Canada

Chrétien government rejected military's advice on Afghan deployment: ex-army chief

The former Liberal government led by Jean Chrétien rejected the advice of military commanders in 2003 by deciding to send 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, CBC News has learned.

The former Liberal government led by Jean Chrétien rejected the advice of military commanders by deciding in early2003 to send 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, CBC News has learned.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Canada had sent several hundred soldiers to assist U.S. troops in tracking down al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. When that mission ended, senior military officers recommended that Canada send only 500 soldiers in a very limited role — but Ottawa chose instead to deploy 2,000 troops.

The commander of the army at the time, Lt.-Gen. Mike Jeffrey, said he told the chief of defence staff that his forces weren't ready for a significant mission overseas.

"We did not have strategic lift, we lacked certain strategic enablers, certain types of intelligence, certain types of communications," Jeffrey told CBC senior correspondent Brian Stewart. "Our logistics capability was weak."

He said the announcement of Canada's plans to send a battle group to Afghanistan — made in the House of Commons on Feb. 12, 2003 — took him completely by surprise.

"I did not know when that announcement was made that the decision had been made to go," he said.

Jeffrey said there were concerns about Canada's role and the command structure of the international force that was to stabilize Afghanistan.

"I could see Canadian soldiers dying," he said, "because they weren't properly prepared. It wasn't that we weren't prepared at some level to go. It's that the risks were too high."

But a former senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, Eddie Goldenberg, said the decision to send soldiers to Afghanistan was the right one, whatever senior officers might say.

"Governments decide where the military goes, the military doesn't decide where it goes," Goldenberg told the CBC.

"Imagine the reaction in Canada and around the world if Canada had refused to be part of an international coalition after September 11th."