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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Canada woman dies in Afghan raid
Capt Nichola Goddard
Capt Goddard is Canada's 16th military fatality in Afghanistan
A female Canadian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan in clashes with suspected Taleban militants.

The death was the 16th fatality among Canadian troops in Afghanistan. A senior diplomat was killed in January.

The latest death was confirmed as parliament began debating a government proposal to extend Canada's involvement in Afghanistan by two years, to 2009.

Canada has some 2,300 peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, but opposition parties want to block the proposal.

The country stayed out of the war, but has steadily increased its involvement in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taleban in late 2001. It is part of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told MPs his conservative government would unilaterally extend the country's military mission by one year, even if parliament votes against the two-year extension.

"If we are surprised by the results of the vote I don't think it's feasible for Canada to simply walk away," Mr Harper said.

"We would proceed cautiously for a year. If we believe we need to go further beyond that we will seek the mandate from the Canadian people."

Political opposition

Canada's defence ministry named the dead soldier as Capt Nichola Goddard.

She was killed in clashes some 25km (15 miles) west of the southern city of Kandahar, a centre for Taleban insurgents.

"I don't know if this is a first, a female combat death. It's certainly not a first that we ever want to celebrate," Mr Harper told parliament.

Mr Harper heads a minority government and needs the support of opposition parties to push plans to extend the troop mandate through parliament.

The main opposition Liberal party said it would allow its members a free vote on the issue.

Two other opponents, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic party, both said they would vote against the move.

The result of the vote is non-binding, but correspondents say it could harm Canadian ambitions to assume command of Isaf later this year.

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