'A Conversation with the Prime Minister'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that keeping a Canadian training force in Afghanistan past the 2011 combat deadline was a decision based on an eye to the future.
"We know that if we just leave Afghanistan to fall into chaos, we know it's going to come back to haunt us," Harper told CTV News in an exclusive year-end interview.
Harper added that keeping a training force in the war-torn nation until 2014 is a way to "really honour" the sacrifice made by Canadian troops. He stressed that keeping the training force in Afghanistan will also help transition the country away from being a foreign-dominated nation.
"The risk to Canadian lives, relative to what we've had to this point, is relatively small," Harper told Chief Anchor Lloyd Robertson and Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife during the hour-long interview.
Harper also hit back at suggestions that the Afghan campaign is a "lost cause" which has done little to improve the security situation in the country. In fact, a recent Red Cross report suggested that things were actually worse in some areas than they were at the beginning of the war.
"Afghanistan remains a very challenging country, but we should not underestimate gains that are being made," Harper said.
"You know, there are millions of Afghan children going to school, getting basic health services. There are farmers and others who are seeing the beginnings of some economic activity. These are gains," Harper said, adding that his opinion isn't "rose-coloured."
"There are lots of problems. There are lots of security risks. There are lots of problems in the Afghan government itself… But to suggest the situation's anything like it was 10 years ago I think would be very mistaken."
Harper also said that the "tempo" of Taliban activity has increased because of the aggressive U.S. surge in the country, which has forced militants to fight hard.
While the prime minister said it's unlikely that Afghanistan will be a "model, Western democracy" in 2014, he noted that the key goal is to ensure that Afghans will be able to secure their own country by the deadline.
Plus, Harper said that Canada will continue to maintain aid and development programs.
He also believes that Canadians support the continued training mission.
"I hate quoting polls, but actually I think polls have shown a majority of the Canadian people support this direction," Harper said, noting that pulling out immediately could cause a collapse in the nation.
"You know, I think NATO as a whole, frankly, is on that path towards 2014."
However, when Canada does ship out of the nation, it will have to do so without the use of Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates, which had been a major supply route for the military. After lease of the location expired earlier this year, Dubai asked Canada to leave the country.
It's believed that conflict between Canada and the U.A.E. over airline landing rights at Canadian airports played a part in the exit.
"The military has … already put into effect its other options. There are other routes through which we're moving material," the prime minister said.
"We're not in Afghanistan so we can start negotiating how the Canadian airline industry functions. That's not a reasonable demand and not a position this country should put itself in."