Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this important debate on the evolving Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan, and I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint Boniface.
The motion put forward today is flawed and incorrect. The next chapter of the Canadian Forces engagement in Afghanistan will be a non-combat mission. It is a mission that builds the capacity of the Afghan government to fend for itself in the future.
Similar types of missions have been carried out by the Canadian Forces elsewhere in the world and are the prerogative of the executive branch of our system of government, long enshrined in both practice and convention.
For almost 10 years now, our military has been involved in one of the most complex and dangerous mission in decades. Our Canadian Forces have been working around the clock in some of the most unforgiving conditions on the planet. They have faced a ruthless enemy. It is an enemy who has respected few of the values that we, as Canadians, hold dear and that we profess, as a nation, to foster and promote in other nations less fortunate than ours.
We have persevered to achieve basic rights for women and children and all Afghans to live without threat of bombs and intimidation and to live under the rule of law. This should not be forgotten in this debate.
While on their mission, they have lost 152 of their brave comrades and have seen countless others sustain both mental and physical injuries. But, undaunted, they have persevered in their mission.
They will leave an enduring legacy of hope in a country that was in shambles just a decade ago. This is a significant accomplishment, one that all Canadians should be extremely proud of.
I would invite the hon. members to take a step back and take the time to appreciate what our men and women in uniform have accomplished in Afghanistan so far, and why it is important.
This is an opportunity to reflect briefly on all the good things the Canadian Forces have done and to better understand the crucial gains they have made through their perseverance and sacrifices.
The Canadian Forces arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to a country that was ruled by a despicable regime that harboured the worst of terrorist groups whose murderous agenda manifested itself not only on September 11 but in London, Madrid, Bali and the Philippines, and as we see daily, it continues to plant fear among us.
The Canadian Forces' initial contributions to operations in Afghanistan were critical in driving the Taliban out of its former strongholds. However, the removal of the Taliban signalled the beginning of a larger, much more complex mission.
After 30 years of war and suffering under the scourge of despotic regimes, Afghanistan was a devastated country, one that could not even provide the most basic of services to its citizens.
The international community could not leave Afghanistan in this condition and risk seeing it revert back to a safe haven for terrorist groups. Canada and our allies understood that this would require a long-term commitment. The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, was set up to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their nation. The Canadian Forces launched Operation Athena in 2003 to support ISAF and help provide a safe and secure environment in Kabul.
This proved to be critical for the formation of a loya jirga and the development and ratification of a new Afghan constitution. Shortly thereafter, in October 2004, Canadian troops helped ensure the safe conduct of Afghanistan's first democratic election, and 80% of eligible voters participated in these elections, a reflection of the Afghan people's yearning for a voice in their own affairs.
This was a remarkable achievement. Despite the threats and risks inherent in Afghanistan, our men and women in uniform contributed to the crucial first steps in rebuilding Afghanistan's state institutions. In the following years, NATO took command of ISAF, which extended its operations beyond Kabul. The Canadian Forces moved south and established Task Force Kandahar in what was at the time one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, and we were responsible for the entire region. It was the traditional heartland of the Taliban, and the Taliban was showing signs of resurgence.
Our men and women in uniform faced roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes, but they rose to the challenge. With fewer than 3,000 troops, and a battle group of approximately 1,000 soldiers, the Canadian Forces held their ground in Kandahar. Our men and women in uniform prevented the Taliban from retaking its former stronghold and contributed to increasing stability in a dangerous and volatile area.
Since arriving in Kandahar, the Canadian Forces have also been involved in a wide spectrum of activities, including non-combat operations. Our provincial reconstruction team, in particular, has played a decisive role in strengthening the Afghan government 's authority and ability to govern the region.
Our men and women in uniform have assisted with the delivery of essential resources, such as water and humanitarian aid. They have also helped upgrade the security of key government offices and installations, making it safer for dedicated Afghan officials to build a better future.
They have provided the technical expertise required to build and repair roads, schools, irrigation canals and other key public infrastructure.
Our men and women in uniform have engaged local leaders to build trust across the region and to reinforce nascent institutions.
Above all, the Canadian Forces, in partnership with the Afghan national security forces they have trained and mentored, have provided the necessary security environment for provincial reconstruction team civilians, international organizations and NGOs to pursue a broad range of development and economic initiatives.
Just recently, they helped complete the construction of seven new schools, bringing the total number of schools in the region to 26. Work is continuing on the remaining 24 schools, as per one of Canada's three signature projects. As Samantha Nutt of War Child Canada reminds us, only seven years ago no girls and not many children had the chance to go to school.
They have also inoculated more than 7.2 million children against polio.
Our men and women in uniform have also helped remove mines from 574 square kilometres of land, which have been released back to the Afghan people, and have contributed to the demobilization of former combatants by collecting light arms and securing heavy weapons.
As we approach 2011, the results of the Canadian Forces' efforts in Kandahar are becoming clearer. There has been a significant improvement in the region's security environment. On many occasions, Kandaharis have indicated they consider themselves to be safer in their communities today. This perception of improving security has been crucial in the development and stabilization of Afghanistan.
They have recently contributed to the success of the election of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament. On polling day, 90% of planned polling stations were open across the country. This remarkable achievement has drawn heavily from the Canadian Forces' contribution. It also highlights the fundamental role that security and stability play in determining the course of Afghanistan and providing basic services and an effective governance system.
The government and our allies and partners in ISAF recognize this reality. That is why we have put considerable effort into training and monitoring the ANSF. The Afghan national security forces have made tremendous strides over the past few years, but that work is nowhere near complete.
The Canadian Forces possess considerable training expertise and capability. Our efforts in that regard have been recognized by the Afghan government and our ISAF partners. We are, simply put, very good at that. Our NATO allies know this and have indicated how pleased they are with our decision to remain in Afghanistan in a training role until 2014.
The deployment of 950 military trainers and support staff to the NATO training mission marks the beginning of a new chapter. It will build on our previous efforts to train and expand the Afghan national security force, and it will play a critical role in ensuring the successful implementation of the transition process that will enable Afghanistan to assume responsibility for its own security beyond 2014. In doing so, this training mission will help ensure that the gains achieved for Afghans through the Canadian Forces' valour and sacrifices are not jeopardized.
Our men and women in uniform have contributed to concrete, tangible and indisputable improvements in the lives of the Afghan people. Security and living conditions in Kandahar have improved significantly since 2006. Afghanistan is a stronger, healthier nation than it was when the first Canadian Forces arrived there nearly a decade ago.
I have been there six times in the last four years, and I can say from first-hand experience that this is true. We have heard it from people at every level in Afghanistan and it is a fact. I believe, as I am sure many of my colleagues in the House believe, that we cannot afford to compromise our gains. Our men and women in uniform have shown the highest levels of dedication and Parliament should feel the highest levels of dedication to them.
We must build on our legacy of hope that they have built through their commitment. The non-combat training mission is the best way forward. It will help our nation achieve the goals that our men and women in uniform have selflessly worked toward for the past several years: a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, a more secure world and a safer Canada.