Former Afghanistan Task Force head raises caution flag over Iraq

Watch: David Mulroney, the former deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan Task Force, tells Tom Clark the government should look hard at lessons learned in Afghanistan as they plan to boost humanitarian and economic aid in Iraq.

As the government gets set to expand Canada’s anti-ISIS mission in Iraq, the former deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan Task Force worries Canada is in a hurry to forget what happened in Afghanistan when there are real lessons to be learned from our mistakes there.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that we have a lack of curiosity as to what happened in Afghanistan,” David Mulroney said in an interview for The West Block with Tom Clark.

An internal audit on the decade-long, $2.2 billion aid program in Afghanistan found major flaws in the Afghan aid program’s conception and its delivery.

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That includes a failure to ever completely understand what was driving the conflict in Afghanistan and in turn be able to really help solve it.

In fact, the report said little attention was given to gaining a proper understanding of the context surrounding our mission.

Mulroney said the government should figure out how we got it that wrong before moving ahead.

“It’s a really valid question and I think it’s one that we need to answer before we take on other international assignments,” Mulroney told Tom Clark.

Read more: Harper to ask Parliament to extend, expand mission against Islamic State group

But, Canada has already taken on another assignment: Iraq.

As the government prepares to ask Parliament for a mandate to extend and expand Canada’s mission there, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson wants military efforts to be undertaken in concert with humanitarian aid, saying the process ought to be like what was followed in Afghanistan.

“The military component is one important component of what is being done and has to be done but the long term assistance, humanitarian, economic aid,” Nicholson said in an interview on The West Block. “These are what are very important to ensure that these challenges continue to be met.”

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Nicholson also said the government is in it for the long-haul.

Read more:  ‘Long haul’ in Iraq means humanitarian aid, not necessarily military action: Nicholson

But, Mulroney said the government needs to be sure that’s true before setting any goals.

“One of the criticisms of the Afghanistan program is that it achieved some short term gains, but these were not sustainable. So what is it that we want to do? Is it short term or is it for the longer term and how do we measure success?”

He said the key will be setting a small number of modest, definable and achievable goals.

“Basically we need to ensure that these states can defend themselves, there’s a basic level of protection for its citizens and they’re on the road to economic recovery,” he said. “If we can do those basic things and keep them modest and achievable, we will have succeeded but even doing that will be a big challenge.”

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