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Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 11:57 UK

Canada Afghan mission 'ends 2011'

By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

Stephen Harper
Mr Harper currently leads a minority Conservative government

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to withdraw most of Canada's troops from Afghanistan when their current mandate ends in 2011.

Mr Harper made the promise as he campaigned for the 14 October election.

Canada has 2,500 troops stationed in Kandahar in Afghanistan's volatile south as part of the Nato-led mission.

Mr Harper has spoken about changing Canada's priorities in Afghanistan but this is the first time he has spoken definitively of a 2011 pull-out.

"We're planning our withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011. At that point, the mission... as we've known it, we intend to end it, " Mr Harper told reporters in Toronto.

He said that by 2011, Canadians will have been in Kandahar for six years. He acknowledged that neither the public nor the troops themselves had any appetite to stay longer and that only a small group of advisers might remain.

Mr Harper made his pledge as recent opinion polls showed that there was lukewarm public support for the mission.

Canada has lost 97 soldiers and a diplomat in Afghanistan.

Mr Harper faces the very real possibility of the number of Canadian soldiers killed there rising to the symbolic figure of 100 during the election campaign.

It is unclear what impact the Canadian withdrawal would have on the Nato mission in Afghanistan, which has had difficulty convincing some member countries to commit troops to the more volatile south.




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