Canada to continue military role in Kabul

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to maintain Canada's military presence in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 13:01 IST

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged on Monday to maintain Canada's military presence in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.

"Your work is about more than just defending Canada's national interests. Your work is also about demonstrating an international leadership role for our country," Harper said in remarks during a visit to Kandahar, broadcast on CBC television.

"You can't lead from the bleachers. I want Canada to be a leader," he told about 1,000 Canadian soldiers at their base in the volatile region.

Canada deployed 2,300 troops in Kandahar last month and took command of an international force hunting down elements of the ousted Taliban regime and their Islamist allies, including Al-Qaeda's terror network.

"There may be some who want to cut and run. But cutting and running is not your way. It is not my way, and it is not the Canadian way," Harper said, rejecting growing unease at home over Canada's more robust military role in Afghanistan.

"We don't make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble."

Canadian generals have said the international coalition must stay in Afghanistan for ten years to help rebuild and establish security.

This prompted Canadian opposition lawmakers to demand the mission be debated in parliament as casualties mount and public support wanes.

Ten Canadian soldiers and a senior Canadian diplomat have been killed in accidents or attacks since late 2001 when the United States ousted the hardline Taliban over their refusal to surrender Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

A poll in February found that 62 per cent of Canadians did not support the deployment in Afghanistan but Harper insisted the mission was critical for global security.

"The international community recognises that it's a long term project. We're here for the long term," Harper said on Monday.

Harper arrived on Sunday for the unannounced visit, accompanied by Canada's Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and General Rick Hillier, the chief of the Defence Staff.

According to Canadian media, Harper will meet with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul before returning home on Wednesday.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 12:55 IST