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the afghan mission

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Brigadier-General Daniel Menard and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose leave Canadian task force headquarters in Kandahar on April 10, 2010.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's erratic behavior of late, including suggestions he may join the Taliban, have a "corrosive impact" on Canadian troops, the Defence Minister says.

Just back from Afghanistan, Peter MacKay told The Globe and Mail today that was the message he delivered to two senior Karzai government ministers.

"I called for more constructive and active engagement. People need to see a more visible presence of the Afghan government in Kandahar province," Mr. MacKay told the Afghan officials, explaining the President's comments have a "corrosive impact on Canadian soldiers and citizens."

Raising the topic, he said, was "very uncomfortable for them." The Defence Minister added that he purposely decided not to meet with Mr. Karzai during his weekend visit. (Mr. MacKay was accompanied by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.)

All of this comes amid another combat death in Afghanistan. Private Tyler William Todd was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb southwest of Kandahar. He is Canada's 142nd casualty since the mission began.

Indeed, Mr. Karzai comments have provoked a debate as to what Canada is doing in Afghanistan, defending a government whose leader behaviour is becoming more and more erratic.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that the Afghan President's remarks "are not helpful" and are " completely unacceptable to Canada." General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, said yesterday on CTV's Question Period he was "shocked" by Mr Karzai's quip.

The federal government is not wavering from its commitment to end the military mission in 2011 - this, despite entreaties by the United States to remain in the country in a combat role.

Still, Mr. MacKay did announce last week that 90 more troops will be going to Afghanistan to help with training army and police forces. He also hinted that the Canadian presence post-2011 could be to train Afghan police.

Washington also had concerns with Mr. Karzai's remarks. But today a Canadian military source says it appears now U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. military are prepared to move on. "[Mr. Obama]will meet him in D.C. and let bygones be bygones," the source says. "But damage has been done."

Mr. Karzai is scheduled to meet the U.S. President at the White House on May 12.

(Photo: Murray Brewster/The Canadian Press)