Consensus impossible on Afghan mission: Dion

The consensus of political parties that the prime minister says is necessary to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan "will never exist," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion says.

The consensus of political parties that Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists is necessary to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan won't happen, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Wednesdayfollowing the deaths of six soldiers.

"This consensus will never exist," said Dion. "The prime minister should say to NATO right away that the combat mission will end in February 2009."

Dion made the comment at a news conference where he expressed condolences to the families and friends of six Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter killed by a roadside bomb near Kandahar. Thebombing marked one of the deadliest days for the Canadian mission.

"We have done our share in a courageous and professional way," Dion said, but he added that Harper needs to be clear with the coalition that Canada's participation will end as scheduled in 19 months.

Harper said in late June that the Conservative government has no plans to extend the country's combat mission in Afghanistan beyond the February 2009 pullout date set last spring unless there is a consensus in Parliament.

The Liberal leader said that no other NATO country in Afghanistan has carried as much of a burden as Canada. The latest deaths bring the number of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan to 66 soldiers and one diplomat since the mission began in 2002.

Mission 'fuelling an escalating war': Layton

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton remained firm on his position that Canada should pull soldiers out of the volatile region immediately, saying Canada's continued involvement in the NATO mission in Afghanistan is only "fuelling an escalating war."

Layton challenged Harper to stand up and "take a leadership position" by urging the U.S. and other foreign forces to cease "indiscriminate and deadly air-strike" campaigns.

During military operations in Afghanistan this year, 270 Afghan civilians have died, he said, and many of those deaths werefromhigh-altitude bombing attacks.

Recent polls have shown that most Canadians are not in favour of extending Canada's military role in Afghanistan beyond February 2009, when the mission mandate is set to expire.

Laytoncalled ondisapproving Canadianswho opposea longer mission deadline to vote in upcoming elections for candidates who want an immediate troop withdrawal.

The NATO mission should be creating peace and reducing conflict, he said, but instead, the presence of foreign forces is inadvertently boosting support for the Taliban regime among Afghan civilians.

"The strategy being followed by NATO right now is producing the precise opposite effect to the one that the promoters of this mission are suggesting should be the goal," Layton said. "In other words, growth of support for the Taliban because of these air strikes."

Only a comprehensive peace process — not armed conflict — can resolve the crisis in Afghanistan, he argued, noting that "students of history will know that all major conflicts are resolved ultimately through peace-oriented discussions."