Layton again calls for Afghan pullout, in wake of deaths

Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton demands that Canadian troops withdraw from Afghanistan, after four soldiers die on the weekend while battling militants.

Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton has repeated his earlier calls for Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, after four soldiers died on the weekend while battling Taliban militants.

"This is the wrong mission for Canada," Layton said Sunday at a news conference in Toronto following the announcement of the soldiers' deaths.

Layton said the focus of the mission has shifted from reconstruction to open war, which he said did not reflect Canada's traditional role as a peacekeeping nation.

"It's not balanced. It doesn’t represent the equilibrium between humanitarian aid, reconstruction and comprehensive peace process that Canadians would want to see."

Last week,Laytoncalled forCanadato pull its troops out by February.

Canada has more than 2,200 troops posted in Afghanistan and is leading the NATO forces in the volatile southern regions around Kandahar.

Thirty-one Canadian soldiers have now died since the mission began in 2002. A Canadian diplomat was also killed.

Harper just following Bush: Layton

Layton, who made the same callfor withdrawalon Aug. 31,also accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of toeing the line set by U.S. President George W. Bush and his team in Washington, D.C.

"We need a made-in-Canada foreign policy, not one that's ideologically imported that follows along the pathway that has been set by the Bush administration," Layton said.

While Layton praised the bravery and dedication of the soldiers in Afghanistan and expressed his condolences to their family and friends, he also defended questioning the validity of their mission on the same day as their comrades' deaths were announced.

"I don't believe we should ever make a decision based on the particular events of one day," he said.

The House of Commons voted in the spring to extend the Afghan mission to 2009. The NDP voted against the motion, but it was passed with support from a splintered Liberal party.

A statement by Harper on Sunday did not address Layton's comments, but paid tribute to the soldiers and the purpose of their mission.

"We are proud of these soldiers' contribution to bring stability and hope to the people of Afghanistan," Harper said in the statement."These soldiers lost their lives in the service of their country. Canada is grateful for that service, and saddened by this loss."

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjhsaid it's important that Canada focus on defence as well as diplomacy and development in Afghanistan.

"I don't think that this is the time for politics," Dosanjhsaid Sunday."I think this is the time to support the troops."

"Our troops are in a very difficult situation, and it's always sad when you lose those that are trying to create some stability and security in Afghanistan and on behalf of the rest of the world as well."