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Canadian work in Afghanistan halted after violence

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul.

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters/Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Canadian officials in Afghanistan have been ordered to stay out of government buildings after two senior American officers were killed inside a supposedly secure ministry office in Kabul.

The measures come amid a weekend of violence and anti-Western protests in the country following the inadvertent burning last week of Korans at an American military base near Kabul.

Despite an earlier apology by U.S. President Barack Obama and a plea by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for calm, violence continued over the weekend. Seven American soldiers were injured Sunday when a grenade was thrown at their base in northern Afghanistan where they were training Afghan Local Police force members.

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On Saturday, the two American officials were shot, reportedly at close range, by a 25-year-old Afghan police officer inside the Afghan Ministry of Interior, a building in central Kabul inside a normally tight security cordon of police, barriers and armoured vehicles. A nation-wide manhunt was launched Sunday for the gunman.

Foreign Affairs says that all Canadians are safe and that no one was near the Afghan Ministry of Interior building where the shootings occurred.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs, Yohan Rodericks, said that the 70 staff members at the Canadian Embassy have suspended meetings at Afghan ministries, while the department assesses the situation.

In addition, civilian police advisors working in the ministries, will not be going into their workplaces. He said there are about 45 Canadian police officers in Afghanistan. But the biggest Canadian contingent are the 950 military trainers, who are helping train Afghan national security forces. They are working in three locations in and around Kabul.

Other NATO allies with civilian and military personnel in Afghanistan, including the United States, France and German, have taken similar action in putting their advisors on lockdown in reaction to the shootings.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said the Afghan defence and interior ministers were postponing scheduled trips to the United States this week while consulting with other Afghan leaders on protecting allied forces and quelling the violence.

The spasm of violence, and the attack inside the Ministry of Interior, has provoked fears amongst some observers that relations between Afghans and their NATO allies will be jeopardized – and there are further concerns this could strain the NATO training mission of Afghan's national security forces in which Canada is a major player.

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But some foreigners who have long worked with the fledgling Afghan government said it is too early to say.

"It remains to be seen whether the atmosphere will be different now on and if there will be the same degree of trust as before," said Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College who has worked for several years as an advisor to an Afghan ministry.

But Ms. Murray, who says she was advised not to go to work for several days, says she "expects things to return to normal soon and I will go back to my office as usual."

"I don't think things are any more unsafe for internationals than normal, except for the military," she added. Her office is close to where the shootings took place and she said she believes it's a wise move to withdraw the advisors from the ministries temporarily.

"It allows a cooling off period, a chance for the military to relax and feel less vulnerable, and for the leaders on both sides to discuss what should be done," she said.

In an interview on CNN, Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, said he is hoping that President Karzai's pleas for calm will help the situation improve and that taking out the advisors will allow "things to calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere."

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But he also made clear that the U.S. is committed to its partnership with the Afghan government.

Canada, too, is not about to change its focus in Afghanistan, according to Mr. Rodericks, the Foreign Affairs spokesman. There is no plan, he said, to bring people home.

"Now, I think we really just have to follow the situation," he said. "Our embassy personnel and Foreign Affairs will make determinations as the situation changes."

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did not comment. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae noted that "security is always an issue in Afghanistan and Kabul is clearly being targeted for activities by the Taliban intended to undermine confidence and increase demands for a NATO pull-out."

Mr. Rae said Canada's position should continue to be "one of working in full co-operation with NATO, the UN, and the Afghan government on the transition to full Afghan control."

With a report from Reuters

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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