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NEWS: Harper, Ignatieff may keep 600 soldiers in Afghanistan

The Canadian Press reports that, “The Harper government is considering a proposal that would keep (up to 600) Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2014 in a non-combat, training role… The move would extend Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan three years past the July 2011 withdrawal deadline set by Parliament, but would remove troops from the front lines of fighting.”

“It is under consideration because the Conservative government faces international pressure — publicly and privately — to leave behind at least a contingent of military trainers to help address a shortfall in the NATO-led mission. …Sources said Harper could make a decision as early as this week in order to take the issue off the table before he attends the NATO leaders summit in Lisbon on Nov. 18.”

“The House of Commons motion calls for Canada’s current contingent of 3,000 military personnel to cease combat operations next year in the volatile southern province of Kandahar, and Harper has made it clear there will be no extension. …Until now, the Conservative government has only said that Canada’s diplomatic and development efforts would continue. …The Liberal opposition, which favours a training role, has called for a parliamentary debate. …One source said that even though the Canadian public’s appetite to keep soldiers in Afghanistan may not be as strong as it once was, the fact that the Liberal opposition backs a training role for the military should offer Harper some political cover.”

The Globe and Mail adds that, “NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar accused Mr. Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of a ‘backroom deal’ to extend the military mission in Afghanistan. ‘The NDP is clear: End the military mission as was promised.’ Mr. Dewar said.”

The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 152 Canadian soldiers, affected numerous more with life-altering physical injuries and mental traumas, and will cost an estimated $18.1 billion. It is a war that has claimed the lives of thousands of Afghans, hundreds of coalition soldiers, and has left Afghanistan less secure for development work. It is also a war that does not have the support of the majority of Canadians, and, despite these heavy sacrifices, very likely cannot be ‘won’.

In their book The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, political scientist Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang write that General Rick Hillier pushed for Canadian troops in Kandahar to impress the Pentagon and then-U.S. president George W. Bush. Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin has written that, “A former, highly placed Defence Department official (says) the reason the Liberals took up the mission was not out of any great noble purpose. It was principally because they had no choice. They had to appease Washington for not having joined the invasion of Iraq.”

In August 2006, the Council of Canadians issued a statement calling for the immediate, safe and orderly withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. At that point, 20 Canadian soldiers had been killed in the war. In March 2008, after the deaths of 79 Canadian soldiers, the House of Commons voted to extend the war in Afghanistan past 2009 and for the military mission to conclude in July 2011.

The Canadian Press article is at http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2010/11/07/canada-afghanistan.html.