NATO Urges Canada to Stay in Afghanistan

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — NATO on Wednesday urged Canada not to pull its troops from Afghanistan’s dangerous Kandahar region and pledged to help find the 1,000 additional allied troops Ottawa is demanding.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday that Canada will only keep its 2,500 troops in Kandahar after their mandate expires next year if it gets more support. The Canadians want other allies to provide an additional 1,000 combat troops, plus helicopters and unmanned surveillance planes, to help the fight against the Taliban in one of Afghanistan’s most risky provinces.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the alliance “will plays its role” in finding that backup.

“NATO thinks Canada is doing a very important and valuable job in Kandahar. We hope Canada will find a way to extend the mission,” he said.

Appathurai said allied defense ministers would discuss Canada’s demand next month in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Troops from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have borne the brunt of a resurgence of Taliban violence in southern Afghanistan over the past year, with support from Denmark, Romania, Estonia and non-NATO nation Australia.

Other major European allies including France, Germany, Italy and Turkey have refused significant numbers of troops to help out in the southern front lines, opening a rift within the alliance.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested that the alliance would find the extra troops if the Canadian parliament backs the recommendation to link an extension of the deployment to the call for reinforcements.

“Let’s wait for the parliamentary debate and then we will certainly have bridges to cross, which we will certainly cross,” he told reporters.

All 26 NATO nations have soldiers serving with the allied force in Afghanistan, which currently stands at 42,000 troops, more than eight times its original strength.

However, military commanders say they remain hamstrung by restrictions that some nations place on what their troops can do — in particular, those that keep troops from several European allies from operating in the most volatile provinces.

“NATO has a long-standing request for … assets to be provided without geographic restrictions,” Appathurai said. “NATO would like to see maximum flexibility.”

The United States this month said it will send an extra 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan from April, including 2,200 combat troops who will bolster the NATO-led counterinsurgency force in the south. However they are only scheduled to deploy for seven months so will not meet Canada’s demand for more backing beyond 2009.

Check Also

From Aerial Strikes to Starvation, Afghanistan’s People Bear the Brunt of the West’s Failed Taliban Tactics

On 26 August last year a former engineering student named Abdul Rahman al-Logari, wearing a …