Canada’s Harper Wants Conditional Stay in Afghanistan

By Alexandre Deslongchamps

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada should place conditions on a decision to extend its military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2009, as a government- commissioned panel recommended last week.

“The government accepts the panel’s specific recommendation of extending Canada’s mission in Afghanistan if, and I must emphasize if, certain conditions are met,” Harper, 48, told reporters today in Ottawa. Harper said he’ll ask Canadian legislators to vote to continue the mission, without specifying when the debate may take place or if it would be declared a matter of confidence in the government.

“Canada must continue to do its part, but it needs support from its allies,” Harper said. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s reputation is “on the line” and depends on the mission’s success, he said.

Canada has had more casualties in Afghanistan than in any conflict since the Korean War. Seventy-eight soldiers and one diplomat have died since the mission began in 2002. About 2,500 Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar region as part of NATO’s 37,000-troop mission to fight the former Taliban regime and hunt al-Qaeda terrorists. Harper appointed the five-member panel in October to review Canada’s role.

The panel, led by former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, said Jan. 22 that Canadian troops should stay and focus on training Afghan forces, while calling on NATO send about 1,000 troops to help Canada in the Kandahar province as a condition.

Harper has favored extending Canada’s military role while opposition parties, including Manley’s Liberal Party, say the combat mission should end by the February 2009 deadline with the focus then shifting to aid and development.

Other members of the panel are Derek Burney, a former ambassador in Washington; Jake Epp, a cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney; Paul Tellier, a former chief executive officer of Bombardier Inc., and former journalist Pamela Wallin.

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