What is MacKay saying—precisely—on exiting Afghanistan? - Macleans.ca

What is MacKay saying—precisely—on exiting Afghanistan?

There’s a lot of flexibility in “the letter of the motion”

by

Interesting little story from the Owen Sound Sun Times on Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s latest comments on the future of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

The key question is, as it has been for many months now, whether there is any chance of the Canadian army staying on in Afghanistan in some capacity after next year’s planned withdrawal. The Liberals propose ending the Kandahar combat mission as scheduled, but leaving some of our troops to train Afghan forces elsewhere in the country.

MacKay allows that the Liberal idea is “all very interesting.” However, he stresses that the government remains bound by the March 13, 2008, House of Commons motion that set that 2011 exit date in the first place. “We’ll respect the letter of the motion,” MacKay says.

But the letter of the motion, it seems to me, is often lost in this discussion. Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggests the House demanded a complete end to the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. Harper reiterated that by now familiar interpretation as recently as June 4.

That’s not what the motion says. Its key clause dictates that the government must “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.” (My emphasis.)

As far as I can see, there’s nothing in the motion that says Canadian troops must clear out of Afghanistan altogether, just Kandahar. If the government plans to “respect the letter of the motion,” then, that would seem to me to allow a fair bit of flexibility.

Of course, whether staying on anywhere in Afghanistan would be wise, no matter what the House motion allows, another matter entirely.