Canada should consider end to Afghan mission: panel

Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:18pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada should withdraw its 2,500-strong military mission from southern Afghanistan next year unless NATO sends reinforcements to the area, an independent panel said on Tuesday.

The troops are due out in February 2009 and so far, 77 Canadian soldiers have died. Polls show growing unease about the mission's future and Ottawa is exasperated that NATO allies are refusing to contribute more troops.

The panel said extra NATO soldiers would allow Canada to shift its focus gradually from combat to training Afghan national security forces.

NATO is already struggling to persuade member states to send more forces to dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

The minority Conservative government could fall over the issue since Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that Parliament will have the final say on withdrawing the troops.

He wants to keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan until at least 2011, but the three opposition parties are against the idea of the combat mission lasting beyond February 2009.

The panel said the troops, based in the city of Kandahar, should stay longer, provided NATO contributes reinforcements and the government acquires medium helicopters and unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles.

Panel chairman, John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, said Canada should insist that NATO send a battle group of at least 1,000 soldiers.   Continued...

<p>Former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister John Manley (L) pauses after presenting Prime Minister Stephen Harper with the report from the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan, in Harper's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>