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Canada to focus on mentoring Afghan forces in 2008

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Philip Stavrou, CTV.ca News

December 30, 2007

As Canada prepares for its sixth year in Afghanistan, there is growing consensus that the mission needs to focus on empowering the Afghan army and government with the tools to achieve independence.

An example of this is a small but growing number of Canadian troops heading to Kandahar next year that will find themselves in a mentoring role instead of on the front lines of combat.

Roughly 200 soldiers, under the umbrella of NATO’s Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT), will arrive this February with the goal of helping to develop the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Col. Francois Riffou, the incoming commander of the Canadian forces mentoring program, has been preparing the new batch of soldiers since April 2007.

In an interview with CTV.ca, Riffou said many of the returning soldiers will have an adjustment to make since they are used to working in a combat role.

“Those soldiers now are going to be working with us and — although we are there to mentor a fighting force and in some cases expected to fight side-by-side with that fighting force — we really want to allow them to take the lead and my soldiers would stand back a little and coach them.”

In mid-2006, about 65 Canadian troops first began mentoring a single Afghan National Army battalion, which consists of approximately 350 people on the ground.

Now, Canada has approximately 180 soldiers mentoring three units.

Last September, the Canadian task force also launched an initiative to bolster the local Afghan police. The project is being done in consultation with the Afghan civilian authorities and the American-led Combined Security Transition Command — a training outfit.

“We have about 60 soldiers right now deployed with police sub-stations,” said Riffou.

“We’re hoping that as we coach them in being a little more robust from a security perspective that they will eventually be able to do that one on their own — and we won’t need to be necessarily co-located with them 24-7 to provide that security mentorship.”

Looking forward, Riffou said the eventual goal is to have the ANSF(Afghan National Security Forces) conduct their own security tasks without any assistance from external or international agencies.

But he cautioned that mentoring is an ongoing process which could take years.

“When I talk to my soldiers we talk about passing from mentoring, through to advising, through to liaison and eventually we’ll be completely pulled away,” he said.

“We’re in the midst of the mentoring effort right now and as units become more proficient our efforts can be reduced and focused at other organizations.”

‘Afghanisation’

Regarding the overall mission, Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Lalani, told CTV News that in 2008 the ‘Afghanisation’ of the country will be very important.

‘Afghanisation’ refers to “having Afghans more and more in the lead on their own governance, on their own development, with their own army and with their own police forces,” said Lalani.

Another focus will be “on building up the institutions of the Afghan government so that they are more directly providing services throughout the country.”

Lalani recognized that there are still many challenges facing the country, including the recapturing of some areas by the Taliban. But he said great gains have also been made in the past year.

“I think we’ve had a very successful military year alongside the Afghan army and there are a number of local leaders and commanders who are wondering about their future and are thinking about laying down their weapons and working on a new Afghanistan,” he said.

Talking with the Taliban

Lalani said Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is open to holding discussions with those members of the Taliban.

“Those Taliban and terrorist leaders… who are willing to lay down their arms, to renounce violence, to accept the Afghan constitution are welcome to return and help rebuild the new Afghanistan,” he said.

But some critics say Canada needs to do more to encourage the Afghan government to negotiate with its enemies.

“I see very little diplomacy going on,” Louis Delvoie, Canada’s former high commissioner to Pakistan in the early 1990s, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

“Much of the diplomacy seems to be focused on developing relations with other NATO countries as opposed to bringing the Afghan government along in certain directions, which might make it more congenial to its own population and might make it more congenial to neighbouring Pakistan, among others.”

For Col. Dennis Thompson, who will take over command of Joint Task Force Afghanistan in early 2008, success will be measured by the advancement of the Afghans.

Thompson told CP that later next year if his counterpart, an Afghan brigadier-general, is “confident that he can perform his function” by providing a better level of security then it will be mission accomplished.

“We have learned we really have to take a comprehensive approach. This is not just a gunfight,” said Thompson.

Will Canada pull out or stay?

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has commissioned a panel to advise the government on what Canada should do in Afghanistan once its commitment to the NATO mission ends in 2009.

Harper told CTV News in a year-end interview that he hopes to keep troops in the country until 2011, but will await the recommendations of the panel in January.

Harper said that once the panel releases its findings, he’ll put a resolution before Parliament on whether to extend Canada’s military commitment past early 2009.

“Realistically, by the end of spring that decision would have to be made,” he said.

There are nearly 2,500 Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan. There are also about 26,000 U.S. troops and 7,800 British troops.

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Written by afghandevnews

December 31, 2007 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Security

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