PM supports extension of Afghan mission with conditions
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday he "broadly" supports recommendations by John Manley's panel on the Afghanistan mission that call for Canada's military to remain in the region beyond February 2009 only if more NATO troops and equipment are provided.
"The government accepts the panel's specific recommendation of extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan if, and I must emphasize if, certain conditions are met," Harper said.
"That is the securing of partners in Kandahar province with additional combat troops and equipment capabilities.
"While the case for the Afghan mission is clearly compelling, the decision to allow our young men and women in uniform to continue to be in harm's way demands the responsibility to give them a strong chance of success."
But Harper reiterated that the House will vote on the issue this spring.
The five-member panel, which released its report last week, said Canada needs to remain in Afghanistan provided two conditions are met:
- The assignment of an additional battle group of about 1,000 soldiers to Kandahar by NATO and/or other allies before February 2009.
- That the government secure new, medium-lift helicopters and high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance before that date.
Harper agreed with the panel that if those conditions are not met, Canada should not proceed with the mission.
"We really do have two choices. We do everything better. We do everything right or we don't do it. But we can't do half a mission that might not succeed."
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he wanted to hear more from Harper on issues ranging from development in Afghanistan, Afghan detainees, diplomacy and troop rotation.
"I think we need to know more what the prime minister has in mind. He has been very vague today. In the way he described it, is like a recipe for a never-ending mission," he said.
But Dion also repeated that the Liberals "don't want a combat mission after February 2009."
In contrast, NDP Leader Jack Layton has called for the troops to be immediately withdrawn from the region.
PM to discuss report with NATO allies
Harper said the panel made a clear case that there can be no definitive timeline for when the mission should end.
But Canada's contribution should be reviewed based on benchmarks of progress that the panel advocated, Harper said.
Harper also said the government will undertake a diplomatic effort with its allies before the next meeting of NATO leaders in early April. He said he hasn't yet spoken with Canada's NATO allies about the report, but will do so in the coming days.
"Canada has done what it said it would do and more. We now say we need help," Harper said. "I think if NATO can't come through with that help, then I think, frankly, NATO's own reputation and future will be in grave jeopardy."
Other panel recommendations include that:
- Canada's civilian reconstruction and development concentrate more on aid that directly benefits the Afghan people.
- The government conduct a full-scale review of the performance of Canadian civilian aid programs.
- Effectiveness of Canada's military and civilian activities, and progress of Afghan security and government, be tracked.
- The federal government improve its communications about the Canadian mission.
With files from the Canadian Press