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.