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PM acknowledges changing mind on continuing Afghan role

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Canadian Veteran Arsene Dube during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister quietly nodded his head in agreement as a reporter reminded him, through her question, that he has repeatedly and clearly said Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011.

News that those promises might be cast aside first surfaced over the weekend when Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the option of an extension - via a less-dangerous training role for Canadian Forces in Kabul - was being considered.

When the inevitable question finished as to why he changed his mind, Stephen Harper said it was a decision he made reluctantly after looking at the options.

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"Look, I'm not going to kid you," he said. "Down deep, my preference would be, would have been, to see a complete end to the military mission. But as we approach that date, the facts on the ground convince me that the Afghan military needs further training. I don't want to risk the gains that Canadian soldiers have fought for and that they have sacrificed in such significant numbers for by pulling out too early if we can avoid that. I think if we can continue a smaller mission that involves just training, I think frankly that presents minimal risks to Canada but it helps us ensure that the gains we've made our continued ... to truly ensure that the Afghan forces are able over the next couple of years to take over true responsibility for their security. So I do this with some reluctance but I think it is the best decision when one looks at the options."

Mr. Harper made the comments following a bilateral meeting with the Mexican president in advance of meetings of the G20. Earlier in the day, Remembrance Day, the Prime Minister took part in an event honouring veterans of the Korean War at Seoul's Korean War memorial.

His answer suggests the odds of an extension trough to 2014 are much stronger than originally suggested by Mr. MacKay.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that the United States, which has long urged Canada to continue its military presence in Afghanistan, is now asking for the Canadian Forces to continue a combat role beyond 2011.

Mr. Harper addressed that point Wednesday, insisting it was not an option.

"I think once again, the most important thing to emphasize as we've said is that the combat mission will end. I know there are others in NATO who would like us to continue the combat mission. I've been very clear. That's not an option Canada will consider."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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