Friday, October 12, 2007

PM appoints panel to review Canada's options in Afghanistan

John Manley new head of an independant, non-partisan panel reviewing Canada's mission and future role in Afghanistan,

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday appointed a panel of "eminent Canadians" to recommend Canada's future role in Afghanistan, as tensions mount in Parliament over the current military mission.
"Today I am pleased to announce the formation of an independent panel of eminent Canadians who will consider our options and provide expert nonpartisan advice that will help parliamentarians make our decision (on Afghanistan)," Harper said in the foyer of the House of Commons.
The panel will be presided by John Manley, the former Liberal deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs when Canada embarked on its Afghanistan adventure in 2002.
He will be joined by former a Canadian ambassador to Washington, a former journalist and the president of a non-governmental agency.
The panelists will visit Afghanistan, before reporting in January 2008, Manley said.
The panel is tasked with evaluating "four main options for the future of our mission in Afghanistan," said Harper.
These are:
-- to continue training the Afghan army and police so that Canada can begin withdrawing its forces in February 2009;
-- to focus on reconstruction and have NATO forces from another country take over security in volatile Kandahar province;
-- shift Canadian security and reconstruction efforts to another region in Afghanistan; or,
-- withdraw Canada's military except a minimal force to protect aid workers and diplomats in February 2009, its current mandate.
"Our government wants a full, open and informed debate about our options. We also want the debate to be as nonpartisan as possible," said Harper.
However, opposition parties have threatened to topple his minority Conservative government if Harper does not signal Canada's exit from Afghanistan soon.
As casualties mount, public support for the military mission has also waned.
Some 2,500 Canadian soldiers are deployed in the war-torn nation alongside other NATO-led forces to stabilize the country amid an insurgency following the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Manley, the first Canadian minister in 2002 to visit Afghanistan in more than 40 years, shortly after a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban, returned there in May 2007 on a humanitarian mission.

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