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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 04:45 GMT
Canada debates Afghanistan troops
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

Canadian soldier in Afghanistan (file picture)
Nato and Afghanistan want Canadian troops to stay on
A debate has begun in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa on the future of the country's troops in Afghanistan.

Since 2002 there have been 2,500 Canadian troops stationed in the volatile southern part of the country.

Seventy-eight Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed, which has divided public opinion back home.

Canada's minority Conservative government wants to extend the mission beyond its current deadline of early 2009 to the end of 2011.

There appears to be growing consensus between the government and the main opposition party.

The Canadian government's confidence motion to extend the country's Afghan mission was one that threatened to bring down the governing Conservatives and send Canadians to the polls.

But it is clear the motion's wording has been designed in a spirit of compromise with the official Liberal opposition party.

'It's our problem'

Leading off the debate, Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay made a passionate appeal for the military presence in Kandahar province to continue.

"Afghanistan, we're reminded time and time again, is not someone else's problem, it's our problem too," he said.

"If Afghanistan were to once again become a safe haven and incubator for terrorism, Canadians and the people we are there to serve, would be in increased danger."

Peter MacCay
Afghanistan is our problem too
Peter MacKay

For his part, liberal leader Stephane Dion took credit for convincing the government to greatly reduce the combat role that has dominated the military campaign.

It has been a sore point here that Canada is one of only a handful of Nato countries to be engaged in counter-insurgency missions in the south of Afghanistan.

Mr Dion warned that Nato is going to have to provide a new rotation in Kandahar.

"It is not reasonable to say that the focus of the mission will change to one of training and reconstruction if there is not somebody else who takes over our offensive military responsibilities."

Both of Canada's smaller opposition parties want the country's troops to come home and oppose the bill.

But with the main opposition Liberals seemingly siding with the government it looks as though the motion will be adopted early next month.

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