The ultimate goal of the NATO mission in Afghanistan is for the Afghans to take the lead, with NATO troops transitioning to a support role, says a spokesperson for the international organization.
James Appathurai discussed the NATO position after Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff visited the war-torn nation and called for Canada to stay on beyond February 2009 when the mission is scheduled to end, but in a non-combat role.
"I think actually we all agree on the end state -- NATO and I think probably the political parties here too -- and that's transition," Appathurai, a Canadian, told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.
"We want to move to a phase where the Afghans are in the lead and we provide support, training, close air support, emergency support but let them do the frontline fighting. It's a question of when."
A question of when is clearly the caveat, but the basic approach is entirely consistent with the Liberals position. The thrust of the Liberal argument, troops must "transition" to a training and support role, a recognition that the ultimate security situation can only be resolved when the indigenous force demonstrates capability. Appathurai clearly recognizes the end game, which insulates the Liberal position from the obvious Conservative criticisms.
The only point that might be in conflict, just how long NATO troops need to remain in their current role. Appathurai hedges on a specific date for the next phase, whereas the Liberals are firm. That said, if NATO is really a collection, then the Liberals can argue our role should be advancing the next phase. Canada's participation will focus on ensuring that the Afghan forces are prepared to act with unanimity. You don't just stop combat one day, then move everything over to training, it is a progression, and Canada can focus on the ultimate "transition".
The Liberals have carved a niche, which will be acceptable to Canadians, who have conflicting views about our participation. We have honored our military commitment, now Canada will focus on progress towards the ultimate goal, under the NATO umbrella, as part of a consistent strategy. Sounds like a winner from here.