Canada threatens to pull soldiers from Afghanistan

Mon Jan 28, 2008 4:34pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will pull its 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan early next year unless NATO sends in significant reinforcements, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday, signaling Ottawa has lost patience with what it sees as foot-dragging by allies.

The minority Conservative government wants the soldiers to stay beyond their current withdrawal date of February 2009 but in another potential threat to the mission, the main opposition Liberal Party expressed doubts about the idea of an extension.

Harper, who is exasperated at the refusal of many other NATO nations to commit more troops to Afghanistan, said the Alliance's failure to provide enough forces meant the whole future of the organization was under serious threat.

So far, 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have died since Ottawa deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2002.

Harper said he accepted the recommendations of an independent panel which last week urged Canada to end its mission in the southern city of Kandahar unless NATO provided an extra 1,000 troops and Ottawa obtained helicopters and aerial reconnaissance vehicles.

"For this mission to go forward and achieve its objectives and be successful, we do have the need for a substantial increase in combat troops and particular needs in terms of military equipment," Harper told a news conference.

"Both of those recommendations will have to be fulfilled or Canada will not proceed with the mission in Afghanistan. We believe these are essential to our success."

Harper, saying he was "always optimistic on these things," said he would raise Canada's demand for more troops before NATO leaders hold a summit in Bucharest in early April.   Continued...

<p>A Canadian soldier from the NATO-led coalition heads into battle against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan November 17, 2007. Canada will pull out of Afghanistan next year unless NATO sends more troops, but the government would prefer to extend the mission beyond the current withdrawal date of February 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>