As representatives from 70 countries and international organizations gathered in London to set the framework for the Afghanistan Compact and international support over the next five years, General Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence Staff, at a ceremony unveiling the new command structure of the Canadian Forces, reminded Canadians of the importance of the mission in Afghanistan.

We are in Afghanistan as part of our refusal to accept terrorism and its consequent violence. Under a United Nations resolution, in support of an expanding NATO mission, we are part of a great, international effort involving 37 countries to ensure that the failed state of Afghanistan remains at minimum the fragile state it is now, and that it continues to develop.

We want to ensure that the fertile gardens that allowed threats to thrive are removed and never return. In short, we are helping to make it extremely difficult for al Qaeda and other ideologically linked terrorist groups, the Taliban or any other criminal organization that uses violence for change, to rest, recuperate, resource, recruit, plan or project themselves or their violence from that country. This objective is directly related to stability and security for Canadians at home.

Canadian interests are at stake. Internationally, every soldier sees it when they deploy. People around the world, who are much less fortunate than us, expect that Canada, as a G8 nation, as a founding member of both the United Nations and NATO, and with a society and a standard of living that all admire and envy, will continue to play a significant role.

We must export stability to places like Afghanistan otherwise we will import the instability that results from a lack of action.

Perhaps even more important, we’re there to help Afghans themselves. We’re there to help men and women rebuild their shattered families. Two million were killed over the past 20 years; 8 million were driven from their country and now live in circumstances that are absolutely destitute. We’re there to help those families rebuild their communities; their entire infrastructure was destroyed.

We’re there to help ensure communities have a level of security so that they can walk the streets and do their shopping and everyday business without worrying about being killed by an improvised explosive device or a suicide bomber. We’re there to help communities eventually develop a standard of health care that means 35% of their children won’t die before the age of five. We’re there to ensure that schools are rebuilt and re-opened, and that the children of Afghanistan can satisfy their thirst for education.

On missions in many parts of the world, kids often approach with their hand out. What they want is candy. In Afghanistan, they want pencils or school supplies because their thirst for education is so phenomenal and they want it satisfied.

We want communities where teachers can teach, little girls can go to school – and where teachers won’t be killed or decapitated because they are teaching female students. We want to help Afghans rebuild their provinces and use the resources in those provinces to the benefit of all.

We want to help those provinces come together under an elected president, under an elected parliament, based on a constitution that they themselves develop, to build an Afghanistan that continues from a fragile state to something more solid, more stable and more secure. We want to help that country becoming a state, be part of a much more stable region, a region that is inherently unstable and that includes at least three nuclear bombs.

Those are the reasons why we are in Afghanistan and why we are there for the benefit of Canada and Canadians.

The risk is high, as we have just seen, but Canadians have never flinched in the face of danger. Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women demonstrate that on a daily basis now. Our remit is pretty simple: to ensure that we have conditions set for success in the execution of our mission, that the structure, the leadership, the training, the tactics, the equipment, the support, the medical care and all of those other things are in place. We believe that is the case now. If we’re not the best prepared in that theatre we certainly are equal to the very best. But we won’t rest on our laurels; we’ll continue to learn every possible lesson and we’ll continue to turn those lessons into better conditions for success. We cannot, however, reduce that risk to zero.