Military planning afoot for drawdown of Afghan deployment.
Fri Nov 6 2009
By David Pugliese
Canada's top soldier has issued instructions for his officers to start making their plans to pull out of Afghanistan.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk's direction to units for a ``drawdown'' of forces in Afghanistan lays the groundwork for what will be a lengthy process of transporting tonnes of equipment and supplies back home.
Canada's military mission in Kandahar is scheduled to end in the summer of 2011.
``It's a directive that people start the planning,'' Natynczyk said in an interview Thursday night. ``Based on the (Parliamentary) mandate we have to make the preparations right now in terms of the plans with our allies (and) all of the logistics because we have so much stuff there, you can only imagine. It's going to be more than a year process to haul it all out.''
Natynczyk said he issued his directive in August. He expects the contracts to hire companies to move the supplies and equipment back to Canada to be put in place in early 2010.
Natynczyk said the Canadian Forces will keep enough equipment in Afghanistan to ``maintain a strong capability until the first of July, 2011.''
Parliament has set 2011 as the end of the mission. ``You have to put an end date on these things,'' Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters last year.
The Canadian government wants to shift the focus of the Afghan mission from military operations to civilian aid and support.
Harper reiterated the 2011 withdrawal in September and pointed out that he took that same message to U.S. leaders during recent meetings in Washington.
``In 2011, we will have been in Afghanistan almost as long as we were in the two world wars combined,'' Harper said. ``I think in this time frame we've just got to see some results from the Afghan government on the ground as it pertains to their own security.''
In interviews, Harper noted that the Canadian public does not have the appetite to keep soldiers in Afghanistan past that date.
``Canada's government and public is suffering from Afghanistan fatigue,'' said Allen Sens, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia. ``There's been a lack of progress, and I think the public has a sense that it's time for other countries to step up and move into the south, where the fighting has been the toughest.''
The winding down of Canada's combat mission is expected to be a major logistical exercise. Some of the gear, ranging from trucks to tanks, will have to be prepared for being shipped home. While the Canadian Forces has its own large transport aircraft, it will likely have to augment that with leased aircraft. Transport ships will also have to be arranged to carry vehicles and materiel back to Canada.
Earlier this year, U.S. forces in Iraq began drawing down its units and equipment in preparation for its large-scale reduction of forces in that country in 2011. It has removed some 14,000 pieces of equipment from Iraq so far, in some cases redistributing the gear to its troops in Afghanistan.
Last month, Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggested to a Commons committee that Canadian troops may stay on in Afghanistan in a non-combat role. MacKay said that soldiers could be involved in development and reconstruction but did not provide specific details.
The debate over the way ahead in Afghanistan has been heated over the last several months.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier has said it will be difficult for Canadian troops to be in Afghanistan without taking part in combat operations. ``If you stay in the south and try to do something like training, you will still be in combat,'' said Hillier.
But some politicians, such as Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the senate defence committee, have voiced concern that Canada cannot accomplish what it hoped to in Afghanistan and it is time to withdraw. He noted that Canada had as its goal the building of 50 schools by 2011, but only five have been constructed so far because of the worsening security situation.
``We are not achieving anything close to our objectives in Afghanistan, and there is no sign that we will,'' Kenny wrote in a recent opinion piece in the Citizen. ``Why would we continue to risk lives under the pretence that there is good news around the corner? We are hurtling toward a Vietnam ending,'' he added.
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