Tories urged to define Afghanistan commitment

The federal government is facing more pressure to make a decision on the future of the Afghan mission as Canada mourns the loss of three more soldiers.

The federal government is facing more pressureto make a decision onthe future of the Afghan mission as Canada mourns the loss of three more soldiers.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will meet Thursdayafternoon with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Foreign Affairs MinisterPeter MacKay in Ottawa to discuss the mission.

"Ithink what we're going to have is a very frank discussion about the mission itself," MacKay said outside the House of Commons Wednesday.

De Hoop Scheffer's visit comes after three Canadian Forcessoldiers were killedin Afghanistan Wednesday when their unarmoured supply vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.

The deaths of Cpl. Stephen Frederick Bouzane,Pte. Joel Vincent Wiebe and Sgt. Christos Karigiannis bring the total number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the mission started in 2002 to 60.

Harper's government has been underpressurein the House of Commonsto definethe lengthof Canada'scommitmentto the mission and make its intentions in Afghanistan clear.

Canada has committed troops to the war-torn country until February 2009. Butits allies in southern Afghanistanare starting to ask questions about Canada's combat commitment and whether it will last beyond that deadline.

"Will he now clearly say to the House how long this combat mission will last?" Liberal Deputy LeaderMichael Ignatieff demanded during question period Wednesday. "Canadians deserve to know. Isn't it time for the truth?"

Canadahas sustained the bulk of its casualties in and around Kandahar, where it is looking for some help from its allies,MacKay said. SomeNATO countries have insisted on caveats that limithow their troopscan be deployed in the mission.

NATO chief's Quebec visit questioned

De Hoop Scheffer also waded into the the unfavourable political climate in Quebec Thursday. He met with soldiers from the province'sfamed Royal 22nd Regiment —better known as the Van Doos — who are slated to take over operations in Afghanistan in August.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the Harper government has it wrong on Afghanistan and expressed his displeasure withthe militaryorganizinga rally and parade on Friday through Quebec City, which de Hoop Scheffer is scheduled to attend.

"We're supporting men and women for whom we've got admiration — those in the Canadian Forces," Duceppe said."But we are not supporting the policy of the government and we think that they're using the soldiers for their own purposes."

Quebecers' support for Canada's mission in Afghanistan is the lowest in the country, but MacKay saidpeople in the province have a strong interest in hearing directly from de Hoop Scheffer about the mission.

"Let's not forget the Van Doos regiment —some are already deployed, more will be going. So they willwant to hear about the mission and how it impacts on their sons and daughters," he said.