That was never true and Harper knows it. Since the extension to 2011 was approved there has always been a caveat which Harper has neatly avoided - the withdrawal was from Kandahar, not Afghanistan, and a redeployment was always a strong likelihood. Further, Harper has known for at least a year that the demand for NATO trainers was focusing on both the Netherlands and Canada for significant contributions to the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (NTM-A). I will go so far as to suggest that he knew in April 2009, after the NATO summit, that he was going to commit troops beyond 2011. The question is whether he and MacKay actually shared that with the Chief of Defence Staff.
I can say with absolute certainty that, in the last two days, the only thing coming out of those who would likely be deployed is questions. Harpers yet-to-be-defined training mission has yet to make it down to CF regional headquarters with anything even close to clarity. The regular complaint was that this is another government plan cast in jelly.
said in late September that the training mission needed a lot of additional trainers. At that time he identified the need as 900. That number has since been reduced to 750. To be clear, Caldwell was making a specific point that the goal was to professionalize the Afghan security forces and generate critical support functions within those forces. For that he was asking for skill sets from NATO armed services which extended into areas of logistics, equipment maintenance, communications, intelligence analysis, and above all, consistent and professional leadership.
That would suggest that all the positions Caldwell is looking to fill are "behind-the-wire" instructors and mentors. And that would be a mistaken assumption. The mission Caldwell commands has upwards of 10,000 NATO personnel on the books, a good majority of them operating outside the wire as mentoring teams attached to field combat units. The "classroom" billets amount to no more than 1500. Since Caldwell's address in September there has already been some realignment which has brought some of the specialist instructors in from the field to fill static trainer positions. Canada has about 125 people in those billets already and another 325 in the field with Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLTs), Operational Mentoring and Advisory Teams (OMATs) and Police - Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (POMLTs). Caldwell's shortage of trainers is not so much in the classroom as it is outside the wire with the Afghan army and police mentoring teams.
Back to Weston's article for a moment. He makes this observation regarding current CF involvement in Afghan army and police training.
In fact, aside from the less than 125 who are assigned to more static roles, the Canadian OMLTs are operating in and around the Canadian area of operations in Kandahar Province. The only way they can operate successfully is to function with the support of the Canadian combat headquarters in Kandahar. Once the Canadian combat operation in Kandahar ends then so too does the ability to maintain mentoring teams in the same AO.
Back to Caldwell and his plea for specialist trainers. He makes a critical point in his address which impacts on what Harper is peddling.
... we have identified 15 priority capabilities that we believe you [NATO] can reasonably pledge against and begin filling by this winter and next spring. These requirements represent half of the total current trainer shortfall, but most importantly represent the gendarmes, pilots, doctors, and other key enablers that will get us through a critical and exponential growth period. If these commitments are pledged and fulfilled with boots on the ground, it would cover our critical needs through the summer of 2011…and further… allows us to begin the process of transition.Let's take those sections I highlighted one at a time:
1. Canada cannot meet the demand to start filling Caldwell's requirements by this winter and next spring. We still have a combat role and will not be able to deploy personnel to a bolstered NTM-A until well after that. We can safely assume that other NATO allies will fill that demand long before we have personnel available. This is the kind of commitment many NATO nations view as a healthy and safe way to deploy without wearing the political splatter of combat casualties. We aren't going to be there for any of it.
2. Harper and his cheerleaders are rapping on that this will be a behind-the-wire mission, yet Caldwell makes it clear that of the 900 trainer shortfall at the time of his address, only 450 were needed in the specialist lanes. The other 450 were something else and that was mentoring teams in the field with ANA and ANP forces. Once Canada's combat mission is withdrawn, we will add a 325 person deficit to the number of mentoring team trainers. That adds up to 775 trainers needed for operations in the field with mentoring teams once we end our combat involvement in Afghanistan. This is emphasized by the call by the US to make our training role "outside the wire".
3. The critical need described by Caldwell is through the summer of 2011. Given that JTF-Kandahar will not wind down until the end of July 2011, that puts Canada outside the bracket for deployment to a new mission which would require our presence as trainers through the summer, even if those all trainers did constitute "classroom" instructors, which they do not.
The question then becomes, what will Canadian Forces do in a training role and how do we assume safer "behind-the-wire" trainer positions which have already been claimed by other NATO allies. Telling them to fill the operational mentoring teams with their people so we can move into Kabul is simply not going to fly. We're going to be late coming to the game. We won't get to pick which line we're playing on.
If we end up sending a majority of our people to mentoring teams that puts our troops right back into the field with the same or higher levels of risk that they had prior to the end of 2011. Further, without a combat headquarters to support mentoring teams it means breaking up Canadian units into small components operating under various different allied commanders. It's no longer a Canadian mission - it's just Canadian troops tossed into a US or UK or other national mission complete with some significant warts we really don't like.
The other possibility is that Harper is simply putting lipstick on a pig. He's made the whole thing so obscure that I can't help but believe that he's making an approximate 1000 troops a matter of interpretive materiality. Certainly 750 trainers attached to combat units cannot operate with a support element of 250. So the proof will be in the actual numbers. If the number starts to inflate in any way that should start bells ringing.
As we were moving the glasses around the table yesterday one very senior individual remarked, "Watch the footprint. If the rolling stock and the armour stays in Afghanistan then Harper has simply sprayed a different colour on the same mission."
In short, none of what Harper has vaguely described adds up. The timing is off by almost a full year and unless something changes, and allies are willing to step aside, the only role actually available will be in the operational mentoring teams ... in the field ... outside the wire.