Canadian trainers likely to be sent across Afghanistan
Published Friday, December 31, 2010 12:43PM EST
The Canadian Forces is rushing to draw up a list of military trainers to send to Afghanistan once Canada's combat mission ends next summer, but senior officers say training positions in the safer regions of the country are already growing few and far between.
The federal government announced earlier this year that up to 950 Canadian soldiers would participate in a three-year mission to train the nascent Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police force.
The Conservative government insisted that the Canadian trainers would be based "inside the wire," working in secure bases in the relatively stable area around Kabul, the Afghan capital.
But the NATO training organization in Afghanistan is expanding rapidly and needs trainers at sites across the country.
Many of the training jobs in Kabul have been snapped up by nations who committed to the training mission much earlier and Canada may have to send its soldiers into riskier regions of the country.
Maj.-Gen. Stuart Beare, the Canadian deputy commander of the NATO training mission, told CTV News that the coalition needs military and police trainers in almost every province of Afghanistan.
"At the end of the day, the NATO requirements are for trainers across the whole of the country," he said.
Some Canadian soldiers and police officers have been training their Afghan counterparts in southern Afghanistan since the mission there began in 2006, but when the last Canadian battle group departs Kandahar province next July training will become the sole focus of our military mission.
Col. Paul Scagnetti is one of a group of Canadian officers that helped establish the Afghan Army Command College in Kabul, helping to train the Afghan army's future leaders.
"They know how to fight, there's no doubt about that: They've been doing it for 30 years," Scagnetti said. "What we're trying to do is give them a structure, an organization that'll make them more effective in their fighting."
But Scagnetti and his fellow trainers have been so successful that they've put themselves out of at least one training job: when the new Canadian-funded college opens next spring it will be run by Afghans.
Caught by surprise at the government's announcement of the training mission, the Canadian Forces is now working overtime to draw up plans for where the Canadian troops will go and what exactly they will be doing.
Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, the head of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, acknowledged that Canada may have little choice but to send soldiers into more volatile regions of Afghanistan.
"The direction I have from (Chief of Defence Staff) Gen. Natynczyk is that it is to be Kabul-centric," Lessard told CTV News. "And what that means is that the emphasis is to be on Kabul, but not solely Kabul."
Details of the training mission may become clearer after a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels later in January.
But the dangers of working in the Afghan hinterland were underlined Friday by the death of an Italian soldier, killed by sniper fire in western Afghanistan.
Maj. Stefano Salis, an Italian military spokesman in Rome, said the unidentified soldier was slain while on duty in a guard tower Friday at an Italian base in the Gulistan district in western Farah province.
With a report from Ben O'Hara-Byrne