Former deputy prime minister John Manley spent a week touring Afghanistan, but said he is still "absorbing" the information he has learned and is not yet ready to make any recommendations to Parliament.
Manley, a Liberal who served under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, was chosen by the current Conservative government to lead a five-person committee that will advise Parliament on Canada's role in Afghanistan once the current mission expires in February 2009.
The committee arrived in Afghanistan a week ago and toured through areas including Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif.
"All of us have seen things that have helped us a great deal in the understanding the complexity of this country, and the complexity of the issues facing the international community and facing Canada," Manley told reporters at the airbase in Kandahar on Tuesday night, before leaving Afghanistan on Wednesday.
"But I don't think we're ready to make a recommendation … We still have quite a bit of work to do before we're at the point of making a recommendation."
Manley said his committee met with the governor of Kandahar, police officials, community elders and Canadian teams working on reconstruction projects. Manley said he was struck by the diversity of the provinces he visited and the complexity of the problems facing each.
"We've had a good exposure to a lot of things, and put together a lot of information that we're absorbing," Manley said.
The committee also spent time a great deal of time meeting with Canadian soldiers, many of them working on forward bases.
"I think we've certainly reaffirmed our respect and admiration for Canadian soldiers that are here," Manley said.
"This has been Canada's most significant international commitment since the Korean War and we're going to make sure we take the time that's necessary to give the best advice that we can."
Prime Minster Stephen Harper, who appointed Manley to head the committee in October, wants the committee to report back in January.
Harper has asked the committee to consider four options:
- Continue training the Afghan army and police with the goal of creating a self-sufficient security force.
- Focus on Kandahar reconstruction, passing on main security responsibilities to another foreign force.
- Move military operations and reconstruction efforts to other areas of Afghanistan.
- Withdraw Canadian forces altogether after February 2009, leaving only a small contingent to ensure security for diplomats.
As the committeeworks to craft its recommendations, it also plans to meet with UN agencies, officials from NATO and experts in Washington for further information.
"We're consulting broadly," Manley said. "We're talking to just about any global expert you can think of."
Harper aimed for non-partisan committee
Pundits in Ottawa were initially surprised Harper would nameaprominent Liberal to head the committee, and many analysts believed it was a strategic move to throw Liberals off course in advance of the Conservatives' Oct. 16 throne speech.
Harper said his goal was to ensure the committee was non-partisan.
The other members of the committee are:
- Former CBC journalist Pamela Wallin, an officer of the Order of Canada who serves as a top adviser on Canada-U.S. relations to the president of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas in New York.
- Canadian businessman and former U.S. ambassador Derek Burney, who was a key political strategist for former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.
- Former Bombardier CEO Paul Tellier, who served as clerk of the Privy Council under Mulroney.
- Former Mulroney health minister Jake Epp.
The Canadian military asked that Manley's interview not be published until after he and his team left the country Wednesday.
Roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in Afghanistan, most stationed in the volatile southern Kandahar region. Since the mission began in 2002, 73 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died.