From the Desk of RCAF Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harold Wright 

Canadian Defence Association says patience,
hard work needed for success in Afghanistan

By Alain Pellerin, Colonel (Ret’d)
Executive Director, CDA-CDAI

The Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) would like to draw your attention to a series of continuing themes in the coverage of events in Afghanistan and the region. They are: the flare-up over the issue of the treatment of Afghan detainees; the situation on the ground in Afghanistan; opinions on the state of emergency in Pakistan; and developments related to Canada’s allies.

Detainees issue

Much attention has focused in recent days on “revelations” by Amnesty International that Canada is somehow complicit in the torture of detainees in Afghanistan by handing them over to government authorities in that country. While it is regrettable that detainees are treated badly and that conditions are bad in some prisons, the CDA believes that the current situation is improving and a far cry from conditions under the previous regime. Progress is also being made in monitoring the conditions under which detainees are kept. Detainee monitoring agreements have become stronger over time, but, more crucially, Canada is working with the Afghan government to build institutional capacity.

The CDA believes that this is the right course of action; it maintains that separate Canadian or NATO structures to hold detainees would only undermine the development of a sovereign and responsible Afghan government. The CDA also believes that expecting an overnight change in a national prison system is naïve and not sufficiently cognizant of the domestic security situation in Afghanistan.

We would like to draw your attention to an editorial in the Globe and Mail that provides a balanced review of the situation. It writes that while the scepticism of Amnesty International is merited, “the improved monitoring agreements are a step in the right direction. Crucially, they give Afghan civil society a chance to grow. That’s part of why Canada is in Afghanistan: not to impose parallel structures, but to help that country build its own democratic institutions. If Afghanistan fails in its treatment of the prisoners, the larger project may well fail, too.”

Editorial. “Monitoring for torture.” Globe and Mail, 14 November 2007. Available online at:


Bill Graveland in the Canadian Press (see link below) writes that on the 6th anniversary of the fall of the Taliban, there are signs for both optimism and pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan today.

Rob Ferguson in the Toronto Star (see link below) quotes former US President Bill Clinton as saying that Canadian troops should remain in Afghanistan after the current 2009 deadline despite the high cost in lives. He is quoted as saying that the effort against the Taliban is a way to overcome one of the biggest challenges facing global development.

Bill Graveland in the Canadian Press (see links below) writes that Afghan police units are threatening to walk off the job due to the “lack of cold, hard cash.” Some units have not been paid for several months, and several Canadian soldiers are quoted as saying that they hope that this problem will be resolved soon in order to maintain security. He also writes that police corruption and the lack of civilian trust is a problem in maintaining security, but points to some signs of progress in the training of police forces.

Ahto Lobjakas for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (see link below) writes on NATO’s top intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Canadian BGen Jim Ferron, as saying that the Taliban have a tribal as opposed to national organization. He also comments on the link between events in Pakistan and the insurgency in Afghanistan, given the cross-border flow of ethnic Pashtun.

Paul Koring in the Globe and Mail (see link below) looks at the difficulties faced by Canadian soldiers in trying to deter and deal with suicide attackers while out on patrol, and the chances of inadvertent civilian casualties.

Bill Graveland. “Optimism and pessimism in Afghanistan.” Canadian Press, 13 November 2007. Available online at:

Rob Ferguson. “Troops should stay in Kandahar past 2009 deadline, Clinton tells summit.” Toronto Star, 14 November 2007. Available online at:

Bill Graveland. “Afghan police threatening to walk off the job.” Canadian Press, 15 November 2007. Available online at:

Bill Graveland. “Police corruption remains a drag on Afghan mission.” Canadian Press, 14 November 2007. Available online at:

Ahto Lobjakas. “Afghanistan: NATO Sees ‘Tribal’ Nature to Taliban Insurgency.” RFE/RL, 20 July 2007. Available online at:

Paul Koring. “Fingers on triggers, then split-second decisions.” Globe and Mail, 15 November 2007. Available online at:


John Ivison in the National Post (see link below) writes on the potential for Japan to shoulder more of the burden in Afghanistan. This is a crucial factor as NATO countries such as Canada and the Netherlands are pondering their future contribution to the Afghan mission, while others refuse to boost their contingents or remove caveats on their use.

Peter O’Neil in the Ottawa Citizen (see link below) writes that while France is strengthening its contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, it is refusing to provide combat troops in Kandahar.

In an interview with the Associated Press (see link below), General Raymond Henault, head of NATO’s military committee (and this year’s CDAI Vimy Award winner) is noted as saying that reinforcements and greater contributions are needed in Afghanistan.

John Ivison. “Japan could have Afghanistan role.” National Post, 16 November 2007. Available online at:

Peter O’Neil. “French won’t relieve Canadians in Kandahar.” Ottawa Citizen, 16 November 2007. Available online at:

Associated Press. “Les insuffisances de l’OTAN ont un effet negative, dit Hénault.” 14 November 2007. Available online at:

To conclude

The CDA would like to draw your attention to a 21 April 2002 article by Kevin Myers in the UK Telegraph entitled, “The country the world forgot – again.” It was written in the aftermath of the deaths of four Canadian soldiers by friendly fire in Afghanistan. While the article is more than five years old, we believe that its sentiments still hold true today.