Canada would keep as many as 1,000 troops in Kabul as part of a plan to extend the country's mission in Afghanistan and convert it into a non-combat role after 2011, CBC News has learned.
Up to 750 trainers and at least 200 support staff would work outside the combat zone at a training academy or large training facility for Afghan soldiers and police officers, the CBC's James Cudmore reports. They would remain in Afghanistan until 2014 at the latest.
This is the first time specific numbers related to the proposed mission extension have been made public.
On Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the government was "contemplating" transitioning to a non-combat, training role from a combat role but did not offer exact numbers.
And on Monday afternoon, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he did not know how many troops the Conservatives were planning to keep there.
Canada's combat mission, which involves up to 3,000 troops, is due to expire in July 2011 in accordance with a motion passed in Parliament. But allies, including the United States, have pressured Canada to remain.
"This is … not necessarily the most pleasing proposal for our allies," Cudmore reported, citing sources. "There was intense pressure from other allied nations, in NATO in particular, to see Canada extend its combat mission.
"I'm told that [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] has stuck to his guns on this one. If there is to be a future mission, it will be focused on training, not combat. No combat at all."
'We're out of Kandahar' in 2011: Soudas
NATO has said it will leave Afghanistan in 2014 and hand over all security to Afghan forces.
Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said the government is looking at options for where training in a non-combat zone could take place, but would not confirm any figures. He stressed Canada's military is departing Kandahar in 2011 and "the combat mission is over."
"It means we're out of Kandahar," Soudas said Monday in an interview Monday on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.
"Canadians have sacrificed a lot. The lives of our men and women must not go in vain. That is why after 2011 we will continue to play a role, but that role will not be a combat role."
On Oct. 9, 2009, Harper said: "Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011."
He is expected to present details of the proposed plan to a summit of NATO heads of state and government in Lisbon, Portugal, on Nov. 19 and 20.
But Ignatieff criticized the governing Conservatives earlier Monday for not already having "clear answers" to questions about details such as the number of troops involved.
"I have nothing to say because there isn't a plan," he told reporters on Parliament Hill when asked about the mission. "I don't how many troops; I don't know what the timeline is; I don't know what the mission would involve."
Nothing 'direct or concrete': Rae
Ignatieff also denied his party had signed on to a "secret deal" with the Tories on Afghanistan, after reports surfaced Sunday that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon had raised the idea of a post-2011 training mission with Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae over the weekend. Liberals were said to be awaiting the details before committing their support.
But Rae told the CBC's Solomon that Cannon gave him only "an indication of some of the options that would be put to cabinet."
"I'd like to see the plan," Rae said in an interview Monday. "Obviously, this is something that we know has been in the air … over the last several weeks. We've never seen anything direct or concrete from the government."
On Monday morning, NDP defence critic Jack Harris suggested the Conservatives had struck "some sort of backroom deal" with the Liberals.
"Otherwise, they couldn't credibly talk about this," Harris told CBC News.
Harris also said the Conservatives should think twice before extending the military presence.
"This has been a creeping mission for Canada," Harris said. "We were supposed to only be there as part of a stabilization force. And it's escalated into a combat role that we have endured for the past number of years with significant loss of life.
"So to extend it for more years, I don't think Canada is necessary in that."