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Canada debates US request to stay in Afghanistan

Canada, Australia asked to keep special forces behind after 2014 mission ends.

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Canadian soldiers march at Forward Fire Base Masum Ghar in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on July 5, 2011. The US has asked Canada and Australia to keep forces in Afghanistan past the expected 2014 end of the NATO mission. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadians are debating a US request to keep Special Forces in Afghanistan past the 2014 end of the NATO mission there, the Ottawa Citizen reported today.

Canada has transitioned into a non-combat role in Afghanistan, opting to help train local police and security forces. About 900 Canadian troops are still in the Middle East nation.

Canadian soldiers were to withdraw completely with NATO; however, the American military is concerned the Afghans won’t be ready to stand on their own and asked Canada and Australia to consider keeping Special Forces behind.

The issue is contentious in Canada. The mission’s cost – in lives and dollars – was too steep for many, and the government promised to withdraw.

Canada’s defence ministry denied anything has changed.

“The government has been clear that the role of the Canadian forces will be in a non-combat role until 2014,” spokesman Jay Paxton told the Citizen.

“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.”

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his Conservative government does what’s best for Canada, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Harper said he will review “all options and take the decision that is in the best interests of this country and in the best interests of our (global) security interests,” according to the Journal.

That isn’t sitting well with the opposition, the National Post reported today.

Thomas Mulcair said his New Democrat party supports a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, and accused Harper of backtracking.

“It was supposed to end in 2006, then it was supposed to end in 2009 … then in 2011,” Mulcair said, according to the Post. “When will it finally end?”

Canada’s Special Forces are highly regarded around the world for their expertise, the Post said, and have worked closely with American troops in the past.

They didn’t lose any soldiers in direct combat during a 10-year mission to Afghanistan, according to the Post.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/120425/canada-debates-us-request-stay-afghanistan