Canada to keep up to 950 troops and support staff in Afghanistan until 2014

Canada will keep up to 950 soldiers and support staff in Afghanistan on a training mission after the current combat role ends in July, the government announced today.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon (centre)

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon (centre)

OTTAWA — Canada will keep up to 950 soldiers and support staff in Afghanistan on a training mission after the current combat role ends in July, the government announced today.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the “non-combat” troops will also provide humanitarian aid. They will be stationed in the Kabul area and will stay until 2014.

The precise makeup of the Canadian contingent will be decided after consultation with NATO allies.

“After 2011, our efforts will be centred in Kabul,” Cannon said. “We shall dedicate ourselves to development, diplomacy, and a non-combat role in training members of the Afghan National Security Forces.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Canadian troops will not go out on missions with their trainees. He said the new mission will cost the military up to $500 million a year. The move will cost $85 million.

The government will spend another $100 million a year over three years on development and aid.

The government says the mission extension does not require formal parliamentary approval, but the NDP is making a concerted push for a Commons vote.

New Democrat MP Jack Harris called the extension a “function of mission creep” and said it’s “laughable” to suggest the new undertaking is already covered by previous parliamentary votes.

“We’ve been there nine years now,” Harris said. “We were supposedly there for a few months, then we were there for six months, then we were there etc., etc.”

On Monday, NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Conservative government and Liberal Opposition of conspiring to keep military trainers in Afghanistan without Parliament’s approval.

Meanwhile, the Liberals continued to press for firm details of the plan.

The prime minister’s chief spokesman said Monday that the decision to extend training to 2014 brings Canada in line with the new target date set out by the United States and other allies to begin turning security responsibilities over to Afghans.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said combat operations and training are crucial to reaching the goal of drawing down western military forces in Afghanistan by 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants his country’s security forces to be able to take the lead in protecting their citizens by 2014.

In South Korea last week, Harper confirmed he reluctantly decided that Canada would keep military trainers in Afghanistan three years beyond 2011.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said his party supports a military training mission for Canada post-2011 but wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to provide further details.

Liberal insiders say the party has not ruled out using its opposition day on Thursday to force a debate and vote on extending the mission.

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