OTTAWA – Canada’s minority Conservative government, bowing to a key opposition demand, said on Thursday its military mission in southern Afghanistan would end in 2011 and would not be extended.
The compromise with the opposition Liberal Party made an early election over the issue much less likely.
The 2,500-strong mission in the violent southern Kandahar region is currently due to end in February 2009. The government had initially proposed extending this to 2011, at which time it said the mission would be reviewed.
The Liberals dismissed this as unacceptable and demanded a fixed end date of February 2011. An amended motion presented by the government on Thursday committed Canada to notifying NATO that its presence in Kandahar would end as of July 2011 and troops would be redeployed from the south by December 2011.
Parliament is due to hold a confidence vote on the motion before a summit of NATO leaders in early April.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government could still in theory fall over its February 26 budget or over crime legislation. But the Liberals, lagging in the polls, seem to have a decreasing appetite for triggering a new election.
Harper won the January 2006 election, ending more than 12 years of Liberal rule.
Harper made clear last month that Canada would only extend the mission to 2011 if NATO committed 1,000 more troops to the Kandahar region.
So far 78 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.