- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Canada’s pledges last week to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2009 and to add an additional $13.5 billion in military spending are laudable actions from a new conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Military spending in Canada had been slashed consistently during more than a decade of Liberal governments, falling from the mid-1980s to its low in 1998. In 2003, military spending accounted for only 1.16 percent of gross domestic product — notably lower as a percentage of gross domestic product than any of the major European countries.

Washington had urged Ottawa to increase its military spending, but those efforts went largely unheeded by liberal governments that placed themselves ideologically at odds with the Bush administration. For Mr. Harper, on the other hand, expanding a military force that had faced consistent reduction needs to be a high priority. The new military equipment is essential for Canadian forces on the ground in Afghanistan, and the move signals Canada’s increased willingness to share a commitment to the war against Islamic extremism.

The additional military equipment, which will include more than 2,000 trucks, four strategic aircraft for airlifts, 17 tactical aircraft, 16 helicopters and three navy supply ships, is necessary for the Canadian military to have an international presence. Canadian Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor noted on Thursday that “Canadian Forces need long-range strategic lift capacity”; losing this capacity, he said, “would have jeopardized Canada’s ability to support our forces on domestic and international operations.” This limitation was emphasized in 2004, when a Canadian tsunami-response team was delayed and forced to charter two aircraft to transport its members and equipment to Southeast Asia.

In Afghanistan, the complete absence of helicopters means Canadian forces have to rely solely on convoys, exposing troops to greater threats from roadside bombs. Both U.S. and Australian forces are heavily reliant on helicopters in Afghanistan, and Canada’s decision to purchase the choppers was long overdue.

It was less than a month ago that 17 Canadian Muslims were arrested and charged with planning to take over the parliament building, hold hostages and behead Mr. Harper if Canadian troops were not withdrawn from Afghanistan. This news should give a new urgency to Canadian efforts to combat terrorism, both at home and abroad. Stepping up military spending is one essential aspect of that fight. We commend Mr. Harper for taking this strong action.

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