October 14, 2009 / 2:39 PM / in 8 years

Afghanistan a serious, desperate situation: Canada

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Afghanistan is in a “serious, desperate situation” which constitutes a major emergency, Canada’s top commander on the ground said in a frank interview broadcast Wednesday.

<p>A Canadian soldier of the NATO-led coalition looks at an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) exploding in the Taliban stronghold of Zhari district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan March 19, 2009. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>

Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance made his remarks at the end of a 25-minute interview with the CBC which looked at the tasks confronting Canada’s 2,700 strong mission in southern Afghanistan.

So far 131 soldiers have died and a recent poll showed more than half Canadians oppose the mission, which is due to end in 2011. Vance said one of his greatest challenges was communicating to Canadians what the troops were doing in Afghanistan and why.

“It’s not to sugar coat anything, and it’s certainly not to make the mission seem better than it is. It’s a serious, desperate situation. It’s a major emergency,” he said.

“But (I) ... try and put all of that into some sort of context such that people -- whether they believe we should be here or not -- at least they understand.”

Canada’s Parliament voted last year to extend the mission to 2011 from the original 2009 end date. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has no plans to ask for another extension.

Colin Kenny, a member of the opposition Liberal Party who chairs the Senate’s national security and defense committee, last month said Canada was “hurtling toward a Vietnam ending” and he called for the troops to be pulled out.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman

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