Canada in Afghanistan

April 17th, 2007 | Posted in War and Terror

    O’Connor envisions conflict lasting 15 years


    Brian Laghi, Globe and Mail.

Canada needed to acquire 120 new tanks to deal with another 10 to 15 years of conflicts in Afghanistan and other countries, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor said yesterday, amid opposition concerns that the war is escalating.

“Afghanistan and these type of engagements are the future for 10, 15 years,” Mr. O’Connor told CTV’s current affairs program Question Period.

“And we have to be prepared when governments — our government and future governments — commit soldiers to offshore activities, they’re going to have to be equipped with armour to protect their lives.”

The government announced Thursday that it would spend $650-million to buy 100 secondhand tanks from the Netherlands and lease another 20 from Germany.

The German tanks will be dispatched to Afghanistan this summer, to complement 17 Leopard 1 tanks that are not air-conditioned and will be difficult to operate in 60-degree heat.

But the Dutch tanks won’t be refurbished until 2008, months before the Canadian mission is due to end in February, 2009.

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said the tank and other military purchases have convinced him that the Conservative government plans to extend the mission.

“This is an escalation,” he said.

NDP defence critic Dawn Black agreed: “Obviously this mission is escalating, not only in terms of the kinds of equipment we’re sending over there and the purchases we’re making . . . but also in terms of human life,” she said, referring to the 53 Canadian soldiers killed.

But Mr. O’Connor said the new complement of tanks is simply replacing the current aging squadron. “I don’t see us escalating anything,” he said yesterday.

Asked whether people would be “scared” to hear him talk about Canadian soldiers fighting overseas for another decade or more, Mr. O’Connor said an assessment by military officials finds that the tanks will likely be needed in combat zones over the next decade or decade-and-a-half.

“When I talk about 10 or 15 years, I’m saying that’s an assessment from defence and government that if we were to go to other ventures like Somalia, or, I don’t know, Darfur or whatever,” the new tanks will be needed, he said.

He insisted he was not referring specifically to Afghanistan, saying “our commitment militarily is to the end of February ’09,” and cabinet wasn’t scheduled to discuss the matter until next year.

Mr. O’Connor also said the tanks were being used defensively.

“We’re not using tanks in the sense of World War II tank attacks. These tanks are basically in a defensive role. They go into positions and defend the infantry where they’re holding strong points, or they lead convoys because they can withstand a lot of mines and things like that.”

The government is sure to face increased questions about the Afghanistan mission today when Parliament resumes after its two-week Easter break. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has already moved to set himself apart from the Tories by insisting that the troops be removed from Afghanistan by 2009. The NDP opposes the military mission. Eight soldiers died in Afghanistan last week in two separate bombing incidents.

Canada has deployed 2,500 soldiers to southern Afghanistan as part of the 37,000-strong force that is backing the government of President Hamid Karzai. In addition to the NATO force, there are another 11,000 U.S. troops under American command. NATO commanders have requested additional troops. It also requires more helicopters and transport aircraft.

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