The election of a new U.S. president who has vowed to deploy thousands more troops into Afghanistan won't cause Canada to reconsider its decision to pull out of the country by 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Wednesday.
The United States already has 36,000 troops in Afghanistan, and Barack Obama promised during his campaign for the presidency to send up to 12,000 more while scaling down operations in Iraq.
But Cannon said Obama's election would have no impact on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to withdraw Canadian forces from the country.
"We welcome the renewed focus on Afghanistan on behalf of the president-elect," Cannon said. "The U.S. interest won't change our opinion or intention to withdraw our forces in 2011."
Cannon, who took over the Foreign Affairs portfolio from retiring Conservative MP David Emerson, also insisted that Canadian soldiers would not be redeployed away from the volatile Kandahar province to safer parts of the country after the date.
Harper made his own view explicitly clear during the recent federal election, when he said it was time to put an end date on Canada's military commitment.
Karzai urges halting air strikes
Obama, the Democratic candidate, opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 from the beginning, saying it distracted the focus and critically needed military resources away from the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Following Obama's election victory Tuesday night, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that the newly-elected leader change U.S. tactics to reduce the number of civilian casualties, particularly from air strikes in recent months.
It came as villagers said U.S. warplanes killed 37 people — nearly all of them women and children — during a cat-and-mouse hunt for militants.
"We cannot win the fight against terrorism with air strikes," President Hamid Karzai said. "This is my first demand of the new president of the United States — to put an end to civilian casualties."
The alleged strikes came only three months after the Afghan government concluded that a U.S. operation killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan. After initially denying any civilians had died in that attack, a U.S. report ultimately concluded that 33 were killed.
Canada has about 2,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan, mostly in Kandahar. Since 2002, 98 Canadians have died in Afghanistan.