If you want an idea of just how much the Afghan experience has soured for Canada, look no further than a furore over allegations that officials may have committed war crimes by handing over prisoners to local authorities in 2006 and 2007.

The accusations flying through Parliament -- not to mention a cartoon portraying the Prime Minister as a torturer -- cannot have been what Ottawa expected when it committed 2,500 troops to Kandahar in 2005 on a mission that has turned out to be much bloodier, longer and expensive that anyone had calculated. At best, Canada's dreams for Afghanistan are on hold: the Taliban is still strong, corruption is rampant and there is little sign of the major development that Ottawa hoped for.

Canada also stationed troops in Kandahar to underline that the old-style vision of its soldiers as peacekeepers was out. "We're not the public service of Canada ... we are the Canadian forces, and our job is to be able to kill people," said Rick Hillier, then chief of the defense staff, describing the Taliban as "detestable murderers and scumbags" in 2005.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a similarly uncompromising line in 2006 when he went to Afghanistan and announced "there will be some who want to cut and run, but cutting and running is not my way".

Fast forward three years and the government has long since stopped trying to sell the merits of a mission that has lost 133 soldiers so far and, according to Parliament's budgetary officer, will have cost over C$18 billion by the time it ends. For all the talk of not cutting and running, Ottawa says the troops will be home by end-2011 and dismisses talk of an extension.