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Central & South Asia
Canada extends Afghan mission
Troops will remain in Kandahar for three years if Nato provides reinforcements.
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2008 05:30 GMT
Canadian soldiers secure the site of a suicide bomb attack on a military convoy in Kandahar [EPA]

Canada's parliament has voted to extend its 2,500-strong troop deployment in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, as long as Nato allies back them up.
Lawmakers voted 198 to 77 to keep Canadian battalions in Kandahar for another three years, provided Nato sends 1,000 reinforcements, drones and helicopters to bolster Canada's force now on the ground, as requested.
 
Otherwise, Canada will withdraw next year at the end of its current mandate.
The outcome of the vote was closely watched by Nato countries, concerned that if Canada rejected an extension of its military mission, an allied exodus of Afghanistan could follow.
 
And failure in Afghanistan could jeopardise the alliance itself, officials have warned.
 
"We need one partner...that will be able to work with us in the south...without any caveats," Maxime Bernier, foreign affairs minister, said late on Wednesday, describing the next challenge for Canada.
 
"Who is going to give us troops, who is going to be our partner, I don't know that," he told reporters. "But I am optimistic because it is important for the credibility of the [Nato] organisation."
 
Nato meets this April in Romania's capital, Bucharest.
 
Rising casualties
 
"I hope that in the coming days or weeks we will find this partner because at the end of the day, it's not Canada's need, it's Nato's need," Bernier said.
 
"If we don't succeed in the south we won't be able to succeed in Afghanistan."
 
Canada is battling Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan's volatile south as part of the 50,000-strong Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
 
Like a dozen countries represented in the Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand provinces, where opium cultivation is flourishing, Canada is taking heavy casualties that are feeding public dissatisfaction at home.
 
Since 2002, 80 Canadian soldiers and a senior diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan.
 
More support 
 
The main contributors to post-Taliban Afghanistan - notably Britain and the United States - have called for more "burden-sharing" in the war against the rebels.
 
Canadian troops are battling Taliban and
al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan's south[EPA]
The United States has already pledged an additional 2,200 soldiers and aircraft to this effort and 1,000 military trainers to help build up the Afghan army to eventually take over security duties, for deployment next month.
 
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, head of Nato, has said that ISAF has swollen by 8,700 soldiers over the past year and he is confident of more support in the coming year.
 
But, so far, only France and Poland have hinted to Ottawa that they may send more help.
 
John Manley, former Liberal deputy prime minister who headed a panel of experts, said on Tuesday the 1,000 additional troops called for in the panel's report were only the "minimum" needed.
 
"Obviously if there were more, that would make it more likely that the mission could succeed," he said.
 
The mission extension itself was opposed by the New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois, egged on by peace activists chanting from the parliamentary public gallery as the vote unfolded: "End it, don't extend it."
 
"Bipartisan consensus"
 
Had they succeeded in defeating the motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government would have collapsed and Canada would be plunged into an election as early as April, with uncertain consequences for the mission.
 
But the main opposition Liberals sided with the government, once its demands to emphasise development and diplomacy were met.
 
"I think it's a bipartisan consensus...which is a very important signal to come from the parliament of Canada," Peter MacKay, defence minister, declared after the vote. "I know it will be well-received by our Nato allies."
 
Bernier at his side echoed: "We now have a mission that's not a Conservative or a Liberal mission, but a Canadian mission."
 
Jack Layton, New Democrats leader, lamented that MPs had "rejected a road to peace".
Source:
Agencies
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