Windsor Star

March 2014 confirmed end to Afghan training mission

CANADA/ WORLD

- JULIET O’NEILL

LISBON, PORTUGAL Canada’s end date of March 2014 for a training mission in Afghanista­n is firm despite NATO’s plan to continue non-combat operations there, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday.

“We might be pressured, obviously, but I think the prime minister has made this perfectly clear. March of 2014 is when we will be leaving,” Cannon said at a news conference.

He spoke after the head of NATO said the alliance is poised to announce today a goal of ending its combat operations in Afghanista­n in 2014, but that foreign troops will remain for training and education.

NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition to Afghanista­n taking the lead in its own security begins in 2011 “and I find it realistic that the process will be completed by the end of 2014.”

He stressed that internatio­nal forces would remain after 2014 “but not in a combat role, in a more supportive role, including training and education of Afghan security forces.”

Rasmussen made the remarks at a news conference announcing the adoption by NATO country leaders of a new “strategic concept” that includes a commitment to building a European ballistic missile defence system.

Earlier in the day, Canada was praised for its “absolutely essential” commitment of military trainers in Afghanista­n. Rasmussen personally thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the leaders of 28 member countries gathered at Lisbon’s giant bayside EXPO centre.

“The secretary general expressed NATO’s appreciati­on for Canada’s post-2011 engagement to provide aid, developmen­t and military training after the combat mission ends next July,” Harper’s spokesman Dimitri Soudas said after the 25-minute meeting at Harper’s hotel.

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