Canada says Afghan mission will end in 2011
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government, bowing to a key opposition demand, said on Thursday its military mission in southern Afghanistan would end in 2011 and would not be extended.
The compromise with the main opposition Liberal Party made a new election over the issue much less likely.
"While reiterating our commitment to the U.N. mandate on Afghanistan, it affirms that our commitment is not open-ended," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the prepared text of a speech to the Conference of Defense Associations.
The 2,500-strong mission in the violent southern Kandahar region is currently due to end in February 2009. The government had initially proposed extending this to 2011, at which time the mission would be reviewed.
The Liberals said this was unacceptable and demanded a fixed end date of February 2011. An amended motion presented by the government on Thursday committed Canada to notifying NATO that its presence in Kandahar would end as of July 2011 and troops would be redeployed from the south by December 2011.
Parliament is due to hold a confidence vote on the motion in March.
"It seems clear that we have reached a consensus which can be submitted to Parliament for ratification," said Harper. Liberal leader Stephane Dion was not immediately available for comment.
Harper's government could still in theory fall over its February 26 budget or over a package crime legislation. But the Liberals, lagging in the polls, seem to have a decreasing appetite for triggering a new election. Continued...