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Is Harper flip-flopping on Afghanistan troop withdrawal? Add to ...

In January of this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the following in an interview with Canwest News:

"We will not be undertaking any kind of activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission. … 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."

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That was then.

On Sunday morning, the Toronto Star reported that "Canadian troops could remain 'behind the wire' in Afghanistan involved in training local troops after their combat mission ends next summer."

While the Star presents this training role as one of three options the Prime Minister will present to our NATO allies in Lisbon later this month - the other two being aid and development - La Presse goes much further, reporting that the options are not mutually exclusive. And that the decision to leave Canadian soldiers in Kabul - "far from the Taliban insurgency" - to train Afghan troops is being taken in co-operation with the Liberals, whose support would be needed to adopt a motion in the House of Commons authorizing the new mission.

According to La Presse, the Prime Minister and the Liberals should have all the loose ends tied up by the time Mr. Harper heads out to Lisbon. And the paper quotes "reliable sources" (Dimitri Soudas would be my guess) as follows:

"For several months, there's been considerable pressure from NATO allies to extend the combat mission. But the PM will not change the government's position by one iota, as expressed in the parliamentary resolution which provides for an end to the military mission. … Canadian troops will leave Kandahar in 2011. And the Official Opposition is up to speed on the options we'll be undertaking after that date in our non-combat mission."

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