Peter MacKay visits troops in Kandahar

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay paid a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay paid a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

MacKay landed at Kandahar for a two-day visitto show support for the troops and reassure Afghan leaders that Canada's commitment won't waver.

"We've had a debate in the Parliament of Canada – the commitment is to finish the job," he told reporters. "The commitment is not defined in terms of years, it's defined in terms of its success and we feel that progress is being made and we're here … to see that the work is going to be completed."

Recent polls have suggested support among the Canadian public for the Afghan mission has fallen below 50 per cent.

Afghan officials, however, said on Monday they intend to ask Canada to extend the deployment. It's currently set toend in February 2007.

In Ottawa, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said on Monday that Canada could extend the Afghanistan mission indefinitely but wouldn't be able to take part in any other large-scale operations, such as a deployment to Sudan's Darfur region.

"As long as we are expanding the armed forces, we'll not be able to maintain two sort of heavy lines of commitment from the army," O'Connor told the Senate defence committee.

Canada has about 2,200 people in Afghanistan,which O'Connor saidwill be the limit until new recruits are fully trained and equipped.

"We can maintain Afghanistan as it is into the future basically forever, but we would be greatly challenged for a substantial commitment elsewhere," he said.

After arrivingTuesday morning, MacKay planned to meet with soldiers at the main coalition base at Kandahar air field and at the smaller Camp Nathan Smith in downtown Kandahar.

His trip will also take him to Kabul, where he will meet government officials.

Taliban activity hasintensified in recent weeks in the southern Afghan provinces, where Canadian troops are operating along with other coalition troops.

Military officials say there has been an increase in roadside bombs and suicide attacks in the area.

There have also been reports that Taliban fighters are frustrated by the fact that their attacks have produced little damage to the armoured Canadian vehicles, the LAV III and Bison troops carriers and Coyote surveillance vehicles.

That has reportedly driven Taliban extremists to the black market looking for bigger and better weapons to aim at the Canadians.

Attacks against themore lightlyarmoured Mercedes G-Wagons have been more damaging.

Fifteen Canadian soldiers and one Canadian diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.