Don Martin: Kandahar is over... but now what?
Canadian soldiers pay tribute to the fallen soldiers during a transfer of command authority ceremony in Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan, Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP / Rafiq Maqbool)
Published Thursday, July 7, 2011 9:28PM EDT
With the Kandahar killing fields now officially clear of Canadian soldiers, a daunting military challenge lies ahead.
The new enemy is boot camp boredom, the recalibrated target is surplus staffing, the likely result is the return to a military funding decade of semi-darkness.
Now in the post-Afghanistan era, Canada's armed forces have lost their mojo -- and that's a very dangerous dangle in front of a government looking for easy deficit elimination routes.
In short, no bullets flying, no big bucks flowing.
It's already begun on internal departmental balance sheets.
What Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk has labelled the "transformation" of Canada's military is actually another word for "shrinkage" of staff inside his headquarters and perhaps the front line as well.
Cutting the fat at the department's headquarters is doable because there's been a rapid buildup of pencil-pushers which is difficult to justify.
But ripping the guts out of the front-line battalions would put Canada's military into a tailspin that might take another decade to recover in the event of another 9-11 attack.
Under the Conservatives, the military has regained its world-class stature in global confrontations, particularly with NATO partnerships.
It needs a year or two to regroup into prime fighting form with refurbished equipment, but it would be a shame for the gains of the last 10 years to render Canada a minor-power partner.
The Afghanistan mission, for all its success and potential failures, has lifted Canada from a passive, blue-helmeted, United Nations peacekeeping unit into a battlefield-hardened combat unit under an International Security Force flag.
It's the right time to end the mission, but it would be wrong to end Canada's reign as a respected middle power in global military peacemaking.