Miliband echoes plea for Canada to stay in Afghanistan
The British foreign secretary became the second cabinet minister in two days to say that Canada should remain in Afghanistan past 2011, during an interview with CTV's Power Play.
David Miliband praised the contribution of Canadian soldiers to the Afghan mission and said he respects the decision made by Parliament to withdraw troops next year.
But unlike U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Monday her country would welcome Canada's continued presence in Afghanistan in a non-combat role, Miliband said the NATO coalition should end its mission as it began: united.
"Of course we want you to be there. We went in together and the best thing would be if we stayed together and only go out together," Miliband said.
"I've seen for myself the remarkable bravery of Canadian officers and troops in the south of Afghanistan. I've talked to your soldiers and your officers. They've made a remarkable contribution, they're making a real difference in that country and they're making a real difference to the coalition effort."
Miliband acknowledged that none of the countries who make up the NATO coalition in Afghanistan wants to be in the country in a combat role any longer than necessary.
But he said the Afghan security forces are not yet capable of fighting insurgents on their own, and so coalition troops have "all got a job to do."
Miliband did acknowledge that Canadians have a lot to offer in the diplomatic, aid and development spheres, "and so whatever in that spectrum you can make a contribution it would be welcome. But your military contribution, both in a combat role and in a training role, a mentoring role, is very, very important indeed."
Miliband's comments came a day after Clinton's not-so-subtle hint that Washington wants its closest ally to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2011.
Clinton told Power Play on Monday that Washington values the work of Canadian soldiers and would "obviously like to see some form of support continue" beyond 2011 -- the year that Ottawa has pledged to pull the Canadian Forces off the Afghan battlefield.
In return, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday that while Washington may offer encouraging words about Canadian soldiers and their capabilities, the government's position on the matter is not negotiable.
Clinton met privately with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday morning, before she attended a G8 foreign ministers meeting later in the day.
Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's spokesperson, said Clinton did not repeat her request that Canada extend its mission in Afghanistan. He said however that Harper made it clear Ottawa was not budging on its pledge to pull the Canadian military out next year.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said it is hard to believe that Clinton has not made a formal pitch to the government behind closed doors. He said the Conservatives aren't playing straight with what has been discussed with their U.S. counterparts.
"It's perfectly obvious the request had either been made or was just about to be made," Ignatieff said Tuesday during question period in the House of Commons. "It's perfectly obvious that the government knew the request had either been made or was coming."
Fen Hampson, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, said Clinton's decision to take her case to the airwaves was a major departure from typical diplomatic strategies.
"I think the United States is sending us a very strong message that they want us to continue to play a role in Afghanistan," he told CTV News Channel during an interview from Ottawa on Tuesday.
When Clinton spoke to Power Play on Monday, she suggested that the U.S. would welcome Ottawa keeping Canadian troops deployed in Afghanistan who could be assigned to train Afghan forces, undertaking development projects and other non-combat tasks.
Cannon said the government is still working out the precise plan for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan after the end of its combat mission, something it updated the public on during the throne speech that was delivered earlier this month.
"We've made it clear that the military will not be (involved) post-2011 and in that regard, there is no need to have a debate in the House," said Cannon.
For his part, the prime minister indicated he is open to input on the issue from the other parties.
"We've been very clear that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011, but we will continue with a mission on governance, on development and on humanitarian assistance and we welcome the input of the opposition into those deliberations," Harper told the House of Commons.
Harper talks Afghanistan
Harper addressed the foreign ministers Tuesday morning, ahead of a meeting in which they discussed the ongoing challenges in Afghanistan.
"All of us have invested heavily and at considerable cost in lives in helping Afghanistan to build a peaceful and stable state that will never again become a haven for terrorists," said Harper.
"The Afghan government must continue to assume greater responsibility for its own security while providing basic services and good governance as President (Hamid) Karzai promised in London."
Harper said G8 members must continue to support Afghanistan, while ensuring that its leaders live up to their commitments.
After the meeting, Clinton said success in Afghanistan depends on "a political element" that helps get Taliban fighters "off the battlefield" and a government that renounces violence and pledges to follow the Afghan constitution.
"I think we can look back over the last several months and see that the new government headed by a re-elected President Karzai has done a number of things that have been promised and delivered on to the international community," Clinton said at the meeting's closing news conference. "But the jury is still out on other issues. So it's like any other complex situation, there are reasons to feel positive about our progress and then there's still a lot of work to be done."
Canada has lost more than 140 people during the mission in Afghanistan. In addition to troop casualties, a diplomat and journalist have also been killed.
With files from The Canadian Press