Canada firm on Afghan exit date

Canada will not extend its mission in Afghanistan beyond 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday before the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Gatineau, Que. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Canada will not extend its mission in Afghanistan beyond 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday.

Harper and Clinton held a brief meeting Tuesday morning ahead of a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Gatineau, Que.

Harper's statement comes after Clinton told CBC's The Hour that the United States would like Canada to stay in Afghanistan after 2011, the year Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end.

"It's up to Canada to decide how you deploy your forces," Clinton told host George Stroumboulopoulos in an interview that will be aired Tuesday evening.

"But I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're happy about it because … that wouldn't be telling you the truth. We'd love to have Canada stay in this fight with us. But again, you know, you've got your own considerations and we respect that."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated at a news briefing in Washington that the Obama administration would like to see Canada continue its mission.

"There are a host of civilian non-combat activities that Canadians can — and we hope will  — contribute to. They're a valuable partner in our coalition."

Still, Gibbs noted, the U.S. has "seen a dramatic increase in NATO contributions that will make up … for any troops that have to rotate out."

Parliament passed a motion in 2008 agreeing to keep Canadian soldiers in Kandahar until 2011.

In the interview, Clinton suggested the possibility of keeping "non-combat" troops in Afghanistan to assist with training and logistical work. 

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told CBC News "there will be no military mission post-2011."

Afghanistan must assume 'greater responsibility'

In opening remarks before the foreign ministers began their meeting, Harper said Afghanistan must "continue to assume greater responsibility" for its own security, while providing basic services and good governance to Afghan citizens."

"We at this table must continue to provide support while ensuring the Afghan government lives up to those commitments," he added.

Earlier in the day, Cannon said Canada wants to keep working on diplomatic relations and "the development role" that Canada has been pursuing with the Afghan government.

"We are in the midst of defining that, and when we are ready to announce that, we will make those announcements."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also rebuffed the notion of an extended combat mission for Canadian soldiers beyond the 2011 cutoff date.

"The Canadian combat mission must end in 2011 and it's up to the government of Canada, not the government of the United States, to define what, if anything, we can do," he told reporters in Ottawa.

Ignatieff said he is waiting to see if the government brings forward a proposal about a role for Canadian troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends.

British Foreign Secretary said Tuesday that his country would also like to see Canada stay in Afghanistan.

"We respect the decisions of your parliament and your government. But, of course, we want you to be there, contributing your experience and your expertise," David Miliband told Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics.

"We went in together, we stayed together, and we should come together because this is a mission that involves the whole of NATO."

In December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to send 30,000 more troops to the country but also said the U.S. would start withdrawing troops in July 2011. Under his plan, there will be nearly 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year — nearly triple the level when he took office.

NATO has not made an official request asking Canada to extend its combat mission in Afghanistan, which began in 2002.

At least 2,500 Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan, serving under NATO. Since 2002, when the mission began, 141 Canadian soldiers and two civilians have died.

with files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press