Afghan training mission risks casualties: report

Canada's plan to extend the Afghanistan mission by three years until 2014 in a training support role carries high risks and a low chance of success, says a report.

Canadian soldiers face dangerous, hopeless task in training role, report says

An Afghan police officer holds his certification during a graduation ceremony at the Provincial Reconstruction Team compound run by Canadian soldiers in Kandahar, in February 2010. (Allauddin Khan/Associated Press)

Canada's plan to extend the Afghanistan mission by three years in a training support role carries high risks and a low chance of success, says a report released Monday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced last November that Canadian Forces would act in a safer non-combat training role until 2014.

But the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Rideau Institute says soldiers are likely to be killed or injured attempting a task that will ultimately fail.

According to analysts Michael Byers and Stewart Webb, military training always poses risks, and the Taliban have increasingly targeted training facilities while infiltrating the Afghan army and police.

The report cites dozens of incidents in which personnel with the NATO International Security Assistance Force have been attacked and killed by infiltrators among the Afghan army and police.

In the past six months:

  • On Nov. 29, an Afghan police officer killed six of his American trainers in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed he had been a sleeper agent.
  • On Jan. 20, an Afghan soldier shot two Italian soldiers dead on a military base.
  • On Feb. 18, an Afghan soldier killed three German soldiers and wounded six others on a base in Baghlan province.
  • On April 4, an Afghan border police officer killed two American trainers inside a compound in northern Faryab province.

The report says that widespread illiteracy and high desertion rates among Afghan soldiers and police and worsening security in the country as a whole doom the effort to failure.

Even if training efforts succeed to some extent, the eventual implosion of "the increasingly corrupt and ineffective Karzai government" leaves open the question of what sort of regime those soldiers and police would serve, the report says.

"Although they won't admit it, most Western governments have already given up on the country," said the report's co-author Byers. "The training mission is clearly an exit strategy that will cost more Canadians their lives."

The decision to extend the Afghan mission beyond 2011 was made without a debate in Parliament, with the consent of the Liberal Opposition. Harper argued that for an extension of the mission in a non-combat role, no parliamentary vote was needed.

"When we're talking simply about technical or training missions, I think that is something the executive can do on its own," Harper said.

Canadian trainers will stay "inside the wire," at their bases, Harper said, but the report suggests that the need to provide training in the field and security for the bases will inevitably result in "mission creep" and the need to engage in combat with insurgents.

The report contends that attempts to train the Afghan army and police to take over security are a facade designed to ease an exit "with honour."

"Which raises the question," the report says. "Why should Canada's soldiers suffer more casualties in an extended 'training' mission, if the decision to abandon Afghanistan to its fate has already been made?"

The report's authors fear public discussion about the Afghan mission has been sidelined by the election.

"Canadians need to be made aware of the risks of this mission," Webb said.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives describes itself as an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social, economic and environmental justice.