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Calling for patience, Ottawa prepares to extend fight against Gadhafi

Canadians pilots walk across the tarmac at Trapani airbase in Italy on March 24, 2011, after flying a mission over Libya.


Canada is preparing to keep its planes in the skies over Libya for another three and a half months in a mission that the government says will cost $60-million.

The Canadian Forces now have more than 650 aviators and sailors deployed to operation MOBILE, with six CF-18 fighters taking part in NATO airstrikes to weaken the forces of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi.

And while Prime Minister Stephen Harper said when they were deployed in March that Col. Gadhafi "will not last very long," the Libyan Leader has remained in power in Libya's west - prompting Mr. Harper's senior ministers on Thursday to call for "patience."

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MPs will vote next week on extending the mission until the end of September, although now that Mr. Harper has a majority government, there is no doubt that it will be approved.

At a NATO meeting in Brussels, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said that the goals of the mission remain protecting civilians and getting Col. Gadhafi's forces to return to their bases, but he added: "Gadhafi must leave for those objectives to be achieved."

He said the Canadian mission in Libya cost $26-million up to June 2, and that will rise to about $60-million by the end of September. "We need to continue the momentum that we've achieved so far," he added.

Mr. MacKay said Canadian CF-18s have flown 1,700 hours on 350 sorties during the mission, in addition to sorties flown by Canadian refuelling tankers and surveillance-patrol planes. A Canadian frigate, the HMCS Charlottetown, is also patrolling waters off Libya's coast.

But the price tag offered by Mr. MacKay covers only incremental costs - the price of bombs and fuel that wouldn't have been used if the troops weren't deployed. The Defence Department did not provide a breakdown of what the costs included, and opposition politicians wondered whether the figures provided by the department tallied the whole cost.

"It seemed pretty modest to me. I mean frankly, we have got vessels there, we have got numerous missions undertaken," said NDP defence critic Jack Harris. "I imagine they are minimizing the costs as much as they possibly can..."

While Canada is moving to extend its mission, NATO has pressed other allies to play a bigger part. Britain and France are leading the air campaigns, with contributions from Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Norway. But Norway has said it will reduce its role later this month, and efforts to get allies like Germany, Holland, Spain and Turkey to make bigger contributions have been met with a cool response.

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The campaign that many expected to be short-term has dragged on through weeks of stalemate - although NATO allies, and the Canadian government, insist that they have momentum.

"It is slow, but we are making progress," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in Ottawa. "And I'm not going to contemplate failure because I believe we will meet with success. We've just got to be patient."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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