Canada military says all Afghan troops out by end-2011

Tue Dec 8, 2009 12:36pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's top soldier confirmed on Tuesday that the country's entire 2,800-strong military mission in Afghanistan would be withdrawn by the end of 2011, appearing to dash U.S. hopes that some of the troops might remain.

The minority Conservative government has long insisted it will obey a parliamentary motion that said the mission in the southern city of Kandahar would terminate in 2011.

Critics, however, say the wording of the motion leaves open the possibility that some soldiers could stay on to protect development projects or train Afghan troops, or be reassigned to somewhere else in the country.

General Walt Natynczyk, the chief of Canada's defense staff, said the combat mission would formally end in June 2011 and the last of the troops would be out by December of that year.

"The parliamentary motion indicates that all Canadian Forces members would leave Kandahar by December 2011 ... we're going to be true to that motion," Natynczyk told a House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan.

Pressed as to whether the troops would leave both Kandahar and Afghanistan at the end of 2011, Natynczyk responded: "It's clear (the motion means) the end of the mission in Kandahar for all the soldiers and secondly, the end of the military mission in Afghanistan."

Diplomats say the United States has pressed Canada privately to keep some of its troops behind.

On Monday, a Pentagon official said Washington wanted Canada to "stay with us" despite the withdrawal plans.   Continued...

<p>Canadian soldiers keep watch during a joint foot patrol with U.S. and Afghan National army in Arghandab district, Kandahar province October 31, 2009. REUTERS/ Omar Sobhani</p>