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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Canada says has broken S. Afghan Taliban uprising

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops have broken the back of an insurgency by Taliban militants near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the scene of fierce recent fighting, Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor said on Tuesday.

Canada has 2,300 soldiers based in Kandahar. Since 2002, 42 Canadian soldiers have died in
Afghanistan, most of them in battles in the south of the country over the past few months.

Although an opinion poll over the weekend showed most Canadians pessimistic about the future of the mission and want the troops to come home, O'Connor struck an upbeat tone.

"It is a critical time in the south. ... I believe that we are going to succeed," he said in a Parliamentary debate on the Canadian military.

"We have already broken the back of the insurgency in the Kandahar area in the sense that they (the Taliban) are not prone to attacking us directly. They are going to have to revert to suicide bombings and IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," he said.

Canadian troops were part of a major
NATO operation that attacked the Taliban for two weeks in September. The clashes have since died down.

Canada's armed forces are tightly stretched but O'Connor said top military officials felt they had enough troops to ensure no units were forced to return to Kandahar for a second term of duty before the mission ends in February 2009.

He added some engineers as well as artillery and tank crews already in Afghanistan could be asked to fight as infantry if necessary.

"This, by the way, is historically quite traditional. ... Armored regiments from time to time abandoned their vehicles (and) and went into the line as infantry," he said.

O'Connor has frequently denied reports the military was so short of manpower it would force members of the navy and air force to fight as front-line infantry.

He said the mission to Afghanistan had cost C$2.1 billion ($1.9 billion) so far and would cost a further C$1.9 billion by the time it ended in 2009.
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