Politics

Afghanistan is no longer a risk: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels to Afghanistan, visiting Canadian soldiers who will soon end their combat mission there in the transition to a training role.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Afghanistan on Monday, visiting Canadian soldiers who will soon end their combat mission and make the transition to a training role.

Harper ventured off the multinational base in Kandahar, travelling by helicopter to a forward operating base in Sperwan Ghar in the western part of the country. There, he sat in a lookout while Gen. Dean Milner told the prime minister about some of the progress that had been made in the area, including the building of a paved road leading to Kandahar city.

Harper toured an area known as Tarnak Farms, once a hotbed of Taliban activity, but now filled with fields of wheat and barley. It was also the site in 2002 of Canada's first four casualties in Afghanistan in a friendly-fire incident.

'This country does not represent a geostrategic risk to the world. It is no longer a source of global terrorism'—Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Afghanistan Monday

The Canadian International Development Agency has committed more than $4 million to a major project that aims to transform the region, southeast of Kandahar city, into an agricultural hub that provides a livelihood for local residents.

Some of the money is being used to set up a training institute to teach farmers new farming techniques and other knowledge. Harper spoke with one of the farmers who approached him Monday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks out from a bunker as he visits a forward operating base in the district of Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan, on Monday.

Later, the prime minister attended a small memorial service and laid a wreath to commemorate the 156 Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. He reminded soldiers there is still work to be done and told them that despite the sacrifices made by Canadians, and the recent death of Osama bin Laden, the threat of terrorism has not vanished.

The Canadian Forces are mourning the loss of another soldier in Afghanistan, Bombardier Karl Manning. The 31-year-old was found dead on May 27, at Forward Operating Base Zangabad. The military said Manning died from non-combat related wounds and it is investigating the circumstances of his death.

Combat role set to end

Harper's visit to Afghanistan comes as Canada is in the midst of a transition from its combat mission to a training one. Canada's combat activity is due to end in July, when 950 soldiers will remain in the country to train Afghan military members.

It has not all been successes for Canada in Afghanistan. Sarposa prison, in which Canadians have invested millions of dollars, has twice been the scene of daring jailbreaks of Taliban prisoners. The paved road near the base at Sperwan Ghar that Harper visited Monday came under Taliban fire last week, during its official opening.

Still, Harper said much has been accomplished in Afghanistan during the past decade.

"This country does not represent a geostrategic risk to the world. It is no longer a source of global terrorism," he said. 

The Canadian training mission is already underway and is slated to run until 2014. By that time Harper and his NATO allies are optimistic the Afghan National Army will be ready to stand on its own.

Finish the war: Afghan MP

But Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi said Canada is ending its military mission in the country before the work is done, which threatens Canadian security.

Koofi, a possible candidate in Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election, said most Afghans want the war finished "properly."

She said the NATO-led mission went into Afghanistan with two objectives: to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and to support Afghans in setting up a strong democratic government.

"After 10 years, security has deteriorated in some parts of the country and insecurity has expanded to relatively secure provinces," she told host Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics.

"Without finishing this war properly, and achieving the objectives you have planned, I don't think the negative consequences of an early withdrawal will be only to Afghan people but it's also to your own borders as well."

Harper went to Afghanistan after a two-day visit to Greece. Before that he was in Deauville, France, for the G8 summit. 

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