Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Canada mulls Afghanistan role

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE A report from the Senate's defense committee said stabilizing the country could take decades and suggested Ottawa pull out if allies don't put up


Canada should consider withdrawing from Afghanistan unless its NATO allies deliver additional troops to the international mission, a Senate of Canada committee recommended on Monday.

In its 45-page report, the Senate's national security and defense committee described the mission of stabilizing Afghanistan as an uphill battle that could take decades.

It also described the mission as a major test for NATO in the post-Cold War era -- and suggested Canada should consider a pullout if other NATO countries refuse to pitch in more troops.

"We expect the allies to step up," said Senator Colin Kenny, the committee chair.

"They must know that if they're not going to step up, we're going to take another look at the situation. It's an alliance and everyone is expected to be shoulder-to-shoulder on this," he told reporters at a news conference.

The reluctance of Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Turkey to provide more combat troops in southern Afghanistan has irked countries on the front lines, raising concern over a possible split within the alliance.

The seven NATO nations with troops in the Taliban's southern heartland -- the US, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania and Estonia -- held meetings on the sidelines of the alliance gathering in Seville, Spain, on Friday.

Canada has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. UK and US soldiers make up more than half of the 35,000-strong NATO force there.

The UK and the US on Friday played down talk of a rift in with their NATO allies over their reluctance to commit more troops to Afghanistan.

"I frankly think that that difference has been exaggerated," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said after holding talks with his French counterpart.

"I think we see eye to eye," he said.

But Canada has long called for more troops in Afghanistan, noting that its military is limited and already overextended.

Kenny said that Canadian diplomats and military officials had estimated that it might take anywhere from two decades to five generations to stabilize the country.

Kenny, a Liberal Party member, said anyone who expects a sophisticated, Western-style democracy to develop quickly is "dreaming in Technicolor."

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also called on NATO allies to step up their troop commitments, though he frequently couches his demands by saying that Canadians believe the fight against terrorism includes weeding out the Taliban from southern Afghanistan.

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