Canadian Foreign Minister David Emerson, who finished his two-day visit to Afghanistan, assured Afghan leaders that the new thrust of his country's engagement was on the development of the war-torn country.
The minister, back from Kabul Saturday, also announced to raise the troop levels by 200. These extra troops will man unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters that Ottawa plans to send in the coming months. With 2,500 deployed in the most troublesome province of Kandahar, Canada is the third largest contributor to the NATO-led international force. It has lost 88 troops so far.
Because of these relatively high casualties, the Canadian mission has been under fire from opposition parties and the public for some time now. The mission, which was to end in 2009, has now been extended till 2011.
Amid reports of Taliban resurgence, the foreign minister is the second high-ranking Canadian to visit Afghanistan this month. The new armed forces chief, Gen Walter Natynczyk, spent five days in Afghanistan earlier this month to assess the situation.
With Ottawa announcing six `priorities' and three new `signature' projects in June, Canada's engagement in Afghanistan has taken a new direction with thrust now on development.
In a statement, Emerson said, "The dedication, ingenuity and resilience of our civilian and military team on the ground are having a positive effect, both in Kandahar and across the country. Working with the Afghan government and the international community, we are moving forward and improving the lives of ordinary citizens."
The minister, who visited Canadian-promoted projects in Kandahar, said these projects will provide Afghans with basic services such as water, education and health care before 2011 when their mission ends.
During his meetings with President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, Emerson reiterated Canada's ``commitment to working with the Afghan government, its people, the International Security Assistance Force and the international community'' to bring peace to Afghanistan.