Canada confident on NATO troops for Afghanistan

Wed Apr 2, 2008 10:37am EDT
 
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By Randall Palmer

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Canada's prime minister expressed confidence on Wednesday that NATO allies would send the reinforcements needed for Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan despite uncertainty over a French deployment.

But Stephen Harper acknowledged French President Nicolas Sarkozy had made "no iron-clad" commitment to NATO on how many troops would be forthcoming, and that it was unclear when any troop pledges would be confirmed.

"I am optimistic ... whether it is at this summit or in the weeks to come. We've had good discussions with allies," Harper told a conference ahead of a NATO summit in Bucharest. "We are very confident."

Canada has threatened to pull its troops out next year unless NATO allies come up with 1,000 soldiers to reinforce them.

Diplomats had expected Sarkozy to offer at the Bucharest summit to send such a number to eastern Afghanistan, which would allow U.S. troops there to redeploy alongside the Canadians.

Harper said that immediate new troop commitments had not been made at the 2006 NATO summit in Riga but that over the next two years twice as many troops were committed to the dangerous Kandahar region.

He acknowledged that Canada's self-imposed deadline looms more quickly, as the country has said it would pull out in February 2009 if it did not receive reinforcements by then.

NATO diplomats see it as unimaginable that the United States would not step up to the plate somehow, particularly as it was establishing infrastructure in Kandahar for its short-term deployment of 3,500 Marines.   Continued...

 
<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>