Taliban sees Canada vulnerable for now: general

Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:25pm EST
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Taliban may have mounted suicide attacks on Canadian troops this week expressly to dissuade Parliament from extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, Canada's outspoken top soldier said on Friday.

Chief of the defense staff Gen. Rick Hillier also said it was important for the Canadian Forces to be given a clear mandate for its future role in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

"We are, in the eyes of the Taliban, in a window of extreme vulnerability. The longer we go without that clarity, with the issue in doubt, the more the Taliban will target us as a perceived weak link," Hillier said in a speech.

He said he could not exclude the idea that Taliban strikes this past week were designed to frighten Canada out of prolonging its 2,500-strong mission beyond the current expiry date of February 2009.

"Certainly there's a perception out there that the Taliban will try to take advantage of the debate back here and will try to prevent a cohesive mission," he said.

All three opposition parties had opposed an extension of a combat mission in the violent southern part of the country, but the minority Conservative government has now reached a deal with the main opposition Liberal Party to set a fixed end date of July 2011.

However, Parliament will not vote on that compromise until next month. It is theoretically possible that the government could fall in the meantime over the federal budget it will introduce on February 26.

With little Liberal appetite for triggering an election, that scenario looks increasingly unlikely but if the government were to fall, this would prevent parliamentary approval of the Afghan extension and it would then become an election issue.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier delivers a speech during the Conference of Defence Associations annual general meeting in Ottawa February 22, 2008. REUTERS/Christopher Pike</p>