KABUL, Oct 6 (Reuters) Canada said today bringing the Afghan police up to strength would be the focus of its mission in Afghanistan.
The Afghan National Police suffers many more casualties than any other force. The number of trained policemen is far below that required, pay is low and is often siphoned off by senior officers, and desertions rates are high.
''One of the challenges is Afghan National Police. We agree that we must support the Afghan National Police to give them more training and more equipment. I can assure you it will the focus of our government,'' Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier told a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
As Taliban insurgents switch tactics from head-on clashes with the military to more suicide and roadside bombs, the role of the Afghan police, with a permanent presence in most districts, becomes ever more important.
Ottawa's military presence in Afghanistan is a divisive issue in Canada where the minority Conservative government faces a vote of confidence next month and public opinion is deeply split over the mission.
Canada has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in and around the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
''We are in Kandahar, the dangerous part of the country, but we are proud to be there because we can see improvement in the life of Afghan people everyday,'' Bernier said.
Pressure is on the Canadian government to show progress in development in Afghanistan where 71 Canadian soldiers have been killed since 2001, one of the highest casualty rates of any of the nearly 40 nations with troops in the country.
Canada is committed to helping Afghanistan with development aid until 2011, Bernier said, although the mandate for Canadian troops to remain runs out in February 2009.
''I want to make sure that in the near future, the people will have a stable country specifically the people of Kandahar,'' Bernier said. ''We still have to work to do, we still have to train Afghan National Army and police, but we will stay in Afghanistan until the end of our commitment''.
REUTERS PY KP2032