Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that Parliament will have the final say on withdrawing the troops.
He wants to keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan until at least 2011, but the three opposition parties are against the idea of the combat mission lasting beyond February 2009.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion declined to comment on the Manley report, saying he had not read it yet.
—with files from Reuters