Canada to send Chinooks, unmanned planes to Afghanistan

Sat May 31, 2008 1:46am EDT
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By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada will move helicopters and unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan to increase surveillance of roads, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Saturday, as the Taliban stepped up attacks in spite of a large NATO force in the country.

Canadian troops are based in the southern province of Kandahar and have seen some of the highest casualties as 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the United States battle the Taliban-led insurgency.

MacKay told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference that six to 10 medium-heavy lift helicopters, such as Chinooks, and some unmanned aircraft would be delivered to Afghanistan by February 2009.

"Hopefully we are going to have some of that equipment arrive late summer, early fall and our intention is to have all that equipment in place by February 2009."

MacKay said the unmanned aircraft would be used to patrol roads used by Canada and her allies. Canada would also move staff to Afghanistan to man the equipment.

Eighty Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, and its mission in Afghanistan is due to end in February 2009. But the government has agreed to remain until 2011 if another NATO country agrees to supply the added troops.

"There is no intention before July of 2011 for us to remove troops," MacKay said.

He also said that he did not think a change of government in the United States would affect Canada's Afghan involvement.

"I believe we are on a very strong path for the future, regardless of who occupies the White House."

(Editing by Jan Dahinten and Valerie Lee)

<p>Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 15, 2008. REUTERS/Christopher Pike</p>