Reinforced Canada vows to stay in Afghanistan

Thu Apr 3, 2008 6:34pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and David Brunnstrom

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Canada pledged on Thursday to keep its troops in Afghanistan after France offered to bolster the NATO force there, and other world leaders said they were committed to the country for the long haul.

In a joint declaration issued at a summit in Bucharest, the 40 nations of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission confirmed their "firm and shared long-term commitment" to Afghanistan.

"The whole international community, including the United Nations, are behind you," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a joint news conference after meeting President Hamid Karzai.

"The cost of disengagement would be greater than the cost of engagement," Ban said. "It is absolutely necessary that the international community continue to engage so that and until the Afghan government will be able to stand on their own."

The NATO declaration included the goal of helping train an 80,000-strong Afghan army by 2010 as part of what the 26-nation alliance NATO hopes will allow domestic forces to gradually lead more security operations across the country.

Karzai called the vision statement a platform for a "journey towards a more prosperous, stable and secure Afghanistan" and "if addressed fully, will bring about the security the Afghan people are seeking."

Karzai told the news conference Afghanistan would be ready by August to take responsibility for security in Kabul.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed this, but added: "Let us be clear, NATO's presence will be necessary tomorrow and in the long-term."   Continued...

<p>Canadian soldiers from the NATO-led coalition hold positions at first light the day after heavy fighting against insurgents in the Taliban heartland of Sangisar in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, November 18, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>