Canada's top soldier says will step down in July

Tue Apr 15, 2008 4:38pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's top soldier, who has clashed with the government over the 2,500-strong military mission to Afghanistan, said on Tuesday he would step down in July after more than three years in the job.

General Rick Hillier's initial three-year term as chief of the defense staff expired in February and many had expected that he would stay on.

"I believe you will now be best served by the invigoration of new leadership, with the vision, energy, and strength to lead you through the challenges that will lie ahead," he said in a statement to the armed forces.

Hillier, 52, told the National Post newspaper earlier in the day that there was no truth to the suggestions the Conservative government had put pressure on him to leave.

"If anything, the pressure was the other way, to keep me around," he said in remarks published on the paper's website.

Hillier, a colorful character who is enormously popular with the rank and file of the armed forces and was always happy to speak to reporters, was outspoken about the need to build up Canada's military and never hesitated to chide politicians he felt were being obstructive or unhelpful.

"We've achieved the irreversible momentum that I wanted to have ... I'm quite comfortable that I can leave on a high," he told the Post.

Last October, rumors circulated in Ottawa that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was seeking to replace Hillier with a more low-profile candidate. Harper denied this was the case and Hillier said he still had things he wanted to achieve.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier laughs as he looks at the NHL's Stanley Cup at Kandahar airbase March 19, 2008. REUTERS/MCpl Bruno Turcotte/Department of National Defence/Handout</p>