Canada to shift Afghan combat mission to training

Tue Nov 16, 2010 5:42pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Up to 950 Canadian troops will train Afghan army recruits from 2011 to March 2014, maintaining a particular focus on solving the "huge problem" of low literacy levels, the government said on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay made the comments at a news conference to confirm that Ottawa will help train Afghan soldiers once Canada's combat mission ends in 2011.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the training program last week, saying to leave Afghanistan now would run the risk of damaging the progress made so far.

The head of NATO's training mission said last month the alliance was short of around 900 specialist instructors to help prepare Afghan forces. MacKay acknowledged many Afghan recruits could neither count nor read.

"There is still a huge problem in terms of illiteracy rates," MacKay said. Canadian trainers already in place "are now focusing specifically on this issue of illiteracy, and education more broadly, in an effort to elevate their capacity".

The focus on education is helping Afghan authorities cut desertion rates and make the forces more professional, MacKay added. He stressed the combat mission would end in 2011 and said the trainers would not be stationed in combat zones.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he warmly welcomed the decision.

"This Canadian contribution of hundreds of trainers will help the Afghan security forces to more quickly become capable of securing their own country against terrorism and extremism," he said in a statement.   Continued...

<p>Canadian soldiers head out on a patrol during an operation in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, September 20, 2009. Picture taken September 20, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>