This week’s issue of Maclean’s (on newsstands today—get ’em while they’re hot) features Kate Fillion’s interview with Gen. Rick Hillier as the retired chief of defence staff promotes his newly published memoir A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War.
Most of the considerable controversy generated by the book swirls around Hillier’s recounting of old clashes with his political masters and the public service. But in the interview he wades none too delicately into a very current issue—the possible role for Canadian troops in Afghanistan after they are withdrawn, as promised by the government, from fighting in Kandahar in 2011.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, have both commented on this thorny question in recent weeks.
MacKay said any Canadian soldiers who remain in Afghanistan beyond 2011 will move to non-combat roles that might include training Afghan forces. Soudas elaborated by stressing that ongoing training will be “in training facilities” and “Canadian soldiers will not be doing combat training of Afghan soldiers in harm’s way.”
That’s important because, as I’ve pointed out before, much of the current training involves Canadian troops working closely with Afghan units in the fighting zone. Training today largely means mentoring Afghans in those dangerous places where IEDs explode and firefights errupt.
Is there a safer way to teach those Afghan recruits? Hillier doesn’t think so. Here’s what he told us about the sort of scenario sketched by Soudas: “You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in a camp and train people for the Afghan army or police, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan, you are going to be in combat.”