Afghan Debate Gets Ugly

Afghan Debate Gets Ugly
February 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Afghan Debate Gets Ugly

Afghan Debate Gets Ugly
Toronto Globe and Mail
February 9, 2008 Ottawa seeks to extend mission as barbs fly in the Commons
By Brian Laghi and Bill Curry, Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — The federal government moved yesterday to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan to 2011, prompting both the Conservatives and the Opposition Liberals to descend into political posturing that could define a coming election campaign.
If left unresolved, the gulf between the political parties could lead to a federal election campaign in the coming weeks, as the government declared that its parliamentary motion on the Afghan mission would be considered a vote of confidence.
Although both the Tories and the Liberals pledged an interest in co-operating on the issue, it took only a few hours before MPs began trading abrasive rhetoric.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan accused the Liberals of sympathizing with the Taliban when he was asked about the policy of Canadian soldiers transferring captured prisoners into Afghan hands.
"What we will not do is what the agent for the Taliban intelligence agency wants us to do over here, which is release to them information on detailed operations in the field," he said in the House of Commons.
Although the Liberals were less caustic, they were nonetheless steadfast in rejecting the idea of a combat extension.
"We have a motion that we cannot accept today," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told reporters in British Columbia. "We'll come with our own proposal next week and we'll let Parliament do its job."
The Tory motion would extend the military mission until at least 2011, provided NATO finds an extra 1,000 troops as well as helicopters and unmanned aircraft, when it would be reviewed again. The motion also says the number of Canadian troops in Afghanistan would drop as Afghans are trained to take over.
Mr. Dion said Liberal amendments to the motion will be in line with the party's position that the combat portion of the mission must end by February of 2009. The Liberals are willing to remain in Kandahar, but want to focus efforts on rebuilding rather than fighting insurgents.
Mr. Dion said his party "is never afraid" of an election, but that his priority was to make Parliament work.
Mr. Van Loan also said the government wants to work with the Liberals.
"The government does not believe the mission in Afghanistan should be a partisan political issue," he said. "It is an issue that transcends partisan interests. Too much is at stake."
But he also attacked the Liberals for wanting to avoid combat.
"You cannot leave our troops as sitting ducks in the field to be killed by the enemy in a dangerous part of that country."
The government had originally said the motion would be put to a vote at the end of March. Yesterday, Mr. Van Loan would only commit to the vote being held some time during the month.
Deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that while the government's motion suggests a willingness to compromise, Mr. Van Loan's partisan remarks leave him pessimistic the two parties can come together.
"We are anxious to work with the government to find a respectable, honourable compromise that serves the national interest. But you can't go into the House of Commons and be told you're the Taliban information service."
Liberal MP Mark Holland said Liberals won't compromise on the central question.
"Extending the combat mission beyond 2009 is a non-starter for us," he said.
The Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats wasted little time in declaring they would oppose the motion and had no interest in amendments.
"We are ready to look at other roles for Canada in Afghanistan for the army, for reconstruction in Afghanistan, but we think we've done enough," Bloc MP Pierre Paquette said.
If the impasse persists, the Liberals may have to decide what is the best way to bring the government down.
Some Liberals would like to force an election on the budget to avoid a wrenching public debate on Afghanistan. Others, however, think Afghanistan is a good political issue for them because it would remove an arrow from the quiver of the NDP and the Bloc, who are trying to shear off the Liberals' left-wing supporters.
--With a report from Jesse Ferreras in Vancouver/Special to The Globe

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