Canada has not been asked by the United States to keep troops in Afghanistan after its military mission in Kandahar ends in 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says.


Defence Minister Peter MacKay responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on March 17, 2010. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Cannon made the statement in the House of Commons after being questioned by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on a report in Thursday's Globe and Mail that said the U.S. government will ask Canada to keep as many as 500 to 600 soldiers in Afghanistan after the military mission's scheduled termination date next year.

During question period, Ignatieff said the government must explain how this "obvious trial balloon" to gauge public opinion of a possible extension of the military mission entered the press.

He then called on the Conservatives to commit to put any deployment in Afghanistan past 2011 to a vote in Parliament.

"This is no way to run the foreign policy of a serious government," Ignatieff said.

Cannon, speaking for the government, replied that the Conservatives have stated "time and time again" that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011.

"On this supposed request, Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the leader of the Opposition, we have not received a request of this nature," Cannon said.

Formal request expected at end of year: report

The newspaper said sources inside and outside Washington said they expect a formal request to Ottawa to be made through NATO toward the end of this year, and the remaining Canadian troops would act as military trainers and would most likely be stationed in Kabul.

The Globe article said no specific requests have been raised in meetings between U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Defence Minister Peter MacKay. But officials in the State and Defence departments have advised their Canadian counterparts an appeal is coming, according to the newspaper.

In 2008, the House of Commons passed a motion to keep soldiers in Kandahar until 2011. Leaving military trainers in Kabul after the 2011 pullout date would still comply with the federal government's commitment to end Canada's role in the fighting.

In December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama committed 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but also pledged to begin withdrawing American forces beginning in July 2011.

The additional U.S. troops will include about 5,000 trainers, underscoring Obama's emphasis on preparing Afghans to take over their own security.

Canada has at least 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan. Since 2002, 141 Canadian soldiers and two civilians have died during the Afghanistan mission.