Canadian army paints upbeat picture of Afghanistan, contradicts Senlis Council

OTTAWA – A senior Canadian general painted an upbeat picture of the war in Afghanistan to a House of Commons committee Thursday, contradicting an international think-tank.

But Brig.-Gen. Peter Atkinson wasn’t prepared to dismiss Wednesday’s Senlis Council report as quickly as Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who called the agency’s ideas “not credible.”

The analysis will be studied, he said.

“There were a lot of issues brought up in the report, a very important report, one which NATO and Canada will read very carefully as we are looking at the future of the mission,” Atkinson told the all-party defence committee.

“It’s probably too early to comment directly on what is in there. … We’re taking a hard look at it.”

The Senlis Council suggested the Taliban insurgency was getting stronger and exercised influence over half of Afghanistan’s land mass. In a startling declaration, the group, better known for its development and aid research, also advocated attacks on insurgent training areas in northern Pakistan.

Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, said he has not read the group’s latest report and that most decisions on the ground are the responsibility of NATO, but disagreed with one of the main recommendations.

“I don’t think the issue of NATO troops going into Pakistan is one that I’m going to weigh in upon, except to say I don’t think it would be at all a logical thing to do,” Hillier said after a speech in Halifax.

In Ottawa, Atkinson walked the defence committee through Canadian army operations over the last few months, saying NATO is keeping the pressure on militants and making progress toward development.

Bloc Quebecois defence critic Claude Bachand was outraged, saying the briefing contradicted not only the Senlis Council, but other aid agencies operating in the war-torn region.

“He’s trying to convince the committee through rose-coloured glasses that everything is going well, but things aren’t going all that well,” said Bachand, who began quoting passages of the Senlis report back to the general.

“I could go on and on, Mr. Chairman, and it’s completely opposite to what the general is telling us. I’m very disappointed in this situation.”

Conservative Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, jumped to the general’s defence, but also tried to smooth out any contradiction between Atkinson and MacKay.

“The general said the Senlis report was important, he didn’t say it was good,” Hawn said. “Senlis’s credibility is not universally accepted.”

The European-based council and the Canadian military are not too far apart on some of the arguments they make, including the continued need for combat troops to protect development projects.

The Senlis Council has been savage in its criticism of the Canadian International Development Agency, calling for it to hand over aid responsibility to the army – an argument many in the military privately support.

NDP defence critic Dawn Black said none of the testimony she heard squares with anything she’s been reading, including a recent report by Oxfam in Britain, which outlined a dire situation in many rural Afghan villages.

“The evidence we’re getting back from a number of different sources is that the security situation is worse, not better.”

Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer dismissed the Senlis report on Wednesday as unrealistic.

Senlis said Taliban militants controlled vast swaths of territory in southern, eastern and parts of western Afghanistan, setting itself up as the de facto governing authority.

Almas Bawar Zakhilwal, the Ottawa-based manager of the Senlis Council’s Canadian branch, says the Taliban are so confident they routinely set up night-time checkpoints on roads around Kandahar City.

In his briefing for MPs, Atkinson noted that attempts by insurgents to “encircle Kandahar” have been defeated.

He praised the progress of the fledgling Afghan National Army, which has three battalions of roughly 600 men operating under the supervision of Canadian and one battalion ready to graduate from training.
OPINION:
the issued report by international think_tank has exaggerated in picturing the situation in Afghanistan.but international community should consider a point that the political legitimacy of Taliban is growing in most Pushton territory.

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