House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

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Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, November 3, 2005, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 21. I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 21, Mr. Chuck Strahl in the chair)

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 7 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7 p.m.

Papineau
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I am very pleased that my colleague, the Minister of Defence, proposed this evening's debate here in this House. I am grateful to him for allowing me to speak so soon even though he was the one who proposed this very important debate.

I am addressing the House today to speak about the remarkable work Canada has accomplished in Afghanistan.

Our country plays a leading role in the international action to help Afghanistan become a stable, democratic, self-sufficient state that respects human rights and that will never harbour terrorists again. Achieving this objective is essential to maintaining peace and international security, and to bringing about a secure and prosperous future for the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan, which is recovering after more than 20 years of conflict and drought, remains one of the poorest countries in the world, a major source of narcotics and therefore a fragile state. Canada provides an essential contribution to this country.

In order to optimize our intervention in Afghanistan, we must adopt a strategic approach based on the unparalleled added value Canada can offer. Our commitment in Afghanistan is a concrete manifestation of the international policy statement that calls for a government-wide approach based on pursuing our strategic interests abroad.

Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is based on specialized knowledge and the contributions of various federal departments and agencies, such as Foreign Affairs, National Defence, CIDA and the RCMP, or what we call the three d s, meaning diplomacy, defence and development assistance, in a coordinated and integrated manner.

With regard to our diplomatic commitment, which I will focus on—my colleagues from National Defence and Development will follow—Canada opened an embassy in Kabul in September 2003.

This embassy provides the diplomatic presence needed to ensure effective support for Canadian defence and development efforts in close collaboration with our Afghan partners and the international community. Canadian diplomats elsewhere are also working to support the work being done in Afghanistan, particularly at NATO and the United Nations, and through the G8.

Thanks to recent provincial and parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has fulfilled the initial requirements of its democratic transition as set out by the Afghans and the international community, when they met in Bonn in 2001. Other achievements. within the framework of the Bonn process, include the adoption of a constitution and presidential elections.

Canada has been a key supporter of the transition to democracy in Afghanistan. The resources deployed at all levels of government in support of the recent elections there are clear evidence of this. The contribution comprised financial support, the sending of election observers, and assistance to the Afghans in maintaining security throughout the electoral process from the beginning right through to election day.

By declaring themselves as candidates, a decision liable to put them in danger, by going to the polls despite the risk to their safety, by speaking out in favour of reform, the Afghans have shown their support for change.

Democracy has now taken root in Afghanistan and is starting to bear fruit, particularly in establishing the people's confidence and pride in their own country.

Canada's efforts have helped Afghanistan achieve real results in other areas as well, in particular in reforming the security sector. The demilitarization agenda is critical to stability in Afghanistan. The successful completion of the first two phases of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program in Afghanistan this past July saw some 63,000 former combatants lay down their arms.

Canada has played an important role in this process, fostering political support through diplomatic channels, the second largest donor, disbursing close to $21 million in support of the program and providing a secure environment for former combatants to disarm.

We remain committed to the final phase of the process, reintegration, and we will continue to work with the United Nations and our international partners to ensure its successful completion.

Canada was instrumental in the establishment of a highly successful heavy weapons cantonment process in Afghanistan, the same weapons that were used to destroy much of the country. Our top military officials, working closely with the Canadian embassy in Kabul, helped to create the momentum and will for a program that many thought was impossible. Thanks to Canadian efforts, over 10,000 tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons are now safely secured.

Afghanistan is one of the most mine affected countries in the world, with over 800 victims per year. In 2003, Afghanistan acceded to the Ottawa Convention on Landmines. Canada is a lead donor in mine action, having contributed approximately $47 million to mine action assistance in Afghanistan since 1989. These funds have helped to clear 10 million to 15 million mines in Afghanistan.

There is no question that important progress has been made. Afghanistan is on the road to recovery. The challenge now is to ensure momentum continues. We will work with Afghanistan and our international partners to consolidate and build on the achievements of the last four years.

An example of this is the recent deployment of Canada's provincial reconstruction team to Kandahar. In order to respond to the multifaceted and complex nature of reinforcing the authority and building the capacity of the Afghan government in Kandahar, the provincial reconstruction team brings together Canadian Forces personnel, civilian police, diplomats and aid workers in an innovative and integrated Canadian effort of the three Ds of diplomacy, defence and development.

With the provincial reconstruction team and the February 2006 deployment of a 1,500 strong task force and brigade headquarters, Canada has positioned itself to play a leadership role in southern Afghanistan and provide an enabling environment for Afghanistan's institutional and economic development.

In order to effectively approach outstanding challenges, the first step is to recognize and empower Afghan leadership. This requires a commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that Afghan authorities have the capacity to carry out their required functions. We support an intensified focus on institution building and emphasize the need to ensure that international community efforts result in systemic changes. It is only by building lasting capacity that we can ensure that our investment lasts long beyond our engagement.

Canada has emphasized the need to deal with the recalcitrant commanders who continue to challenge the authority of the central government by adhering to illicit pursuits. These non-compliant power brokers must be made aware that there are consequences to their actions. Their continued involvement with narcotics, illegal armed groups and human rights violations must be addressed. Without a commitment to take decisive action against those who most overtly defy the rule of law, they will continue to subvert our best efforts and contribute to instability.

We have continued to stress the necessity of a global view if past injustices in Afghanistan are to be put behind us. Any government needs the trust of all its citizens. The inclusion of those responsible for serious offences in the past against either Afghan law or international law would cast doubt on the government's credibility. Although the process of addressing past wrongs will no doubt be fraught with emotion, as is the case with any post-conflict situation, this political sensitivity can be mitigated by a process that is transparent, objective and founded in law.

Canada supports the work being done at this time by the Afghan authorities, in close collaboration with the Afghan human rights commission, with a view to drafting a national transitional justice strategy.

I must say how very pleased I am to take part in this evening's very important debate on Canada's role in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the minister for being here tonight to lead off this debate and hopefully we will be hearing from the Minister of National Defence later on, which I am sure we will.

I believe the operation in Afghanistan will be the most intense operation in which this country has been involved and probably the most dangerous since Korea. This is not a peacekeeping mission. The general in charge has indicated that we will be taking the fight to the Taliban, that we are there to perform operations and that the possibility of Canadians being hurt is great.

This is not at all a peacekeeping mission. The mission is to clean up the most dangerous part of that country. Some of the terms that have been used are “less benign” and “unstable”. The fact is that it is just damn dangerous and this is where our troops are going. We need to have the confidence as a nation and certainly as the official opposition that everything has been done to provide these troops with the absolute best equipment and training and to ensure they have the facilities on the ground to protect them around the base perimeter.

I want to hear from the minister, and perhaps we can ask the defence minister later as well, that indeed has happened. We hear that the forces are having trouble finding enough trained troops, the numbers that are required, to send over there and that they are having trouble finding the equipment to properly equip these people to ensure their safety.

I would like the minister to state that this indeed has happened and that our troops are equipped, trained and in the best possible situation in this most dangerous part of the world.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, that is a very important question and I appreciate it. I am sure my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, when he addresses the House a little later, will certainly provide further information.

As a government, it is very clear that we would not have embarked on such an important mission if we were putting the lives of our Canadian citizens at risk in a way that is not absolutely necessary. Yes, of course, lives are at risk in the military but obviously we want to ensure we put all the chances on our side. This is something the Minister of National Defence has looked into personally when we were going through the decision making process in the government.

It was a very important priority for the Minister of National Defence and the government in general to ensure that we were sending our Canadian soldiers with the appropriate training and equipment to do the best possible job. I do not think General Hillier would have accepted any such risk either if he had not been confident that we were taking the appropriate actions before sending our Canadian soldiers there.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like the minister to provide some further information about his concept of the PRT, the provincial reconstruction team. In French we call it the EPR. This seems to be quite a new type of intervention for us to be involved in. There will be 19 of these teams in Afghanistan, including the Canadian one in Kandahar. However, we have not found a definition for the PRT. There are several models including the American and British ones.

Can the minister give us a sense of how he envisions this? What will the Canadian PRT contingent in Kandahar consist of? Can he define the PRT's mission and its intervention method in the field?

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, the PRT concept was originally based more on the American model. Since this was our first experience, the Provincial Reconstruction Team was later improved and reinforced. Some new elements were introduced, particularly when the Europeans became involved in this type of exercise.

I can say that the Provincial Reconstruction Team reflects precisely what we have in our international policy statement. We want defence, diplomacy and development to work in a more coordinated and integrated way. It is clear that for now, the work is focussed more on stability, with a significant military presence. Eventually we expect elements of diplomacy and development to become more of a priority.

It is essential that we take responsibility for a territory. However, in addition to the military effort, we must ensure that other aspects of development are included. That is why CIDA is very involved in this exercise.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, the minister himself referred to mine action and the fact that some 10 million to 15 million mines have been removed, and yet at the same time concern has been expressed about the extent to which Canadian Forces, vis-à-vis their cooperation with American forces, are actually involved in the use of anti-personnel mines.

I have been told that at one point Canadian soldiers were ordered by their American commander in Afghanistan to lay anti-personnel mines around the camp but they refused because of Canada's signing of the convention against anti-personnel landmines. The Americans then laid the mines themselves. The Canadian government was able to argue that Canada was respecting the convention. However at the same time our soldiers are benefiting from the existence of these mines.

I am looking at a lecture that was given yesterday by Michael Byers in Saskatoon who is the author of a new book entitled War Law . He said, “the fact that American soldiers rather than Canadian soldiers laid the mines makes it possible for the Canadian government to argue that there was no violation of the convention. Our government interprets the prohibition on the use of anti-personnel mines as not extending to reliance on mines laid by others providing that Canadian soldiers do not request the mines be laid”.

He goes on to say that he thinks this is a rather “strained interpretation and hardly reinforces our claim to be the leading proponent of the total elimination of anti-personnel landmines”.

Does the minister dispute this account of what has happened in Afghanistan and, if he does not, is the government not concerned that Canadian reliance on mines that we are allegedly against puts us in a situation where we are clearly in violation of our own norms on this?

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate our colleague bringing this matter to our attention. I am not privy to the information to which he is referring. I have never heard that the Americans would have done the dirty work sort of thing around our own camp. Therefore I will take note of his question because the government would be concerned if that were a reality. We certainly will look into that and we will have the opportunity of chatting together about this for sure.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, something has been very disappointing about the way the government has handled this whole process of taking our troops out of the Kabul area and moving them into Kandahar where it is even more dangerous, as we have seen recently with the car bombings that have killed soldiers in the area, without any explanation to the Canadian public or Parliament as to why that change was made.

Here we are having this debate in the House today and yet the minister has not given the most basic explanation to Parliament and to the Canadian public as to why the government has made this change. I would really appreciate if the minister would take this opportunity to explain finally why the government has taken this decision.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, my colleague the Minister of National Defence, who has kindly agreed that I open these discussions tonight because I have some other obligations, will deal with this more extensively.

I want to reassure the member that this is the reason why we are having this debate tonight. We will begin discussing this issue. This is a realignment of our presence in Afghanistan following our commitment of a few years ago, and in deep discussions with our international partners in NATO and with the other countries that are involved there.

We discussed who should do what in Afghanistan. We distributed the roles among ourselves. It was thought that Canada could do the best job there. The Minister of National Defence will have the opportunity to explain this more extensively.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to speak on the matter of our commitment to Afghanistan. The Conservative Party believes that political disputes should be resolved by negotiation and compromise, and therefore we oppose any use of terrorism, whether it is national or international. In particular, we believe that international terrorism must be opposed wherever possible because it is in our national interest. It threatens our values and our society.

Conservatives believe that Canada must oppose international terrorism, not only through use of military force but also diplomacy, international assistance and the promotion of democratic values. By combining our efforts with those of other democracies, we can overcome the scourge of international terrorism.

The terrorists who bombed the twin towers in New York were trained in Taliban run camps in Afghanistan. Twenty five of the victims were Canadians and therefore an attack on the towers was an attack on us. Almost immediately after the attack the United States declared that it would move against the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Canada joined the coalition that entered Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban government, and moved quickly to eliminate the international terrorist camps.

It was certainly appropriate and justified for Canada to send troops to assist in the overthrow of the Taliban regime. The battalion group we committed operated in the Kandahar area. Its function was to seek out and eliminate terrorists and insurgents who were located in the geographic area. As expected, our soldiers' performance was outstanding and helped to bring a degree of law and order to the Kandahar area. Although there were no direct battle casualties, tragically four soldiers were killed by friendly fire. Once the troops had accomplished their mission, the battalion group was withdrawn to Canada.

This initial commitment to fight the Taliban was made in response to an attack on our citizens, not to assist the failing state. Had we not been attacked, it seems unlikely that we would be in Afghanistan today since none of our national interests were involved until we were provoked. While we were committing a battalion group to the combat role in the Kandahar area, another battalion group was sent into the Kabul area as a peacekeeping force to protect the capital and the provisional government.

When we withdrew the battalion group from the Kandahar area, the government of Afghanistan asked us to remain in the capital to help further stabilize the situation. Canada agreed. This was a sensible decision as no civilized society wants the return of the Taliban government. The risk attached to this important role was clearly demonstrated when two of our soldiers were killed when their unarmed vehicles hit a mine.

Recently, the government announced that our commitment to Afghanistan would change again. The Canadian Forces would abandon Kabul and move into the Kandahar area, the heartland of the Pathan, the major supporters of the Taliban. The new commitment involves three elements: a provincial reconstruction team, a task force headquarters and a battalion group.

The provincial reconstruction team will have the role of supporting the local government and police force to reinforce law and order in the Kandahar area. The task force will command the multinational battle groups located in the south of Afghanistan while the battle group will seek out terrorists or insurgents and eliminate them. Let there be no doubt, this force will be involved in a combat role, not a peacekeeping role.

These changes to the current commitment were announced some months ago without any explanation from the government. Without a satisfactory explanation of why we are deepening our commitment, there is a suspicion that the government is reacting to local events without any real concept of where we are going.

When a government decides to intervene in a failing state there are a number of considerations that must be taken before committing troops. It must be satisfied that the mission supports the goals and objectives of Canada's foreign policy; the mandate is realistic, clear and enforceable; there is a clearly defined concept of operation; it has an effective command and control structure; there are clear rules of engagement; there is sufficient international financial and political support for the mission; it has adequate and properly equipped forces; it can sustain the commitment and engage in other international activities that may arise; there has been an effective consultation between mission partners; there are criteria to measure progress; there is a definition of success; there is an acceptable timeframe for the commitment; and there is a clear exit strategy if the mission is not successful.

I do not have great confidence that the government had satisfactory answers to these considerations before committing our troops to increased involvement in Afghanistan. In particular, I doubt that the government has a clear political and military strategy for Afghanistan or criteria on which to measure progress or a definition of success or an exit strategy. We have had pronouncements from government officials who indicate that our commitment in Afghanistan may be 5 years, 10 years or even as long as 20 years. It is obvious that the government does not have an idea how long the commitment will go on.

What really irritates me about the government's management of the military commitment to Afghanistan is that it has created a crisis situation and it is running out of time. The government has sent troops on a dangerous high risk mission to Kandahar and neglected to properly equip them before they arrived in Afghanistan despite a commitment from the Prime Minister not to send men and women abroad or put them in harm's way without giving them the best of equipment.

Being confronted with the challenge of Kandahar, the defence staff is doing what it can to prepare. Military personnel do not have what they need for the mission and have formulated a long list of equipment they desperately need for the troops to defend themselves, protect innocent Afghanis and defeat the Taliban.

The government knows it has made a hasty decision without thinking through the consequences. The cross-Canada speeches by the minister about Afghanistan and its dangers is like closing the barn door after the cow is gone. It committed troops to confront the Taliban without providing them with the necessary equipment.

To solve the political problem they have created, the Liberals are now planning to bypass the competitive procurement process by sole sourcing the bulk of the equipment for Afghanistan. They have also tried ramming through aircraft projects that could support our expeditionary efforts by creating requirements that can in reality only be met by one solution. In military terms, it is called situating the appreciation, knowing what one wants and writing the documents to arrive at the favoured solution.

By sidestepping the checks and balances of fair and open competition, the Liberals are admitting that they have done relatively little in 12 years to improve the military's defunct procurement system. In rushing through equipment for Afghanistan, the government is cutting corners on safety and security. Some examples are selecting 10-year-old, outdated, level one armour protection for the armoured personnel carriers instead of the much more effective level three protection.

Deciding that delivery on time is two and a half times as important as performance when selecting the winner of the armoured patrol vehicle project. This is bizarre and to add to the problem is the fact that the government did not ask for the latest version of armoured protection on the vehicles.

The government unwisely meandered into this commitment without having a clear idea of what was involved. All this could have been avoided if the Liberals had acted with some forethought. They have made a politically charged decision to commit troops to a high risk venture in Afghanistan without ensuring they are supplied with the proper equipment.

Some of our troops are already in the Kandahar area and the balance will be there by February. We in Parliament must support their efforts in any way we can. Wherever our troops have been sent, they have made us proud and they will do so again. The troops on the ground have a “can do” attitude and they will do whatever it takes to meet their tasks. However, when the government puts our forces in harm's way, it has a responsibility to be absolutely clear about what is to be accomplished, how it is to be accomplished, and when it is to be accomplished. It also has to provide the best equipment and logistic support available.

I have no doubt that our troops will do their part, but whether the government fulfills its part of the bargain, only time will tell.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his comments which are obviously based upon a distinguished military career and a great deal of knowledge of this subject and I thank him for his observations.

I will have an opportunity to discuss these issues further as the debate goes on, but I want to assure him that his list was comprehensive in terms of exactly where we should be going and I hope that I can assure members of the House that we have taken into consideration the important matters the member raised.

However, it would be helpful if the member could help the House when he says that we have no strategy in terms of time. He will recall that Bosnia was a situation where we had to go in without an exact knowledge of how long it would take. It took about 10 years really before we were able to turn this over to the Europeans.

I am not saying we are going to be in Afghanistan anything like 10 years, but I hope the hon. member would agree with me that we must remain there long enough at least allow President Karzai's government to have control over the situation in that own country. If we do not pacify that region and if we do not deal with that particular region, the chances of stabilization in Afghanistan will never take place. That is obviously the strategic reason that caused us to go there and we will discuss that further in the debate tonight.

The second observation I would like to draw from the member is the fact that when we talk about equipment and what we are doing there, the member will be aware that this is a multilateral mission. We will be with professional troops from Britain, America and other allies, all of whom will bring their own expertise and their own equipment. We will be allying ourselves with other well equipped members of NATO with whom we will share our equipment in a way that will make the force effective.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, I will try to answer the first one about time.

When the government commits the forces to a mission, it has to analyze what has to be done. There has to be a criteria for success. What is the gauge of success? What efforts have to be put in? An estimate has to be made either by our own staff or by our allies or in concert with our allies to estimate how long the mission will take to achieve our goals. There has to be some sense of how long the forces are going to be there. The minister said that it would not be 10 years. Certainly now it will not be 20. Maybe we put it in a bracket. Maybe our commitment is for 10 years or five years, but there is some reasonable estimate that can be made based on the criteria of success.

If the forces cannot achieve these criteria and cannot achieve success, then that is the alternative. At some point we have to pull out. If we feel we are making success, then we have to report that we are making success. We have no idea what the criteria is for success. I believe we can make a time estimate. We can say the forces will be in there for so many years.

With regard to equipment, it is true that we are going to have a variety of allies with different equipment. What is important for us is what our troops are equipped with, within the limits of our financial capability and our technical capability what can we provide our troops in terms of weapons and protection and mobility. For instance, in the commitment we are going into, I am aware that the Americans in the zone will have helicopters and can provide helicopter lift, et cetera, and there is no immediate need for helicopter lift. When our troops go down a road or into a village or up a hill somewhere, they have to have the best protection possible. My contention at the moment , because this decision was made without making sure we had the equipment the troops precisely need for Afghanistan, is this is being rammed through and we are not necessarily making the best choices.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to put a question to my honourable colleague, who is a former general. The current military command in the Kandahar region will now be replaced by a NATO command. I would like him to share with the House his thoughts regarding the importance of this fact. Does he think that it is advisable to shift from an American command to a NATO command? I would be grateful if he would give us the benefit of his expertise in this field, in that he is a former General in the Canadian Forces.