U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has achieved what no Canadian political leader has been willing to do so far. By calling on the Canadian military to stay in Afghanistan, Mrs. Clinton has stirred up a debate about this country's future role in stabilizing the embattled country.

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This article was published 30/3/2010 (4270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has achieved what no Canadian political leader has been willing to do so far. By calling on the Canadian military to stay in Afghanistan, Mrs. Clinton has stirred up a debate about this country's future role in stabilizing the embattled country.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff broke his silence almost immediately, saying he believed there was "justification" for some continued role for the military, although he ruled out combat operations.

DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal called on the government to continue the deployment of Canadian humanitarian and military forces. "Canadian troops," Segal said, "have spent too much blood and grief and shown too much courage and progress to end the engagement before realistic stability goals are attained."

Unfortunately, the Harper government stuck to its script and said Canada's 2,800 troops would be pulled out next summer. It remains unclear how Canada will play a meaningful role in the country without military support.

Mrs. Clinton herself was not asking that Canadian troops continue their combat role in the volatile region around Kandahar city. She said only that she hoped the Canadian military would remain in Afghanistan, either as trainers or in some kind of logistics role.

The reason had nothing to do with the number of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Our forces are a drop in the bucket compared to the 160,000 allied troops in the country and, if numbers were all that counted, no one would even notice that we were gone.

The American request was an acknowledgment that the Canadian military has some of the world's finest troops. The Americans trust us and they respect and admire our skills.

Canada's military forces, in fact, have made a huge contribution, one that is out of all proportion to our nominal strength. It was, for example, Canadian General Jonathan Vance who developed the counter-insurgency strategy that has been embraced by NATO and all coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Gen. Vance observed that the war had gone off track and that too much time was spent trying to find and kill phantoms. The emphasis, he said, had to be on providing security and stability for the local population, one village at a time. After observing Canada's success at creating model villages, other countries started pulling their troops out of their fortresses and deploying them in small groups to live among the people.

The Americans have even entrusted two battalions of their troops to Canadian command and control, which is probably the highest compliment that could ever be paid.

Mrs. Clinton wants Canadian troops in Afghanistan because she knows we can make a real contribution. Her appeal, in fact, sounded more like a request for a favour from an old friend, rather than superpower arm-bending.

As a member of the alliance that has caused a lot of damage and made a lot of promises, Canada has a moral duty to help make things right in Afghanistan. The only question is how will we do that.

Parliament should modify the 2008 resolution that called for the end of our mission in Afghanistan so that Canadian troops can help finish the job.