Natynczyk gets it right: out of Kandahar, full stop. But what (or where) next?

by John Geddes

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk just told CBC’s Evan Solomon that he’s started doing what’s required to pull Canadian troops out of Kandahar in 2011, in keeping with the House of Commons motion passed on March 13, 2008 that commits the government to doing just that.

What a relief to hear Natynczyk put it so plainly. Up to now, for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, debate around the 2011 withdrawal date has often been muddied by a mistaken idea that the House motion left the government wiggle room by only committing it to ending Canada’s “combat role.”

But the motion doesn’t say anything like that. Here’s its key clause:

“the government of Canada [will] notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011”

I don’t detect any ambiguity at all in that wording. The phrase “Canada will end its presence in Kandahar” sounds pretty categorical. If you’ve ended your presence and redeployed, you’re gone.

There’s been speculation that Canadian troops involved in training, or perhaps troops needed for the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team only, might stay behind in Kandahar when the combat soldiers go. But to leave such a remnant force in Kandahar would clearly require a new House motion.

Natynczyk seems to realize this perfectly well: he’s planning to pull out the whole contingent. Now, if that’s not what the government really wants, they had better start proposing an alternative clearly and soon.

Here’s a thought, though. As far as I can see, there’s nothing in the motion that says Canadian troops couldn’t stay on in Afghanistan if they moved someplace other than Kandahar. In fact, one could argue that the House assumed an ongoing Canadian military component someplace in Afghanistan. I refer to this part of the motion passed back in 2004:

And it is the opinion of this House that Canada’s contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan should… be revamped and increased to strike a better balance between our military efforts and our development efforts in Afghanistan

It’s hard to imagine a “better balance” between military and development efforts that includes no military involvement at all. So if we’re going to pull out of Kandahar entirely—and that sure looks like the plan—then perhaps we need to consider putting troops someplace else in Afghanistan to prevent the imbalance in our contribution that Parliament expressly wanted to avoid.






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Natynczyk gets it right: out of Kandahar, full stop. But what (or where) next?

  1. In general, I think Generals are absolutely brilliant. They have this great habit of putting cat among the pigeons and let pols deal with the ensuing chaos. I wish we had more General types in other fields of public service.

  2. I've only seen this muddled by journalists who wouldn't ackowledge the full wording of the motion, so this is a welcome change.

    • It's true that reporters and pundits have often lacked precision on this. But the government hasn't been all that clear sometimes either. Defence Minister Peter MacKay's Oct. 8 appearance at the House defence committee is a case in point. MacKay's comments to reporters outside left the distinct impression that his aim was to get troops out of combat, which falls short of Canada ending its presence in Kandahar, as the 2008 motion requires.

  3. What next? Extremely limited training operations and humanitarian assistance programs, performed by a handful of Canadian specialists. No combat role, no formal military involvement. Canada has already done its share and will continue to assist in certain ways, but our troops will be coming home in 2011.

  4. I admit I am surprised that our collective yay-he-looked-at-me infatuation with the President of the USA has not already led to a parliamentary debate on how we will agree to an extension of our military involvement. But, then, it is hard to fathom exactly what President Obama wants to do himself, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.

    General Natynczyk may have just ignited a discussion in Parliament on those lines. Or not.

    Certainly I am happy to support a breather for our troops. God knows they have more than earned it. And NATO knows there are some laggard partners who had bloody well better step up, or there is no point to the alliance at all.

  5. "But to leave such a remnant force in Kandahar would clearly require a new House motion."

    Totally incorrect. Jeez, Geddes. Take a course in Canadian constitutional practice or take the time to read the National Defence Act.

  6. Finally! Someone notices that the motion only says "out of Kandahar." Obviously, that's not the same thing as "out of Afghanistan." There is no motion anywhere suggesting our troops will cease all combat in Afghanistan. I'm not even taking a position one way or another – just saying that there is a major discrepancy between the motion as it is referred to in this debate, and motion as it actually exists.

    In other words, there is an elephant in this room. We need a honest debate now about what will happen after July 2011. Otherwise, we may have a whole lot of surprised and angry people when they suddenly realize our troops are just moving down the highway, and not coming home.

  7. Hopefully we will bring the boys home.

  8. This is interesting from Matt Yglesias – the Taliban is distancing itself from Al-Quaeda, making it sensible for NATO troops to wirthdraw after negotiations with the Taliban.

    Spencer Ackerman says that Leah Farrell, former al-Qaeda specialist for the Australian National Police, has a blog that's “attracting ever-more attention in U.S. defense circles.” That said, I think we can predict here and now that she's going to stop attracting attention in U.S. defense circles since she thinks we should withdraw from Afghanistan and that al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. forces are a deliberate ploy “forcing a surge in American troop numbers” and creating a situation in which “Mullah Omar's legitimacy would be jeopardised were he to publicly disassociate from al-Qa'ida and guarantee he would not again provide it sanctuary.”

    She'll stop attracting attention because…there's absolutely no constituency for withdrawal of American forces inside the Obama administration. Instead, the debate among civilians runs from “we should stick with the increase in troop levels that Obama has already executed” to “we should engage in large additional increases in troop levels.” And within the uniformed military it seems that everyone wants large additional increases.

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