Canadian Forces should take over delivery of aid in Kandahar: think tank

Canada's military should be given the job of delivering food and medical aid to Afghans in Kandahar province because Canadian efforts to promote development in the southern region are not working, the head of an international policy think tank said Saturday.

Canada's military should be given the job of delivering aid to Afghans in Kandahar province because Canadian efforts to promote development in thesouthern Afghan regionare not working, the head of an international policy think tank said Saturday.

Norine MacDonald, president of the Senlis Council, said she tolda panel looking into the future role of Canada in Afghanistan that the federal government should allow Canadian soldiers to deliverfood and medical aiddirectly to people in Kandahar. The panel is headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley.

MacDonald told CBC News that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has not been effective in making a difference on the ground in Kandahar. She spoke to panel members in Ottawa on Saturday.

"What I said to the Manley panel today was that we need a development and aid effort that will actually deliver development and aid when the military has promised that to the locals," she said.

"What we have seen on the ground is really that CIDA is not being effective at all in delivering development and aid. They are not supporting the Canadian military in the way they should."

MacDonald said Afghan people in the province are suffering because many do not have enough food and many are being forced to move around to avoid fighting between NATO forces and Taliban militants. She said people are starving and a hospital in the province is seriously lacking.

The federal government could give part of CIDA's budget to the Canadian Forces to enable the delivery of aid in Kandahar, she added.

CIDA, for its part, could work on a plan to deliver aid over the medium and long term, while short term and immediate needs would be taken care of by the military, MacDonald said.

"CIDA's efforts in Kandahar are so minimal on the ground as to be nonexistent. It's a crisis. We are seeing starving babies and a hospital that is a nightmare. The military could do a better job. The young men and women from Canada would be more than happy to deliver aid to the Afghan people," she said.

The council told the panel that the federal government should develop an aid and security action plan for Kandahar that would involve targeted humanitarian aid, medical treatment through mobile field hospitals and a refurbished hospital in Kandahar. Delivery of aid by the Canadian military is part of the plan.

"Food aid and medical aid will directly improve the relationships with the Afghan people in Kandahar and will positively affect the security mission in the province. Emergency poverty relief should be a priority for the Canadian mission," the material presented to the panel reads.

Council's other recommendations

The council made six main recommendations to the panel. The other five recommendations are:

  • Canada should call for an emergency NATO meeting to discuss strategy in Afghanistan. The meeting would focus on sharing the burden of Afghanistan with non-NATO countries, ways to double troops levels to reach 80,000 soldiers, and the need for NATO troops to move into border regions in Pakistan to counter the insurgency.
  • Canada's military should work to decrease civilian casualties by adopting a policy of zero civilian casualties and by limiting air strikes to areas where civilians will not be victimized. Canada should deploy highly skilled military paramedics to treat civilians injured in fighting and bombings.
  • The federal government should establish clear objectives and measures of success for its humanitarian, security and reconstruction work in Afghanistan and should make its troop commitment and a future end date of its mission dependent on progress in these areas. "Canada should stay in Afghanistan until the job is done," it said.
  • Canada should take a leadership role in support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai against chemical spraying of poppy crops and should support a "poppy for medicine" pilot project in Kandahar province to investigate the benefits of local morphine production.
  • The federal government should enable Canadian citizens to help Afghans through professional exchange and development programs to build "stronger popular support for a difficult but necessary mission." Canada should also allow private investment by Canadian firms in Afghanistan.

MacDonald said the council is asking the panel to "go beyond its mandate" through these recommendations but the council believes the recommendations would help to improve security in the country.

"There's a lot things we could do differently that would have a really significant impact on the situation and the stability of the Karzai government and bring our troops home sooner," she said.

Manley's panel is expected to present a plan by the end of January on what Canada should do when its current commitment to the NATO mission expires in 2009.

Options include continuing to train the Afghan army and police so Canada can begin withdrawing its forces in February 2009, or possibly focusing on reconstruction and having forces from another country take over security.

Also being considered is shifting the Canadian security and reconstruction effort to another, safer region in Afghanistan, or withdrawing all Canadian military except a minimal force to protect aid workers and diplomats.

Canada has more than 2,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, a coalition of 41,000 troops from 38 countries. The majority of Canadian soldiers are stationed in Kandahar.