Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Teams Work to Rebuild Afghanistan

Experts meet in Waterloo to talk defence, diplomacy, development

From The Record:

Lt.-Col. Simon Hetherington, former
commanding officer of the Canadian Forces
reconstruction team in Afghanistan,
attends a conference at
Wilfrid Laurier University this week.

In a country gripped for decades by war and strife, peace and stability cannot come overnight.
And more than five years after Canada's mission to Afghanistan began, the situation in many areas remains "unstable," acknowledges one of the highest-ranking soldiers to have served in the country.
But that doesn't mean progress isn't being made, Lt.-Col. Simon Hetherington says.
Hetherington -- who returned to Canada in February after serving for more than seven months as the commanding officer of the Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Kandahar City -- is a participant in a conference being held at Wilfrid Laurier University this week to examine the role of the teams.
With a mandate of defence, diplomacy and development, the Canadian team is one of 24 operating in Afghanistan.
Composed of military personnel, civilian police officers, diplomats and development workers, the group guides projects that range from rebuilding damaged infrastructure to assisting with local elections.
Hetherington's command coincided with a marked increase in violence last fall in Kandahar province, an area known historically as a Taliban stronghold.
Reconstruction efforts took a back seat to combat operations for a time as Canadian troops tried to establish a level of security that would allow Afghans to take an active role in rebuilding their country.
Canadians suffered significant casualties in the process, leading some people back home to question the mission.
But in towns deserted by their residents, Hetherington's team reopened schools. Markets sprung back to life in places once overrun by enemy insurgents.
"People were able to move back to their lives," Hetherington said. "That was a success."
It's important for the teams to work closely with Afghan counterparts. The ultimate goal is to have communities take ownership for their reconstruction projects.
In a place that's seen more than its share of foreign military intervention in recent years, Hetherington said there's a sense of what he termed "uniform fatigue."
Canadian soldiers must be seen to be supporting the work of local Afghan governors -- not imposing their own rule.
The conference, which concludes today, is the fourth in a series of workshops on Afghanistan organized by the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Academic Council on the United Nations System.
Participants included representatives from the Canadian Forces, NATO, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.
Aside from a public lecture last night and Hetherington's brief remarks to the media yesterday, the conference is closed to the public. The format encourages frank and open discussion, organizer Katherine Sage Hayes said.
"Lots of times, in a government or military setting, people are speaking on behalf of their departments," she said. "Here, they can have a free discussion on what's really happening in Afghanistan."

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