Military considers longer tours of duty in Afghanistan

A Canadian general says troops should be ready to serve longer rotations of nine months in Afghanistan.

The Canadian military wants to increase the time served by its troops in Afghanistan to nine months, up from six, a general told soldiers gathered in Edmonton on Saturday.

Brig.-Gen Mark Skidmore spoke after a change of command ceremony that put him in charge of army forces in Western Canada.

The career soldier from London, Ont., took over the job from Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, who will become commander of Task Force Afghanistan for six months.

"If you're a member of the Canadian military, particularly a soldier with a skill set that's required in Afghanistan, and you haven't been yet, I think chances are very good that the opportunity is going to be there to serve,"Skidmore told the assembled troops at the Jefferson Armouries.

On Wednesday, Gen. Rick Hillier, chief ofdefence staff, said the Armed Forces will be looking outside combat units to find troops.

"We will re-role people that are in the training system right now but who are designed to be something else," he told the Commons defence committee.

Also appearing before the committee, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor proposed limiting combat troops to one rotation in Afghanistan, if possible.

'Sailors into soldiers'

CBC News has since learned that no branch of the military would be exempt from serving in Afghanistan, and that any decision on the matter would be made by generals, not politicians.

Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal defence critic, said talk of turning sailors into soldiers hassurfaced because the Conservative government has extended the Afghan mission.

"If your mission is only for one year, you have enough soldiers for the rotation. If your mission is for three years, you need more soldiers who can fight," Dosanjh said. "It's that simple."

Last May, members of Parliament voted to approve an extension of the military mission to Afghanistan to 2009. The vote, which passed with the support of 30 Liberal MPs, means Canadian soldiers will remain in Afghanistan two years longer than previously planned.

Since 2002, 42 Canadian soldiers have died and more than 168 have been wounded in the struggle against resurgent Taliban fighters.

With files from the Canadian Press