Obama thanks Canada for Afghan effort

OTTAWA - U.S. President Barack Obama says he's not pressing Canada to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond its 2011 deadline.

OTTAWA - U.S. President Barack Obama says he's not pressing Canada to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond its 2011 deadline.

During his brief Ottawa visit Thursday, Obama told reporters he simply thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Canada's "extraordinary effort" in the volatile country.

Asked by a visiting American reporter about Washington's commitment to Afghanistan, the U.S. president made a point of praising Canada's contribution.

Obama noted 108 Canadian soldiers have died in the fight against the Taliban, and that Afghanistan is Canada's largest foreign-aid recipient.

"I certainly did not press the prime minister on any additional commitments beyond the ones that have already been made," he said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

"There's been extraordinary effort there, and we just wanted to make sure that we're saying thank you."

Obama has committed 17,000 extra American soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan beyond the 36,000 already there. He said Thursday the troops were needed to "stabilize the situation" in advance of coming Afghan elections.

It's expected a U.S. combat brigade of approximately 4,000 soldiers will join Canada's 2,700 troops in Kandahar.

Harper said Canada, which plans to withdraw its troops in December 2011, appreciates the increased U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Obama declined to speculate how long the United States would remain in the troubled country, noting a 60-day review of the U.S. mission was underway.

Many have criticized the United States for devoting far more military resources to the war in Iraq than the simmering conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have rallied in recent years, battling coalition forces with renewed strength since being ousted from power in 2001.

"The precise reason that we're doing a review is because I think that over the last several years, we took our eye off the ball. And there is a consensus that there's a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. I don't want to prejudge that review," Obama said.

"In terms of length, how long we might be there, obviously that's going to be contingent on the strategy that we develop out of this review."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Canada should be part of the strategic review.

Ignatieff said he told Obama during a half-hour meeting that Canadians "don't know where this mission is going" and that the president "heard what I was saying."

Harper stressed that Parliament had resolved to extend Canada's mission through 2011, and he made no suggestion that date would be revisited.

The primary goal of Canada's military engagement is training Afghans to assume day-to-day security duties for themselves, he said.

"We are not in the long term, through our own efforts, going to establish peace and security in Afghanistan.

"I would hope that all strategies that come forward have the idea of an end date, of a transition to Afghan responsibility for security, and to greater Western partnership for economic development."

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