New Canada commander won't change Afghan strategy

Fri Jun 6, 2008 2:24pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The officer who will soon take over command of Canada's armed forces made clear on Friday there would be no change in his troops' strategy in Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers clash frequently with the Taliban.

"We've got a great strategy that's happening right now," said General Walt Natynczyk, who will become chief of defense staff next month.

"The amount of progress that we have made from the past three years, 2-1/2 years, actually, is remarkable."

Critics say Canada's 2,500-strong mission spends too much time fighting the Taliban and not enough helping rebuild the country. So far, 84 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

Natynczyk will replace Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, who has been a vocal defender of the troops and who has also raised hackles by criticizing politicians he felt were not doing enough for the military.

Natynczyk, a 30-year veteran, commanded Canadian troops in Bosnia and spent 15 months in Iraq as deputy commanding general of the U.S.-led Multi-National Corps. He said the fight against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan is almost identical.

"The tactics, the techniques and procedures are exactly the same and the risks are too," he said.

The Canadian mission in Afghanistan is due to end in 2011.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)