NATO must do more in southern Afghanistan: Canada

Wed Jul 30, 2008 3:07pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - NATO members must send more troops to southern Afghanistan, where Canada and a few other nations are bearing the brunt of combat against Taliban militants, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Wednesday.

Canada, which has 2,500 soldiers in the southern city of Kandahar and plans to send around 200 more, has long complained that many NATO members refuse to send soldiers to the most dangerous parts of the country.

"We're doing enough ... but NATO has to do more," MacKay told reporters in televised comments from Levis, Quebec.

"Southern Afghanistan is the flash point in this mission. It's the most vulnerable, the most volatile part of the country ... we're not going to let up or relent on our request for other NATO countries to come to the south," he said.

The majority of soldiers fighting in southern Afghanistan are U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch.

Canada's mission in Kandahar is due to end in 2011. So far 88 of its soldiers have died.

The extra 200 troops will maintain and operate unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters that Canada has pledged to buy before February 2009.

MacKay said that, in the interim, Canada was leasing between six and eight Russian-made Mil Mi-8 helicopters as well as an unspecified number of UAVs.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion PPCLA (Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) out of Edmonton, Canada patrol an area during an operation in the Zharey district, Southern Afghanistan May 20, 2008. REUTERS/Peter Andrews</p>