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Obama will seek Afghanistan troops elsewhere, MacKay says

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay predicts new U.S. President Barack Obama will seek increased troop commitments for Afghanistan from other NATO allies rather than Canada.

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay predicts new U.S. President Barack Obama will seek increased troop commitments for Afghanistan from other NATO allies rather than Canada.

And the withdrawal date for Canada's combat troops remains 2011, MacKay said Wednesday, regardless of how charming and persuasive Obama may be in proposing an international rededication to the Afghan mission.

"That's got nothing to do with it," MacKay said as he entered a meeting of the Conservative caucus in preparation for next week's Commons return.

"We have to be practical and pragmatic and also respect our parliamentary decision."

With some 2,700 Canadian troops currently in Afghanistan, 107 killed, $18.1 billion spent and seven years of combat already under its belt, "Canada is carrying its fair share of the load and 2011 is the fixed date," said MacKay.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon gave a slightly more nuanced answer in an interview with The Canadian Press this week.

Cannon welcomed the proposed U.S. troop surge but added Canada's position "hasn't changed."

"That position calls for our withdrawal, our military withdrawal, from a combat mission in 2011. That is the course of action and anything beyond and above that is pure speculation at this stage of the game."

Some analysts and pundits have suggested a renewed U.S. focus on Afghanistan could place intense pressure on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to extend the Canadian mission again.

But MacKay predicts Obama will look for - and find - help elsewhere.

"Look, what I think President Obama is going to do is go on an extensive tour of NATO allies requesting that they step up, that they come to the fight and provide more actual, tangible support to ensure success in Afghanistan," said the defence minister.

"And I think that will happen."

A recent Ekos-CBC poll found that 55 per cent of Canadian respondents opposed an extension of the mission, while 30 per cent supported the idea.

The realities of minority government have forced Harper to shift his Afghanistan timelines dramatically in the past three years.

"Cutting and running is not your way," Harper told Canadian troops during a surprise visit to Kandahar shortly after he took office early in 2006.

"It's not my way and it's not the Canadian way. We don't make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble. We don't and we won't."

In May 2007, Harper said Canada "can't set arbitrary deadlines and simply wish for the best."

But during last fall's election campaign, Harper unabashedly affirmed his government will adhere to the February 2011 deadline endorsed by Parliament last March.

"You have to put an end date on these things," Harper said in September. "We intend to end it."

 
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