Mr. Chair, honourable members, and guests, thank you very much for the invitation to appear before you this afternoon. It's been three years since I had the last opportunity to address the Standing Committee on National Defence, back in March 2003. It's nice to see some familiar faces. Ms. Gallant is here. Mr. Bachand.
Ironically, we will see how many of these issues we discussed then remain with us today.
I want to note that my appearance today was only confirmed on Monday, so my apologies. Normally, we would have provided you with advance copies of our brief in both official languages, but there were some materials distributed earlier; a report called Boots on the Ground, which we released a few weeks ago, has made its way into people's mailboxes.
In the past few weeks, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has appeared before both the Senate and the House of Commons defence committees, and in each instance, some of the research that the Polaris Institute has contributed to the national debate on Afghanistan has arisen in the discussions. Not surprisingly, Mr. MacKay has disagreed with our findings, and I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on the topic today, as well as address some of the other assertions made in those presentations.
I invite questions from you for further clarification.
On May 17, the Polaris Institute released a report written by our associate researcher, Bill Robinson, called Boots on the Ground: Canadian Military Operations in Afghanistan and UN Peacekeeping Missions. The report built upon a brief we presented to the Commons finance committee last fall during its pre-budget consultations. That report was entitled It's Never Enough: Canada's alarming rise in military spending, and I've brought English and French copies of that brief with me here today.
At your last meeting, on June 6, Minister MacKay told you that the total expenditures of Canada's multi-faceted engagement in Afghanistan to date amounted to approximately $2.3 billion, that the DND portion of that is $1.8 billion, and “that is an incremental cost of Canadian Forces operations in or related to the Afghanistan mission itself”, he said.
I'm sure that members of this committee would also like to know the full costs of the mission. Minister MacKay's figures represent the incremental costs of the mission and exclude personnel costs. Add soldiers' salaries, overtime, and bonuses, and the full cost of the commitment exceeds $4.1 billion.
Unfortunately, we do not have the list of specific missions Minister MacKay used in calculating that figure, but it's likely similar to the list of missions we documented in our report, Boots on the Ground. Likewise, our report calculated that the incremental cost of these missions since fall 2001 is $2.6 billion, according to DND figures, so we're in the same general ballpark with Minister MacKay's figures. In our report we included both the full cost and the incremental costs, because while both are valid, they do measure different things, and I should note that the Department of National Defence uses both accounting methods in its planning.
Minister MacKay and others would argue that the lower incremental figure should be used, because the soldiers would have to be paid anyway. That's true, but the defence budget is rising precipitously because of the demands to recruit, train, and deploy more troops abroad; therefore, assessing the costs of the missions should take into account their full cost, not just the price of gasoline and ammunition consumed in Afghanistan.
That brings me to the trend in Canada's overall military spending. In our brief to the finance committee last fall we explained that Canada's current level of military spending is already very high by NATO standards.
At this point I'll just refer you to our slide here. These figures come from NATO itself. We have outlined the top seven spenders in NATO. There are 26 members. Where does Canada fit in terms of real dollars? Number seven. These are NATO figures. I include Russia there, as NATO does, just by comparison. That's why you see that there. Canada, at $11 billion in U.S. dollars for 2004, is seventh highest among the 26-member alliance. Globally, we are fifteenth highest. Even today we are a very high military spender.
In the coming few years, as a result of the last two budgets, which have set Canada's military spending on a rise at such a precipitous rate, it almost literally leaps off the chart.
Let me go to the next slide and show you the trends in military spending. In 2005-06 our military spending is about $15 billion. This is all in 2005 dollars, and they've all been adjusted, so we're comparing apples to apples. This goes from 1980 up until the current budget of 2005. You see a steep increase under the Trudeau years. This is the Mulroney government here, and then of course the end of the Cold War in 1989-90. And here we experienced the peace dividend and reductions in military spending up until the end of the 1990s.
At the same time, this is when the federal budget began posting surpluses. You can see defence spending has been put back into the military budget up until the point where we're almost even to the point at which we were at the end of the Cold War. The day the Berlin Wall fell, Canada's spending has almost achieved that same level. The 2005-06 spending, which is about $15 billion, is already just 5% below spending at the end of the Cold War. Within two years we'll exceed what we were spending then, having clawed back the entire post-Cold War peace dividend.
With the increases announced in the Liberals' 2005 budget of $12.8 billion over five years, combined with the additional topping up of the Conservatives in the last budget of an additional $5.3 billion, Canada's military spending will reach $21.5 billion by the end of the decade. Let me just put that on the map for you. We'll add those increases. That's where Canada's military spending is headed in the next few years, well over $20 billion, practically off the chart. Again, I remind you, we are comparing apples to apples. These are all adjusted dollars updated to the last budget. This is an increase of 43.3% over today's spending. By comparison, it will put Canadian military spending at a higher level than any amount of spending in adjusted dollars since the Second World War.
The main driver of this high level of military spending is the perceived need to make our forces more interoperable with U.S. forces, to assist in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. I might remind you that the U.S. level of spending is higher than that of the rest of the world combined and is arguably bankrupting their country.
This brings us back to Afghanistan. The mission in Afghanistan is really a proving ground for greater military integration with U.S. forces. Again, Minister MacKay did his best to portray our current role as a peace-building humanitarian mission and anything but Canada's contribution to the U.S.-led war on terrorism. He also told this committee that our engagement is intended to build a stable, secure, democratic, and self-sufficient Afghanistan. But this diverges from the reasoning the government gave in the Speech from the Throne this year, which said we are in Afghanistan to “defend our national interests, combat global terrorism and help the Afghan people”. The government defined its view of the country's national interest as building stronger multilateral and bilateral relationships, starting with Canada's relationship with the United States.
The mission in Afghanistan has crowded out all other possible international roles for our military. In the last five years, the Afghan mission has consumed 68% of our military spending on international missions. While Minister MacKay portrayed the mission as supporting the UN, the truth is that during the same five-year period the full cost of our contribution to UN peacekeeping was only $214 million, or 3% of our military spending on international missions.
Once a proud top ten contributor of soldiers to UN blue helmet missions, today we are far down the list at 50, just behind Romania and ahead of Mali. In terms of actual soldiers, we provide only 59 peacekeepers. You can fit all of our UN peacekeeping troops on a single school bus.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we are, as I would argue, seeing the Americanization of the Canadian Forces as we adopt U.S. war-fighting tactics. For instance, the reconstruction effort, which is laudable, is only a small part of our role. Only 250 of the 2,300 troops in Afghanistan are devoted to our provincial reconstruction team, while more than 1,000 are in the Canadian battle group engaged in the U.S.-style search and destroy missions in the countryside. And as you know, we are currently under U.S. command as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. This became painfully obvious to Canadians recently when Canadian commanders had to admit the decision to bomb and strafe a school in Azizi, killing more than a dozen civilians and children along with Taliban fighters, came from their American superiors.
At some time in the coming months we will move our troops back under NATO's ISAF command structure, but there's no fixed date. Yet committee members may have felt that Minister MacKay was conflating these two missions, the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO ISAF, by arguing that one would be a continuation of the other. This would be news to NATO, which sees the two missions as very distinct. First, NATO has a clear UN mandate—which is different from being UN-led. It's not a blue helmet mission, but it does have a UN mandate, which is maybe the next best thing, while Operation Enduring Freedom does not. Second, NATO is involved in a peace support mission, not a counter-terrorism mission.
When asked about the two missions by the Globe and Mail recently, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said:
We'll keep the mission distinct from [Operation] Enduring Freedom.... I do, we do, and the allies do consider this a NATO mission....
The fundamental difference is that Operation Enduring Freedom is basically a counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency operation and ISAP is a stabilization mission.
This is an extremely important point, because the debate is whether or not the counter-terrorism mission Canada is conducting with the U.S. is fundamentally incompatible with NATO's peace support objectives. As the NATO Secretary General said, it's about stabilization, reconstruction; it's about winning hearts and minds. But what must be a growing concern to this committee is the number of reports emerging from Afghanistan indicating that we are losing the battle for hearts and minds and the Taliban is winning.
Two weeks ago former U.S. Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre told the New York Times that Afghanistan is the sleeper crisis of the summer. In the past two weeks the Taliban have appeared in unprecedented numbers in groups of up to 300 men. The U.S. is now rethinking its decision to reduce their numbers in Afghanistan and has delayed the final handover to NATO that was scheduled for the end of this year.
More bad news came yesterday from the British think tank, the Senlis Council. Based on extensive interviews on the ground in Afghanistan with Afghan farmers, they've concluded that the aggressive military interventions so far by U.S. troops and their supporters have meant the coalition forces have lost the support of local people. The report adds that people have gained little from the occupation, especially in the south, where so much was promised and so little was delivered. The council estimates that in Helmand province, which the British are moving into now, next door to Kandahar, 80% of the people support the Taliban.
In terms of attacks, in 2004 there were just five suicide attacks, while there have been 21 in just the first semester of 2006, and the attacks are more sophisticated and lethal. We've already seen that Canadians are finding their armoured Jeeps are no longer sufficient defence and are now relying almost exclusively on the LAV IIIs. How long before the Taliban will be able to defeat their armour?
Again, Minister MacKay reiterated a multi-faceted approach to Afghanistan that included development and political support as well as our military role. However, it is the political approach that receives the least amount of attention, and it must be attended to right away, before it is too late.
Last week I had the privilege of accompanying Dr. Seddiq Weera at a press conference here on Parliament Hill. Dr. Weera is a diplomat and an Afghan-born Canadian who was imprisoned for more than four years under the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Later he came to Canada to study at McMaster University and the University of Toronto. Now he's advising the Karzai government. At that press conference he urged the Canadian government to support a renewed peace process that will bring all the political elements in Afghanistan together to the table, including the Taliban. He has spoken with the Taliban leaders and has said he has a list of those leaders who are prepared to begin a dialogue.
But according to Minister MacKay earlier this week, as he said, “insurgents are not interested in peace”. I would argue, and also Dr. Weera would argue, that it's this kind of enemy-centric view that will be our undoing, because the longer the combat mission goes on, the more it helps the Taliban and al-Qaeda find more recruits. Our own military leadership has said that every time we kill one of them, it helps them recruit 10 more. And in the U.S. last summer, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself said we need to start talking with the most moderate elements within the Taliban.
Here is an influential Afghan-born, Canadian-educated diplomat who can help us take a lead role in this country. And what is the government's response? Foreign Affairs officials cancelled their meeting with him at the last minute. One has to ask whether the Canadian government is interested in finding a diplomatic solution to Afghanistan. Will we learn that our combat role will be as fruitless as a struggling man up to his neck in quicksand? If so, I fear Afghanistan will become Canada's Iraq.
In conclusion, the Polaris Institute urges this committee, first of all, to advise the government that our role in the U.S.-led combat mission is ultimately a mission impossible. We need to assess the success of the military mission objectively and work with our NATO allies to bring a quick end to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Second, let's support the work of Dr. Weera and others in Afghanistan to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Afghan, essentially, civil war.
Finally, we must return our military commitment to the United Nations and answer positively the next time the UN comes asking for contributions of blue helmet peacekeepers.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee. Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today about Canada and Afghanistan.
My name is Kevin McCort, and I am the senior vice-president for CARE Canada, a non-governmental organization providing humanitarian aid and development assistance in over 40 countries.
I've been invited to appear before you today to share the perspective CARE has developed over many years of working in Afghanistan, specifically with respect to the motion adopted by this committee on May 16. There are many aspects to that specific motion, but I will focus on the relationship between the combat operations of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and their efforts to help reconstruct the country.
CARE worked in Afghanistan from 1961 to 1980 and then again from 1989 to the present. We're working currently in 14 provinces throughout the country and have over 900 staff, 99% of whom are Afghans. We are an organization that believes in building local capacities and taking a long-term approach to our work.
I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan in late May, just last month, where I met many of our staff and those of other NGOs; members of the Afghan government; Canadian military, aid and diplomatic staff; and residents of poor areas of Kabul as well as villagers in Logar and Paktia provinces.
I went to Afghanistan for two purposes: first, to review the Canadian-funded projects within the CARE country program; and second, because it is such a high-profile issue in Canada, to understand the complex and evolving set of relationships between the military forces present in Afghanistan and traditional development actors like ourselves.
While I could undoubtedly talk for hours on the many dimensions of this complex country, I know my time is limited, so I will focus on two key recommendations that speak to this relationship between combat operations and reconstruction.
First, I must re-emphasize the absolutely critical importance of avoiding civilian casualties and treating local residents with respect. I know the Canadian Forces understand that hearts and minds will be lost through accidents or careless acts, but it is worth repeating.
I was in Kabul on the day of the attack in Azizi, which was not conducted by Canadian Forces, but one that caused my Afghan host to draw a parallel between this event and its civilian deaths and how the Soviets behaved in the 1980s. He lost members of his family in 1986 in a similar attack, and he recounted these events of 20 years ago as if it were yesterday. Our media may move on, but the people affected do not forget, and some may be drawn to the insurgency of today as they were in the past. Specifically, this member, who is currently on our staff, joined the mujahedeen in 1986 because of this attack on his family. When this happens, it obviously hurts reconstruction efforts.
I left Kabul two days before the traffic accident involving coalition forces that inspired the riots that led to the destruction of the very office I used during my visit to Afghanistan. One of the buildings destroyed was our office. An angry population, which could do little against an overwhelming military presence, turned against other international organizations like CARE. We have no intention of leaving as a result of this attack, but if we or others are eventually forced to leave, this will surely hurt reconstruction as well.
Our security in all countries where we work is based primarily on our integration with and acceptance by the local communities. We need coalition forces that act in ways that do not undermine Afghans' acceptance of our presence just as much as we need the United Nations or other NGOs to also operate discreetly and with respect for Afghan culture, norms, and traditions.
My second point is that we must not confuse the mandates of entities primarily responsible for combat operations with those of organizations dedicated to reconstruction. I know security is needed for development, just as I know development can reduce insecurity. But I am convinced organizations specialized in one should not assume they can take on the roles and responsibilities of the other.
A very good example of reconstruction and development work occurring now in Afghanistan is the national solidarity program. It's an initiative of the Afghan government, funded mostly by international donors, including CIDA, and involving many NGOs like CARE who help implement the program throughout the country. It works like this. NGOs act as facilitating partners. They meet with communities and help them establish democratically elected community development committees. These committees manage a process, involving men and women, that determines the range of community priorities, and then the community votes for the most important project. The funds needed to implement the project are transferred by the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development directly to the community development committee, which implements the project on their own.
The facilitating partner monitors the process, helps the committee as and when needed, and provides progress reports to the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development. Ideally this process repeats itself over time, with progressively less and less involvement of the facilitating partner. This helps the community strengthen its management capabilities and builds a productive relationship between the government and its citizens.
You might ask why I would explain this in detail to you. Because implementing the national solidarity program means you have to work the grassroots. It takes amounts of time and expertise that are not found in combat forces or in provincial reconstruction teams. It takes a high degree of acceptance and protection by the local community, which may not be extended to a foreign military force, and when done by local governments in partnership with NGOs, predominantly staffed by Afghans, it can be done at a fraction of the cost of a PRT alternative.
The community I visited in Paktia knows well that the international community is behind the national solidarity program, coalition forces, and PRTs. They've actually dealt with all of them, and they have opinions about the strength and weaknesses of each in fulfilling their various roles. I asked them a simple question: when it comes to reconstruction, who do you prefer working with, provincial working teams or the national solidarity program? There was a clear vote for the latter, which says to me that we will make our greatest contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan if we work in ways that the Afghans most prefer and accept.
The Canadian PRT does have plans when it comes to reconstruction in Afghanistan. As explained to me, their mandate is to focus on the rehabilitation of the security and justice infrastructure and capabilities of the provincial government. I have no objection to this, as the activities I have heard about are closely aligned to their security-focused mandate.
My advice to you is that as Canadians we have choices when it comes to channeling our contributions to the reconstruction effort. In my opinion, the clear favourite should be civilian-led programs such as the national solidarity program.
Perhaps I can end with a short note regarding Asif Rahimi, currently the deputy minister responsible for the national solidarity program. Asif has had a long connection to CARE and to Canada. He worked for CARE while he was a refugee in Pakistan, then again when we reopened our office in Afghanistan. He subsequently immigrated to Canada and worked for CARE in Ottawa, and he has now returned to Kabul to play a senior role in the Afghan government.
Perhaps he personifies our approach to development and reconstruction in Afghanistan. His is a long-term commitment, the form of which changes over time, but nonetheless remains solid in the face of enormous challenges and changing circumstances. We need to remain committed to Asif and people like him, because in the end, he is us.
Thank you for your attention, and I welcome any questions you may have.
Mr. Casson, I'll lead off. My colleague, Erin Simpson, is here principally for the back and forth that we hope will follow these presentations.
I will start by saying the Canadian Council for International Cooperation is an umbrella organization of Canadian NGOs working worldwide to eradicate global poverty and to promote peace and human rights, and I'd like to thank the chair and the committee for the opportunity to present as part of your review on Canada's role in Afghanistan. The lives and the futures of Canadian soldiers and of Afghans are at stake in the Canadian mission, and we welcome a focused reflection by this committee.
Today I'd like to speak to three issues. The first relates to civilian and military roles in the delivery of assistance to Afghans. The second point is the mandate of Canada's military engagement. Finally, I'd like to highlight the need in Afghanistan for a greater attention to development and human rights.
The issue that's front and centre for many NGOs active in Afghanistan is the blurring of lines between aid strategies and military strategies. You've heard a little bit about that here from my colleague Mr. McCort. This blurring arises when the military delivers aid, and when aid delivery by NGOs or the government is tied, implicitly or explicitly, to a military strategy.
It's problematic because it puts both those who receive aid and those who deliver it at risk, and because it diverts aid from its proper purposes--poverty eradication and the promotion of human rights, and, in the case of humanitarian assistance, the health and the nutritional security of communities.
It probably won't surprise anyone on this committee to know that NGOs were shocked at the recent comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Doucette, who was reported in the Ottawa Citizen as saying that development assistance is a useful counter-insurgency tool in Afghanistan. It's a comment that puts a sharp spotlight on an ongoing controversy about aid in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Throughout the war, the delivery of aid by, or in close coordination with, coalition forces has put people at risk. When aid strengthens the military objectives of one side in a war, aid becomes a weapon, and those who receive it frequently become targets.
Canada's official position is that there is no confusion of roles in the Canadian strategy in Afghanistan because humanitarian assistance--that is, specific life-saving assistance--is not being provided through the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar. In fact, that is simply a budget-line distinction, not a distinction of roles. The military is carrying out community development-type activities, such as repairs to local schools. There is a civil-military cooperation fund managed by the military for these types of activities, and the details about the spending of that fund have not been made available to requesting organizations.
Beyond these programs, CIDA's confidence-in-government program for Afghanistan is publicly described now as providing aid to communities that commit to cooperating with coalition forces to drive out the Taliban. The idea is to weaken the Taliban by rewarding communities that plainly take sides with the coalition forces.
If true--I repeat, if true--that strategy is a clear violation of the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality and independence, principles with their origins in the Geneva conventions and principles that are reaffirmed in multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
As well, the program would certainly appear to blur the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, also enshrined in the Geneva conventions. These principles are fundamental to the general goal of the conventions, which is to provide minimal protection to non-combatants in war zones. By essentially recruiting communities to side with Canada in a war against the Taliban, we are involving those communities in the war--but we can't protect them. Even the governor of Kandahar stated that the military can't protect these projects or these communities from security threats. So if we systematically link the delivery of aid to the military offensive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we make targets of the communities that benefit ostensibly from that assistance.
I think the committee must inquire into the statements of Lieutenant-Colonel Doucette. We need clarification of the military's position with respect to the use of development assistance in their campaign, and I would respectfully say, Canada needs to make this right. The committee should also seek clarity, and urgently, from CIDA on its approach in the field and the rationale for it. The delivery of aid should be focused on the needs and rights of Afghans and not tied to any military or political strategy, and in all but exceptional circumstances, military forces should avoid engaging in reconstruction or relief activities in Afghanistan. Aid workers are the right people for that job.
The mandate for military forces should be focused on providing a secure environment and protecting Afghan civilians, and military communications should emphasize that mandate and avoid messaging that emphasizes the humanitarian and reconstruction role of the forces. God knows there are reasons for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, but they ought to be done by the right people.
Beyond distinguishing the military from assistance strategies, there is also a need to distinguish the Canadian operation in Afghanistan from the combat-focused U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom. In our view, the transfer from Operation Enduring Freedom to the NATO-led UN-authorized ISAF needs to happen promptly and without delay. The NATO mandate should remain clear that the use of force is a last resort and it is for the purposes of security and protection.
There is a wide range of security threats in Afghanistan. The committee will know that, surely. The threats posed by warlords, for example, and by other factions, and a military campaign narrowly focused on defeating the Taliban will not have the range necessary to ensure security for all Afghans. Of course, poverty and unfulfilled human rights set the stage for violence in Afghanistan. Currently, Canada's development resources are focused on the type of security that really should be left to the military and the police--for example, paying the salaries of Afghan police, large weapons destruction programs, and that sort of thing. About 40% of CIDA's development assets in Afghanistan are focused on security sector reform.
Canada should give greater attention to current initiatives to resolve longstanding conflicts between various factions, including the implementation of the action plan for peace, justice, and reconciliation, a little bit down the line of the comment made earlier about prioritizing some of the political initiatives. We should also be investing more in women's rights, and a greater focus needs to be placed on the development of sustainable livelihoods and local community development.
To summarize very quickly, the military should stick to security and protection of civilians, not to delivering assistance. Assistance delivered by government or non-governmental bodies must not be tied to military strategy either explicitly or implicitly. The transfer to ISAF should be carried out promptly, and the implications of this transfer in mandate terms should be made clear to Canadians.
Lastly, resources and attention need to be directed toward the peace process, reconciliation, along with the support of gender programs, livelihoods, and community developments.
Once again, thank you very much for the opportunity to offer these views here. It's greatly appreciated.