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Confusion on Afghanistan Mission, says Denis Coderre

MONTREAL - Conservative Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has once again put political interests ahead of honesty and transparency, Liberal Defence Critic Denis Coderre said on July 23.

"Every week, the Conservative government adds confusion to the question of when the combat role for Canadian troops will come to an end in Afghanistan," said Mr. Coderre. "This deliberate campaign to mislead Canadians about a war fought in their name is completely reprehensible."

Appearing on CTV's Question Period yesterday, Mr. O'Connor said Canada's new rotation of soldiers now arriving in Afghanistan, the Quebec-based 22nd Regiment, known as the Van Doos, will be moving away from combat to an emphasis on training battalions for the Afghan Army. Their goal, said the Minister, is to have about 3,000 Afghan soldiers on the ground within six months, at which time Canadian troops would be better able to move out of the front lines and "into reserve."

"Yesterday the Minister said 3,000 Afghan soldiers would be enough, but only three months ago, he put that figure at 70,000," said Mr. Coderre. "In April the Minister said Canadian withdrawal, which could happen by 2010, is conditional on Afghan forces reaching targeted levels of expansion, a number agreed to by the international community to be 70,000 soldiers and 62,000 police. Just where has the Minister's new benchmark of 3,000 come from?"

Mr. O'Connor's remarks yesterday also sharply contradicted reported remarks made last week by Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier, who said that there will be 3,000 Afghan soldiers on the ground in Kandahar by August 1, 2007 and that he didn't expect the Afghan army to be capable until next spring, nor would it be able to entirely take over for Canadian troops: "I believe that by spring ... this organization will be very capable. It won't be perfect. It won't be stand- alone."

Mr. Coderre also compared the Minister's remarks yesterday with those made two years ago by U.S. President George Bush. In August 2005, facing pressure for his policies in Iraq, the President said "We're also training Iraqis. Our troops will come home as soon as possible. 'As soon as possible' means when those Iraqis are prepared to fight. As Iraq stands up, our coalition will stand down."

"Again we see the Conservatives borrowing from the Bush playbook," said Mr. Coderre. "Canadians deserve better than this. If the goal of the Afghan army's sufficiency comes up empty in 6 months, will further rotations of Canadian troops also be emphasizing training instead of combat? The Minister must end the politically driven double-speak and present a clear and practical strategy for Canada's mission in Afghanistan."

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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