"Afghanistan is improving," O'Connor told reporters in Montreal after a luncheon speech. "There are 37 countries in there. There's a lot of aid and a lot of effort going in to build that country up."
In his speech, sponsored by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, O'Connor said Canada is making a major contribution to the international effort to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan.
"It is because of the continuing threat posed by these extremists that the Canadian Forces remain a vital part of this mission," he said.
"This government will support the mission — by our words and by our actions — until the progress in Afghanistan becomes irreversible."
Asked by reporters later to explain exactly how long Canada will stay in Afghanistan, O'Connor said Canada has pledged support over the next two to five years in the form of both troops and development aid.
He said Canada has committed itself to having troops in the country until February 2009 and to contributing millions in assistance through the Canadian International Development Agency until 2011.
"We'll watch this year the progress," he said.
O'Connor added the government will make a decision next year whether the Afghan mission needs to be extended beyond its existing mandate.
Afghanistan, he said, should not be mixed up with Iraq.
"Afghanistan is a success story," he said. "This is a democracy and we are helping to support the government."
Partial return to normalcy
The defence minister said in his speech that, judging from a recent trip to Afghanistan, life is returning to normal in some areas.
"This time, villages appeared more active. Life is returning to places that seemed deserted before," he said.
But he cautioned that the Taliban is trying to sabotage any progress made and that is why Canada needs to continue to have a presence in the country.
A handful of anti-war protesters interrupted his speech at a hotel at one point, but police quickly ushered the small group out.
Outside, several more protesters demanded Canada withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
Canada has more than 2,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, with the majority in the southern province of Kandahar. Forty-five Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Canada sent troops to the troubled country in early 2002.
Canada has committed close to $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan over 10 years ending in 2011.
The federal government says, at the end of the 2006-2007 fiscal year, Canada will have invested nearly $600 million since the fall of the Taliban to help Afghans rebuild their country.
The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting greater knowledge of international affairs.