Friday, March 21, 2008

Four More Years

You have to pity poor politicians. You vote on something one day, and the next day you find out it's really something else. But being as since you 'put yourself on the line' you don't want to appear stupid by calling for a reconsideration. So you just 'suck it up, put on a brave face, and these days, soldier on.' And that's just what happened in Ottawa last week.

Canada's House of Commons passed legislation extending Canada's role in Afghanistan for another three years. The bill was based on Mr. Manley's report on the Afghan situation which, though hopeful indicated some areas that needed to be addressed before Canada recommitted itself. Three salient points were to be considered.

The first was a requirement for more NATO involvement. The US has deployed a battle group of Marines to assist the Canadians in Khandahar and Helmand provinces. Whether this will satisfy the requirement remains to be seen. The Foreign Minister claimed to have been promised NATO troops. France has indicated an interest and last week Albania signaled an interest.

The second point was in regard to air resources. Helicopters are in great demand and Canada had hoped to jump the queue in getting a few more Chinooks. To date the best America can do is to provide a number of refurbished Blackhawks. It seems the new helicopters might be available to help remove Canadian military equipment if its withdrawn in 2011. Everybody's screaming for them in Afghanistan. The other item was drones - they're not available either.

The third requirement was a 'switch' in roles, over the period, to concentrate on training the Afghan police and army to take over the combat role. However that would be precluded by the necessity of security, without which training would be difficult. They have Mounties training the police - what does that tell us?

The first glimmer that anything was amiss happened the day before the vote when it was announced that military expenditure had gone a billion dollars over budget. The military budget was significantly increased, but not enough obviously to pay for keeping 5 000 pairs of Canadian boots in Afghanistan over a year. Nobody was prepared to ask about this so it was ignored and the vote went on.

The second glimmer of something amiss came two days after the vote, when it was bruited in the news that the Army was toying with the notion of extending the 6 month deployment period. Nobody had thought to bring this up during debate. One would have thought the Army's ability to sustain the mission would have been up there with the need for drone aircraft. It apparently wasn't.

But all is not gloomy, not by a darn darn sight. To-day, to celebrate with the troops, the foreign minister, the C-in-C, and a bunch of superannuated hockey stars, flew in with the Stanley Cup for a pick-up game of floor hockey. The hockey stars won, but it wasn't lost on anybody, that the Afghan mission is as much a sure thing as the Toronto Maple Leafs getting into next year's slot on the trophy. It would take a miracle - and so will Afghanistan - given the Marines, no helicopters, no drones and Taliban who haven't yet realized that Canadians are only there to help.

Sometimes, in politics, you just have to keep on keeping on, making the best of a bad situation. Good thing there aren't 'Talies' in the Press Gallery.

Update: The Poles have come up with a flight of Mil Helicopters to assist the Canucks. The Albanian and French commitments didn't materialize - at least in Khandahar. And the security situation has certainly not improved, with the Taliban summer offensive being a lot more robust than last summer's version.

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