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Canada's help for Afghans boosts security, PM says

Written by: Staff

KABUL, Mar 14 (Reuters) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today said people could ignore the danger of terrorism but the dangers would not ignore them, and Canada's military mission in Afghanistan made the world safer.

Harper, in Afghanistan on a surprise visit, met Canadian troops in the troubled south yesterday and said Canadians would not ''cut and run'' from Afghanistan, despite a rash of casualties.

''We have to remember why we're here. On September 11, 2001, we saw the terrible events at the World Trade Centre that cost over two dozen Canadian lives,'' Harper told a news conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

''We can ignore the dangers if we want but the dangers will not ignore us. Unless we control the security situation in countries like Afghanistan we will see our own security diminished,'' Harper said.

U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the hardline Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks.

Harper made the opening remarks at the first news conference of his first foreign trip as prime minister of bilingual Canada in French, much to the bemusement of Afghan reporters.

Canada, which stayed out of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, has 2,300 soldiers in the southern city of Kandahar, where it commands a multinational task force.

Harper's visit, shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, has been aimed at rallying the troops as well as shoring up support at home for the Afghan mission.

Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent months in a bid to drive out foreign forces and defeat Karzai's Western-backed government.

Ten Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed and 33 soldiers wounded since Canada first deployed soldiers in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

As casualties have mounted, some Canadians have begun questioning the mission and demanding a debate in Parliament.

''NOT OUR WAY'' Harper has been firm in saying that, given Canada's decision under the previous Liberal government to deploy troops in Kandahar, now would be the wrong time to debate the mission.

''There may be some who want to cut and run. But cutting and running is not your way,'' Harper told troops in Kandahar.

His Conservative Party won a January election, partly on a platform advocating a more robust military.

Harper visited Canadian forces in the field late yesterday but declined to confirm a reporter's suggestion he had spent the evening in the desert with Canadian special forces.

He said he had met troops to get their perspectives on the mission and to hear of their needs.

''It's been a very enlightening and rewarding experience,'' he said as military helicopters ensuring security hammered over Karzai's presidential palace.

Harper said Karzai had told him of the security situation on the Pakistani border and the prime minister raised the issue -- and the danger to Canadian troops of an insecure border -- in later talks in Pakistan.

''We value whatever assistance Pakistan can provide particularly in the shared frontier area because this is vulnerability of the Canadian forces,'' Harper told reporters in the Pakistani capital.

Afghan accusations that militants were launching attacks from the Pakistani side of the border have strained relations between the key allies in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan was committed to a strong, stable Afghanistan and was doing its best to ensure security along the border.

Reuters PG DB2147

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