World

'Tough season' for allies in Afghanistan: MacKay

As foreign troops faced renewed criticism Tuesday for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said it has been a 'tough season' for NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces.

As foreign troops faced new criticism for civilian deaths in Afghanistan on Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay wrapped up a surprise visit to Kandahar, where he said the summer battle season has been difficult for NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces.

MacKay announced $16 million in Canadian funding to establish a staff and language training centre for junior officers of the Afghan National Army in Kabul. He also said the mission remains important to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming "an incubator and exporter of terror."

"There's no question this has been a tough season, very difficult sledding for our forces, as well as our allies," said MacKay, who arrived in Afghanistan on Monday with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to visit with troops and meet Kandahar's new governor.

When asked whether the Afghan government's plan to review the presence of foreign troops would hinder Canada's forces in the country, MacKay said Canadian troops are taking "all precautions" and following all rules of engagement while working with the Afghan government and NATO.

"We make all efforts to see that the level of co-operation protects civilians," he said.

MacKay's visit came as President Hamid Karzai called on coalition troops to alter the rules of engagement in the wake of a U.S. air strike that left 90 civilians dead in Herat province in western Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report saying its team visited the area that was bombed and spoke to locals who provided "convincing evidence" that 90 civilians were killed and 15 others wounded last Friday.

The Afghan government released a statement on Monday, saying its foreign affairs and defence ministries have been asked to review the presence of foreign troops and regulate their presence in an effort to end air strikes that kill civilians.