South of the 49th parallel, it's called America's other war. Come this fall it will be eight years since the American intervention into Afghanistan to rout the Taliban in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Faced with mounting evidence of the dismal failure of the mission against the terrorists, the new guy in the White House has pledged to re-focus America's war efforts on the very place they should have been all along. The misguided adventure into Irak was George Bush's war. If as President Obama has indicated he is determined to do then, the wind-down in one war theatre will mean a wind-up into the other.
There is already ample anecdotal evidence that thousands of American war experienced, perhaps battle fatigued, troops are about to be shipped into Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries, in a last attempted rescue of this failed mission.
Canada is leading and foremost amongst the members of the International Security And Assistance Force (ISAF) established under American command in 2001 and transferred over to NATO as the United States ramped-up its invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Canadian contingents' commitment has twice been extended from the initial support of operations near the Afghan Capital, Kabul; to Kandahar province in the south where we have taken a higher ratio of casualties to troop numbers than any other ISAF Member. For the scorekeepers, the sad tale stands at 108 Military dead (4% of 2700 soldiers), one Diplomat and 2 Aid Workers murdered in an insurgency which really can't be described as war in any traditional sense.
Through from last fall's Federal Election campaign until now the Prime Minister has remained steadfast in the commitment to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan in February 2011 - Two years from now. Given the state of affairs overseas it is abundantly clear the efforts to clear-out the extremist insurgents, many streaming in from the hills of Pakistan, cannot be completed by our date set for departure.
It seems to me from Canada's perspective there are just a couple of options out there left to consider - Withdraw as planned from an unfinished war - What a waste of Canadian lives - Or extend the commitment. It is a debate which as the clock ticks down we are not having in Canada.
I am betting though that Afghanistan and Canada stand high on President Obama's agenda for his visit to Ottawa on February 19th. President Obama is committed to ramping-up the war in Afghanistan...the last thing he needs is a partner committed to leaving no matter what. It is worthy of note that after Ottawa, the President's next outing on the international stage is in fact, the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France in April. That is precisely where he will be arguing not only for NATO's extended support for the Afghan theatre but additional commitments: Troops, Equipment, Aid for taking the war back to the Taliban's doorsteps where George Bush left it.
The ground work for Obama's April NATO Summit will be laid this weekend at a major NATO Security Conference in Munich, Germany attended by the American Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates. Sadly if Canada is to be steadfast over plans for the military's commitments in Afghanistan: The timing is bad for this Munich meeting, perhaps also the later Strasbourg meeting. Back in Ottawa wags and pundits are reporting a rift between Prime Minister Harper and his Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay. European insiders describe as "clumsy" Mr. MacKay's recent low-key campaign to be named NATO's Secretary-General...But, the "Toronto Star" reports the issue both came as a surprise to the Prime-Minister, and that: "all hell broke loose in the PMO" when MacKay's colleagues tried to publicize the candidacy.
The debate we should be having at the country's highest levels is the future of our military and its deployment in expensive failing efforts which have eroded our historic role as "Peace Keepers", and damaged our reputation on the world's stage. Instead, petty political rivalries amongst old Tory leadership candidates may derail any meaningful serious discussions over Canada's role on our already dysfunctional flawed planet.