Afghan mission enters 'crucial' phase: MacKay

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says "crucial work" lies ahead for the Canadian Forces in the final nine months of its military mission in Afghanistan.

Canada out of U.A.E. base by next Friday, defence minister confirms

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says "crucial work" lies ahead for the Canadian Forces in the final nine months of its military mission in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay responds to questions from the House special committee on the Afghanistan mission. ((CBC))
"Our mission in Afghanistan is going through a critical phase and important developments can be expected over the coming months," MacKay told the House of Commons special committee on the Afghanistan mission on Wednesday.

"Some crucial work lies ahead, and a lot will be demanded of our men and women in uniform."

MacKay cited "important progress" in training and mentoring the Afghan National Army, a "key national institution" that the minister said is "expanding in size and competence" and gaining the confidence of more Afghans.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Afghanistan remains volatile, but pointed to key events over the past few months that "hold promise" for Afghanistan's future, including the launching of a peace meeting in June and the "greater capacity" of the Afghan government and its election body to plan elections.

"While progress has been difficult, we must also recognize progress," Cannon told the committee.

Speaking alongside MacKay, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, said the Canadian military is still committed to beginning its withdrawal of troops by next July.  

"That's the specific timeline we're working to," he said.

Cannon grilled over U.A.E. spat

When questioned by opposition committee members, the defence minister also confirmed that the operational base in Dubai known as Camp Mirage will be closed to Canadian Forces personnel as of next Friday.

MacKay said the military will use "alternative locations" for a base to transport military personnel and equipment from Afghanistan and said its plan for a "seamless transition" will not be affected.

MacKay did not specify what cost increases, if any, such a plan would present.

Canada's eviction from the key strategic base comes after a high-profile diplomatic spat with the United Arab Emirates over visas and increased landing rights access in Canada for the U.A.E.'s two state-run airlines.

During Wednesday's hearing, Cannon faced a grilling from Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar for not meeting personally with the U.A.E.'s ambassador while negotiations between the two countries deteriorated.

Cannon replied he met with his foreign ministerial counterpart, whom he described as the ambassador's boss, "numerous times."

Dewar questioned whether Cannon would do the same thing with a country like the U.S. 

Cannon replied that he was engaged directly with his U.A.E. counterpart and didn't meet with the ambassador "because there was no need to meet with the ambassador on this issue."

When Dewar suggested it's a matter of simple courtesy, Cannon pushed back: "Don't be so ridiculous. I meet with ambassadors all the time."

"But you didn't meet with this one," Dewar retorted.