Monday, February 11, 2008

Conservatives Blink?

CBC is reporting that the Conservatives have agreed that the Afghanistan mission will end in 2011, a departure from Van Loan's vague responses today. This concession would seem to narrow the gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals on a key point. Quite interesting, given the fact the end date was the focus today for the Liberals, in Question Period and the scrums:
His second line in the sand makes it that much more unlikely.

"Our position is that in 2011 the mission is over," Dion told reporters Monday.

"And we need to make that clear otherwise NATO and the government of Afghanistan will assume . . . that Canada is setting for a never-ending mission.

The National said that several Liberals responded positively to the news, an encouraging sign there could yet be a deal.

At the very least, this concession does suggest the Conservatives are willing to try and find a compromise, how far that goes is anybody's guess. The government may be calculating it is better to get an agreement, than leave the question open-ended heading into a campaign.

As for the other line in the sand, I found these comments from a Liberal MP telling:

"If you're out there with some people that are building a road and suddenly you're attacked with mortars or whatever but people are hiding somewhere away from the road, what do you do?" asked Liberal MP Roy Cullen. "Do you just sort of stand guard and put on your helmets or do you call for the ‘search and destroy' people?"

I think Harper may have blinked here, which means there is room for the Liberals to ask for firm commitments, hard numbers for allocations, percentages devoted to what priorities. If Harper is throwing the Liberals a sizeable bone, chances are he is willing to go further, because this move reveals a genuine want. If the Liberals accept a combat component, without strings and protocols, they might just find they get the "re-focus" they have argued for, for the better part of a year.


Gayle said...

I think if they can come to a concensus on this issue there will be no election this spring. Craig Oliver was suggesting on MDL that a number of liberals do not want an election right now.

I am the last person who wants an election over Afghanistan, but at the same time I cannot see how the liberals can abstain on a vote on the motion, as currently worded, and maintain any credibility on this issue. If there is a compromise on Afghanistan I would not be surprised if there is no election.

Though I suppose Harper could make good on his threat to go to the GG on the crime bill motion, but as the constitutionality of that motion is dubious at best I do not think that will work.

Steve V said...


I couldn't understand what Oliver was talking about today. To actually suggest the Liberals could abstain on Afghanistan and get away with it, was just astounding. I'm serious, I can't take another session of ducking and hiding, I hope he is wrong. Sounded crazy from here.

ottlib said...

"If you're out there with some people that are building a road and suddenly you're attacked with mortars or whatever but people are hiding somewhere away from the road, what do you do?" asked Liberal MP Roy Cullen. "Do you just sort of stand guard and put on your helmets or do you call for the ‘search and destroy' people?"

Mr. Cullen should stick to politics because he is lousy as a military thinker.

Search and destroy is what Operation Medusa was in September of 2006. It is going out, finding the Taliban and destroying them.

It is the most dangerous mission any troops can go on and it was during these missions that we lost the most troops in the shortest amount of time.

It is these kinds of missions that Stephane Dion want Canadian troops be left out of and he is right. There was very little point of doing it in the past and there is even less point now that Pakistan cannot even put up a token effort to seal the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily.

Providing security for reconstruction is not all that difficult but it would probably involve combat. However, it would be a different kind of combat. The Canadian troops would be numerous and in prepared positions, with heavily armed and highly mobile "react forces" to quickly reinforce any hot spots. Although casualties are still a possibility the chances of them are greatly reduced.

As well, what Mr. Cullen describes happens on a daily base all over southern Afghanistan. Small groups of Taliban insurgents will infiltrate to within mortar range of the perimeter of a Canadian forward base and lob a few mortar bombs at the perimeter. Then they will melt back into the darkness before the Canadians can react. The Canadians do not pursue.

So Canadian troops are already fighting a largely defensive war. Mr. Dion is not suggesting anything too radical in that sense.

Steve V said...


Are your freaking serious with the mortar attacks and we just continue down the road nonsense? Geezus.

If you can cite me ONE military analyst, that says you can effectively train the Afghan army without accompanying them on "missions", let me know. I can't, I consider it progress to find one that doesn't laugh at the suggestion.

As for Cullen, are you now reduced to carving Liberals who dare ask what hell it all means? Criticizing a Liberal, that would be a first, just want to make sure we have this on record ;)

Scott Tribe said...

"Government House leader Peter Van Loan said a Tory confidence motion calling for the mission to be extended until the end of 2011 doesn't necessarily mean Canadian troops won't stay longer."

I don't see how that's changed from before.

That comes from an article on the Toronto Star updated minutes ago that reads "Tories, Liberals harden Afghanistan positions" Either the Star editors are trying to jazz up the title, or else they sense no compromise in the air.

Anonymous said...

I just read in the Star that all troops to stop all fighting as of Feb 2009 and entirely all troops out of there by 2011

Steve V said...

Here's what was said:

"But, the clear answer didn't come until hours later. Tonight, a government official told CBC news that it is the government intention to end the Afghan mission in 2011. That considerably narrows the gap between the Liberals and the Conservatives, provides the first real momentum for a deal"

"Indeed some Liberals I've talked too about the end date moving to 2011 tonight believe that this is real movement, and they could get to an agreement, until now they thought was impossible"

Keith Boag

Susan said...

We were supposed to end in 2007, then Harper slipped in 2009, he'll do the same with 2011. He'll do anything to deliver for boss Bush. He's just playing with us all.

burlivespipe said...

Of course he blinked on this. His polling and focus grouping told him that Afghanistan is not an issue he can win with, especially in Quebec and any hope of an urban break through.
That's why he's rattling Jacob Marley's chains again about the Senate. He's threatening to pull the plug himself if he doesn't see anything done quickly, cleverly hiding his own ruse that 3/4s of the crime and punishment bill would have been in operation last fall had he not prorogued and withdrawn near-finished and passed (by HOC) legislation that apparently he has been using as a shield.
As a tactic, it looks clever. However, should we be able to frame the facts, and the media follow that trail (just like the Chalk River fiasco), the CONs come out smelling like any egg nog you might still have lying in the back of your fridge today.

Orchard said...


You sound like a war-mongering hound. The solution for you, and only solution, is war and combat.

Poppies? Blow the hell out of the farmers and their fields. Reconstruction? Where's the Military to kill everyone first to ensure nothing moves while we're building schools and hospitals.

It seems you want something we'll never have - control. We will never have control over Afghanistan and the dream of control through military muscle is complete fantasy.

What we need is a different vision. Instead of control, we need to build relationships and partnerships. This is what Dion stands for.

Rage and aggression are not the solution to this situation. There's been enough of that in Afghanistan already. We'll never have enough military muscle in Afghanistan to effectively control their country and control isn't the aim any way.

Afghanistan will never submit, it can only be partnered with. This is the lesson of history and it still applies today.

Steve V said...

"You sound like a war-mongering hound. The solution for you, and only solution, is war and combat."

Well then, I suggest you pay more attention.

Scott Tribe said...

Steve: Have you seen the proposed Liberal amendments? If they areI said last night, I can get behind and support them.

Steve V said...


They have to clarify the combat part, everything else sounds great.

MarkCh said...

It is the Conservative intention (now) to end the mission in 2011. That doesn't mean they can't change their minds in 2010, if there is a good reason and public and parliamentary support. Harper wants the mission to continue. Three years from now is a long time. The combat mission question is the biggie, since it affects what the troops can actually do. Still no sign of a Liberal (or Conservative) climb-down on that one, though. The Libs will either have to bend on this, or fight an election on the specific issue of combat, when everyone on both sides knows that the official Liberal position on this is nonsense. Other than that, the amendments seem innocuous enough, and could probably pass.

Scott Tribe said...

On the contrary Steve and Mark, I think the amendments perfectly spell out exactly what the Liberals envision for the combat role, and just because the Cons and General Hillier don't like it and deride it doesn't make it illegitimate.

It also is a sellable position to the Canadian people in the event of an election. I say if the Cons reject it, bring them down. (Not that I think it will get that far.. I think the Budget will be defeated before this ever gets voted on.)

Gayle said...

I only caught a short bit of PVL's appearance on CBC this morning, but it sounds like he was saying the liberal amendments were palatable.

I could be wrong though. Anyone out there catch the whole thing?

Gayle said...

MarkCh said...

Scott, please explain "Canadian troops should be involved strictly in a non-combat role, focused primarily on reconstruction and training. It is expected to specify that soldiers could still fight if necessary but would no longer actively be seeking engagement with the enemy." I don't quite understand it. Is this training inside the wire only, or can they go on missions with ANA forces? Does "necessary" include spoiling attacks against Taliban forming up to attack Canadians?

The fundamental problem is that "strictly non-combat" and "fight if necessary" seem mutually contradictory. Is that a bug or a feature?

Steve V said...


I heard MacKenzie on the radio this morning, and he described the end of combat as "ridiculous". He went so far as to mock the idea, saying we need different color bullets for different engagements. We can discount this portion, but I think people will accept the idea that if we are staying in the south, then we must acknowledge a combat component. Good luck trying to explain training without combat, every expert I've heard finds the notion nonsensical. If there is agreement on everything, with this element remaining, I don't agree it a winning position for the Liberals, in fact I'm willing to bet they spend half the campaign trying to clarify.


That link seems to be about the end date, no agreement on the no combat argument.

ottlib said...


Canadian and NATO forces in the South are attacked on a nightly basis.

It usually takes the form of a couple of mortar bombs or a few rifle shots in the dark, targeting the perimeter of their forward outposts.

You know the ones. They are the ones that our convoys are heading for to resupply and relieve when they hit IEDs.

In all cases the NATO forces do not pursue them into the night. The reasons are: 1) these forward outposts do not have the manpower to do so. 2) The Taliban would love to lead them into an ambush at a sight where assistance cannot easily reach the NATO troops.

The troops at these forward bases are too well dug in to really be physically threatened by these attacks. The real objective of these attacks is to degrade morale and fighting effectiveness. (It is hard to sleep if you are fearing a mortar attack.)

This is still combat but it is not the offensive combat of Operation Medusa and all of the other offensives over the years. Again, you will remember them. They are the ones that NATO commanders claim have broken the back of the Taliban when the offensives are over. So far I have counted six occasions where NATO has broken the back of the Taliban.

These offensives actually are highly ineffective because the Taliban just melts away from them and disappears until the offensive is concluded. As well, these offensives divert troops away from security so development actually slows down.

As I said before, Stephane Dion is correct to insist we get off that particular treadmill and I find it heartening that Stephen Harper may finally be beginning to listen.

As for Mr. Cullen I do not care if he is Liberals or whatever. This debate is complicated enough for folks to understand without someone who is absolutely ignorant about military affairs muddying the waters some more.

I have no problem with anybody criticising Mr. Dion's position as long as they know what they are talking about and Mr. Cullen's statements demonstrated that he does not fit that criteria.

Unfortunately, Mr. Dion has muddied the water himself by saying no more "combat" after 2009. That is too inprecise and he is paying for it. But if look deeper into his statements and those of Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Rae you will see he means no more offensives while providing security. Which does mean combat but they cannot say that directly without being accused of flip-flopping.