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Harper's body language speaks volumes at NATO summit

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (L) welcome Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper at the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 20, 2012.

JASON REED/REUTERS/JASON REED/REUTERS

The arc of Stephen Harper's views on Afghanistan might have been summed in his body language Monday as he and other NATO leaders met to discuss the alliance's problem child.

The prime minister rocked back and forth and didn't even bother to stifle a yawn.

Mr. Harper is not alone in his apparent fatigue with Afghanistan.

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Domestic political and economic pressures have made continued involvement by many NATO countries unpalatable, especially for U.S. President Barack Obama who faces re-election this year.

So as the 28 NATO leaders joined 22 other countries with a stake in Afghanistan for talks on Monday, the focus was on a making a gentle, but much hastier exit.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghans were already leading security operations in half the country and were on pace to meet next year's targets.

"Transition means the people of Afghanistan increasingly see their own army and police in their towns and villages providing their security," Mr. Rasmussen said. "This is an important sign of progress towards our shared goal: an Afghanistan governed and secured by Afghans for Afghans."

To that end, Mr. Obama announced that Afghanistan is on track to place the entire country's security under the lead of Afghan forces in 2013, relegating U.S.-led NATO troops to a support role a year ahead of the planned withdrawal of all NATO forces from Afghanistan.

In statement, NATO said it would "continue to provide strong and long-term political and practical support" to the government of Afghanistan and would "train, advise and assist" the Afghan military.

"This will not be a combat mission," NATO said.

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Canada ended its combat role in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, leaving a cadre of 950 trainers behind to teach the Afghan security forces.

Their numbers have been dwindling already as the Afghan military comes up to speed and all of the trainers are to be out of the country by 2014.

The cost of maintaining the Afghan military after that date will be shared between the Afghan government and international community.

Canada's additional financial commitment to the Afghans tacks another line item onto a war budget whose true cost many never be known.

The Defence Department says incremental costs between 2001 and 2011 were an estimated $11.3 billion. The government defines incremental costs as those that would not have been incurred had the mission never happened.

So for example, the figure does not include salaries that would have been paid anyway.

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When it began, the cost of Canada's presence in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014 was estimated by the government to be $700 million over three years.

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