When Canadians think about military, they think Afghan war: survey

OTTAWA – Canada’s mission in Afghanistan may be all but over for the Canadian Armed Forces, but it remains top of mind for the public when they think about the military.

Focus-group research conducted for National Defence last spring suggests there’s not much awareness of other recent missions, including the 2010 relief effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

A report by Phoenix Strategies, written in March 2013, was released publicly this week.

When asked about past and present international missions, many focus group members suggested — among other things — that the military keeps a low profile, is “out of sight, out of mind” and that Canadians are too “polite” to showcase military achievements.

“There was widespread agreement that the CAF is currently active in places outside of Canada,” said the 35-page analysis.

“However, when asked whether they know of any places outside of Canada where the CAF is active at this time, participants generally had trouble identifying any such locations.”

The army’s mission to train Afghan forces in Kabul is about to wind down as the first wave of the 950 soldiers currently taking part prepares to pull out next month. By early in the new year, only 100 Canadian troops will be left on the ground.

The pullout will end more than 10 years of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, including a five-year combat mission in Kandahar. In total, 158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives.

The public research, which is conducted annually, also shows that while the ongoing procurement fiasco involving the F-35 fighter has made a deep impression on the public, the Harper government’s long-standing emphasis on the military in the Arctic has fallen somewhat flat.

While participants agreed it was important for the Forces to conduct sovereignty patrols, most of their awareness of northern issues related environment and resources.

“Most participants did not have an understanding of what the CAF does in Canada’s Arctic,” said the report, which was prepared following 10 focus groups across the country.

“Relatively few participants had heard the specific expression ‘Arctic Sovereignty’ before attending the focus group.”

Despite being unaware, researchers said there was “a virtual consensus” that it is important for Canada to protect and exercise sovereignty in the North.

“Some focused on the economic dimension of the issue. They said that exercising sovereignty is important because it serves to protect Canada’s mineral and resource rights in the region, and helps ensure that our country controls the northern waterways becoming passable.”

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