AFGHANISTAN WAR

Harper plans to 'examine all options' on 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

An Afghan National Army offider speaks to Afghan soldiers during a counter-ambush exercise at a Canadian-staffed training facility in Kabul on Aug. 10, 2011. (MCpl Rory Wilson/Master Corporal Rory Wilson/DND)

Stephen Harper is leaving the door open once again to extending Canada’s military participation in the costly Afghanistan war.

When the Official Opposition NDP pressed the Prime Minister on Wednesday about reports the United States has asked Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Mr. Harper said the government would “examine all options.”

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He jeered at the New Democratic Party’s history of opposition to the Afghan mission, remarking that “the NDP could not even make up its mind to support World War Two.”

If the Prime Minister extended Canada’s military deployment beyond 2014, it would be the fourth time he has prolonged the soldiering commitment to Afghanistan – including 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr. Harper denied reports the United States has asked Canada to keep special forces soldiers in Afghanistan past 2014, his latest promised date for withdrawal.

Canada ended its massive combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011, but still has about 900 military trainers in the Central Asian country. Canada’s Special Operations Regiment and its counter-terrorism group Joint Task Force 2 have also served there.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair demanded in the Commons that Mr. Harper keep his word to end Canada’s Afghan foray in 2014, but the Prime Minister dismissed the request.

“I am told we have not had that specific request from the United States and whether it comes or not, let me be very clear: Canada will make its own determination in this regard,” Mr. Harper said.

“Our plan at the current time is obviously for the mission that goes to 2014, but as we approach that date, we will examine all options and we will take the decision that is in the best interests of this country and in the best interests of our security objectives for the globe and not an ideological knee-jerk response like the NDP.”

Canada has already paid a significant price in blood and treasure in Afghanistan. The conflict has cost Canada 158 soldiers, and 635 more have been wounded in action.

Canadian taxpayers’ bill for the conflict is expected to exceed $14-billion, according to Parliament’s independent budget watchdog Kevin Page.

Canadian troops’ role in the Afghanistan war dates back more than a decade, to the toppling of the extremist Taliban regime in 2001.

Mr. Mulcair said he thinks Canadians have had enough of the Afghanistan conflict.

“Canadians have been perfectly clear. They want our troops home,” Mr. Mulcair said.

“They want this mission to end. It was supposed to end in 2006. It was supposed to end in 2009. It was supposed to end in 2011. It is supposed to end in 2014. When will it finally end?”

Mr. Harper said he would consult Parliament and put any future soldiering expeditions to a vote in the Commons – which his Conservative majority would easily win.

“Should there be any other significant military missions, we are committed to getting the consent of Parliament before we act. That has been our action and that is what we will do in the future.”

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