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Canadian soldiers from the Royal 22nd Regiment, who work with the Afghan National Army as an "Observer Mentor Liasion Training" team, conduct a foot patrol in Panjwai district, Kandahar province in 2006. The man in the green helmet is a translator. (JOHN D MCHUGH)
Canadian soldiers from the Royal 22nd Regiment, who work with the Afghan National Army as an "Observer Mentor Liasion Training" team, conduct a foot patrol in Panjwai district, Kandahar province in 2006. The man in the green helmet is a translator. (JOHN D MCHUGH)

Canada won't extend Afghan mission, Harper says Add to ...

Canada is sticking to a 2011 end date for its combat mission in Afghanistan even as the United States prepares to significantly boost its military presence in the war-torn country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking at the conclusion of a Commonwealth leaders' summit in Trinidad, said he doesn't see any enthusiasm among Canada's 308 MPs for prolonging or expanding this deployment.

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"I don't sense any desire on the part of Parliamentarians to do that," he said.

Polls have shown that support for the military mission has eroded in recent months so that generally less than 50 per cent of Canadians surveyed back the deployment

Still, the Conservatives are keeping mum on exactly what portion of Canada's 2,700 troops in Afghanistan would remain behind after 2011 in what Ottawa would designate as a non-combat role, such as training local army and police or protecting aid projects.

Mr. Harper said Canada is preparing the boost the civilian-heavy development and reconstruction program for Afghanistan, a measure that could require more soldiers to defend even after 2011. Some military analysts have predicted this could require 500 to 800 troops to stay behind.

Mr. Harper said he will consult opposition parties as Ottawa as it proceeds.

"We are right now examining how Canada can move forward with an enhanced civilian presence, a focus on development and humanitarian aid," Mr. Harper said.

"We're in the process of looking at various options in that regard," he said.

"We will want to have some Parliamentary input but I don't sense a desire on the part of any party to extend the military mission."

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce Tuesday he's shipping about 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan to step up the fight against insurgents. He's been urging other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to boost their troop commitments.

Canada's soldiering mission in Afghanistan grew in 2006 to become this country's biggest military deployment since the Korean war.

His comments follow British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement at the Commonwealth summit that the U.K. would host a January conference to begin sketching out an exit plan for foreign powers in Afghanistan. This meeting will set targets for the Kabul government to tackle internal corruption and take the lead in preserving security there.

"President Karzai has got to accept that there will be milestones by which he's going to be judged and he's got to accept that there will be benchmarks which the international community will set," Mr. Brown told reporters at the Commonwealth leaders' summit on Saturday.

Mr. Brown, whose war-weary nation will go the polls next year, is staging the London summit in early 2010 even as his country boosts its soldiering presence in Afghanistan. Britain has said it will send an extra 500 troops to the south-central Asian nation to bring its commitment to 9,500 and Mr. Brown has been urging other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to boost their troop commitments.

As Canada did in 2008 when it laid out an exit strategy, the U.K. is putting the emphasis on boosting the training of Afghan forces. Countries hope to justify a drawdown of foreign troops by saying the Kabul government is ready to take over from the 43-nation coalition currently keeping the peace there.

"Within six months we will want a clear plan for police training and that means that the corruption that has been identified in the police is being dealt with and we have police trainers to have a police force that works with the international community rather than against it," Mr. Brown said Saturday.

It was the U.K. prime minister's bluntest language yet in laying out what's expected of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

He said he wants to see the Afghan army built up by 50,000 soldiers over the next year and a district-by-district handover to Afghan control starting in 2010.

"I think we need to transfer at least five Afghan provinces to lead Afghan control by the end of 2010," Mr. Brown said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who accompanied Mr. Brown during his announcement, said the London security conference would be followed shortly by another meeting in Afghan's capital, Kabul.

Mr. Brown said he remains hopeful that NATO countries would offer up another 5,000 troops by the Jan. 28, 2010 London conference.

The London conference is not expected to lay out a timetable for troop withdrawals.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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