Former U.S. president and peace activist Jimmy Carter, seen here during the Toronto International Film Festival in September, says the Afghanistan mission is a rare war - one he supports. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Canada's military role in Afghanistan is vital just to maintain any peace gained in the beleaguered country, former U.S. president and peace activist Jimmy Carter said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nationsheadquarters in New Yorkafter meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Carter said the NATO mission in Afghanistan is a rare war in that it is one he supports.

"The primary role in Afghanistan is still a very important one: just to maintain peace, with the hope that we could have a free and democratic society there," Cartertold CBC News.

"Now it's pretty much a holding game and I'm not sure about the progress, but I think it's important that Canada and others participate."

Carter's comments come amid a continued debate over Canada's military role in the country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Canada's commitment toAfghanistan beyond February 2009 is up the air, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will only extend the military component of the mission beyond the deadline with a consensus in Parliament.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has said Canada should stand by its commitment in Afghanistan, but make it clear it is going home in February 2009. The NDP has called for the immediate withdrawal of Canada's troops from the country.

Canadian, British, American and Dutch troops make up the bulk of the NATO-led force in the dangerous south.

Seventy-oneCanadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since themission began in 2002.