U.S. wants Canada to keep small Afghan force: report

Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:25am EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The United States will ask Canada to keep as many as 600 soldiers in Afghanistan after the country's military mission there ends in 2011, the Globe and Mail newspaper said on Thursday.

The paper, citing unidentified sources, said the troops would serve as military trainers and would be most likely based in Kabul. The U.S. request would come through NATO, it added.

Although Ottawa says it will withdraw all 2,800 soldiers serving in the violent southern Afghan city of Kandahar, Washington has been pressing Canada behind the scenes to show more flexibility.

The Conservative government has made clear that Parliament will have the last word on any proposed deployment of troops abroad. Parliament adopted a resolution in 2008 saying the combat mission would end by December 2011.

"We have been clear in stating that Canada's military mission will end in 2011. Officials are examining Canada's potential non-military role post-2011," said a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.

"We have not received a request of this nature from the United States. The question is speculative."

The minority Conservative government would need the support of at least one other party in the House of Commons to approve an extension of the Afghan mission. The main opposition Liberals are the most likely supporters, but there is no guarantee they would agree to the U.S. request.

So far, 140 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan and polls show public support for the mission is fading.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>A gunner of a Canadian Chinook helicopter watches from the back deck while flying over Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 17, 2010. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov</p>