The Prime Minister's Office has dismissed the blunt assessment from Canada's top soldier that the task of training Afghanistan's army would take at least five years longer than the 2011 end date the government laid out in last week's throne speech.
Gen. Rick Hillier, speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Kandahar, told reporters it will take "10 years or so" to build a national army that can defend the government against insurgents and potential external threats.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the case in his Oct. 16 throne speech for a two-year extension of the military mission, saying that is what is needed to complete the training of the Afghan army and police.And we can only guess at what's coming down the pipeline next. But heck, I'll take a shot...no extension for you, Hillier!
"Our government believes this objective should be achievable by 2011," the speech said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier yesterday dismissed questions in the House of Commons about the discrepancy between Harper's and Hillier's assessments. However, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister, Sandra Buckler, stuck to the early end date, saying it was "achievable" and in line with the Afghanistan Compact, the agreement drawn up between the international community and the Afghan government. In her emailed statement, Buckler did not acknowledge Hillier's comments.
"We have said so many times before, and will continue to emphasize (that) it will be Parliament that will ultimately decide how long our Canadian Forces will remain in Afghanistan," she wrote. (emphasis added)
2011, 2017...it's all way beyond 2009, which was the focus of the debate until the throne speech. That's quite a ground shifting that they've attempted and really, until Hillier's comments yesterday, it had escaped serious scrutiny.
And by the way, wasn't that an interesting throwaway comment by Allan Gregg last night on CBC's At Issue panel about coming polling reaction from his firm on Quebec reaction to the 2011 date...