Canadian Perspectives on the Challenges Facing ISAF
Ambassador Jean-Pierre Juneau
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada on the North Atlantic Council
I would like to express my gratitude to the organizers of this event for inviting me. I am pleased and honoured to once again participate in the International Workshop on Global Security. For many years, this forum has constituted a fertile ground for new ideas and initiatives. It has also served as an engine of transatlantic cooperation.
I believe this is a timely opportunity to discuss ISAF. As you know, this was one of the main items discussed during the April NATO Foreign Ministerial Meeting in Sofia. On that occasion, foreign ministers reaffirmed the Alliance’s resolve and confirmed its readiness to double the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan to around 17,000 before the end of 2006. ISAF will certainly remain NATO’s priority topic of discussion as we head towards stages 3 and 4 of the expansion and towards the Riga Summit. Those discussions will take place amid vigorous parliamentary and public debate in Alliance countries, especially in the U.K., the Netherlands, and Canada.
General Back made an excellent presentation that outlined the major aspects of NATO’s deployment in Afghanistan. He also raised interesting questions that I look forward to hearing your views on. For my part, I would like to say a few words about the nature of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and share some thoughts about what I see as the main challenges facing NATO’s involvement from a Canadian perspective.
CANADA IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan is NATO’s top operational priority. It is also Canada’s number one engagement abroad. Over 16,000 Canadian forces have been involved in support of the U.N.-supported International Stabilization and Assistance Force as well as Operation Enduring Freedom, ISAF, and OEF. These forces’ remarkable performance was underlined by President Karzai and more recently by President Bush. The Canadian government is also leveraging diplomatic and development expertise and assets across a number of federal departments.
Our long-term, enduring pledge of solidarity with the Afghan people was emphatically reaffirmed on two recent occasions at the highest political levels. In March 2006, shortly after his election, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accompanied by Defence Minister O’Connor, chose Afghanistan as his first international destination in order to guarantee Canada’s support for the country’s democratic transition and to assure our soldiers deployed in harm’s way of Canadians’ unwavering support. In early May, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay spent two days in Afghanistan, where he reiterated Canada’s pledge to help the people of Afghanistan build a democratic and prosperous society. Minister MacKay acknowledged that this would be a lengthy process and made clear that Canada’s support was for the long term.
Even more recently, on June 17, the Canadian Parliament voted to extend our combat mission in Afghanistan by two years, confirming Canada’s engagement in this part of the world until at least February 2009. This vote took place just a few hours after we learned about the loss of another Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, the first Canadian woman to be killed in combat since World War II. The vote was preceded by a six-hour spirited debate during which Prime Minister Harper announced that, in consultation with other Allies, Canada would be willing to assume command of the overall ISAF mission starting in February 2008.
Canada’s objectives in Afghanistan are twofold. First, we have a national interest in contributing to the establishment of a secure, self-sufficient, democratic, and stable Afghanistan. Like other Allies, we believe that never again should that country serve as a haven for terrorists. Our engagement reflects the understanding that Canada’s security and prosperity are linked to international peace and stability, which in turn cannot be dissociated from the situation in Afghanistan. It also reflects Canada’s International Policy Statement that puts special emphasis on the need to address problems linked to fragile or failed states, to fight against terrorism and international crime, and to promote human security.
Our second objective is to help Afghans rebuild their country and improve their quality of life. This very much reflects the spirit of the concept of the responsibility to protect, a concept introduced by Canada to the U.N. A version of this concept was adopted by the U.N. Security Council in April 2006 under Resolution 1674, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.” Canada believes that the international community needs to develop rules and the political will to enable collective action, including the use of force, to protect civilians from systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, in cases where governments are unwilling or unable to protect their own people. Canada would like to see international law evolve in such a way as to allow multilateral action to be taken in such situations in a timely and decisive manner. Canadians hope that the ongoing effort in Afghanistan reflects a new recognition by the international community that it must act collectively when governments cannot provide protection to their population.
Providing a secure and stable environment is a sine qua non for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the transition to democracy and the rule of law, and the exercise of human rights and freedoms. This is why approximately 2,300 Canadian forces are currently deployed in Afghanistan as part of Task Force Afghanistan. The vast majority of these troops are located in Kandahar, in the southern region of Afghanistan, where Canada recently assumed command of coalition forces. Task Force Afghanistan is the first rotation of Canada’s renewed commitment to the international campaign against terrorism, whose mission is to improve security in southern Afghanistan and facilitate the transition from OEF to NATO leadership.
As you are no doubt aware, NATO decided at the 2004 Istanbul Summit to expand the role of ISAF through Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs. These small national contingents, which include both military and civilian personnel, support the Afghan authorities in their efforts to improve governance and provide basic services to citizens. They also monitor security and facilitate security sector reform. Since August 2005, a Canadian PRT has been operating in Kandahar, where it is expected to remain until February 2007. The PRT brings together elements from the Canadian forces, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an integrated Canadian effort, also known as the “All of Government Approach.” In addition, Canada is providing a Strategic Advisory Team of approximately 15 civilian and military planners and support staff to advise the Afghan government on defence and national security issues for a year. The team’s job is to enable the Afghan government to run its own affairs.
INVESTMENT AND ASSISTANCE
In early June 2006, Canada’s finance minister announced the investment of an extra 3.7 billion euros for national defence. Those resources are an addition to the 10 billion euros over five years that was added to the defence budget by the previous Liberal government in 2005. These investments will go a long way in increasing Canada’s ability to act internationally and, in the long term, contribute to achieving our objectives in Afghanistan.
Canada has directed over 460 million euros to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, which, since 2002, constitutes our largest recipient of bilateral assistance. Our assistance program is directed at rural development and priorities identified by the Afghan government within its National Development Framework. For example, Canada has taken a lead role in several key initiatives such as anti-personnel mine and ammunition stockpile destruction and the disbandment of illegal armed groups. With regard to drug cultivation and trafficking, Canada contributes to the Counter-Narcotics Integrated Alternative Livelihoods Program in Kandahar in order to provide Afghans with viable and sustainable alternatives to poppy production. Canada also actively supports the Vocational Training and Food Aid for War Widows and the National Solidarity Program, a mechanism geared toward developing rural infrastructure, reintegrating refugees, and demobilizing ex-combatants.
Our new embassy in Kabul, which opened in 2003, is helping to coordinate those efforts as well as develop diplomatic relations with the Afghan authorities. Close to 100 diplomatic officers dedicated to supporting the efforts of our embassy in Kabul are at work both at the headquarters and the various missions abroad.
In collaboration with the Afghan authorities, the international community’s efforts are starting to bear fruit. Successful presidential and legislative elections have been held and reforms begun in the defence, justice, and finance sectors. There has also been significant progress in de-mining and nearly 3,000,000 Afghan refugees have been reintegrated into society. Moreover, schools, hospitals, and roads are being rebuilt. Women now enjoy more rights and economic opportunities than they ever could have imagined under the Taliban regime. And almost 5,000,000 Afghan children, a third of which are girls, are now registered for school.
NATO CHALLENGES IN AFGHANISTAN
Despite all of this progress, daily news reports remind us that a lot of work remains to be done. The reconstruction of Afghanistan will take time and effort as well as a continued commitment from the international community. The Alliance will face many difficult issues, such as those related to drug cultivation and trafficking, the growing presence of experienced operatives using tactics imported from Iraq, the treatment of detainees transferred to Afghan authorities, and the availability of human, material, and financial resources. Cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries will also be an issue to keep in mind.
As General Back rightly pointed out, in order to address those issues ISAF must avoid a fortress mentality and work to develop a bond of trust with the Afghans. This will be of particular importance in the south, where recent polling suggests an erosion of the Afghan public’s consent to the presence of international forces. The slow pace of reconstruction, the inclusion of warlords and narco-traffickers in the government, and perceived heavy-handed coalition tactics could lead to growing dissatisfaction with the Karzai government and the international community. Some Afghans may become favourable to anti-NATO forces after concluding that the presence of foreign troops has offered few tangible benefits.
Another important issue is the possible growing perception of the international military presence as “forces of occupation.” We must continue insisting that our role in Afghanistan is to support the democratically elected Afghan government’s efforts to extend its authority across all of Afghanistan and, in so doing, rebuild a better life for its people. ISAF has and will continue to undertake concrete activities in order to dispel false perceptions. Joint ISAF patrols with the increasingly well-trained and professional Afghan National Army are an important symbol of solidarity and growing Afghan ownership of security matters. As their level of professionalism increases, I hope that the Afghan National Police will also become a credible security partner.
Creating links of trust and mutual understanding between ISAF and the Afghan people means being flexible and sensitive to cultural differences, two areas in which Canada can make an important contribution. Canadian forces have developed the necessary abilities to work in areas with diverse cultural backgrounds thanks to the multicultural nature of our own society and, more importantly, through Canada’s participation in numerous peacekeeping operations.
With that in mind I would say that, from a Canadian perspective, one of the main challenges may come from Canadian public opinion. Maintaining public support for our involvement in Afghanistan will be difficult, especially in the face of the rising number of casualties. While the Canadian government is firmly committed to the current deployment and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, recent polls indicate that only half the population supports the government’s efforts in this endeavour. Afghanistan is far away from Canada and the trauma of September 11 is slowly fading away. Therefore, the need to prevent the return to power of a regime favourable to violent extremists or that poses a threat to international peace and stability is less urgent for many Canadians.
Another issue is that the level of violence has risen sharply in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with a string of deadly roadside bomb attacks, including one that killed four Canadian soldiers in the Gumbad region on April 22. Overall, 16 Canadian soldiers and one senior diplomat have died in Afghanistan. Like others, Canadians are not used to seeing their soldiers and civil servants killed in action. While none question the capabilities and the dedication of the Canadian soldier, active combat does not correspond to the traditional image of Canada’s international peacekeeping engagement. Many of our citizens are still coming to grips with the notion that in an interdependent world, Canada must respond to threats—resolutely and often robustly—wherever they emerge. We will have to make additional efforts to explain the nature of this operation to our people, one that has more to do with peace enforcement than peacekeeping.
INCREASING PUBLIC SUPPORT
I believe that the commitment to transparency demonstrated by the recent debate in Parliament will contribute to increasing public support for our engagement in Afghanistan. Periodic high-level events in Afghanistan, such as the recent visits by our Prime Minister and the Defence and Foreign Ministers, also help increase public support. The same can be said about the upcoming visit by the Secretary General to Canada. Those events attract media coverage and stimulate interest and debates back home. Of course, such attention can also contribute to building opposition over time.
The onus is on us, both at the NATO and the national level, to explain and remind our respective populations of the need to succeed in Afghanistan. It is important to make clear that the sacrifices in human lives are not made in vain but genuinely contribute to the establishment of a free, stable, and democratic Afghanistan. We must insist on the fact that establishing the authority of the central government in the whole of its territory is a sine qua non for reconstruction efforts. Ultimately it must be clear that succeeding in Afghanistan is in our own interest.
NATO’s deployment in Afghanistan well reflects the type of operation the Alliance will be called on to conduct in the future; that is, an operation outside Europe in collaboration with other international organizations that requires forces that are able to do a variety of tasks. It is a major test for the Alliance and its ambition to play a greater role in global security. There is no doubt that ISAF is one of NATO’s toughest missions since its creation.
While many difficulties lie ahead, I think we are on the right track to succeed. Largely thanks to the commitment of the international community in collaboration with local authorities, Afghanistan has made remarkable strides since September 11 and the fall of the Taliban. Canada remains firmly committed to the establishment of a democratic and stable Afghanistan and is bearing its share of the burden. The scale of our defence, diplomatic, and development efforts are a clear sign of our support of the future of this country. It also reflects our resolve to continue defending and promoting our values and those shared by all NATO Allies.