Afghan troop withdrawal a ‘surprise’

Harper didn’t warn the Afghan ambassador of his announcement

Stephen Harper
According to Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave no warning to the Afghan government before announcing in early September that Canada would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

Harper made the remarks during a campaign breakfast meeting with journalists in Toronto, likely in an attempt to neutralize Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan as an election issue in Quebec. He had previously said that Canada would withdraw from the violent province of Kandahar in 2011, but left open the possibility of redeploying Canadian troops elsewhere in the country.

“It was a surprise,” Omar Samad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, recently told Maclean’s about the announcement. Still, the ambassador was diplomatic about the revelation. “I’m a realist,” he said. “In Kabul, there is a common-sense view that there will be a need for NATO forces, whatever their nationalities, for a certain period of time. But eventually some NATO countries will start thinking of their exit strategy.”

The Afghan government, Samad said, was already preparing for this eventuality. The ultimate goal is to have the Afghan army and police take over the country’s security. But in the near term, U.S. forces will play a more prominent role. More than 32,000 American troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, and both U.S. presidential candidates have pledged to send more if elected.

According to Samad, the countries fighting in Afghanistan should withdraw only under certain circumstances: “Not in defeat, not as part of an appeasement policy, but with honour and dignity and a sense of achievement.” But he added that Canada could meet those criteria by 2011. “Canada has done well. It can be proud of its contribution, military and civilian, to one of its most important missions since the Second World War.”

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