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Panel says Canada should stay in Afghanistan if it gets more support from other countries
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    TORONTO — An independent panel recommended Tuesday that Canada extend its military mission in Afghanistan only if another NATO country puts 1,000 soldiers in the dangerous southern province of Kandahar.
    The report comes as the Conservative government is under pressure to withdraw about 2,500 troops from Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold, after the deaths of 77 soldiers and a diplomat. The mission is set to expire in 2009 without an extension by Canadian lawmakers.
    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.
    ‘‘The mission is in jeopardy. There are simply not enough troops to ensure the job will be done in Kandahar province,’’ said John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister and foreign minister who led the panel. ‘‘We believe that Canadian casualties are greater than would otherwise be the case if additional troops where there.’’
    The U.S. contributes one-third of NATO’s 42,000-strong International Security Assistance Force mission, making it the largest participant, on top of the 12,000 to 13,000 American troops operating independently.
    Opposition parties have threatened to bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government if he does not end the increasingly unpopular combat mission.
    But the report recommended a new non-Canadian battle group of 1,000 troops be deployed to Kandahar province, which would allow Canadian forces to move more toward training of the Afghan National Army.
    Manley said its time other NATO and ISAF countries step up.
    ‘‘We heard again and again that this is NATO’s most important mission. It’s time for the rhetoric to end,’’ Manley said. If a force of 1,000 cannot be mustered, he added, ‘‘then Canada should signal its intent to transfer its responsibility for security in Kandahar.’’
    NATO spokesman James Appathurai said alliance headquarters had taken note of the Manley report, but declined to give any further comment pending further discussion of it in Canada.
    Harper, who favors an extension of the mission, appointed Manley last October to head a panel to plan the country’s future role in the conflict.
    The panel, which answers to Harper and his government, considered a number of options, including an extension of the mission, a withdrawal of troops and whether Canada’s role should be reconfigured from counterinsurgency to training of Afghan forces.
    Harper said in a statement that the government will review the recommendations before responding.

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