ARCHIVED - Speaking Notes for The Honourable Gordon J. O'Connor, P.C., M.P. Minister of National Defence

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Minister's Speeches Archive / November 10, 2006 / Project number: Vancouver, BC

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here in Vancouver today and I would like to thank you all, especially the Vancouver Board of Trade, for your invitation to join you this afternoon.

This past weekend, on Remembrance Day, Canadians paid tribute to brave men and women who have given so much for our security.
 
I know that Vancouverites gathered, as they do every year, in Victory Square to honour past heroes. 

Vancouver’s Cenotaph stands on the site of the old provincial courthouse, where young men came in 1914 to sign up for service in the First World War.

Young Canadians who fought a far away war to protect our freedoms in Canada.  Young soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwoman to whom we owe so much.
 
Today, in Afghanistan, Canadians are defending Canadian security from a different kind of threat than that faced by soldiers in 1914.

But, in profound ways, there are common threads that tie today’s Canadian Forces members — fighting the Taliban in the dusty hills of Afghanistan — with the Canadians who served and fell in the mud and fields of Europe.

In every way, they are striving to protect the same values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law as our heroes of the past did.

As the Minister of National Defence, there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of the sacrifices our troops are making for our country.

When we are faced with the news of a Canadian casualty, it is important to remember why Canada has made such a commitment.

It’s important to me that Canadians understand how conflict and disorder on the other side of the world affect us here in Canada.

New Role for a New Threat?

As you know, our World has changed significantly over the past two decades.

Threats to peace and security are no longer contained by borders. 

The attacks of September 11th — in which 24 Canadians were among the 3000 people that died — changed forever the way we see our world.

Since then, there have been periodic episodes that remind us of the threat that terrorists pose to society — the London, Madrid and Bali bombings, the exposure of the Brampton terrorists cell, the London arrests.

It’s a security environment that is no longer shaped by the logic of the Cold War.  Nations no longer align themselves within separate ideological blocs.  We no longer face a well-defined and familiar enemy.

The real threat now comes from terrorism, from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from failed and failing states.

This new reality has fundamentally changed the way we conduct our operations.

What we now call peace support operations no longer resemble the classic model of peacekeeping.

The image of an unarmed peacekeeper standing neutrally between two enemies to help implement a peace accord does not reflect today’s reality or the Forces’ experience in recent years.

New threats to security have required a new type of response.

Today’s operations are more robust. More complex.

And, they include a wide range of players.  Previously, soldiers were typically the face of operations. Now, they are part of a team that delivers multi-dimensional responses. 

The presence of RCMP and city police officers,   as well as Canadian diplomats, and development workers alongside the military in Kandahar speaks volumes about of how things have changed.

Our International Duty

Increasingly, this new integrated approach forms a key part of larger international efforts.

We aren’t the only country threatened by terrorism. 

Global security is a collective responsibility.

In this world of borderless security challenges, Canada has a duty to act.

Canada is in Afghanistan with more than three dozen other countries, including 11 non-NATO countries.  Each is contributing to the NATO-led ISAF mission.

I’m proud to say that we are playing a leading role.

The Canadian Forces are in Southern Afghanistan — the most challenging area of that country.  Our troops stand proudly with brave men and women from countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania, Denmark and Estonia.

And, we’re also looking to our Afghan partners — the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.     
They are taking real and positive steps forward to gaining control of security within their own country.

Canadians are helping them along that path through training and mentoring opportunities such as our Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team. 

These teams are assigned to help train and mentor individual units of the Afghanistan National Army and are considered crucial to its effective development. 

This is a global responsibility and we all have a stake in its outcome — our international partners, Afghans and Canadians alike.

Our Moral Duty

Canada has a duty a member of the G-8, of NATO and of the United Nations to stand with the global community in the preservation and enforcement of peace and security.

So, when the global community met in London to devise a way to help Afghanistan, we were there.

We’re in Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan government.

We’re in Afghanistan to help Afghans.

Life for the citizens of Afghanistan is immeasurably difficult.

They face inadequate medical care, poor housing, weak educational opportunities, institutionalized violence, injustice and poverty. 
Poverty in Afghanistan is extreme.

Stability cannot be achieved while these conditions remain. 

Addressing the root conditions of instability is a hallmark of Canada’s approach to bring peace and security to Afghanistan.

If Canada and its coalition partners abandoned Afghanistan the Taliban would infect Afghan society once more.  

They would again ban women from the workforce — leaving thousands of families without an income.

They would shut down girls’ schools and colleges.

Thoughtlessly destroy cultural institutions and monuments.

Use their sports stadiums for public executions.

Afghan civilians would again face summary execution, as their houses burned, and their private property was destroyed.

We would be forced to wait in fear as Al Qaeda got settled in again — making a home for itself from where it could further threaten our security.

Our military is working hard alongside others to help ensure that this never becomes a reality again.

An Integrated Approach

But, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his address to the United Nations “success in Afghanistan cannot be assured by military means alone.”

This is something understood very well by all Canadians in Afghanistan.

Beyond combat operations, they know that our objectives of development and reconstruction are vital to success in Afghanistan.

I would like to speak with you for a moment about one of the many members of our Canadian Forces who have worked hard and sacrificed much to make a difference in Afghanistan.

Many of you I’m sure have already heard about Captain Trevor Greene. 
Captain Greene was injured in a savage axe attack eight months ago. He believed in Canada’s mission. And he believed in the work of the UN. 

One of the first things he asked doctors when he regained his ability to talk, was when he’d be able to go back to Afghanistan. 

He wanted to know when he would be able to go back to helping people.

Captain Greene’s friends describe him as always wanting “to do good.” 

His job in Afghanistan was working to bridge the gap between the military and the Afghan people.

Much of his job involved shuras: meetings with village leaders in an informal setting designed to build trust. 

He would sit, sip tea and listen to the complaints and problems from the Afghan heads of the hundreds of tiny villages within Canada’s area of responsibility.

This was dangerous work, as his injury attests.

But it is vital work. 

It comes back to building the trust of the Afghan people and their confidence in themselves, in their society.

Reconstruction and development in Afghanistan are Canada’s fundamental goals and they remain a high priority for our Government. 

By helping to make Afghan lives better Canadians are helping to make it impossible for Taliban extremist to gain the upper hand — to once again dismantle and abuse the values of freedom and democracy that we hold dear. 

Our military is supporting those objectives by building a safe and secure environment — a prerequisite to effective and long lasting development.

Achieving Positive Results

Thanks to men and women like Captain Greene and other committed Canadians, we are making significant progress in Afghanistan.

Canadian, Afghan and international community reconstruction efforts have yielded positive results. To give you a few examples:

  • Afghanistan’s gross national product has more than doubled;
  • The per capita income has been doubled;
  • 4.8 million children are now in school — one third of them girls;
  • 4,000 kilometres of road have been paved;
  • 3.7 million refugees have returned home;
  • Well and irrigation systems are being restored to bring back commercial agriculture;
  • 50 kilometres of power lines and 10 transformers have been built, and 42 power generators have been provided to villages; and
  • 1,000 wells have been dug and 800 hand pumps provided.

And, we are not finished yet. 

Our goals are simple. 

When Afghanistan and its government are stabilized, able to independently handle its own domestic security concerns.

And, when the terrorists and their local support are no longer a destabilizing threat to Afghanistan — when these things are irreversible — we will know that we have succeeded.

Canada is integral to Afghan success.  Canadians should be proud of our reconstruction efforts. 

Provincial Reconstruction Teams — also known as PRTs — did not exist in 2002 when we first arrived in Kandahar. 

Today, however, the PRT matrix of work is really at the core of what Canadians are doing in Afghanistan. 

Addressing the root conditions of instability is our focus.  Our goal is to help the Afghan people rebuild their country so that they can govern and protect themselves.

Our progress in the Kandahar region over the last six months has laid the groundwork for continued improvement.

Operation Medusa which re-established Afghan government control over an area of Kandahar Province previously believed to be a Taliban stronghold is but one of our recent successes. 
      
This past summer, the Canadian Forces provided the necessary security and assistance for our Allies — the British and the Dutch — to deploy in southern Afghanistan.

Without Canada’s support, NATO’s expansion into southern Afghanistan could not have happened.

We are now patrolling and conducting combat operations in areas previously considered Taliban sanctuaries.
 
Our operations in the Pashmull and Panjwei areas west of Kandahar City have also planted vital seeds of development. 

We are building Afghanistan Development Zones in strategic areas — pockets of development from which future renewal can spread.  

We are helping to build up the Afghan National Army through our work at the National Training Centre, and through operations with the Afghan authorities such as the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. 
Daily, Canadian men and women are meeting ordinary, hard-working and peace loving Afghans. 

They are holding meetings with elders, delivering development aid and making a difference in the everyday lives of Afghans.

For instance, the Canadian PRT donated computers and constructed a water distribution system for Kandahar University. 

They’ve given out more than 6000 donated school kits to children around Kandahar Province and bicycles to the Ministry of Education for the end of the year awards.

Canadians have donated new Toyota pick up trucks to the Afghan Nation Police, 470 sets of body armour, and arranged for 1000 new uniforms. 

Thanks to Canadian funds, six local Police sub-stations are being improved and two new ones constructed in key parts of the city.  When completed, those stations will also serve as training sites.
 
All this builds Afghan domestic capacity, and helps us move closer to our ultimate objective of a fully independent and stable Afghanistan.

I’ve visited our troops in theatre twice now.

I’ve seen the good work our men and women in uniform and their civilian counterparts are doing and the results they are achieving.

Foreign Affairs continues to play an active role.

ur diplomats are providing Afghan officials with advice on a range of key issues such as improving governance, promoting and protecting human rights, security sector reform and building sound national institutions. 

CIDA is working hard to assist the Government of Afghanistan. And, it has delivered on Canada’s aid commitments in Kandahar and across the country. 

Canadian police officers are building the capacity of their Afghan counterparts. They are monitoring, advising, mentoring and providing much needed training.

President Karzai, so aptly, called the international community’s work in Afghanistan “a cooperation of civilizations, a partnership that extends from enhancing security to developing rural areas… to providing education and health services to Afghanistan’s needy people.” 

And, he named Canada as a leader in this international partnership.

As a Canadian, I am proud to have our efforts recognized this way. And I want to continue to do everything I’m able to maintain Canada’s position as a world leader on important security issues.

Strong Military Contribution

When I visited our troops in Afghanistan this summer, I asked how we could support them better.

What they asked me for was new equipment and more personnel.

Our Government immediately took steps to enhance our military task force in Afghanistan to ensure that our vital stabilization and reconstruction efforts could continue. 

We are deploying an additional infantry company and a tank squadron, as well as armoured recovery vehicles and armoured engineering vehicles. 

We will be providing our forces with a counter-mortar capability, including a radar system to locate enemy weapons.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Canadian Forces have answered what our Prime Minister described as “the highest calling of citizenship.”

They are — unarguably — among the best and most highly motivated public servants in the world.

As they serve Canada, the international community, and the Afghan people, they can be assured that they have the full support of our Government.

We are seeing to it that our troops get what they need to do their jobs.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen, on my desk at National Defence Headquarters I have some maps of Afghanistan.

One of these shows the locations of all the nations that are working hard to bring peace and stability to that country.

I’m proud to see our flag prominently pictured on that map.

It shows us taking our rightful place in the world — as a leader — in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for international terrorists to threaten global security.

Afghanistan may seem a long way off, yet the threat to our security posed by terrorism is not contained by that distance.

Our world has changed since young Vancouverites stood on the steps of the court house and enlisted to defend Canada nearly a century ago.

But, our Canadian Forces, as they did back in 1914, have stepped to the forefront to protect Canadian interests.
They are among the best in the world and they are making real progress in one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan.

And, like Captain Greene’s, their efforts - their sacrifices - are making a difference.

I’m very grateful for all their hard work as I know you all must be.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this Government is committed to supporting our military.

We are committed to helping Canada meet its international responsibilities.

And, we are committed to helping the Government of Afghanistan rebuild and re-establish a stable society for its people.

Most of all, we are committed to ensuring a safe and secure world for Canadians.

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