(AFP) – Oct 7, 2008
OTTAWA (AFP) — NATO-led forces alone cannot bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday, a week before Canada votes in a general election.
"I don't believe -- and I've said many times I don't believe -- that we can pacify every corner of Afghanistan as foreign troops," said Harper in an interview with CBC television.
"I don't think it's viable, knowing the history of Afghanistan, what we know about it, to believe that foreigners are going to be able to run Afghanistan or Afghan security on an ongoing basis."
Harper added: "What we can do is establish some basic security and train the Afghan security forces to gradually accept responsibility for the day-to-day security of their country."
To reach this goal, the Conservative leader said, a timeline for a transition of security responsibilities should be set.
Canada maintains 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
But since they first deployed in 2002, 97 Canadian troops have died in roadside blasts and in fighting with Taliban insurgents. Two Canadian aid workers and a senior diplomat have also been killed.
Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Canadian oppose the Afghanistan mission, while Harper has expressed frustration at the failure of NATO allies to commit more troops and resources to ISAF.
In March, the House of Commons approved prolonging Canada's presence in Afghanistan to 2011, and at the start of the election campaign Harper ruled out any extension beyond that date.
The main opposition Liberals, who were in government when Canada agreed to send troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, support a 2011 withdrawal.
The smaller New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois want an immediate exit.
Harper said Tuesday: "My judgment is if we have an open-ended commitment, we are never going to make the transition to Afghan security. So I think setting the timeline is part and parcel of accomplishing the mission."
"I don't think anybody can accuse Canada of cutting and running for a mission we will, by that point, have been on for nearly a decade."
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