Tories confirm Afghan mission details

At least 950 military personnel will remain in Afghanistan after 2011 to help with training, development and aid, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says in detailing the country's post-combat role.

New mission will cost military up to $500M per year

A Canadian soldier looks on as military engineers blast holes into insurgent supply lines near Kandahar on Oct. 28. Hundreds of Canadians will remain in Afghanistan after 2011 to help with training, development and aid. ((Jonathan Montpetit/Canadian Press))

At least 950 military personnel will remain in Afghanistan after 2011 to help with training, development and aid, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday in detailing the country's post-combat role.

Cannon said Canada is not abandoning the Afghan people.

"Our goal is not merely to do things for Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan. It is also to help them do things for themselves once more after decades of civil war and chaos in government," he said in Ottawa.

4 themes in Afghanistan

According to Lawrence Cannon:

"Building on what we've already done so well and at such a great cost. Investing in the future of Afghanistan means investing in the future of Afghan children and youth, including through education and health. Advancing security, the rule of law and human rights, including through the provision of up to 950 non-combat military trainers and support personnel who will help train Afghan soldiers. Promoting regional democracy and delivering humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda were also on hand for the news conference.

MacKay said the new mission will cost the military up to $500 million per year, with a one-time initial expenditure of $85 million for rollout. The government will spend another $300 million over three years on development and aid. The current combat mission costs about $1 billion per year.

The 950 Canadians, who according to MacKay will be in the country until March 2014, will not be involved in combat and no mentoring will take place in the field. Canada's combat role will end in July.

Instead, they will be responsible for training members of the Afghan army, as well as some police officers. The training will take place mostly in classrooms or bases in Kabul and possibly elsewhere. They will not be deployed to Kandahar.

About 75 per cent of the 950 Canadians will be involved in training, while the remainder will have support roles.

"We shall dedicate ourselves to development, diplomacy and a non-combat role in training members of the Afghan national security forces," said Cannon.

Canada, along with it coalition partners, has helped train and mentor more than 50,000 Afghans, said MacKay, adding he has seen improvements in the quality and quantity of the troops.

"The Afghan national army has grown from roughly 17,000 troops to over 134,000 troops and is on track to meet its expansion goal by October 2011," MacKay said.

After 2011, he said, "We will continue to do what many Canadian Forces personnel came to believe was our primary reason for being there — taking incremental steps to make a better life for ordinary Afghans, especially women and children."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to Afghanistan queries during question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed last week that Canada would be extending its role in Afghanistan beyond 2011. The NDP has demanded that the new mission be put to a vote in Parliament and accused the Liberals and Conservatives of working together on the issue.

A government source confirmed to CBC News that Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae had discussions with the Tories beginning in the summer.

Harper and Cannon have both said a vote on the extension is not needed. Cannon pointed out Monday that a parliamentary vote was not taken when Canadian troops were sent to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January.

Speaking on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, Cannon said there was "no precedent" for a parliamentary vote on the extension of the mission in Afghanistan.

"This is really a function of mission creep," NDP MP Jack Harris said after the announcement. "We started in 2002 and we've been there nine years now. Last Saturday was the ninth anniversary of the fall of the Taliban."

Harper steps into debate

In question period, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff asked the prime minister if he could guarantee that troops will not be involved in combat and that the training will take place in safe locations.

"It will be a training mission that will occur in classrooms behind the wire on bases," answered Harper.

Ignatieff pointed out that the Liberals had called for a national debate on the issue in June, and the Conservatives had previously said they wanted no post-combat mission.

"We had a period of frantic improvisation and three weeks before [NATO's summit in] Lisbon, presto, we get the details. Can the prime minister explain and justify this process of frantic improvisation in the making of Canada's foreign policy?" Ignatieff asked. 

Harper responded: "I note that the decisions that we've taken are very close to what the Liberal Party, in fact, recommended, so I'm glad that we actually agree on this particular matter."

NDP Leader Jack Layton accused Harper of breaking a promise.

"Why did he break his promise to bring the troops home?" Layton asked in question period.

Harper repeated that it was a training mission and such missions are never put to a vote. He then accused the NDP of always having an extreme view of the mission in Afghanistan.

Later, Ignatieff was asked by reporters about not having a vote on the issue.

"That's what you have a parliamentary democracy for. We will hold them to account every day in the House of Commons," he said.

NATO welcomes trainers

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Harper's announcement.

"Canada has contributed substantially, over many years, to the operation in Afghanistan. Canadian Forces have made a real difference in the lives of the Afghan people, often at a high cost," he said in a release. "In just a few days, at the Lisbon summit, we will launch the transition process, and early next year Afghan forces will steadily begin taking the lead for security throughout the country.

"This Canadian contribution of hundreds of trainers will help the Afghan security forces to more quickly become capable of securing their own country against terrorism and extremism — a goal we all share."

The summit in Lisbon begins Friday.