Development without security 'pure folly,' MacKay says in jab at Liberals

Defence Minister Peter MacKay took aim at the Liberals, criticizing those who call for the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan to focus solely on development.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay took aim at the Liberals, criticizing those who call for the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan to focus solely on development.

Speaking in Halifax at the provincial Conservatives' annual general meeting, MacKay said Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's call to end the combat role while maintaining troops to provide security and to train Afghan forces won't work.

"Development and security go hand in hand," MacKay told the crowd in his home province. "Without security, there can be no humanitarian aid or assistance, no reconstruction, no democratic development.

"To suggest, as some have, that we can do one without the other is nothing short of pure folly and, in fact, it's dangerous."

MacKay spoke at the meeting immediately after returning from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he met with fellow defence ministers at a NATO meeting on the Afghan mission.

There, he explained Canada's position that the country supports extending its military mission past the current deadline of February 2009 under the condition NATO sends more troops and equipment to help Canadian soldiers in the dangerous Kandahar region.

At the Halifax meeting, MacKay accused Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton, who wants Canada's troops immediately pulled out of Afghanistan, of ignoring the reality that the mission is producing "incredible results."

"In fact I'm sometimes left to believe that some members of the Liberal and NDP caucus are fundamentally, ideologically opposed to reality when they have this discussion," he said.

His comments come a day after the Conservative government confirmed it will introduce a confidence motion to extend Canada's combat role in Afghanistan for two years to February 2011.

The motion will not be voted on until March. On Friday, both sides remained firm on their positions, with Dion saying he cannot accept the motion.

MacKay said the government made diplomatic progress while in Europe. A high-level Canadian delegation also went to Paris to try to convince France to send troops to southern Afghanistan.

There are reports France could send a contingent of 700 paratroopers available to operations, a number still short of the Manley report's call for an extra 1,000 troops.

"We'll know when we know, but we're much further down the road than we were just a few days ago," MacKay said in an interview.

"There is no doubt in anybody's mind, the countries that were attending the NATO meeting, what Canada's position is."

Canada has roughly 2,500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

With files from the Canadian Press