Canada in Afghanistan: Overview of Military and Development Activities

Feature by Jay Makarenko || Oct 22, 2010

Canada has played an active role in Afghanistan, from both a military and development perspective, since the United States-led removal of the Taliban regime began in fall 2001. Over the years, Canada’s role in Afghanistan has become a significant issue ― both in Canada’s domestic affairs and vis-à-vis its international relations. Accordingly, this article provides an overview of Canadian military and development activities in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010.

Canada in Afghanistan: An Introduction

Overview of Afghan politics and Canadian involvement

Canada’s Military Role in Afghanistan

Overview of Canada’s military involvement

Canada’s Development Role in Afghanistan

Political, social, and economic development initiatives

Issues Concerning Canada’s Role in Afghanistan

Military withdrawal, financial cost of the mission, and the detainee controversy

Sources and Links to More Information

List of article sources and links to more on this topic


Canada in Afghanistan: An Introduction

Overview of Afghan politics and Canadian involvement

2001 US Invasion of Afghanistan

By 2001, Afghanistan was largely ruled by a radical Islamic regime commonly referred to as the Taliban. Under this regime the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama bin Laden, was provided with safe haven and a base of operations where they planned and directed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Following the attacks of September 11, The United Nations Security Council called on all member states to cooperate in Afghanistan to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of the attacks. At the same time, states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a collectivist defence organization of which Canada is a member, declared the terrorist attacks on the United States an attack on all NATO members.

On October 2, 2001, NATO forces, largely from the United States and the United Kingdom, in cooperation with the Afghanistan Northern Alliance, initiated an attack on the Taliban regime. The stated purposes of the invasion were to remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to capture bin Laden, and destroy al-Qaeda. As a consequence of the invasion, the Taliban regime collapsed in November 2001, removing Afghanistan as a safe haven for al-Qaeda operations.

It’s important to note, however, that while the Taliban was overthrown as government, it was not defeated. Instead, supporters withdrew into the hinterland of the country, continuing to disrupt foreign initiatives in Afghanistan and with the goal of ultimately seeing it return to Taliban rule. Furthermore, NATO forces were unable to capture bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

For more information on the war in Afghanistan:

Canada did not play a major role in the initial invasion of Afghanistan. However, a small Canadian naval task force was deployed to the Persian Gulf in October 2007 as part of a larger US naval group which acted to support US operations in Afghanistan.

Establishment of a New Afghan Government

Following the invasion of Afghanistan and the Taliban’s defeat, Afghan factions met in Bonn, Germany under the auspices of the United Nations to map out their country’s future. This meeting led to the signing of the Bonn Agreement on December 5, 2001, which established a provisional plan for governing the country.

Under this agreement, an interim government and constitution was established ― and a commitment to hold democratic elections in 2004. In June 2002, Hamid Karzai was chosen leader of the interim government; he was subsequently elected president in 2004 following general democratic elections. (He continues to serve in that position, as of August 2010.)

While this new Afghan government is autonomous in that it is democratically elected, it nevertheless remains highly dependent upon foreign nations. This is particular true in the area of defence and security. Since the 2001 invasion, domestic Afghan military and police forces have been unable to adequately secure the country from internal and external threats (including the Taliban insurgency). As such, foreign militaries have been providing security in Afghanistan until domestic forces are able to fully assume these responsibilities.

Originally this security role was predominantly performed by the United States. Over time, however, other nations ― including Canada ― have participated. . In 2001, the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to conduct operations in Afghanistan. ISAF is a multi-national military force led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

For more information on ISAF operations in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development

The Afghan government also relies heavily on foreign countries in its reconstruction and development initiatives. This has extended to a range of areas, including the development of political and legal institutions, the promotion of health and education services, the reconstruction of basic infrastructure, and the rehabilitation of the national economy.

Foreign aid to Afghanistan comes in several different forms. On the one hand, several non-governmental agencies operate throughout Afghanistan in support of reconstruction and development. These are private groups, such as the Red Cross, which pursue their own aid initiatives largely independent of government funding and control (although some cooperation does exist). There are also governmental agencies operating in Afghanistan, which include groups directly funded and controlled by governments; some are agencies associated with international organizations such as the UN, while others are associated with individual nations.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PTR) are an integral component of foreign governmental aid in Afghanistan. PTRs are small groups of civilian and military specialists assigned to oversee reconstruction and developmental projects in particular regions of the country, and which are reinforced by national and international security forces. These groups were originally built and operated by the United States. However, following NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan command of PTRs was transferred to other nations participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Overall, the Government of Canada has played a significant role in Afghanistan, providing personnel, technical assistance, and financial aid in support of political, social, and economic development. A number of Canadian agencies participate in these initiatives, including the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Department of National Defence.

2006 Afghanistan Compact

In February 2006 approximately 40 countries, including Afghanistan, signed the Afghanistan Compact, the follow-up to the Bonn Agreement (see above). The Compact provides the framework for international community initiatives in Afghanistan for the 2006 to 2011 period, with the overarching purpose of creating conditions of peace and security for the Afghan people through security, good governance and the rule of law, and social and economic development. The Compact, in effect, sets out the general parameters and goals of international efforts in the country.

For more information on the Afghanistan Compact:

The Government of Canada contributed to, and is a signatory of, the Compact. Under the agreement, Canada committed to contributing to Afghanistan’s rehabilitation through February 1, 2011. Canada’s contribution during this period may come in the form of military assistance or non-military aid.

For more information on Canada and the Afghanistan Compact:

Contemporary Challenges in Afghanistan

Since the invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has come to face a number of security and nation-building challenges.

As noted above, while the Taliban was deposed from government it was not defeated. Over time, it has re-grouped and organized a strong insurgence against the new Afghanistan government and its NATO supporters. This has particularly been the case in the country’s hinterland areas, where the Taliban has re-established some measures of control over local populations. In the more urban areas, such as Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, NATO and Afghan forces have asserted and maintain their authority to a greater degree. Nevertheless, the Taliban has attempted to undercut this control through use of violent insurgency tactics, such as bombings.

Attempts to counter the Taliban insurgency and establish a stable effective government in Afghanistan have been complicated by a number of factors. The Taliban has benefited from access to safe havens within neighbouring Pakistan, where it has been able to reorganize, refinance, and recruit new members. In this context, it’s important to note that many ethnic groups in the region straddle the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which allows Taliban members to easily disappear into local populations in addition to building support on both sides of the border. Pakistan’s own political disarray has posed further obstacles in attempting to deal with this situation.

Second, corruption in Afghanistan has become a serious problem as government officials use their powers and authorities for financial self-gain. As a result, the new government has consistently had difficulty gaining widespread popular support as the Afghan population generally lacks faith in its political leaders and administrators. The most serious case of corruption came in 2009 national elections, with allegations  that President Hamid Karzai engaged in election fraud to secure a win.

For more information on corruption in Afghanistan:

A third challenge is Afghanistan’s dependence on the drug trade, and particularly opium. In 2007, approximately 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium supply originated in Afghanistan (Independent Panel, 2007). Opium profits often flow to the Taliban, to criminal elements, as well as to corrupt government officials. Nevertheless, many rural and poor Afghan families are dependent upon poppy farming (the plant from which opium is derived) for their subsistence. As such, an immediate and complete eradication of the trade is problematic.

Recent International Conferences on Afghanistan

Against the backdrop of these challenges, a number of recent international conferences on Afghanistan have been held. In 2009, representatives of 90 countries made a commitment to further their efforts in the country, which included pledging a stronger military response to Taliban insurgencies; investing additional resources in the country’s civil reconstruction; and combatting the illicit drug trade.

In 2010 another conference was held in London; its goal was to set out a plan for the handover of security responsibilities from NATO countries to Afghan forces. At that conference, nations committed to developing a plan for a phased transition and to providing financial and other support to Afghanistan in order to ensure the country’s security and civilian resources would be ready to take on these new responsibilities. Additionally, a pledge was made by the nations participating in the conference to provide financial support for a National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration, an attempt to bring the conflict with the Taliban to a peaceful end.


Canada’s Military Role in Afghanistan

Overview of Canada’s military involvement

Canadian Military Contribution

Canadian Forces personnel were first deployed into Afghanistan in 2002 when a battle group of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was sent to the city of Kandahar for six months. The role of this Light Infantry unit was to assist multinational forces in Operation Enduring Freedom, a US-led offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda elements remaining in Afghanistan.

As of August 2010, Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, referred to as Joint Task Force Afghanistan, totalled 2,830 (Department of National Defence, June 29, 2010). Moreover, Canadian Forces activities were divided into three main missions: Operation Athena, Operation Archer, and Operation Accius (see below for mission details).

Between 2002 and 2010, 151 Canadian Forces members have been killed serving in the line of duty (CBC, July 20, 2010). Four Canadian civilians have also been killed, including one diplomat, one journalist, and two aid workers.

Between 2002 and 2011 (when Canada is scheduled to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan), the financial cost of the Canadian military mission has been estimated to be approximately $14–18 billion (CBC, October 09, 2008). This includes not only the direct cost of supporting operations in Afghanistan, but also incremental costs stemming from wear and tear on equipment, as well as long-term health and other services for military personnel who have served in the mission. 

Role of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan

According to the federal Department of National Defence, the general objectives of Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan are to:

  • Conduct operations in support of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police;
  • Help the Government of Afghanistan and its institutions strengthen and enhance their capacity for good governance;
  • Help the Government of Afghanistan extend its authority in the southern provinces of the country;
  • Facilitate the delivery of programs and projects that support national economic recovery and rehabilitation; and,
  • Support Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations that help Afghans meet their personal and family needs.

 (Department of National Defence, April 4, 2010)

In meeting these objectives, the Canadian Forces perform different tasks including (but are not limited to): providing regular security for the Afghan population and foreign nationals working in Afghanistan; conducting combat operations against anti-government elements (such as the Taliban); training and leading Afghan security and military personnel; providing advice on security issues to the Afghanistan government; decommissioning weaponry and armaments left over from previous Afghan wars; and distributing humanitarian aid in the country.

Operation Athena

Of the three Canadian Forces missions in Afghanistan, Operation Athena is by far the largest. First introduced in 2003, this operation represents Canada’s contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Since its inception, the nature of Operation Athena has changed significantly due in large part to shifts in ISAF responsibilities and areas of operation.

Originally, Operation Athena was associated with ISAF’s mission in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Under this mission, ISAF was responsible for providing security and intelligence-gathering in the capital in support of the new Afghan government and international agencies. From 2003 to 2005, Canada contributed a large military contingent to this mission, reaching a peak of approximately 2,000 Canadian Forces personnel in 2004 (CBC, November 9, 2006). Specific tasks performed by Canadians included regular street patrols, collaborating with Afghan and other international authorities on security issues, assisting with operation of the Kabul International Airport, and providing assistance in rebuilding the Afghan national armed forces.

For more information on Operation Athena during the 2003–2005 period:

In 2006, the nature of Operation Athena changed dramatically when responsibility for security in southern Afghanistan was transferred from the United States to the NATO-led ISAF. Canada, in turn, committed its military contribution in Afghanistan to this new ISAF mission. As a result, Canadian personnel under Operation Athena were transferred from the capital city of Kabul to southern Afghanistan, with their primary base located in the southern city of Kandahar. As of May 2010, approximately 2,800 Canadian Forces personnel served in the Kandahar phase of Operation Athena (Department of National Defence, June 29, 2010).

This change in mission has been significant. Kabul is a relatively safe and stable theatre of operation. In contrast, Kandahar and the southern region of Afghanistan is a much more volatile area, with increasing levels of Taliban activity. As such, the mission of Canadian Forces personnel has shifted away from defensive operations in a relatively small urban area to conducting full-fledged combat operations against anti-government elements across a large region. This, in turn, has led to a dramatic rise in Canadian casualties. From 2002 to 2005, eight Canadians were killed in Afghanistan. In 2006 and 2007, following the initiation of operations in Kandahar, 63 Canadians were killed (CBC, August 30, 2007).

For more information on Operation Athena and ISAF Operations after 2006:

Other Canadian Forces Operations

In addition to Operation Athena, Canada is involved in two other Afghan missions. Much smaller in size, these missions are oriented towards military training and reconstruction efforts.

The first of these is Operation Archer, Canada’s contribution to the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. The purpose of Operation Archer is to assist in re-forming and rebuilding Afghan security infrastructure, including the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police Force. As of May 2010, there were 12 Canadian Forces personnel assigned to Operation Archer, based primarily in the Afghan capital of Kabul (Department of National Defence, Operation Archer, 2010).

For more information on Operation Archer:

The third main mission is Operation Accius, which is providing a team of strategic military planners to support the Afghan government. This team, formally referred to as the Military Advisory Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, is headquartered in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The Mission’s purpose is to:

  • provide political and strategic advice in support of the peace process;
  • provide “good offices;”
  • help the Afghan government implement the Afghanistan Compact;
  • promote human rights;
  • provide technical assistance; and,
  • conduct U.N. humanitarian relief, recovery, reconstruction and development operations in partnership with the Afghan government.

The Mission team has about 1,300 staff; most are Afghan nationals. As of May 2010, Canada’s contribution was two senior Canadian Forces officers (Department of National Defence, Operation Accius, 2010).

For more information on Operation Accius:

It’s also important to note that elements of Canada’s elite special operations unit, Joint Task Force Two (JTF2), have also operated in Afghanistan. JTF2 is proficient in counter-terrorist operations, surveillance, close protection, and other specialized military activities. That said, the precise nature and duration of this secretive unit’s operations in Afghanistan is largely unknown.


Canadian Development Role in Afghanistan

Political, social, and economic development initiatives

In addition to its military role in Afghanistan, the Government of Canada has played a significant role in the reconstruction and development of the country. The following section offers an overview of Canada’s approach to development in Afghanistan, and a summary of some specific programs.

Overview of Canada’s Development Approach

In its development role, Canada’s general objective in Afghanistan has been to rebuild the country as a “stable, democratic and self-sufficient society” (Government of Canada, Canada’s Approach… 2010).

Within this general objective, the Canadian government has identified six priorities (Government of Canada, Priorities, 2010). The first four focus primarily on Kandahar, where Canada’s military effort is predominantly centred. These include: 1) maintaining a secure environment and the establishment of law and order; 2) providing jobs, education and other basic services; 3) providing humanitarian assistance to people in need; and 4) enhancing the management and security of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the national level, Canada is pursuing two further priorities. These include helping to build central Afghan institution, such as the electoral process, and contributing to political reconciliation efforts aimed at weakening the Taliban insurgency.

Also integral to Canadian development initiatives is the Afghanistan Compact, mentioned earlier. The Compact has provided a framework for coordinating the work and resources of the Afghan government and its international partners, in addition to establishing expected results and timelines in the areas of security, development, and governance. The Government of Canada, a signatory of the Compact, uses it as a foundation for its own development initiatives in Afghanistan.

Organization of Development Initiatives

In pursuing its developmental initiatives, the Government of Canada uses a broad range of departments and agencies. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (with direction from the federal cabinet) is responsible for the overall coordination and policy direction of Canadian initiatives. Other key government actors include the Department of National Defence, the Canadian International Development Agency, The Correctional Service of Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Government of Canada, Overview, 2007). The activities of these various departments and agencies are coordinated by the Cabinet in Committee on Afghanistan; comprised of senior cabinet ministers, this committee reports to the Prime Minister and other cabinet committees on a regular basis.

As of September 2007, the Government of Canada has committed a total of $1.2 billion towards reconstruction and development initiatives in Afghanistan. This includes monies spent by the government since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, as well as future monies committed by the government until 2011 (Government of Canada, Overview, 2007). By comparison, Canada is projected to spend approximately $4.3 billion on its military operations in the country for the period 2002 to 2009 (CBC, June 27, 2007).

Specific Development Programs

Since it began its development initiatives in 2001, the Canadian government has contributed to a broad range of specific programs. The following list offers a brief introductions to some of the programs to which Canada has made contributions, either in the past or as at the time of writing:

  • Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund: Established in 2002, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is one of the major instruments through which international aid dollars are coordinated to fund priority services offered by the Afghan government. Canada has contributed to the ARTF to help support the costs of daily operations of the Afghan government and other economic and social development programs.
  • Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team: In 2005, Canada assumed responsibility for the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Over 20 PRTs operate throughout Afghanistan with the mandate of assisting the Afghan government in extending its authority, rebuilding the nation, and providing services to citizens. Canada’s PRT includes military, police, diplomatic, and development personnel, and is based in the city of Kandahar in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
  • Justice/court system: Canada has provided assistance to support capacity building in the Afghan justice system. This includes programs in support of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office and Ministry of Justice; training for judges, prosecutors, public defenders and court administrators; and legal aid programming (Government of Canada, Facts on the Ground, 2007).
  • Police services: Canada has participated in the reconstruction of Afghan police forces. This includes initiatives such as mentoring, training, funding salaries, building police stations, and providing equipment and uniforms. As of September 2007, 35 Canadian police trainers had been deployed to Afghanistan (Government of Canada, Facts on the Ground, 2007).
  • Correction services: Correctional Service of Canada advisers have been deployed to Kabul to help professionalize prison and detention services with the goal of building a safe and humane prison administration with operations and practices that meet international standards (Government of Canada, Facts on the Ground, 2007).
  • Health care and education: Canada has assisted in a broad range of health-related initiatives, such as the widespread immunization of Afghan children (part of a polio eradication initiative) and the donation of medical supplies. In regard to education, Canada has provided funding to improve the education system in Kandahar, including the building or expansion of local schools and providing support to the Afghan Ministry of Education in delivering quality educational services.

    For more information on health and education initiatives:

  • Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration: Prior to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the country had been at war for over 25 years. Consequently, one of the first measures taken was to demobilize more than 63,000 Afghan soldiers who had fought during the war. Canada has contributed funds in support of this process since 2003. This funding is helping former Afghan soldiers reintegrate into civilian life, be it opening small shops, working on the destruction of anti-personnel mines, becoming teachers, or farming. 

Dahla Dam and Irrigation Project: The Canadian government has committed to repairing Kandahar’s Dahla Dam and irrigation system. Once repaired, this project will provide secure irrigation water to the majority of the Kandahar population, thus promoting agriculture and economic growth.

For more information on the Dahla Dam and Irrigation Project:


Issues Concerning Canada’s Role in Afghanistan

Military withdrawal, financial cost of the mission, and the detainee controversy

Canada’s Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan has been extended several times since the Canadian Forces were first deployed to the country. Canada’s first military mission, initiated in 2002 as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, was only intended to last six months. In 2003, however, the Canadian government, under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, recommitted that military personnel be deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Athena, which was only to last until August 2004. This Operation was later extended until summer 2005 by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.

In 2005, the Martin government recommitted Canadian Forces to Afghanistan, this time in support of the ISAF mission in southern Afghanistan. Under the Liberal government’s plan, the deployment in southern Afghanistan would begin in February 2006 and last up to one year in duration. In 2006, however, a new government was formed under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In May 2006, the Harper government extended the mission another two years, until February 2009, following a close vote in the House of Commons.

In 2008, the issue of whether to extend the military mission was again raised following considerable international pressure on Canada from the US and other NATO countries that wanted to see Canadian Forces remain in Afghanistan. Both the Conservative and Liberal parties supported extending the mission until 2011, while the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois (BQ) did not. The NDP, for example, was highly critical of the Conservative government when it extended the mission to 2011, arguing the mission lacked clear objectives and measures of success, and that NATO’s counter-insurgency operations were undermining reconstruction efforts in the country. With this in mind, the NDP contended that Canadian troops should have been withdrawn as soon as possible.

During this political debate, the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, chaired by John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister and deputy prime minister, released its report. The Panel recommended extending Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, albeit with a new emphasis on diplomacy, training and reconstruction. The Panel concluded that the Canadian combat mission should only conclude when the Afghan National Army was ready to provide security in Kandahar province. However, the Panel argued that Canada should seek some commitments from its NATO partners before agreeing to any extension. This included the deployment of additional combat forces to Kandahar province, and the provision of medium-lift helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

For more information on the panel’s recommendations:

In 2008, the Conservative and Liberal parties passed a motion extending Canada’s military mission — based in large part on the Manley Panel’s recommendations. According to the motion Canada would extend its mission another two years, until December 2011, if it received a commitment from NATO partners to additional forces and aerial support. Following the motion’s passage, Prime Minister Harper was able secure both commitments.

As of August 2010, the Canadian government remained committed to the end of military combat activities by December 2011.

Financial Cost of Canadian Activities in Afghanistan

As already discussed, the final cost for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan could be in the tens of billions of dollars. In this regard, the Conservative government has come under attack for the not being completely forthcoming on the financial costs of the mission.

In 2008, Kevin Page, the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer, released a report entitled The Fiscal Impact of the Canadian Mission. The report was highly critical of government accounting practices on the Afghanistan mission, citing a lack of consistency, transparency, and mission-specific cost records by each department involved. As a result, it was difficult to engage in any rigorous bottom-up analysis of Government of Canada spending on the Afghanistan mission since 2002.

In addition, the report estimated that total costs for the mission were considerably higher than previously admitted by the government. Until that point, the Conservative government had estimated the total cost for the mission, from 2002 to 2008, at approximately $3.8 billion. Using publicly available data, the report estimated “military operations” costs for the same period to be somewhere between $5.85 and $7.45 billion. Once costs for veterans’ benefits and foreign aid were included, the total rose to between $7.66 and $10.47 billion.

Ultimately by 2010-11, when the combat mission is scheduled to end, the cost could reach between $14 and 18 billion. Other studies have placed pegged the total price even higher. For example, a 2008 study by David Macdonald and Stevens Staples, entitled The Cost of War and the End of Peacekeeping: The Impact of Extending the Afghanistan Mission, estimated the final cost to be approximately $28 billion.

These differences in figures can be attributed, in part, to different accounting practices. The report by the Parliamentary budget officer, for example, included a much broader range of costs in its figures than did the government. This included: costs associated with the servicing and overhaul of equipment; accelerated depreciation of equipment due to its use in a war theatre; fuel costs; pay for reservists; imminent danger pay; increased death and disability benefits for veterans and their families; Afghan development and reconstruction costs; increased costs at the head offices of participating government departments; and the costs of diplomatic efforts.

Afghanistan Detainee Abuse Controversy

The Afghan detainee controversy has centred on allegations concerning the Government of Canada’s role in the transfer of prisoners to Afghan security forces.

With Canada’s initial military entry into Afghanistan in 2002, the former Liberal government adopted the policy of handing over prisoners of war to the US military. In 2005, following concerns over US treatment of detainees, the Canadian government changed its policy, instead transferring prisoners to Afghan security forces.

Subsequently, a report by the United Nations revealed horrible conditions in Afghan jails, including torture and extended detention without trial and jury. Several Afghan prisoners have also reported being tortured after being transferred from Canadian military custody to Afghan security forces. In November 2009, Richard Colvin, a senior member of Canada’s diplomatic service in Afghanistan from 2006–07, testified before a Parliamentary committee that Canadian officials were aware that many prisoners were being mistreated and that torture was a standard operating procedure for Afghan interrogators.

Two sorts of issues have arisen from this controversy. The first concerns whether the Government of Canada, either initially under the Liberals or subsequently under the Conservatives, knew about the mistreatment of prisoners when it engaged in the practice of transferring detainees to Afghan security forces. If the government did know but turned a blind eye, it may have been in violation of the Geneva Convention. The second is whether the government did more than simply turn a blind eye, but intentionally handed prisoners over to Afghan authorities for the purpose of being interrogated through the use of torture. According to critics, if this is the case, then Canada could be guilty of a war crime.

The controversy has been a major issue in the Canadian House of Commons. Opposition members have been attempting to force the Conservative government to release documents pertaining to its policy on the transfer of detainees, which it refused to do until March 2010 (and only after editing large portions of the documents on the grounds of protecting national security). The Conservative government has also rejected calls for a public inquiry into the issue.

In 2009, however, it did agree to the creation of a Parliamentary committee, which included members from all parties, to hold public hearings on the issue. Opposition members, however, have accused the government of impeding the committee’s work. Initially, the government refused to attend committee meetings. Then, in December 2009, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued, or “put on hold,” Parliament; as a result, the committee was not allowed to hold any formal hearings or interview any witnesses. While the Prime Minister publicly stated he needed to prorogue Parliament to consult the Canadian people on economic matters, critics have suggested that proroguing Parliament may have been a tactic to stall further Parliamentary investigation into the detainee controversy.

After Parliament resumed sitting in 2010, the committee resumed its investigation into the detainee controversy. As of August 2010, the committee had not yet released any findings.


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