Violence in Afghanistan to worsen next year: Canadian general

The head of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan said Tuesday he expects to see an escalation in violence in the war-torn country over the next year.

Bodies of 3 soldiers killed last weekend en route to Ontario

The head of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan said Tuesday he expects to see an escalation in violence in the war-torn country over the next year.

Speaking to reporters in Kandahar, Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier warned that the surge of U.S. troops arriving in 2009 will likely prompt retaliation from the Taliban, particularly in Afghanistan's volatile southern region.

"There will be a higher level of violence in 2009 than there was in 2008. I wouldn't actually see a decrease in violence until perhaps the following year when we begin to gain traction with some of the capacity," said Gauthier, who has spent the last several days in meetings.

Gauthier's expectation for an eventual decrease in violence by 2010, however, may seem a little optimistic in the eyes of many analysts and even Afghans themselves, the CBC's David Common reported from Kandahar.

"For many people in Afghanistan, particularly in the south where it has been very violent, it's something that is difficult to believe because there has been so very little stability for some time," Common said. 

Gauthier's comments come as conflict in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the U.S. invaded in 2001, followed shortly by Canada. The number of allied and Afghan troops, as well as civilians, killed in the conflict continues to rise.

Britain announced Monday it had deployed an additional 300 troops to southern Afghanistan to help soldiers there battle a resurgent Taliban. Those troops, redeployed from Cyprus, will remain until at least August, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

In the U.S., president-elect Barack Obama has said he hopes to shift troops from Iraq and bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in the upcoming year. Commanders there want at least 20,000 more troops, while Obama has pledged to send up to 12,000 to complement the more than 30,000 U.S. troops already stationed.

Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them based in the south around Kandahar. Its military mission is slated to end in 2011, despite the U.S. decision to send more troops.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has said Obama's position will have no effect on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to withdraw Canadian Forces from the country.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the bodies of three Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan over the weekend were being flown back to Canada for a formal repatriation ceremony.

Cpl. Thomas James Hamilton, Pte. John Michael Roy Curwin and Pte. Justin Peter Jones, based at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, died Saturday morning when their armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device west of Kandahar city.

The latest deaths brought to six the number of Canadian soldiers killed by explosions in the last 10 days. Canada has now lost 103 soldiers and one diplomat since the military mission began seven years ago.

The recent attacks against Canadian troops in Kandahar province have come during the harsh Afghan winter, when Taliban fighters traditionally have gone back to Pakistan to regroup.

The Canadian military has been using new technology in recent months — including spy drones and X-rays of entire roads — in its attempt to prevent IED attacks, as well as acting on more tips from Afghan citizens who report something out of the ordinary.

With files from the Canadian Press