Friday, February 22, 2008

CDS General Hillier, Afghanistan and Parliament

Further to Babbling's post: the CTV story he linked to seems to have been, er, revised; this is the current (1800 Eastern Time) headline:
Hillier asks Ottawa for clear Afghanistan mandate
The story at this point seems to me essentially accurate. I was present when he spoke. He certainly did not directly advocate extending the mission past 2009 (though it was clear by inference he would see that as a Good Thing) and he said nothing about a 2011 end-date for the mission.

I took notes and, however, wrote this: "Close to a fine line." (At least in Canadian terms I would now add. I don't think speaking as outlined below would be unusual for a American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and perhaps not these days for a British CDS.)

That was because he was, indirectly, saying that Parliament should authorize a combat mission, and nothing but. The CDS said (my way of putting it, taken from my notes), speaking as he put it for the troops:

*They support Parliament's deciding on their mission.

*They ask for clarity of purpose as soon as possible. The longer the issue of the mission is in doubt the more the Taliban will target us.

*They ask for a mission that is militarily viable [my emphasis]. The CF remember the caveats under which they operated in Bosnia, e.g., watching civilians being killed and unable to intervene. The CF in theatre were often abbreviated as CANBAT (Canadian battalion); the joke was they were "CAN'TBAT". Pro-active (i.e. combat) operations are essential in Afstan (this earlier post of mine raises questions about Prime Minister Harper's perhaps equivocal stance).

*They ask (from Babbling's post and more complete than my notes but consistent with them):
Lastly, I'll ask this on their behalf, is it too much to ask that our parliament, representing all Canadians, (and in a democratic system once troops are committed by our parliament they are committed on behalf of all of us, including those who might disagree), show their support for the men and women who will execute the mission by voting overwhelmingly to support them in the danger and risks they will encounter.
So, to reiterate, what in my view may have been questionable was the CDS' insistence on a combat role being essential if the mission is to continue. But that's a Canadian view, eh?

CTV videos of Gen. Hillier speaking (highly edited) and reactions are here and here.

The text of the revised government motion on the mission is here.

As for the "Canada First" defence policy statement (about which there has been some inaccurate scuttlebut propagated) Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, said at the CDA meeting that it would be coming "soon", in a month or so.

Update: The Globe and Mail persists with inaccurate headlines, front page today--and as far as I can see the headline does not reflect the contents of the story. Just fits their anti-Hillier agenda I guess:
Top soldier pushes MPs to extend mission
Gen. Hillier insisted the troops need "clarity of purpose" and cannot return to the days when their rules of engagement stopped them from taking the initiative, as in Bosnia in the 1990s.

"Giving us the ability to defend ourselves doesn't do it. If we want to defend ourselves, the best defence is simply to stay home," he said [no extension there - MC].

He said Canadian Forces operations have in the past six months "removed" six Taliban commanders responsible for attacks that killed 21 Canadian soldiers.

"Without the pro-active operations necessary to precisely track them, locate them and attack them, they, with their forces, would still be trying to kill us."

He told reporters that the compromise motion now before Parliament allows a "militarily viable" mission, but that providing security means troops must be able to do things such as attacking massed Taliban forces...
At least one Liberal MP remains resolutely in fantasy land:
"Maybe Gen. Hillier better read the motion very carefully, because that is not the intent of the motion," Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert said.

"It's not going out on offensive operations deliberately. Obviously, if there's training outside the wire, and we're attacked, we will respond. But if he's suggesting a far more aggressive approach or the approach that's currently in place, the answer is no."..
The Afghan National Army, as a crucial part of its training outside the wire, will be initiating operations against the Taliban. If our troops can't take part in such operations then the training simply won't be effective. But a lot of Liberals seem unable to figure that out. Or maybe they really don't care about helping make the ANA effective.


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