Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers - notably Defence Minister Peter MacKay - have been saying for some time that the military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011.
At some points, however, they have talked about the withdrawal of the troops being followed by a humanitarian effort led by civilians - which has provided fodder for those who say they actually plan to keep Canadian soldiers on the ground. Any humanitarian effort would naturally require security and that may require a military presence.
But Mr. Harper makes it absolutely clear in this interview with David Akin of Canwest New Service, published Tuesday, that the more than 2,500 Canadian troops will be coming home.
"We will not be undertaking any kind of activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission," Mr. Harper said.
"We will continue to maintain humanitarian and development missions, as well as important diplomatic activity in Afghanistan. But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy."
Mr. Harper goes on to say that the NATO allies have lowered their objectives for the mission in Afghanistan. "I think the reality is that all actors over the past few years have been downgrading their expectations of what can be achieved in Afghanistan."
"But it is still important that we have a viable, functioning state in Afghanistan that has some acceptable democratic and rule of law norms. If we don't, we run the serious risk of returning in Afghanistan to what we had before. No matter what differences people have on the mission, everybody agrees that the mission has the purpose to ensure that Afghanistan does not return to being a failed state that is an incubator of terrorism."
(Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)