The United States has asked Canada to keep its troops in Afghanistan past 2011.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that Ottawa's largest and closest ally wants to see Canadian troops stay on past next year's withdrawal date.
It will force the Harper government to decide between turning its back on Washington's call for assistance or reneging on their oft-repeated pledge that Canadian troops will leave Afghanistan next July.
"We would obviously like to see some form of support continue, because the Canadian Forces have a great reputation," Ms. Clinton said in an interview with CTV News.
She said that the U.S. wants the Canadian military to stay in Afghanistan past 2011, but the mission could be different from the combat role the Forces now have in Afghanistan.
"There's all kinds of things that are possible. The military could slip more into a training role than into a combat role," Ms. Clinton said.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that the United States was preparing to ask Canada to take on a training role in Afghanistan as it prepares to withdraw troops from combat. But Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, reiterated the Ottawa's position that all troops will be withdrawn next year.
The Liberals and Conservatives struck a 2008 parliamentary compromise that stipulated Canadian troops will withdraw from Kandahar in July, 2011.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party will not support any combat mission past 2011, but would consider some other kind of post-2011 military mission. "We think there is a justification for some continued mission after 2011," he said.
The Conservatives, however, ruled it out: "The military mission ends in 2011, and we will move towards a civilian mission," Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, told The Globe.
(Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)