Afghan mission a tough sell

I contributed to this article yesterday. Steve.

Afghan mission a tough sell; Exit will leave ‘a hell of a vacuum’
The Ottawa Sun
Mon 10 Sep 2007
BY KATHLEEN HARRIS, NATIONAL BUREAU

The link between terrorism and the bloody war in Afghanistan is fading fast from public memory, making the military mission a tough sell with Canada and its allies six years after 9/11, experts say.

As Canada appears set to pull troops from combat in February 2009, most predict other nations won’t be waiting in line with replacements to the volatile southern region.

Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie said Canada’s exit would leave a “hell of a vacuum,” yet he doesn’t expect other countries will pick up the slack without forceful persuasion.

He said it’s time for Canada to publicly convince other NATO countries to help shoulder the burden.

“We’ve got to stop being nice and start saying this alliance is in serious jeopardy, and if you guys don’t start showing up with adequate boots on the ground to try and win this thing, then quite frankly then after five years of sacrifice, we’re getting pretty upset with the alliance,” he said.

MacKenzie urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal party leaders to deliver a blunt and robust message on the world stage: That a failure to answer the call for support could signal that NATO is doomed.

Within weeks, the Dutch government is expected to say if it will extend its mission — a decision that could sway other countries like Canada considering whether to deploy, maintain or withdraw troops.

Phil Lagasse, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said a break from heavy combat for Canada — even a rotation into Afghanistan’s less turbulent north — would bring political peace at home while giving the army a chance to train and grow.

“Canada can legitimately make the claim that it’s done quite a bit in combat for a number of years and if NATO is serious about this operation then some of the other players should be playing their part,” he said.

As soldier and civilian death tolls mount, Lagasse said federal leaders around the world find the mission a tough public sell as the original justification becomes hazy.

‘BLURRED THE LINES’

“The initial effort to sell the mission as an anti-terror mission made sense because it came right after the 9/11 attacks. But as we gravitated more towards this idea of nation-building and creating a new society in Afghanistan, you’ve blurred the lines as to why you’re there,” he said. “And as much as we like to think we’re doing good, ultimately that’s not why we’re there.”

Steve Staples, director of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, said while plenty of nations want to help bolster world security, few are eager to rush into combat. He notes there is “great sensitivity” in European countries like Germany and France around the specific operations their soldiers are asked to do in Afghanistan.

“They will have to seriously shift their strategy in Afghanistan to avoid losing the whole thing,” he said.

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