Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Canada about to repeat US mistakes?

CANADA: Afghanistan Exit Could Bring Escalated Air War
Paul Weinberg, IPS: Amid reports that the Barack Obama administration is quietly lobbying the Conservative government in Ottawa to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan's Kandahar province beyond 2011, Stephen Harper is finding himself in an increasingly awkward dilemma.

The Canadian prime minister needs to appease a popular US president who just deployed 4,000 Marines in a new Afghan offensive in Helmand, and at the same time avoid further alienating a war-weary electorate. One recent national poll revealed that 54 percent of Canadians oppose the Canadian military contribution to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The Conservatives are looking pretty unsteady on this file. A few weeks back, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs made haste to contradict Defense Minister Peter MacKay when he suggested the government was considering lifting Canada's decade-old arms embargo against Pakistan...

But Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa and a defence analyst, told IPS it is quite possible that the Harper government already has a clear idea of its post-2011 mandate -- and that air strikes, which the Canadians haven't used so far, could be a major component.

Case in point, Staple said, is the March announcement that the Canadian Department of National Defence will be spending half a billion dollars on new armed drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) to be available in 2012 and similar to the Predators and Reapers used by the US in its air strikes in Pakistan.

'While the role of ground troops may diminish simply because the army is exhausted from years of war, the air force could be called upon to support the US-led combat mission through air strikes by CF-18 fighter bombers or armed drones,' Staples said.

He predicted that Canada is about to repeat the mistakes made by its NATO allies, whose aircraft killed more than 500 Afghan civilians in 2008 alone, and by the US in particular, whose drones used for assassination attempts in Pakistan are also responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths...

Some experts think it's plausible that DND could decide to join the air war... said James Fergusson, head of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba. 'What does it mean when we day we're going to end our combat mission? It doesn't mean we can't do other things out of Kandahar.'
Image source here.