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U.S. marine deployment to Afghanistan won't help Canada: Gates

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that 3,200 marines headed to southern Afghanistan will not provide the Canadian Forces there with the additional troop support recommended by the Manley report.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that 3,200 marines headed to southern Afghanistan will not provide the Canadian Forces there with the additional troop support recommended by the Manley report.

The marines, slated to stay for seven months following their spring departure, will be on a one-time assignment, Gates said during a Pentagon press briefing.

He said he will be putting pressure on NATO to provide more troops to bolster coalition war efforts in Afghanistan's turbulent south.

"No, it's a one time plus-up, this 3,200 marines that we're sending over there, but I have started a dialogue with my NATO colleagues about falling in behind the marines when the marines come out, for others to go in and take on some of the responsibilities that they will have carried out," Gates said.

An independent panel led by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley this week recommended Canadian troops remain in Afghanistan past their scheduled pullout in February 2009, but only if they are backed up by an additional 1,000 troops and extra equipment.

When asked if he thought it was achievable to get extra soldiers into Afghanistan by the Canadian deadline, Gates replied: "I certainly hope so."

Gates said he hoped that NATO meetings in Lithuania last year, as well as the upcoming summit in Romania in April, would inspire NATO towards a "more positive reaction and provide the kind of additional support that the Canadians, based on what you just said, that the [Manley] report has called for."

The U.S. has the largest number of troops in NATO's Afghan mission, making up about one-third of the 42,000-strong force. About 13,000 other U.S. troops are training Afghan forces and searching for al-Qaeda members.

After months of insisting it would not send additional soldiers to the region, the U.S. announced earlier in January that it was preparing to send 3,000 marines to Afghanistan in April to help battle a resilient Taliban insurgency over the spring and summer "fighting season."

The deployment will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 30,000 — the highest since the American-led invasion began in 2001.

78 Canadian soldiers killed

All of NATO's 26 member nations have soldiers in Afghanistan, however, many have refused to send additional forces.

European nations in particular — many with commitments in Africa and the Middle East — have drawn criticism from countries such as Canada, Britain and the U.S., which complain of being overburdened by their missions in violence-plagued areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

About 2,500 Canadian soldiers are in the southern Kandahar region. Since the mission started in 2002, 78 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed.

The Manley report identified a lack of military forces as the biggest problem facing the mission, which is supposed to be bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

An extra 1,000 soldiers would expand security coverage in Kandahar, help prevent incursions from Pakistan, and accelerate training of Afghan army and police units.

Without additional troop support, the report said, the Canadian government should be prepared to give NATO and Afghan authorities notice of the country's intention to withdraw from Kandahar, which, the report admits would likely destabilize the already fragile security situation there.

With files from the Associated Press