Mr. Chair, it is an honour for me to be able to participate with my colleagues in this debate this evening on what I believe to be one of the most important foreign operations the Canadian Forces has undertaken in many years, which is obviously our mission to Afghanistan. I hope that I have been able to address some of the earlier questions on other issues in my previous remarks. I look forward to answering questions when I finish my formal remarks.
Several months ago the government published its new defence and international policy statements. These statements were not academic exercises. Rather, they were informed by recent global history and born of experience, particularly the international experience of the Canadian Forces over the past 15 years in places as diverse and challenging as Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti and Afghanistan.
The one unifying feature running through these very different places is that none of these states were able to provide an acceptable level of security for their citizens or fulfill their international obligations. They were or are failed or failing states.
As a result of this experience, both the defence and international policy statements identify the concept of failed and failing states as an organizing principle for Canada's future military operations.
We must address these fragile states not only because of the geopolitical instability they generate as breeding grounds for international crime and terrorism, and I think of New York, London and Madrid, as was evoked by my colleague, the member from Carleton, but also because the suffering and denial of human rights they represent challenge basic Canadian values.
Dealing with situations in failed or failing states is not simply about waging war over there. Rather, it requires a sophisticated set of skills and instruments, including combat capabilities, diplomatic skills and a willingness to help others rebuild their institutions in a way that is culturally sensitive to their local needs.
These are attributes the Canadian Forces have in spades, largely due to the combination of our military's vast experience in peacekeeping operations around the world since the 1950s, the enviable war fighting history of the Canadian military, and our recent experience in complex places like the Balkans.
Few militaries, I would posit, have our range of history and experience. This in turn has instilled in our military culture and our people a rich array of skills and attributes. Our men and women in uniform embody Canadian values of tolerance and respect, combined with a steely determination to defend our rights, and I might say also a respect for international law.
These values are the result of our history as a bilingual and multicultural nation that has over the years become one of the world's most successful models of embracing cultural differences among one of the world's most diverse populations.
I need not remind this House of the long and unfortunate history of war and misrule that has characterized Afghanistan's recent history culminating in the rule of the Taliban and their support for all al-Qaeda and their attack on New York.
That is why we were there as early as 2002, in Kandahar, in a combat mission to deal with international terrorism. It is why we pressed for NATO to take over ISAF and then subsequently provided some 2,000 troops to a mission led by General Rick Hillier, today the Chief of the Defence Staff.
ISAF has been, and continues to be, instrumental in providing the stability and security the Afghan government needs to extend its authority throughout the country. It was crucial to the successful and relatively peaceful presidential elections of last year.
And when we recently watched parliamentary and provincial elections we had the gratifying sight of Afghans, particularly women, defying threats of violence and intimidation, going to the polls in record numbers.
Despite these signs of hope and progress, Afghanistan could probably still be accurately described as a fragile state. Extremist insurgents continue to roam some parts of the country in an effort to regain their previous authority, terrorize the population and destabilize the government. Its economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the international narcotics trade and the country is therefore highly vulnerable to organized crime.
Afghanistan then, colleagues, is at a critical juncture today. Progress has been substantial, but the ongoing commitment of the international community is required if it is to become a peaceful, stable and prosperous country. Without a solid, long term, multifaceted international commitment, it could revert to a failed state or even become an narco-state. That is not in Canada's interest or indeed, in the interest of any state.
That is why we have decided, with our NATO allies, to increase Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan over the next several months. In fact, by early next year, our military presence and role in Afghanistan will be greater and more varied than it has been to date, notwithstanding significant contributions over the past three years.
Just last month the Canadian Forces returned to Kandahar and established a provincial reconstruction team, a PRT, comprised of about 250 Canadian Forces members as well as officials from CIDA, the RCMP and Foreign Affairs.
This was described to some extent by my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Members will know that the PRT concept is to assist the Afghan authorities in providing governance and security, as well as delivering basic services to citizens. The PRT concept corresponds with the thrust of our defence and international policy statements and represents a practical example of our 3-D approach put into action.
I would not accept that it represents a militarization of aid. It is precisely the instrument that makes giving aid in an unstable area possible. Without it, there would be no aid available to those people.
Canada chose to deploy a provincial reconstruction team to Kandahar, because we have been there before. We know the region well. It is also one of the provinces most in need of security and rebuilding. Kandahar is a big challenge for the international community and for Canada. But we know we can make a real difference there, given our past experience and expertise.
In February, the Canadian Forces will also be deploying into Kandahar a brigade headquarters of about 350 persons that will command the multinational force there for nine months. At the same time, we will be deploying a task force of about 1,000 troops into Kandahar for one year, a period of time that might respond to the concern of our colleague from Carleton—Mississippi Mills.
As an essential complement to the reconstruction efforts of our PRT, this force will provide much needed security in the region and perform the same role currently performed by our elite special forces unit.
Finally, we are providing a strategic advisory team of approximately 15 civilian and military planners and support staff to advise the Afghan government on defence and national security issues for a year. Their job is to enable the Afghan government to run their own affairs, our raison d'être for being there.
A month ago I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Afghanistan for the second time. This recent trip brought home to me the human dimension of what we are accomplishing there.
In Kabul, I heard firsthand from President Karzai, from the foreign minister and from other officials, just how much they appreciate not only the stability and security our troops are bringing to their country but, of equal importance, how our troops work naturally with the local population in a way that inspires confidence and makes us partners in securing their country.
In Kandahar, the local governor and tribal elders I met told me how much they like working with our PRT, how Colonel Bowes and his troops understand their needs for schools, hospitals and roads, and how the troops are working with them to rebuild this infrastructure.
Our troops themselves rightly take pride in what they are doing in Afghanistan. This point has been brought home to me many times as I travel across the country and hear from Canadian Afghanis, as well as our own troops.
I want to leave my colleagues with the statement that this mission to Afghanistan is consistent with Canada's new international defence policies. In fact, it is the most significant, tangible expression of these policies in action. It is, as other members have pointed out, a complex, challenging and dangerous environment and mission as the part we are going to in Afghanistan is the most unstable and dangerous in the country. Indeed, that is why we have been asked to go there with our other partners, and that is why we are going there.
Members can be assured our troops are exceptionally well-trained, equipped and led for this mission. They are confident in their ability to accomplish this task with all the professional qualities that have marked their previous endeavours.
As I conclude, I want to share with members and ask them to think about the faces of those men and women of the Canadian Forces, the ones we have seen going off to Afghanistan from Edmonton or those who we can see in Kabul or Kandahar if we travel there. They are the faces of Canada, open, generous, sensitive to the culture and needs of their faraway destination, willing to take risks and determined to use their considerable skills to bring stability to the lives of people living in very hard conditions.
We Canadians, who have the privilege of living in one of the most blessed countries on earth, should take pride in sharing in the dream of Afghanis that their country will be rebuilt and in our very real contribution to this realization.