Â by Art Eggleton,
Canadian Minister of National Defence
Recent comments made by Prime Minister ChrÃ©tien and myself regarding the deployment of Canadian Forces ground troops to Afghanistan are being distorted and taken out of context.
In mid-November, Canada and our coalition partners in the campaign against terrorism were asked by the United States to provide ground troops for a stabilization force in areas captured by the Northern Alliance in order to facilitate the flow of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. We agreed to do our part.
Based on this initial information, Canada placed 1,000 members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry on 48 hours notice to deploy. Well suited for this type of operation, this is a modern, well-trained and combat-capable force designed to respond quickly to overseas missions. At the same time, details of the operation were to be worked out with our coalition partners prior to the actual deployment of the force to Afghanistan.
Canada and our coalition partners were asked to consider sending troops to Afghanistan to provide short-term stabilization in specific areas to allow for the entry of humanitarian assistance. We were not asked to send in ground forces to engage in offensive action against the Taliban or members of the Al Qa'ida organization.
When I was asked what our response would be if the Taliban returned to the areas they had vacated and engaged our troops (and other coalition troops) in all-out combat, I responded that the stabilization force could be removed.
Never did I say that our ground forces would not defend themselves or that they were not capable of engaging in combat. To imply or infer otherwise is wrong and grossly underestimates the professionalism, dedication and skill of the men and women of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Canadian Forces and our coalition partners.
Similarly, the comment that we would not send our forces to Afghanistan if they were not welcome has been misconstrued. It would be absurd to deploy a stabilization force to Afghanistan if the Northern Alliance - which is working closely with our coalition and controls the territory in question - has made it clear that they do not want or need foreign troops for that purpose. While this may change in the future, it certainly would not advance our overall aims and objectives to deploy a stabilization force in the current context.
The point is that we tailor our forces to the requirement of the mission, and work in close co-operation with our partners to ensure an effective coalition effort. If the type of mission and circumstances on the ground change significantly, then it is only reasonable and responsible that we would reassess our contribution to ensure that we were providing the right forces, with the right preparation and the right equipment.
Indeed, Canada has made available a contingent of our Joint Task Force 2 commando unit which is capable of conducting offensive operations against the Taliban and the Al Qa'ida organization. The Government's resolve to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our closest allies in this campaign against terrorism remains firm.
While every military mission entails risk, Canada is prepared to do its share. We were one of the first countries to join the international coalition. And, our contribution to Operation APOLLO represents the largest commitment of Canadian troops since the Korean War.