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Dion makes surprise Afghan visit: Is there a subtext?

Hydrogen

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After reading the article I am not so sure that Dion is coming completely clean on his promise of withdrawing troops from combat missions (I've bolded some of the text). Overall, NATO appears to be unable to pull together to adequately support this mission on a number of levels. Now it seems like Dion is trying to compensate by covering ever more bases, while still maintaining a promise to remove troops. Yet there seems to be a suggestion that troops will stay and that combat missions may still be part of this more "balanced" mission. Any thoughts?
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Dion makes surprise Afghan visit
Associated Press and Canadian Press
January 12, 2008 at 7:12 PM EST

Canada should be looking at aid projects and other non-combat roles in Afghanistan when its current commitment expires next year, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told President Hamid Karzai on Saturday.

Mr. Dion, accompanied by deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, met with Mr. Karzai in the Afghan capital to discuss the future of Canada's role in the war-torn country.

Canada has about 2,500 troops stationed in the southern Kandahar province, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency against the Karzai government and its western backers.

Their current mandate expires in February 2009, which could force NATO's International Security Assistance Force to rotate troops from other countries into the province — a job for which few other countries have shown enthusiasm.

Canada is expected to decide later this year whether to continue the combat mission, an option favoured by the minority Conservative government.

But Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff, reflecting the feelings of the opposition parties and much of the Canadian public, told the Afghan leader that they believe Canada's combat role should not be renewed.

However, they told Mr. Karzai that the party still supports diplomatic and development efforts, as well as a possible continued military presence in the country, they added.

No word was available on how Mr. Karzai reacted to that position, although Mr. Dion said the Afghan leader did thank Canada for its current contributions during the talks.

"The Liberal Party of Canada is very proud of the contributions our men and women in uniform have made to try to bring peace and stability to this region," Mr. Dion said in a statement later issued on the Liberal party website.

However, the statement confirmed that both he and Mr. Ignatieff had told Mr. Karzai that Canada's role should change.

"We are not afraid of the risks," Mr. Dion told reports in Kabul. "But we want to sure that we have a balanced mission after 2009 that will be optimally helpful for the people of Afghanistan.

"We are convinced . . . that we will have plenty of things to do (in Afghanistan) that will involve, yes, to take risks. But anywhere we will go — whether Darfur or Haiti — there are always risks."

In Ottawa, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper scoffed at Mr. Dion's visit.

"It has taken more than a year after becoming Liberal leader for Stéphane Dion to finally find Afghanistan on the map," Helena Guergis, secretary of state for foreign affairs, said in a statement Saturday.

"The irony of Dion and Iggy being in a war zone and being protected by the same troops who protect Afghan women and children is palpable," Ms. Guergis said.

"I think he should apologize to our troops while he is touring the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in safety because the same reason he needs bodyguards is why our troops need to stay to protect democracy, women and children," she added.

Seventy-six members of the Canadian military have died in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002, more than 30 of them in the last year alone as the insurgency has turned increasingly bloody.

Mr. Ignatieff called the meeting with Mr. Karzai extremely productive and said he hoped it was "the first of many more to come."

The two men also discussed with Mr. Karzai the controversial issue of air and artillery strikes in counter-insurgency operations, according to the Liberal statement. Mr. Karzai has criticized the sometimes heavy civilian casualty tolls such strikes have had in the past.

Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff also "expressed their commitment to Canada calling for an immediate NATO-wide solution that ensures that detainees are not transferred into a situation where they could face torture," the statement said. It did not elaborate.

Human rights groups, who are fighting to stop the transfer of Canadian-captured Taliban fighters to Afghan authorities, say Corrections Canada officers in Afghanistan are witnessing abuse daily in the form of prisoners being shackled 24 hours a day.

Afghanistan has a patchwork of prisons run by different ministries, including the notorious NDS intelligence service, which is a legal entity unto itself and reports only to Mr. Karzai. Depending upon the alleged offence, prisoners can end up in secretive NDS facilities — or in regular jails operated by the Ministry of Justice.
 

299 bloor call control.

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Albeit the trip is somewhat political, it sounds like Dion and Ignatieff are really there to build bridges and be on the ground to have a better idea of the situation, which is exactly what you'd expect a politician to do before a very contentious debate on the issue in a couple months. I've yet to hear any soundbites of them being critical of the government or our troops, but of course, there's the Harperites turning it into something political right away:
In Ottawa, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper scoffed at Mr. Dion's visit.
"It has taken more than a year after becoming Liberal leader for Stéphane Dion to finally find Afghanistan on the map," Helena Guergis, secretary of state for foreign affairs, said in a statement Saturday.
"The irony of Dion and Iggy being in a war zone and being protected by the same troops who protect Afghan women and children is palpable," Ms. Guergis said.
"I think he should apologize to our troops while he is touring the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in safety because the same reason he needs bodyguards is why our troops need to stay to protect democracy, women and children," she added.

Maybe we should ask Harper to find Darfur on the map... or all the other places that we should be sending our troops to keep the peace. A balanced solution is the way to go, so that we can keep our committments elsewhere.
 

billonlogan

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Hydrogen

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Albeit the trip is somewhat political, it sounds like Dion and Ignatieff are really there to build bridges and be on the ground to have a better idea of the situation, which is exactly what you'd expect a politician to do before a very contentious debate on the issue in a couple months.

Maybe we should ask Harper to find Darfur on the map... or all the other places that we should be sending our troops to keep the peace. A balanced solution is the way to go, so that we can keep our committments elsewhere.

No doubt the two went to appraise the present situation with respect to a very contentious debate. And given the right opportunity, I bet Dion and Iggy would have quite differing points of view on this issue.

More generally speaking, the issue is how will they frame their "balanced" approach in the coming election? On the one hand, the Liberals have tended to look like they support a combat troop withdrawal, while at the same time suggesting a "balanced" approach with respect to this mission (greater humanitarian and rebuilding efforts). On the other hand, the present mission is largely a combat at that moment. Will this balancing act mean fewer combat troops (but still combat troops) in a mission that is already poorly supported by NATO? One has to wonder what the adequate balance will be in light of the fact that no one else from NATO wants to pick up on the combat portion of this thing.

Are the Liberals unwittingly setting themselves up to look confused?
 

ShonTron

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Star: Minister put Dion at risk in war zone, Liberals say

Critics want Conservative fired in security flap
Jan 17, 2008 04:30 AM
Les Whittington
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA–The Liberals want Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis fired for what they deem an unacceptable breach of security regarding Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's recent visit to Afghanistan.

In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Dion said Guergis, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, put his security at risk by revealing details publicly of his itinerary in Afghanistan during a visit last weekend.

Information on such visits is usually blacked out to protect dignitaries, and the soldiers accompanying them, from attack by Taliban insurgents. But in an email to reporters on Saturday, Guergis discussed plans of Dion and deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to visit the Provincial Reconstruction Team before the two men revealed them.

In her email, Guergis said Dion has not fully supported Canadian troops in the Afghan mission, and found it ironic that these same troops were protecting the Liberal leader when he toured the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Dion urged the Prime Minister to drop Guergis from cabinet for "revealing secret information" for partisan political gain.

"This gross breach of Canadian security is beyond irresponsible and calls into question her ability to fulfill her duties as a member of cabinet," Dion said in a letter to Harper released yesterday.

But Guergis' officials scoffed at the Liberals' demand.

"Mr. Dion's assertions are ridiculous," said spokesperson Jeffrey Kroeker. "Minister Guergis was talking in general terms" in her email discussing Dion's visit.

Kroeker said Dion is trying only to cover up his own lack of a clear policy on the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

"We would find it more appropriate if Stéphane Dion showed more concern about the safety of our Canadian men and women in Afghanistan and the Afghan people than his own," Kroeker added.

....

Should I be surprised by the arrogance in that last sentence?

If the government was really concerned, they'd push to either get the troops stationed in the safer north (like they were until two years ago) or out of there all together.

Support the troops - only when politically convenient.
 

299 bloor call control.

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You never hear the Liberals openly criticizing or commenting on Conservative trips to Afghanistan because they know that there is an extreme risk commenting on such things when they are in a high risk zone. The Tories don't care and do anything to make a political shot. This needs to stop.
 

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