It was but a few short weeks ago that the House of Commons apparently laid to rest any additional debate over Canada's commitments to the military mission in Afghanistan.
it's been generally believed since then that at least for the country's two major political parties, the ruling Conservatives and the "wannabee" Liberals, the issue was off the front pages, well at least on the back burner, until February 2011.
Of course the Commons' vote extending the mission was based on the commitments and promises of additional assistance from NATO out of the alliance's meeting in Bucharest, Romania. Truth be known...thanks to this weekend's "New York Times", the current shortfall out in Afghanistan is for 10-thousand troops. The NATO Summit in Bucharest pledged a total of about 2-thousand additional troops, but in reality so far France's commitment of 700 additional soldiers is the only one actively being firmed-up.
This weekend, our Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay, not so much denied but just about rebuked Canadian Military officials in Afghanistan who'd been quoted by the "Globe and Mail" as saying that they were reaching-out to moderate Taliban in order to establish peace in the war-torn country. Minister MacKay says that our military officials in the field don't speak for the Government of Canada.
The Minister told the Canadian Press: "We are not talking to the Taliban. We are not having direct discussions with terrorists. We won't, will not, that will not change." In light of this increasingly failing mission, just about everyone else thinks engaging in peace talks with the combatants in Afghanistan is at least worth a try.
The British and the Dutch, with substantial troop deployments in the same southern region where our 2500 Canadians soldiers are based, have both made attempts to either engage in dialogue or establish ceasefires. In fact of the NATO Allies in southern Afghanistan only Canada and the United States refuse to speak with the militants.
Hence there's hardly any surprise to the "New York Times" story this weekend that the Americans will have to draw-down from deployments in Iraq next year to increase to 40-thousand the number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan. In Iraq, and now apparently in Afghanistan, there are many indications that in efforts to salvage two wars "gone-wrong", the Bush administration is taking actions and making commitments that will severely constrict his successor in the Presidency come January 2009.
Despite our allegiance to NATO, Canada's Afghan commitment appears increasingly tied into Mr. Bush's apron-strings. In reality claims by Canada as well as the United States at the Bucharest summit and elsewhere that NATO is stepping-up to provide more help in Afghanistan can't be substantiated.
Quite simply, as the "New York Times" reports, the increasing proportion of United States troops, from about half to two-thirds of foreign troops in Afghanistan, means the re-Americanization of the war. Chances are that by this time next year there will be more American Forces there than when they started the war, six years ago.
Here back home of course it may be the politicians who committed the Canadian military to stay the course until 2011 on false pretenses who end-up paying the price. On that score there's plenty of blame to go around. The Liberals sent our troops there in the first place. The Conservatives then managed to extend the mission not once to 2009...but twice to 2011.
As increased military spending aggravates the tailspin in our economy; the Government has hard choices ahead in selecting a new Chief-Of-Defence Staff to replace Rick Hillier, a champion of the Afghan mission. Despite the best of intentions, NATO's reluctance to assist and America's hard-line approach could very well lead to another acrimonious debate over Canada's efforts in a country so far away.