Saturday, December 08, 2007

Think Tank Offers Wise Advice fo Afghanistan Panel

Senlis Council offers sound advice for Afghanistan panel

In testimony before the federal government's Afghanistan Panel, Senlis Council president Norine MacDonald offered what the Senlis council feels would be a rudimentary roadmap to success in Afghanistan.

The council recommends the following:

-Shifting responsibility for delivering aid to civilians in Khandahar from the Canadian International Development Agency to the Canadian Armed Forces in the short term.

-Planning CIDA's role in Afghanistan over the medium- to long-term in order to boost the Agency's effectiveness in the region.

-Calling a NATO meeting to discuss sharing of the Afghanistan mission with non-NATO countries, and increasing the troop presence in Afghanistan to 80,000.

-Adoping a "zero civilian casualties" policy to ensure that any and all civilian casualties are prevented.

-Establishing clear objectives and bench marks for security, humanitarian and development work in Afghanistan.

-Lobbying against the chemical spraying of opium poppy crops in Afghanistan, and instead establishing a pilot project using said poppies for pharmaceuticals.

-The establishment of Canadian-Afghan professional exchange and development programs so Canadian civilians may share their expertise with their Afghan counterparts.

The Senlis council recommendations are mostly sound, although they are imperfect. That is, the principles are fundamentally sound, but practicality could become an issue if these policies are hastily implimented in the field.

"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," MacDonald 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."

"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 added.

While some would dispute the Council's assessment of CIDA's effectiveness -- most notably, the federal minister in charge of aid and development (one may make of this what they wish) -- transferring responsibility for short-term aid to the armed forces will add yet another task to the already-occupied Canadian Forces. Requiring Canadian troops to carry out humanitarian work in Khandahar may require a temporary boost in troop deployment -- think of it as a "humanitarian surge".

Adopting a zero civilian casualties policy in Afghanistan is actually quite important. However, we need to remember that civilian casualties during war are very much a part of fighting a war, and sometimes are unavoidable -- particularly in situations such as when Taxis refuse to stop at military checkpoints.

As a general operating principle, however, we simply must do everything we can to avoid such casualties whenever possible.

Other than these minor issues, the Senlis Council has offered some good ideas on changes that can be made to the approach to the Afghanistan mission in order to ensure its success.

"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," MacDonald announced.

The Canadian Forces would be well-served to follow the Senlis Council's advice in the new year.

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