Scrap deadlines

Canada will end its combat mission in Afghanistan this coming July, as planned, but rightly announced yesterday that up to 950 soldiers and support staff will stay on until 2014 to help train the Afghan army so it is better prepared to defend the country against the Taliban.
Frankly, Ottawa had little other choice but to formally extend Canada’s presence in Afghanistan beyond 2011 for one reason alone: the job is not done yet.
Despite fending off the Taliban and helping reconstruct a war-ravaged country over the past eight years, it’s painfully clear pulling out completely would jeopardize these gains—gains 152 soldiers gave their lives to accomplish.
That must not be allowed to happen.
Yesterday’s announcement, however, also was a classic case of having to wiggle out of an untenable position—one which Ottawa had put itself in by setting a firm deadline in the first place for ending our combat role in Afghanistan. It was obvious then that the war on terror would not be won by July, 2011, yet there we were telling the Taliban and al-Qaida of our plans to head home.
Could you see Canada telling our allies we would be getting out of World War II in, say, October of 1943? Well, giving a date for our retreat from Kandahar was equally ridiculous.
Canada certainly has shouldered more than our share of the burden in Afghanistan, and obviously we have neither the manpower nor financial resources to stay on there for years to come. But you just can’t set arbitrary deadlines in a war—especially if following through on them very well could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Transferring control to Afghan forces by 2014 should be a goal only, with Ottawa (and NATO) stating unequivocally up front that we are prepared to stay beyond that date if circumstances dictated such a decision.
After all, telling the enemy when we will withdraw is no way to win a war.