OTTAWA (Reuters) - The United States would like Canada to keep some of its troops in Afghanistan once its combat mission there ends next year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
In response, Canada reiterated its position that it will withdraw all 2,800 soldiers currently stationed in the southern city of Kandahar by the end of 2011.
“We would obviously like to see some form of support continue because the Canadian forces have a great reputation. They work really well with our American troops and the other members of our coalition,” Clinton told CTV television.
“We would very much look forward to having Canada involved in any way that you think appropriate,” said Clinton, who was in Ottawa for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading nations.
Her remarks followed what diplomats say has been an energetic campaign behind the scenes to pressure Ottawa, one of Washington’s closest allies.
Canada has lost 140 soldiers so far in Afghanistan and polls show public support for the mission is fading.
“We have been clear from the beginning in stating that Canada’s military mission will end in 2011,” said Catherine Loubier, chief spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.
“Canada will (then) continue to have an ongoing development and diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan through the Canadian embassy in Kabul.”
The Globe and Mail newspaper said last week that Washington would ask Canada to keep as many as 600 soldiers in the country to serve as military trainers.
“The military could switch more into a training role instead of a combat role, a logistics support role instead of front-line combat,” said Clinton, who also mentioned initiatives to boost Afghan development and governance.
“Canada has a particular commitment to and experience with that kind of development work that would be very useful,” she said.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson