Too early to declare Canada's legacy in Afghanistan
Twenty-two Canadian Forces soldiers and sailors arrived from Afghanistan at Shell Aerocentre in Leduc, Alta., on January 23, 2014. (Ian Kucerak/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA - With Canada's military mission to Afghanistan officially over, an expert says it is too early to celebrate its success.
The mission lasted more than 12 years with Canadian Forces focusing much of their work on development - building schools, health clinics and an irrigation system.
That work is important, said Roland Paris, director of international policy studies at the University of Ottawa, but there is no guarantee Canada is leaving Afghanistan in an improved enough state that the projects will be sustained.
"We can be simultaneously proud of the work we did and also honest when we recognize that the soldiers were asked to do a job that may not have been achievable," Paris told QMI Agency.
While Paris maintains it is too early to say whether the mission was a success, statistics on violence in Afghanistan don't paint an optimistic picture.
"In real terms, the number of violent incidents and the level of violence is substantially higher than it was in 2005 and it's gone up every year," he said.
Paris explains that although violence increased during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission, it was hoped it would decline as the insurgency was weakened.
"But the insurgency remains strong," he said. "We like to think we've turned the page in Afghanistan but that page could be turned back."
Statements issued by the government were unsurprisingly entirely positive.
"At the end of the day, the question is have we seen real progress in Afghanistan?" Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare said. "Have the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces delivered the on the missions and the objectives we were sent there to deliver?
"The answer to both those is absolutely and undeniably yes."
George Petrolekas served as an adviser to two former National Defence chiefs of staff. His conclusions about the mission don't align with those of Beare.
"The question is what will happen to Afghanistan now?" he said.
Taking the example of schools built by Canadians, Petrolekas explains that those institutions require certain conditions be sustained in order to carry on with business as usual.
"You need a certain amount of money to run schools, you need a secure environment," he said. "We can take some credit for what we've done, but I wouldn't beat our chest just yet."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement he looks forward to welcoming the last contingent home March 18.
"I also look forward at that time to announcing the details of Canada's plans to formally commemorate the mission to Afghanistan," Harper said.
Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray saluted the 158 military men and women who were killed there.
"While Canada's mission may have ended, our responsibilities do not. We, as a country, must take the best possible care of all those who have returned from Afghanistan," she said.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris echoed a similar sentiment.
"The government must redouble its development and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Canada can leave a legacy of greater peace, prosperity and freedom for all Afghans."