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New Democrats call for end to military mission in Libya

Libyan rebels come under fire from Gadhafi loyalists in Bir Ghanam, southwest of Tripoli.

Colin Summers/AFP/Getty Images

With military brass describing the conflict in Libya as mostly a stalemate on the ground, the NDP Opposition says Canada should withdraw its military contribution of ships and planes next month.

A senior Canadian Forces officer, Major-General Jonathan Vance, said Canadian planes are flying about 6 per cent of the military sorties in the mission, including about 8 per cent of the attack strikes, and the lion's share of the maritime surveillance patrols.

But as he described the fight between rebels and Moammar Gadhafi's forces as "somewhat static," the New Democrats reiterated that they will not support an extension of Canada's military mission in Libya past the late-September deadline set by a Commons vote in June.

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"Come the end of the timeline that we've set in Parliament, in September, I think it's time to say that's enough of the military equation for Canada, and we need to put our focus on the diplomatic side and the political side," said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar.

"There's been success in ensuring that the civilian population is protected, but we do not want to be in a conflict that is ongoing, and no end date."

The New Democrats' insistence that staying any longer will amount to committing to a long-running war, with rising dangers of "mission creep," mean that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, which so far has stressed multi-party support for the operation, will have to decide whether it will continue the mission without a parliamentary consensus.

Mr. Dewar's comments came after Maj.-Gen. Vance, director of staff for the Canadian Forces' strategic joint staff, described small ebbs and flows in the movement of pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces, but indicated there's no expectation of a rebel breakthrough leading to military victory.

"The situation has been described as somewhat static, which is accurate," he said. As anti-Gadhafi rebels gain resources and experience, they have made "incremental increases and improvements," he said.

"I don't think we're anticipating a cataclysmic military end as a result of anti-Gadahafi force ground movement,' Maj.-Gen. Vance said. "But it's slow and steady. And we're certainly not seeing the reverse."

Mr. Harper's government has stressed Canada's significant role in a military mission that has seen eight allies carry the burden of strikes, led by Britain and the France, while the United States, not keen to take the lead in another war, has played a major but not dominant role.

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Mr. Dewar noted that the NDP was in favour of a mission to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians. But taking part in a long-run mission raises increased fears that Canada will be drawn into "mission creep."

The Harper government has backed the rebels' National Transitional Council and stressed that Col. Gadhafi must leave power, and argued that NATO allies must stay unified on the mission.

Mr. Dewar noted that Norway has ended its role in the military mission, and argued Canada should do the same, and focus on diplomacy. He did not argue that all NATO countries should give up the mission, however.

Canada, he said, must focus on a political settlement and ceasefire, including putting forward its position on ways for Col. Gadhafi to leave, and whether a settlement could be negotiated where Col. Gadhafi leaves power but remains in Libya.

"What has been our position on what it means for Gadhafi to go, for instance. We need to make sure that we're in line with our allies," he said. And he argued the government should be talking more about what Canada would do in a post-conflict Libya.

"I'm with the generals on this one," he said. "There is no military victory to be won."

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