No matter what you think of the Canada’s mission in Afghanistan there are two undeniable facts: our current commitment ends in 2009 and by mid-next year we will have to decide what role we will take on in the future.
Canada has a duty to build a peaceful, secure and prosperous Afghanistan. This commitment started in 2001 when we first joined the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and was reinforced in 2006 when we supported the international Afghan Compact for the country's security and development. The experience of Somalia also tells us that leaving before the job is done will only lead to anarchy.
That said, there's a wide range of options between withdrawal and continuing the status quo, and the commitment to build a brighter future for Afghanistan should not blind Canadians to the fact we are bearing more than our fair share of the burden for the international mission in the country. While our 2,500 troops are engaging the Taliban on a daily basis in order to bring peace to the Kandahar region, Germany has placed its soldiers in the more stable Northern region and refuses to let them help Canadian troops, even when they encounter heavy Taliban resistance. The same goes for Italy, whose troops are based in the West. To make matters worse, most NATO countries haven't sent more than a token number of soldiers. Our European ally Austria has only deployed four.
While some argue that questioning our presence in Kandahar strengthens the Taliban, failing to explore other military missions within the country gives other NATO countries a free ride at our soldiers' expense. So far, there does not seem to be any valid reason why Canada shouldn’t have a tour of duty in a more stable region after 2009, while another country takes our place in the South. This kind of burden-sharing would allow our troops to rest, retrain and re-equip after the difficult mission they have endured, and in no way diminishes our commitment to the Afghan people.
That other NATO members are not stepping forward to share the burden of the Afghan mission raises serious concerns about the future and effectiveness of the Alliance - concerns that cannot be addressed unless we take the time to ask deep and challenging questions before agreeing to a new deployment. The need for this kind of thorough investigation is why Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Defence Critic Denis Coderre are calling on the government to holding an open and honest debate this fall on the future of our mission in Afghanistan. Doing otherwise may mean that Canadian soldiers will continue paying a price that our allies aren't willing to stomach.