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$651 million: the cost of Kandahar war cleanup

Nov. 2, 2012, Ottawa - The cost of ending Canada's war in Kandahar, bringing home all the military's equipment and reconditioning it is expected to top $651 million, according to figures and projections compiled by National Defence.


November 2, 2012
By Carey Fredericks


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The Harper government has yet to deliver a final tally for the mission close-out costs, but a complete set of numbers could come with the release of a National Defence report to Parliament within weeks.

Packing
up thousands of weapons, ammunition and hundreds of vehicles, including
tanks and helicopters, was the biggest logistics operation for the
military since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s.

And the eye-popping estimate is only an incremental figure, the cost the federal government says it has paid over and above the routine expense of soldiers' salaries and support.

The full cost, when so-called routine expenses are considered, is roughly $924 million.

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The numbers are being spread out over three budget years, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information.

Approximately $21 million of the total was carved out of the 2010-11 federal budget, says a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay. The rest was split up between last year's budget and projected for the current year.

What
remains unclear from the internal documents and from an email response
by National Defence is how much of the price tag was driven by the
diplomatic meltdown with the United Arab Emirates in late 2010. That
disagreement that saw Canada ejected from its main staging base in the
Middle East as the withdrawal was kicking into gear.

The Harper
government was forced to move the military out of Camp Mirage, near
Dubai, but eventually signed an arrangement with Kuwait to establish a
replacement logistics hub in that country.

The new base was not declared operational until Sept. 22, three months after the withdrawal was underway.

Both
opposition defence critics say the Harper government paid a steep price
for the spat with the Emirates and must own up to the cost.

"The
cost was obviously significantly greater as a result of this failure to
handle the diplomatic side of it properly, and getting our backs up and
deciding we either weren't going to co-operate or compromise,'' said
New Democrat MP Jack Harris.

Liberal MP John McKay said he's been asking for a detailed cost breakdown and projections for year, but the government has been stonewalling.

It's
part of the larger issue of budget transparency, which the
parliamentary budget officer has taken up with court action over the refusal of some departments to hand over information, he said.

"These
guys do credit to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,'' McKay said.
"There is a scale of secrecy on budget matters that is unprecedented.''

Scrambling
to establish a new hub mostly impacted the plan to fly out sensitive
military vehicles and equipment aboard the air force's mammoth C-17
transports, which instead of routing through Dubai and off-loading their
cargo to a container ship, were forced to go to Cyprus during the early
months.

Overland shipments of non-sensitive material encountered obstacles as the Pakistanis shut the border for months in a dispute with
NATO over the friendly-fire deaths of some Pakistani soldiers. There
was also theft from shipping containers which arrived in back in Canada
with some of cargo pilfered, replaced by sand and rocks.

Liberal
Sen. Colin Kenny, who chaired the Senate defence and security committee
for years, said the withdrawal costs are just the beginning — the care for the sick and injured has yet to be considered.

"We're going to be paying for Kandahar for the next 40 years,'' he said.

Another problem that vexed military planners was the sale of up to $76 million worth of buildings that had been constructed at Kandahar Airfield throughout the five-year combat mission.

A briefing note prepared for the Defence Department's assistant deputy minister of infrastructure and environment noted in the spring of 2011 that all but $17 million of the property was snapped up by allies.

But the remaining buildings proved difficult to off-load.

"In numerous instances the facilities in question, although not currently of interest to any nation, are otherwise perfectly serviceable
and could be an asset to a nation or (Commander Kandahar Airfield) at a
later date,'' said the five-page Feb. 22, 2011, briefing, obtained under access to information.

Tearing the buildings down at a cost of more than they are worth "does not seem to make sense other than to satisfy our current mandate to close out the mission by the end of the year.''

Planners looked at options ranging from walking away from the property to leasing the facilities to contractors — or even making them a gift to Afghan forces.

They
elected to engage support "at a senior NATO level'' to lean on the
commander of Kandahar Airfield to take the buildings off the hands of Canadians.


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