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Defence Minister Peter MacKay addresses Canadian soldiers at Kandahar Airfield on Sunday, May 17, 2009. (Colin Perkel)
Defence Minister Peter MacKay addresses Canadian soldiers at Kandahar Airfield on Sunday, May 17, 2009. (Colin Perkel)

MacKay talks force protection with U.S. Add to ...

U.S. troops are already guarding one signature Canadian project in Kandahar and discussions are under way to have them take over protection for the Canadians expected to remain in the area after 2011, Peter MacKay said.

The Defence Minister held talks today with his U.S. counterpart, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, in advance of a three-day security conference in this port city, and later met with reporters.

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Mr. MacKay said talks have commenced "with other countries, including the United States," on force protection for Canadian development workers expected to stay after combat troops leave in 2011, as planned. He noted that U.S. soldiers already protect the Dahla Dam, a major project often cited as an example of Canada's positive impact in the country.

Mr. Gates, whose administration is currently weighing a substantial troop increase, said the situation in Afghanistan would be "sustainable" even if Canadian combat troops leave at the end of 2011.

"Our goal, clearly, is to enable the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security," Mr. Gates said. "It's our expectation (Canada and the Netherlands) will run through the tape, as it were, in terms of staying in the fight until the deadlines we have come upon us."

Both men ducked questions on the controversy surrounding the alleged torture of detainees placed in Afghan custody by Canadian troops. Mr. Gates said he was unaware of the issue until reading about it in the newspaper this morning and Mr. MacKay reiterated his earlier position that there was no substance to concerns raised by Richard Colvin, formerly one of Canada's top diplomats in Kandahar, that warnings about torture went unheeded.

As the press availability ended one reporter tried to ask whether Mr. MacKay believed any prisoners had been tortured. He walked away without answering.

The two men will speak later today as the Halifax International Security Forum, which brings together 300 leading policy makers and military leaders from around the world for three days of talks, gets under way.

Topics on the agenda are very timely and some could be ripped from the headlines. Speakers and panels will consider Afghanistan, terrorism, Pakistan, the future of NATO and whether the laws of war work.

Compared by organizers to the World Economic Forum in Davos, it is being held by the German Marshall Fund, a group dedicated to promoting co-operation and understanding between North America and Europe.

This is its first public event in Canada.

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