CBC : Ottawa seeking helicopters, drones to extend Afghan mission

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ottawa seeking helicopters, drones to extend Afghan mission

February 21, 2008

The federal government is currently in negotiations to acquire large helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones in an attempt to satisfy two conditions set out in the Manley report for extending the Afghanistan mission, CBC News has learned.

The government is trying to secure a deal with at least two American helicopter manufacturers to either lease or buy helicopters that would provide transport for Canadian troops in Kandahar, CBC News has learned.

Earlier this week, the government released a tender for the surveillance drones.

The Manley report recommended that the government extend its mission in Afghanistan past the February 2009 deadline, but only if NATO was able to provide an additional 1,000 troops to bolster Canadian forces fighting in the south.

The Manley panel also demanded the government find access to unmanned surveillance drones and large helicopters to ferry Canadian troops around the region.

CBC News has learned the government intends to meet both of these requirements on its own, which would take pressure off its NATO allies, allowing them to focus on finding the additional troops the Manley panel recommended.

The news comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a rare speech Thursday to the Conference of Defence Associations general meeting, is expected to lay out his plan to extend the mission and what his government is doing to meet those conditions.

While it's traditional for defence ministers and senior commanders to address the group, a prime minister hasn't appeared before the influential organization since the 1970s.

Harper is also expected to signal how he will respond to the Liberal amendment on his government's Afghan motion. That response is expected to be tabled later Thursday.

The current government motion is to extend the Afghan mission until 2011, based on meeting those two conditions laid out in the Manley report.

The motion also states that "the results of progress in Afghanistan, including Canada's military deployment, will be reviewed in 2011."

The Liberal amendment calls for the mission to refocus on reconstruction and training, followed by a full withdrawal of Canadian troops by July 2011.

The amendment indicated the post-February 2009 mission could involve combat to protect reconstruction efforts.