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Politics Canada would not resume mission in Afghanistan or expand in Iraq and Syria, Harper says

The last Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan are greeted by dignitaries as they deplane in Ottawa March 18, 2014. Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan has formally ended.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says he would not resume a military mission in Afghanistan if re-elected, even though the U.S. government has halted its troop withdrawal from the South-Central Asian country because of eroding security there.

Mr. Harper, campaigning in Quebec City on Friday, also said he has no intention of expanding the military commitment in Iraq and Syria.

He said he has no intention of sending troops or armaments back to Afghanistan. Canada ended a bloody combat mission there in 2011 and a training mission in 2014. The commitment cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers.

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In prior years, Conservative aides have explained Mr. Harper's decision to pull out of Afghanistan as a combination of political pragmatism – worries about eroding support in Canada – as well as his personal conviction that a longer commitment would, on balance, not be worth it.

On Friday, however, his rationale was that Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat to Canada, even though the country is struggling with the Taliban, their allies and elements of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

"Afghanistan today, whatever its faults, is not a base, not a risk of threat of international terrorism against our country," Mr. Harper said. "And that is a big change in Afghanistan."

He said Canada had done its part for the South-Central Asian country. "Canada laid out very clearly its time frame. It was done through resolutions in Parliament. I believe we appropriately wound down that mission. We did a strong combat mission for a number of years followed by a training mission," he said.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he was halting the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan, saying Afghan forces are not yet up to the task of securing their own country.

At least one-fifth of Afghanistan is now back under Taliban control, or contested by the militants.

Regarding Iraq and Syria, where Canada is flying aerial bombing missions against Islamic State militants and using special forces soldiers to train Kurdish fighters, Mr. Harper said he wouldn't change anything.

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He rejected the idea of "a full combat mission there."

But Mr. Harper is emphatic that Canada's military campaign against the Islamic State needs to continue. Two soldiers were killed last fall in Canada by self-styled jihadists inspired by the call to take up arms against the West.

"The reality is, that area, without military pressure on it, will be a significant risk to Canada for the planning of terrorist attacks, not just in the region,' Mr. Harper said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised to recall Canada's jet fighters from the Middle East, but keep the special forces training mission intact.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has pledged to end Canada's military commitment there and instead focus on humanitarian aid to the victims of the Islamic State militants.

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