Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate and I congratulate all members who have participated. I am pleased to be splitting my time with the Minister of Public Safety.
This debate, as we know, focuses on Canada's role in the United Nations' mandated NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, a mission that, of course, has the full support and encouragement of the democratically elected government of that country. As before, Canada was called in a time of dire need and we answered.
When one thinks of the contribution that is being made, it is difficult not to feel pride each time we have a discussion in this chamber, and the fact that we represent Canadians who are very engaged and very interested in Canada's mission in the future role that we can play in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Afghanistan's success may be determined very much by Canada's future role. In fact, Canadians have demonstrated, I would say, a profound understanding and an interest of the mission taking place on the other side of the world.
The combined efforts of numerous government departments are doing incredible work in building peace and prosperity in Afghanistan that it strives for. It is critical that they remain engaged in a whole-of-government approach because clearly we are shaping the 21st century for the people of Afghanistan through our actions and efforts, promoting values of freedom, security, peace, the rule of law and democracy. This is a possibility where before it was simply an impossibility.
I spoke recently at the Forum for Young Canadians, Mr. Speaker, and I know you have on numerous occasions. I was taken by the insights and the penetrating questions that came from those young representatives from across our country. I felt particularly proud to hear the understanding that they had for what was taking place in places like Afghanistan, Darfur, and other parts of the world where Canada is making such a genuine and positive contribution. The generation that I saw is a hopeful and thoughtful one.
Canadians have always been proud of our tradition of reaching out and helping the less fortunate.
The international mission in Afghanistan is part of this tradition. Nevertheless, it differs from the missions our military has participated in in the past. This has raised some serious questions for our country.
Our government has always been open to frank and transparent discussions about this mission. There have been 15 technical briefings since 2002, and 14 of those were held under the current Conservative government. I have appeared before standing committees to discuss my current and former portfolios. In total, the former defence minister and I have appeared 17 times. Take note debates have been held and many questions have been raised in the House.
The independent panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan played an important role in educating Canadians about the Afghan mission. The task force developed clear, fair and balanced recommendations. The government motion to extend Canada's military mission in Kandahar until July 2011 stems from these recommendations.
I and others have followed the debate on the future contributions in Kabul. We would like to take the opportunity today to answer some of the questions that were posed by members in today's debate and others. I also want to thank the participants, as I did a moment ago. I believe that the contributions are doing a lot to help inform Canadians further on the role that we are playing and no doubt raising the standard of debate on the issue itself.
The role Canadians are playing is one of which we can all be proud. Today, in Afghanistan, approximately 2,500 Canadian Forces members have joined with the forces of other countries who have answered the call of the international community to bring security to that country.
Canadian troops are there working side by side with their counterparts, among others, the Department of Foreign Affairs, CIDA, Correctional Service Canada and the RCMP. Canadian men and women are contributing in almost all areas of Afghan life, from education and health to community development, and the training of Afghan security forces. They do it well, with cultural sensitivity and recognizing the tribal nature of Afghan society. We are making a difference there.
Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canadian bilateral development assistance. Our pledge of $1.3 billion to 2011 for development and reconstruction ranks Canada among the world's top donors.
My colleague, the Minister of International Cooperation, has outlined for the House some of the important development work that is ongoing.
With perseverance, commitment and patience, we are rebuilding a country that was devastated by decades of war and hardship, and the Afghan population has endured such hardship. Yet, we continue to hear the stories of commitment and courage.
As I mentioned, the Afghan female members of Parliament were here, setting such a high standard and example for women in their country and our own.
This past weekend 1,000 women gathered in Kandahar to celebrate International Women's Day. This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.
Success in Afghanistan is very much dependent on the establishment of self-sufficiency in three key areas: security, obviously, development and governance. These three areas are mutually reinforcing, and are nurtured and supported by the Afghanistan Compact, but of the three, the achieving of security is the rock upon which all else will be moored.
The Afghanistan Compact is a landmark five year agreement between the United Nations, the international community and the government of Afghanistan. It maps out Afghanistan's road to recovery and governs most of what Canada and the 59 other signatory countries and organizations will be doing in Afghanistan.
With Canada and the international assistance, Afghanistan is making real progress toward achieving these benchmarks that are set by the compact. Not surprisingly then, many of the answers to the questions that have been posed in this debate can be derived directly from this document.
In order to meet the benchmarks set out by the Afghan Compact, we must surely assist the Afghan national security forces to establish a stable and secure environment in that country. That is why the troops are there. This government believes that they need to stay there until the Afghans are in a better position to take over this role for themselves.
In fact, the motion put forth by the government states things clearly. The mission should shift increasingly toward training the Afghan national security forces, so they can assume increased responsibility for security in Kandahar and in their entire country.
This training has always been a key element of our military engagement there. In fact, when one looks over the history of this mission, we have been engaged in increasing levels of training since we signalled our intentions last October in the Speech from the Throne.
We are glad that the Manley report reinforces this sentiment and that members here have also signalled agreement with the direction that we have already been moving.
Canada has contributed significantly to the development of a self-sufficient and effective national army in Afghanistan, and particularly the Afghan government, along with the international security assistance force, has called for an 80,000 strong Afghan national army by 2010.
There have been noteworthy successes, operational wins, which involve the active participation of the Afghan national army.
Should the mandate be extended beyond February 2009? We expect that our men and women in uniform will continue to work with the Afghan government and our allies toward achieving the other benchmarks, but particularly in the areas of training the security forces within the Afghan national security forces and their ability to engage or take on the extremists, the Taliban. Without that, we will not have success.
The Taliban are ferocious and fearless, and unrestricted in the tactics they will employ. They perpetrate the most hideous and immoral forms of violence imaginable, and that is their hallmark and their advantage.
We cannot cede any territory or back away. We win on the battlefield. IEDs are the type of system that has been employed and we are taking steps to counter these insidious forms of warfare.
As the security improves, the Canadian Forces will be in a better position to dedicate more resources to the building of a self-sustaining Afghan national army and police force. I know my colleague will have more to say on that subject.
Through its six operational mentoring and liaison teams, the Canadian Forces are focusing on training the Afghan brigade based in Kandahar province to plan and execute operations in the field. Because of Canadian efforts, competent Afghan national battalions are now deploying into Kandahar province and throughout the country. Afghans are increasingly able to plan and execute their own operations with the support of ISAF troops. Continued mentoring and training will be required to further develop professional and competent Afghan national security forces.
The Afghan national security forces are the antidote to the Taliban terrorists. Let us not forget the atrocities committed against the Afghan people and their pain and suffering.
Numerous mention has been made throughout the debate and found within this motion of the troop commitments, the equipment that is required. These are very much consistent with the recommendations of the Manley report. We have already announced our intention to acquire helicopters, both in the broader sense through the commitment in the budget and also to work to obtain UAVs and address the immediate needs on the equipment side.
We are also looking at achieving other objectives, including the emphasis that I mentioned as far as the training. The government will continue to work to get the troops what they need, when they need it. They are the best onces to give us that advice.
Canadian parents, sons and daughters expect that their government will support their loved ones, who are willingly accepting the risk and putting their lives on the line to work with others. We have listened to the Canadian Forces, its leadership and those who use this important equipment to make these determinations. We are committed to getting that equipment to those people who need it most.
Peace, stability and security are achievable in Afghanistan if we continue to work together in this international mission. We believe we can elevate the development, the reconstruction and good governance. These are all realistic goals, but only if we persevere.
I hope my comments have clarified the issue and helped to better explain the government's position.
We must understand the issues related to this mission, which is important to Afghans and to Canadians. We are helping lead the way for the Afghan people, but we are also making a decision about the kind of leadership we want to provide internationally. We are facing some serious challenges in Afghanistan. We can turn our backs and run away, but that does not fit into the Canadian tradition.
I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this important issue. I am grateful for the attention that Parliament itself and the people of Canada have focused now on the issue of the mission in Afghanistan.
I reiterate that we hope all members will consider support for this motion. Given that capacity, we believe Afghanistan will continue on the path to peace and the people of Afghanistan and the people of Canada will be direct beneficiaries of that united effort.