Troops to stay in Afghanistan past 2014?

Prime Minister Harper has refused to rule out keeping Canadian special operations forces in Afghanistan past the scheduled 2014 end of the Canadian mission.

Harper’s comments were made in response to a report that the United States has asked the Canadian and Australian special forces to remain in Afghanistan to work with U.S. special forces after regular NATO forces have left the country (Steven Chase, “PM plans to ‘examine all options’ on 2014 withdrawal,” Globe and Mail, 25 April 2012):

Stephen Harper is leaving the door open once again to extending Canada’s military participation in the costly Afghanistan war.

When the Official Opposition NDP pressed the Prime Minister on Wednesday about reports the United States has asked Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Mr. Harper said the government would “examine all options.”…

If the Prime Minister extended Canada’s military deployment beyond 2014, it would be the fourth time he has prolonged the soldiering commitment to Afghanistan – including 2006, 2008 and 2010.

David Pugliese, the journalist who uncovered the U.S. request, has more on the story (“U.S. wants Canadian troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014: Special forces could stay past withdrawal,” Postmedia News, 25 April 2012):

U.S. and Canadian officials are in talks over a Pentagon request to keep Canadian special forces in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal the Conservative government promised.

The U.S. has devised a plan to leave thousands of its special forces troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to both train Afghan soldiers and hunt insurgent leaders.

It has asked both Australia and Canada to contribute special forces for both of those missions.

Australia has announced it will bring its troops home from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned, with most soldiers withdrawn in 2013. But Australia’s prime minister already has signalled that her country is open to “provide niche training to the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014.”

“We are prepared to consider a limited special forces contribution – in the right circumstances and under the right mandate,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

Asked to comment on the U.S. request, Jay Paxton, spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said “the government has been clear that the role of the Canadian Forces will be in a non-combat role until 2014. The ultimate objective is to help Afghans rebuild Afghanistan into a viable country that is better governed, more stable and secure and never again a safe haven for terrorists.”

Under the Pentagon plan, U.S. army Green Berets would conduct much of the training. Soldiers from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment have in the past worked closely with the Green Berets in training foreign troops.

Russia has also called for the U.S. and other NATO countries to remain in Afghanistan.

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