TORONTO – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Canada will end its military mission in Afghanistan if another NATO country does not put more soldiers in the dangerous south, officials said.
Harper on Monday said that NATO's reputation and future is on the line, echoing the recommendation of an independent panel to withdraw without additional forces.
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 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat. The mission is set to expire in 2009 without an extension by Canadian lawmakers.
Harper spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said Harper talked to Bush about the independent panel's report, which recommended last week that Canada continue its mission only if another NATO country musters 1,000 troops for Kandahar.
"He underscored that, unless Canada was able to meet the conditions specified by the Panel of additional combat troops and equipment from NATO Allies, Canada's mission in Afghanistan will not be extended," Buckler said.
In Washington, deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto said in a statement: "The two leaders discussed the requirements to sustain the current mission and how to ensure its continued success, including needs for additional troops and equipment.
"The president noted the deployment of 3,200 additional U.S. Marines to Afghanistan, as well as his continued commitment to work with NATO to enhance its commitment to the Afghanistan mission," Fratto said.
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.