Canada's future role in Afghanistan has been the subject of debate for almost three years. Many urge Canada to stay the course until the mission is complete whereas others suggest that we are in the midst of a battle that cannot be won and should pull all troops out of the country as soon as possible. Opinions on the subject vary from these two diametrically opposed viewpoints and anywhere in between. Canada's current commitment ends in February 2009. The question as to what role Canada will take after that time is not yet decided.
Currently, the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are located in the volatile southern part of the country. It is here where most of the fighting occurs and is considered much more dangerous than other parts of the country, specifically western or northern Afghanistan. Those nations who have taken on the majority of the combat role and subsequently have sustained the highest number of casualties include Canada, the British, the Americans and the Dutch, all of which have a significant military presence in southern Afghanistan.
Over the last few years, public support for the mission has generally been waning. Yet, there are no definitive answers as to what course of action is best for Canada. Accordingly, in October, the Prime Minister of Canada commissioned a panel to examine possible courses of action and advise the government on the future of the Afghan mission. The panel is comprised of five prominent Canadians - John Manley, Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Jake Epp.
This past week, the Commission visited Afghanistan to meet with a number of officials, Afghan leaders, tribal elders and military personnel from a several nations in order to get an appreciation of the mission from the ground. From there, they will return to Canada and prepare their report, due by the end of January 2008. This is Canada's most significant international commitment since the Korean War. It is a subject that almost every Canadian has an opinion on and accordingly discussion on the topic is to be encouraged.
The Commission has been asked to examine a number of possible courses of action including maintaining the status quo, focusing on training Afghan security forces, shift efforts to reconstruction efforts in a less volatile region or to withdraw all Canadian Forces except those required to provide security for diplomatic personnel and aid workers.
I encourage you to be aware of the issues and to seek out how you can be a part of the decision making process. If we are to consider a Canadian solution to this question, then Canada, as a nation, must decide what is best.