MONTEBELLO, Quebec (Reuters) - Canada won the praise of U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday for its military mission in Afghanistan, despite the fact that Ottawa will likely end combat operations there in February 2009.
“I believe Canada has done a fabulous job in Afghanistan, and I thank the people of Canada,” Bush said at a joint news conference after meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
“But, more importantly, the people of Afghanistan thank the people of Canada,” Bush said.
He was answering a question from a reporter on whether Canada, which has 2,600 soldiers in southern Afghanistan, will have done enough.
Canada is almost certain to withdraw its combat troops unless the Conservative government wins a majority of seats in Parliament in a new election between now and February 2009. Harper, whose minority government currently needs the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power, has pledged to let the legislature decide.
Canadians are divided over the Afghanistan mission and all three opposition parties are calling for a withdrawal at least by then, with one leftist party calling for a pullout now.
“I think we can all be very proud of the work the Canadian troops are doing in Afghanistan. Parliament will make its decision in due course, whether it wants to prolong the mission,” Harper said.
Sixty-seven Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, with the latest death coming the day before the North American summit in Montebello, east of Ottawa.