Afghanistan mission won't be extended, MacKay says
Defence minister rejects NATO pleas to prolong training deployment
The Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan to train the country's army will end in 2014 as planned despite entreaties from NATO to extend the deployment, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.
At a meeting of NATO leaders in Chicago, MacKay said Canada has "been a major contributor" to the Afghan war "since the very beginning" and has done more than its fair share. Canada will continue to contribute to Afghanistan in ways other than military personnel, he said. It's believed that would include financial assistance and development aid.
"That doesn't necessarily mean troop contributions or trainers — that means giving the Afghans the resources that they need to continue to make progress and hold the fort," MacKay said.
A formal announcement on Canada's plans for Afghanistan is expected Monday from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is also in Chicago for the NATO meeting.
$4 billion sought
The military alliance is asking members for a total of $4 billion for the next decade to pay for an independent Afghan National Army. The United States, which launched the invasion of Afghanistan in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings, is expected to pick up more than half the tab. Germany, Britain and Australia have already pledged more than $100 million each.
On the other hand, newly elected French President François Hollande is indicating he will keep an election promise and pull his country's troops out a year ahead of schedule. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had specifically asked Canada to keep its approximately 950 military trainers in Afghanistan for a longer period.
"I appreciate very much that Canada provides trainers for our training mission in Afghanistan, and I hope Canada will be in a position to continue that contribution also after 2014," Rasmussen said in a statement last Monday.
The Canadian government had already hinted it wouldn't accede to that request. In an interview that aired Saturday on The House with host Evan Solomon, Foreign Minister John Baird told CBC Radio he wasn't ready to commit to an extension of the mission.
"We've been there for more than 10 years. The Canadian Forces have done a fantastic job in their training mission. They've paid a heavy price in their combat mission," Baird said. "I'm not prepared to commit to any more than that at this time."
The two-day NATO meeting in Chicago is charting the future of the alliance's operations there. Rasmussen said Sunday that "there will be no rush for the exits" as countries withdraw their troops, and that NATO "will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end."