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Military draws heat over visits to Afghanistan

Bars senators, oks supporters

Mike Blanchfield, National Post, 16 Nov 06


OTTAWA - The military says Kandahar is not safe for visits by

committees of MPs, senators or the Governor-General, but recently

welcomed a taxpayer-assisted junket of retired senior officers, all

of who routinely appear in the media to support the controversial



The trip has drawn criticism from at least one pundit who was not

invited -- and who has been openly critical of the government's

conduct of the Afghanistan deployment. It has also prompted a

warning from one senator to the government not to play politics with

who it allows to visit its soldiers.


The group of retired military officers included a former admiral,

two former generals and at least one retired colonel. They spent

several days in Afghanistan in late October and early November,

travelling first to Kabul and then to Kandahar Air Field, where the

group was on hand for the change of command of the NATO mission from

a Canadian to a Dutch general.


General Rick Hillier, the chief of the defence staff, invited the

group, which included retired major-general Lewis Mac Kenzie, a

well-known military commentator; retired colonel Alain Pellerin, the

executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, a

leading military lobby group; retired rear admiral Ken Summers, a

frequent television military pundit; Don Macnamara, a retired

brigadier-general and senior fellow in international relations at

Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.; and Alex Morrison, president

of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.


"I was a bit surprised that they did not extend this invitation to

me since I have been fairly active in the debate along with many of

the other analysts," said Steven Staples of the left-leaning Polaris

Institute, an organization that has heavily criticized the military

intervention in Afghanistan and which has aligned itself with the

NDP, which wants the government to bring Canadian troops home.


The visit came several weeks after the Senate committee on national

security and defence spent a week in nearby Dubai waiting in vain

for permission from Gen. Hillier to board a military flight to



The committee later faced accusations of wasting taxpayers' money

in Dubai, but a separate Senate panel said the $30,000 spent there

did not violate the upper chamber's travel policy, and that its

budget had been approved.


Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the chairman of the Senate defence

committee, said his committee still wants to go to Afghanistan and

has since been assured by Gen. Hillier that it will be granted



Mr. Kenny said if his committee is allowed to visit Kandahar by the

end of the year, "then I'll say they're not playing politics. But if

I see another gang going in, or I see the Commons going in before we

go, then I'll say they're yanking our chain."


Mr. Pellerin said his group travelled from Canadian Forces Base

Trenton in Ontario on a military Airbus that was already flying to

Afghanistan with supplies and personnel. "We paid for our own

hotels where that was required."


Mr. Mac Kenzie said he saw nothing wrong with accepting Gen.

Hillier's invitation. "If I was in his shoes, I'd recognize there

are people out there writing that have military background, have

experience, appearing in front of Senate committees and Commons

committees fairly regularly and he might as well give us the goods."

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