Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called having to make phone calls to the families of those who have been killed in Afghanistan the hardest part of his job. And it’s not hard to see why that might be. What’s more difficult to fathom is the slippery slope on which he now stands voluntarily as he considers an extension to our military role in that awful country.
Apparently, the Americans are pressing our government through diplomatic and military channels to assume a post-2011 role in Afghanistan, which might include the necessity for our soldiers to again be placed in harm’s way—a possibility that could very well increase our casualties in Afghanistan beyond the precious 152 lost lives and the hundreds who have already been wounded. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, has even gone to the extraordinary length of—during a recent interview—putting public pressure on Canada to accept a mentoring role.
Public pressure from the Americans for us to extend our military role in Afghanistan beyond 2011 is not new: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did much the same in a TV interview during her visit to Canada earlier this year when she was asked about Canada’s decision to end its combat role in 2011.
All this from our fair-weather ally, the United States, which contributed to Canada’s international humiliation last month when we failed in a bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Neither American UN ambassador Susan Rice or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted a finger for us. Nor, apparently, did President Barack Obama make so much as a phone call on Canada’s behalf.
We know for sure that, for Americans, “national interest” will always trump the needs of their allies; so too should Canada’s.
Canadians might support the prime minister if he assigns virtually any training role that would be “inside the wire” in the relative safety of, say, Kabul, but anything “outside the wire” is a non starter. For one thing, the core combat group of our army is reportedly exhausted and in need of extended periods of rest from any form of combat whatsoever.
We have received far more from our tiny army than we ever should have expected. Few, if any, of the world’s military forces of similar size could have sustained highly effective combat operations halfway around the world for nearly a decade. If we asked more of them, they’d give it, but it would not be fair of us, at any level, to do so.
If we want to project power to any part of the world and engage in combat continuously for more than a decade at a time, then by all means build a military of the appropriate size.
Our entire air force, army and naval strength is about 67,000, plus 26,000 reservists. The current size of Land Force Command—our army—is, however, only 19,500 regular soldiers and 16,000 reserve soldiers, for a total of around 35,500 soldiers. And it is our army which carries most of the load in Afghanistan. The British, with only twice our population, has an army of 150,000 regulars and territorials and 134,000 reserves, for a total of more than 284,000, which is several times the size of ours.
If we want to act like the big boys, we’d better be prepared to pay for it.
Canada has done its part and 2011 is quite long enough for us to have been in Afghanistan. We’ve squeezed about as much juice from that lemon as is reasonable.