Canada Talks Of Extending Afghan Role, With A Catch

Canada Talks Of Extending Afghan Role, With A Catch
February 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Canada Talks Of Extending Afghan Role, With A Catch

Canada Talks Of Extending Afghan Role, With A Catch
New York Times
February 9, 2008
Pg. 6
By Ian Austen
OTTAWA — The Conservative government introduced a motion in Parliament on Friday to extend Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan, contingent on other NATO countries’ sending 1,000 more troops to southern Afghanistan.
Canada’s 2,500 troops are the main NATO combat force in Afghanistan’s increasingly volatile south and have suffered heavy casualties: 78 soldiers and a diplomat have been killed there, mainly in Kandahar Province. The casualties have created resentment here that other nations have avoided combat missions.
But the motion’s prospects were far from certain. It will come to a vote next month.
The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, do not control a majority in Parliament, and the leaders of the other three major parties oppose continuing the combat mission.
In a bid to press those parties, the Conservatives said Friday that if their motion were defeated, the government would be dissolved and a national election called. That threat led Liberals to charge that the government was trying to engineer its own defeat in a bid for early elections, a charge the Conservatives denied.
The demand for a greater military role by other nations mirrors a recommendation made last month by a government panel that examined the future of the mission once its authorization lapses in February 2009.
The other parties are divided about Afghanistan. The Liberals, the largest opposition party, would keep Canada’s 2,500 troops in Afghanistan but restrict them to training and to aid and reconstruction.
The New Democratic Party, the smallest group, favors an immediate withdrawal, while Bloc Québécois wants them returned when the mission ends next year.
Stéphane Dion, the Liberal leader, said in an interview that Canada accepted its combat mission with the understanding that it was of limited duration and that other NATO countries would rotate through the region.
“There’s no way a country like Canada can carry the most dangerous combat mission for decades,” he said. “We have not been frank enough with our allies.”
No NATO member has offered to send a large force to the south. The United States, which has 26,000 troops in Afghanistan, has said it will temporarily redeploy 3,200 from Iraq, 2,200 of which are headed to southern Afghanistan. But the Pentagon said those troops should not be viewed as long-term reinforcements for Canada.
While the motion states that Parliament will support the combat mission until the end of 2011, it does not specify that the mission must end then.
Peter Van Loan, the leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons, said that “the objective is to be able to leave in 2011,” but added that Parliament must judge the mission’s progress toward turning power over to the Afghans before withdrawing at that time. Mr. Dion, the Liberal leader, said that made the commitment open-ended.
Canadian officials traveled to Paris on Friday to discuss a possible French deployment.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Afghanistan on Thursday, asked European countries to increase their commitments there.
Mr. Harper’s government is now in its second year, a relatively long life span for a government without a voting majority. Historically, Canadian prime ministers have been free to call elections at any time. Mr. Harper, however, eliminated that option when he set October 2009 as the date for the next one.
Liberals speculated that Mr. Harper would prefer an election while Canada’s economy remained robust. Many economists predict that the slowdown afflicting the United States could move north this year.
In the House of Commons on Friday, the deputy Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, suggested that by tying the government’s fate to the Afghan motion, Mr. Harper was contriving his own downfall to bring an election this spring.
Mr. Van Loan rejected that argument. “The government does not believe the mission in Afghanistan should be a partisan political issue,” he told reporters. “Too much is at stake.”

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