Dion again urges non-combat roles for Canada in Afghanistan

dion in kabul

Canada should consider non-combat roles for its troops in Afghanistan once their current mandate expires in 13 months, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said during a visit to Kabul on Saturday.

Dion was reiterating a stance he's taken since last summer as he and his deputy leader, Michael Ignatieff, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's capital.

A statement issued by the Liberal party quoted Dion and Ignatieff as telling Karzai that the party believes Canada's combat role should end when the mandate in Kandahar province expires in February 2009.

"The Liberal Party of Canada is very proud of the contributions our men and women in uniform have made to try to bring peace and stability to this region," Dion said.

The party still supports diplomatic and development efforts, as well as a possible continued military presence in the country, he added.

Liberals want 'balanced mission'

"We are not afraid of the risks. But we want to be sure that we have a balanced mission after 2009 that will be optimally helpful for the people of Afghanistan," Dion said.

"We are convinced, after the day we've had, that we will have plenty of things to do," he added.

Canada has about 2,500 troops stationed in volatile Kandahar province. Canada is expected to decide later this year whether to continue the mission.

"This was a wonderful opportunity to meet face-to-face with President Karzai to hear first-hand the impact that troops and civilians are having here," Dion said.

Ignatieff said the meeting was "extremely productive," according to the party statement.

"We had a very fruitful discussion about the NATO mission in Afghanistan and Canada's role in it. I hope it was the first of many more to come," he said.

The pair also agreed with Karzai on the question of the utility and effectiveness of air and artillery strikes as a counter-insurgency technique and expressed their commitment to Canada's calling for an immediate NATO-wide solution that ensures that any militants NATO forces capture are not transferred into a situation where they could face torture.

Seventy-six Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002. One diplomat has also died.

With files from the Associated Press