Canada asks NATO allies to share the 'burden' in Afghanistan

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor made another pitch Friday for NATO allies "sharing the burden" in Afghanistan and dropping restrictions on their troops.

Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor made another pitch Fridayfor NATO allies "sharing the burden"in Afghanistan and dropping restrictions on their troops.

O'Connorspoke Friday morning in Quebec City on the final day of the annual session of NATO's parliamentary assembly, which has brought together 340 delegates from North America and Europe.

The defence minister joined NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in urging the alliance's parliamentarians to lean on their governments to remove restrictions on troops operating in Afghanistan.

"All NATO allies must prove themselves by sharing the burden in all regions of Afghanistan," O'Connor said.

"We need to ensure that troops can be deployed in areas where they are needed the most."

The issue of troop restrictionshas created a rift among some of the alliance members. Canadian, American, British and Dutch troops are deployed in southern Afghanistan, where much of the heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents occurs.

But the French, German and Italian troops are under self-imposed restrictions that keep them out of combat operations.

O'Connor hassaid that NATO needsmore troopsin Afghanistan to fight insurgents in a bid to bring stability and security to the countryto enablereconstructionto occur.

Canada has the support of the British delegates at the session, including Bruce George, an MP from the ruling Labour Party and head of the British delegation.

"Here we have a NATO operation and most of the countries will not send any more troops. That to me is a bloody disgrace," he said.

But O'Connor's pitch may be a tough sell to delegates from countries that are already involved in other NATO missions.

Helmut Konigshaus, a member of the German delegation, said Germany is already pulling its weight around the world.

"We are in Lebanon, we are in Djibouti, in Kosovo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Georgia, and wherever you are looking. Eleven countries. And we are exhausted. Our troops are exhausted. We can't do more."

Seeking support

O'Connor has held speaking engagements in three provinces this week, as part of a cross-country tour, to build support for the Afghan mission. Quebec City is the last stop on that tour, after Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.

As part of thetour, O'Connor has been explaining to Canadians that Canada is playing an important role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its mission is making a difference.

Canada has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the majority stationed in the volatile southern province of Kandahar. Forty-two Canadian soldiers have been killed since Canada first sent troops to the country in early 2002.

NATOleads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a force ofabout 30,000 troops from 37 countries that is helping Afghan authorities to assert their authority across the country to create conditions for reconstruction.

The mandate of NATO's parliamentary assemblyis to reflect public opinion on issues facing NATO, but it is considered independent of NATO.

Conservative MP Leon Benoit, a member of the Canadian delegation, said Afghanistan is a make-or-break issue for the alliance.

"If we don't have success in Afghanistan, the future of NATO is really in question," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press