Canada’s military engagement in violent southern Afghanistan was never meant to go on indefinitely. Last summer, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said “other allies will step up and say ‘We’ll take over’” when Canada’s commitment runs out in February 2009. And since Prime Minister Stephen Harper now says he won’t extend the mission without opposition support in the House of Commons, which is all but inconceivable, that deadline now looks fixed.
But what country will move in when Canadian troops pull back? A new poll from Angus Reid suggests that if Harper is having trouble selling the project in Canada, his problems are nothing compared to the public-opinion blowback in Europe. The poll found that 49 per cent of Canadians judge the mission, in which 69 Canadian troops have died, a failure. But in each of Britain, Italy, France and Germany, well over 60 per cent see NATO’s struggle to subdue the Taliban as “mostly a failure.”
In fact, misgivings run even deeper than those figures might suggest. Among Canadians who don’t say the war is a failure, only 22 per cent call it “mostly a success.” The rest, fully 29 per cent, are not sure. In Europe, the slice of the population that views the mission as a success is even slimmer, 18 per cent in Italy, 16 per cent in Britain, 15 per cent in Germany, and only 12 per cent in France.
So De Hoop Scheffer’s reassuring comment about Canada being replaced now sounds implausibly upbeat. In Berlin, for instance, the two main parties solidly support Germany’s troops being involved in reconstruction in Afghanistan’s relatively safe north, but support for even limited deployments in the south is considered weak. Before Harper dumped Gordon O’Connor as his defence minister in August, the retired general was stressing the need to train Afghan soldiers quickly. Seems he was on to something. M
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