Liberals meet to plan response to Afghan motion

Federal Liberals will meet Monday to discuss amendments to a Conservative motion on the Afghan mission as leader Stéphane Dion tries to reach a political compromise with the government.

Federal Liberals will meet Monday to discuss amendments to a Conservative motion on the Afghan mission as leader Stéphane Dion tries to reach a political compromise with the government.

Dion is expected to outline his strategy to his caucus at a meeting set for Monday evening, where he will propose a set of amendments to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion.

Last week, the Conservative government confirmed it would introduce a confidence motion to extend Canada's combat role in Afghanistan for two years to February 2011. Harper said the motion will be treated as a confidence matter, raising the prospect of an election if his minority government can't carry the day.

Dion has called the government motion unacceptable and said the Liberals will offer changes. The Conservative motion opens the door to a "never-ending mission" that could drag on forever, he said.

The Liberals argue the mission's combat role should end by February 2009, but have indicated they are open to a continued deployment for training and humanitarian purposes.

"You will have a military presence for security for training, but the most part of the mission will be all the tasks we need to do to help Afghanistan, but combat," said Dion.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan said Friday the Conservatives are open to amendments, as long as they fell under the broad parameters of the Manley report. Delivered last month, the report recommends Canada pull out of Afghanistan next year unless NATO provides more troops and equipment in the violent south.

Compromise on training?

Speaking Friday, Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said training is one area where the Liberals and Conservatives might be able to reach a compromise.

"We probably are as good at that as anybody in the world, and there may be areas there, you put your finger on the right issue, where there's stuff to discuss," said Ignatieff.

While Afghan police regularly carry out their duties with the help of Canadian troops, training the police force to become independent is a military priority.

Canadian soldiers are working with the Afghan national army and police at five army strongpoints and eight small police stations scattered across Kandahar province.

Each new police station is designed to reinforce the Afghan government's control, providing a little more security and order to Afghan villages throughout the countryside.

A vote in the House on the Afghan motion isn't scheduled until late March, and it's possible MPs could be on the campaign trail before it's ever held.

The Tories also say an omnibus crime bill currently before the Senate is a confidence matter, and they plan to bring in a budget before the end of February.

Roughly 2,500 Canadian troops are serving in the violent southern Kandahar province as part of a NATO-led mission. Seventy-eight soldiers and one diplomat have been killed since the mission started in 2002.

With files from the Canadian Press