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Prime Minister Harper to lay out Canada's future role in Afghanistan

Taliban militants hand over their weapons after joining the Afghan government's reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat province May 14, 2012.

Mohammad Shoiab /Stringer/Reuters/Mohammad Shoiab /Stringer/Reuters

Stephen Harper will shortly lay out a plan for Canada's future role in Afghanistan, his Defence Minister says.

"The Prime Minister, I can assure you, will be making an announcement very soon with respect to Canada's participation beyond 2014 in Afghanistan," Peter MacKay told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

Mr. Harper is gathering with leaders of allied nations at a NATO summit in Chicago that begins Sunday and media reports say Canada is under pressure to extend its participation in the Afghanistan war beyond 2014.

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Canadian soldiers and those from other foreign countries have been planning to quit Afghanistan by 2014 and hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

Ottawa also being asked to cough up more cash to help fund the Afghan army with news reports suggesting Canada could be requested to contribute more than $100-million.

Canada ended its massive combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011, but still has about 900 military trainers in the Central Asian country on a training mission scheduled to end in 2014.

The counter-terrorism group Joint Task Force 2 and Canada's Special Operations Regiment have also served there – but the government stays mum on exactly what these elite troops do.

Media reports, however, suggest the Americans have been asking Canada to keep its special forces active in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

"In the case of Canada, we don't discuss special forces, their deployment, their operations," Mr. MacKay told CTV.

"What I can tell you is you're absolutely right, special forces figure very prominently in our efforts to secure the country of Afghanistan, to also deal with the resurgence of the Taliban in certain parts of the country."

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The Prime Minister recently told the Commons he would "examine all options" when asked if Canada might keep a hand in the Afghanistan war beyond 2014.

If Mr. Harper extends Canada's military deployment beyond 2014, it would be the fourth time he has prolonged the soldiering commitment to Afghanistan – including 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Canada has already paid a significant price in blood and treasure in Afghanistan. The conflict has cost Canada 158 soldiers, and 635 more have been wounded in action.

Canadian taxpayers' bill for the conflict is expected to exceed $14-billion, according to Parliament's independent budget watchdog Kevin Page. Canada's military role in the Afghanistan war dates back more than a decade, to the toppling of the extremist Taliban regime in 2001.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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