Canadian leader presses for more NATO help in Afghan mission

>TORONTO (AP) – Canada will extend its military mission in Afghanistan only if another NATO country puts more soldiers in the dangerous south, the prime minister said Monday, echoing the recommendation of an independent panel to withdraw without additional forces.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is under pressure to withdraw its 2,500 troops from Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold, after the deaths of 78 soldiers and a diplomat. The mission is set to expire in 2009 without an extension by Canadian lawmakers.

European allies’ refusal to deploy to Afghanistan’s dangerous south and east has opened a rift with Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and others which, along with the United States, have borne the brunt of Taliban violence.

John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister and foreign minister who led the panel that released last week’s report, said that if another NATO country cannot muster 1,000 troops for Kandahar “then Canada should signal its intent to transfer its responsibility for security in Kandahar.”

Harper he would begin negotiating with allies prior to the next meeting of NATO leaders in early April.