Tories will consider 'all options' on Afghan pullout

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not commit to bringing Canadian troops home from Afghanistan in 2014 as scheduled, telling the House of Commons that all options will be considered as the deadline for withdrawal approaches.

Harper says options on Canada's mission will be examined when 2014 approaches

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, shown in Afghanistan in 2011, said Wednesday that all options will be examined for Canada's role in Afghanistan when the scheduled date of withdrawal approaches in 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada will examine "all options" when the deadline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan approaches in 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

The prime minister didn't close the door on the idea of extending Canada's current training mission in Afghanistan when asked in question period about a reported request from the United States to keep troops there.

Harper told NDP Leader Tom Mulcair that he has been advised that no such request has been made, and added, "whether it comes or not, let me be very clear: Canada will make its own determination in this regard."

The prime minister said Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan because it is in Canada's national interest to help ensure Afghanistan doesn't become a haven for terrorism and to help Afghans take responsibility for their own security.

"And our government will make any decision it makes with those best interests of our own country and the world community in mind," Harper said.

Mulcair said the Conservatives have repeatedly extended the mission and demanded to know when it will finally end. The NDP is opposed to Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan and did not support previous extensions of the NATO-led mission.

"Our plan at the current time is obviously for the mission that goes to 2014, but we will examine as we approach that date, we will examine all options, and we will take the decision that is in the best interests of this country and in the best interests of our security objectives for the globe and not an ideological, knee-jerk response like the NDP," Harper responded.

Canada ended its combat role in Afghanistan last summer but still has about 950 soldiers based there in a training capacity.

Mulcair also asked whether Parliament would have the chance to vote on any proposed extension of Canada's presence in Afghanistan. The prime minister said that's something the government previously committed to, and that it would honour that commitment.

The issue of an Afghanistan mission extension was raised following a news report that Canadian and American officials are discussing a request from the U.S. to keep Canadian special forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The NDP's foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Harper's responses in question period have now caused confusion about when troops will leave Afghanistan for good.

"It's clear as mud," he told reporters after question period. "Who knows when this will end."

Liberal defence critic John McKay said his party agreed to the last extension in 2011 because it felt 2014 was a reasonable time for Canada's presence in Afghanistan to come to an end.

"In my view, that's when the mission should end," McKay said on Power & Politics.

"The prime minister apparently now says that 2014 doesn't mean 2014. He's clearly under some heavy pressure, primarily from the Americans to extend and he's just simply collapsing on it. I think that is contrary to the sense that I have of what the Canadian people want done," said McKay.

Washington has reportedly struck a draft strategic partnership with the government of President Hamid Karzai, which would tie it and possibly other allies into a security and economic assistance support role for a decade beyond 2014.

With files from The Canadian Press