CHICAGO — Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan will come to a firm end in March 2014, the prime minister said Monday at the close of the NATO summit.
Though Canada will continue to financially support the Afghan army, there will be no boots on the ground once the NATO-led mission there comes to a close, Stephen Harper said.
“The time has come,” Harper said.
“All the benchmarks, all the milestones are being met to make this possible.”
Harper’s announcement came as NATO and its partner nations formally agreed that Afghan security forces would take control of any combat next summer with NATO sliding into a support role until 2014.
They expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan security forces to take the lead a year earlier than originally planned.
“Transition means the people of Afghanistan increasingly see their own army and police in their towns and villages providing their security,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“This is an important sign of progress toward our shared goal: an Afghanistan governed and secured by Afghans for Afghans.”
The arc of Harper’s views on Afghanistan might have been summed in his body language as he and other NATO leaders began their final day of meetings to discuss the alliance’s problem child.
Harper was once the strongest proponent of the war in Afghanistan, vowing Canada woudn’t cut and run.
But at the meeting, he rocked back and forth in his chair and didn’t even bother to stifle a yawn.
“If you asked me frankly, would I wish it was earlier, I would say yes,” Harper said of the 2014 final pullout.
“But I think we’re doing it as early as is feasible.”
Harper wasn’t alone in his fatigue.
Domestic political and economic pressures have made it unpalatable for many of NATO’s 28 member nations and partner states to continue playing a combat role in Afghanistan after more than a decade of conflict.
They declared in a summit communique that while NATO will maintain a significant presence in Afghanistan after 2014, “this will not be a combat mission.”
The presence will include a financial commitment to the Afghan military, which is estimated to need $4.1 billion a year to run.
Canada will contribute $110 million a year for 2015 to 2018.
It had been reported that Canada had been asked to contribute $125 million, but Harper called the decided-upon sum generous.
“The money we are putting into this is to the Afghan military,” he said, addressing concerns about financial corruption in the country.
“We are not going to see it used for some other purpose.”
He also insisted the money wasn’t merely a goodbye gift to Afghanistan.
“We are all determined that the Taliban receive the message that this is not an abandonment of Afghanistan,” he said.
“This is a transition to Afghan responsibility but none of us will rest. We will make the contributions necessary to ensure the Taliban does not reassert control over this country.”
Canada currently has around 950 soldiers in Afghanistan involved in training the military.
They were assigned to that role following the end of Canada’s involvement in combat missions in 2011.
Canada had been asked to consider leaving some trainers in the country after 2014, but Fogh Rasmussen said he respects Harper’s decision.
“At the end of the day, it is a national decision whether a country wants to deploy troops or trainers,” he said.