Madam Chair, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on the issue of Canada's role in Afghanistan. We do not have to dwell too long on how we got there, but it was essentially part of the international effort to deal with the terrorism that manifested itself in 9/11 and has subsequently manifested itself in other places around the world.
At this time our forces are present in Afghanistan on a worthy commitment, one that Canadians have up to now supported. I think they will continue to support it, not because they see it as some great western conquest, but because they see it as a method of assisting Afghans to rebuild their country and to become a functioning state in the modern world.
As I mentioned earlier, I did have an opportunity to visit our forces there. Thanks to the forces, I was able to train with them in Camp Petawawa for a short period. I visited with two members from other parties. The experience was certainly one I will not forget.
Evident to me in that visit was the high level of training of the Canadian soldier. It was evident in comparison to other soldiers in the theatre, other military, other parties there. Our soldiers in our Canadian Forces across the board not only have superb training, but they show their superb training in what they do and what they do not do, in their body language, how they speak and how they deal with other people. That was evident to me as I watched them do their work in the camp, in the desert, in the hills and in the city. They seemed capable of working well in all of those environments, both in achieving the military objective and in getting along with the local people.
The issue of equipment has been mentioned. Both here in Canada and in Afghanistan the issue came up. I asked, as did my colleagues from the Conservative Party, and our forces are very happy with the new equipment, the LAV IIIs and the new G-wagon, the LUV, the light utility vehicle. All of these are armoured.
I, myself, witnessed the difference between the LAV, the armoured personnel carrier without the heavy duty armour and with the heavy duty armour. The armour added to the LAV III, the large armoured personnel carrier was at least an inch thick. That was added to the vehicle as part of the vehicle. While it is not necessary for training, it is used over there. The additional armour put into the transport vehicles was also there.
There are a few older vehicles that are used in different roles which do not have the add on armour, that is true, but for the main mission where the armour is needed to protect against the type of improvised exploding device, a bomb at the side of the road, a bomb in a car, there is lots of armour. The forces are trained and they know that they may be knocked out in an explosion, but they will not die. Their armour is quite good. I have already admitted that not every vehicle is fully armoured in that way. No army over there has full armour on every vehicle.
They are very happy with the new uniforms, both the old greens that are still around and the desert camouflage. I had the privilege of wearing both and they work well, from the socks right on up.
Camp conditions were excellent, as good as any around. There were many, many foreign troops visiting the Canadian camp for a meal or for some other amenities. The Canadian camp was extremely well run.
Relationships with other forces were excellent. The Camp Mirage air support base in the region was extremely well run and is an asset that the military and Canadians can be proud of.
Of the many unforgettable experiences there for me as a member of Parliament, two aspects in particular stand out. First, as I mentioned, the quality and skills of the Canadian soldier are really quite conspicuous. The nutrition, the physical training and the team discipline are evident everywhere as a part of the Canadian military environment. Particularly noticeable was the ability of our Canadian soldiers to recognize and accommodate other languages, religions and cultures, a general accordance of respect to our Afghan hosts both in words and in body language.
With reference to the application of force to a threat to themselves or civilians, there seems to be a very good sense of proportionality of response. When force must be used, the men and women of our forces know what it means to be on both ends of a gun.
Most of the soldiers put big parts of their lives on hold to serve there so that we Canadians can contribute to the international effort to enable Afghans to look to a future of personal security and order in a place where their children can have fuller, happier lives.
I had an opportunity in more than one context to be face to face with Afghan hosts, regular people in the street and in the hills. I can say that when I looked into their eyes, I could see there was a recognition that most if not all of the foreign troops on their soil were there to offer that type of future. They did not fear the foreign military. It was pleasing for me to see that.
Another impression I had was that of the industriousness of the Afghan people. They all appeared to be working or ready to work at anything, however menial that might be. I have no doubt that given half a chance they will rebuild their country and do more than that. They will do it brick by brick, in the city or in the rural areas, and they will do it after a quarter century of war. They have faith themselves: they have their religious faith and they have faith in their country and their heritage.
I will close by saying that I could not be prouder of our forces there and of the other civilian components of our team now in Kandahar. I was there the night that the first vehicles left from Camp Julian in Kabul to go to Kandahar. That was the first move out of a relatively secure Kabul, although our soldiers did have some dangerous assignments prior to that, but it was a move down the road, through hills and valleys which we did not control. They left as usual in darkness, in the early hours of the morning. I had met, eaten with and spent time with those soldiers who were heading out. They moved out and down the road with all of the risks of ambush, et cetera. They got to their destination and thus began the move into Kandahar sector.
There are additional risks in Kandahar. They all knew it. They were trained superbly. I personally found their standing orders a little on the aggressive side from my Canadian perspective here as a member of Parliament; I do not have to live with the kinds of risks that our soldiers do. But those standing orders seem to work and they appear to be working very well.
In closing, let me say that those soldiers carry with them our hopes and aspirations as Canadians. I want to say that we are not going to let the terrorists take away the freedom that the Afghans have now. We are not going to do that. Even more than that, looking here from Canada, we can never let the terrorists take away the freedom that we have as Canadians here and the freedoms that we expect here and abroad.