MacKay hints Afghan training mission won't be extended
Defence Minister Peter MacKay strongly hinted Sunday that Canada's training mission in Afghanistan will end in 2014 as planned, although Ottawa will likely still send financial aid to the war-ravaged country.
Speaking to reporters at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Chicago, where about 60 world leaders have gathered for talks, MacKay said Canada's ongoing support in Afghanistan "doesn't necessarily mean troop contributions or trainers."
"That means giving the Afghans the resources they need to make progress and hold the fort," he said.
Speaking to CTV's Question Period earlier Sunday, MacKay said Prime Minister Stephen Harper will soon outline the country's role in Afghanistan after 2014, when foreign troops are scheduled to leave.
"The prime minister, I can assure you, will be making an announcement very soon with respect to Canada's participation beyond 2014 in Afghanistan," MacKay said.
Canada has about 950 soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan, working on training the nascent Afghan security force, soon to be about 352,000 strong.
But the size of the Afghan military will shrink to around 230,000 in a year or so after it takes on full security responsibilities at the end of 2014.
NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen had told reporters in Chicago he hopes "Canada would be in a position to contribute to training activities also after 2014."
Rasmussen said "there will be no rush for the exits" from Afghanistan, stressing that NATO has made its commitment to a "long partnership with the Afghan people" very clear.
However, newly elected French President Francois Hollande has said France will pull all of its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, earlier than agreed to by the coalition.
The U.S. has been attempting to coax Canada into extending its Afghan mission beyond 2014, possibly by keeping its top-secret Joint Task Force 2 special forces in the country.
"(Harper) had discussions with President Obama at the G8 in Camp David and he'll be talking to (Obama) and having a number of bilateral meetings, and of course, the main session here in Chicago," MacKay told Question Period.
But MacKay would not confirm any future involvement of JTF-2 in Afghanistan.
"What I can tell you is . . . special forces figure very prominently in our efforts to secure the country of Afghanistan and to also deal with the resurgence of Taliban in parts of the country," he said.
He believes there needs to be a NATO presence of some kind in Afghanistan after the pullout.
Canada may commit about $100 million to a $4.1 billion fund to be used to sustain and supply Afghan security forces after foreign troops withdraw, but MacKay didn't mention the fund specifically.
Australia, Britain and Germany have all contributed funds.
Non-NATO countries such as Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia should be called upon to participate as well, particularly on the development side, MacKay said.
Protesters march near summit
Thousands of activists upset with the war in Afghanistan, climate change, the erosion of union rights and a number of other unrelated gripes, completed a three-kilometre march near the NATO summit under the watchful eye of tight security.
Many of the protesters' primary concerns have little to do with what's being talked about at the summit, but some are calling for the dissolution of the 63-year-old strategic military alliance created during the Cold War.
CTV Washington Bureau Chief Paul Workman reported Sunday evening that as protesters reached the end of their march route, they engaged in "a bit of a standoff" with police.
"There was some challenge of mounted police officers here, but very quickly the police have moved in to contain the situation," he told CTV News Channel from the scene.
Earlier Sunday, two more people were charged for crimes related to the summit after police accused one of saying he wanted to blow up a downtown Chicago bridge and another of seeking to build pipe bombs.
The charges came a day after three other activists appeared in court accused of manufacturing Molotov cocktails and harbouring plans to attack U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters and other targets during the NATO meeting.
Hundreds of demonstrators also marched in the streets on Saturday. Police said 18 people were arrested.
Obama meets privately with Karzai
Obama met Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday in a private, one-hour session to talk about a new round of elections in 2014, as well as the prospect of a political settlement with the Taliban.
The Taliban pulled out of U.S.-led talks in March, but separate talks among Afghan and other contacts continue, one U.S. official said.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's acceptance of an invitation to attend the NATO summit was seen as an indication that his country would reopen key roads used to supply NATO fighting forces in Afghanistan, a key U.S. demand.
With a report from CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife