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March 13, 2006
Harper Hangs Around In Afghanistan

The new Canadian Prime Minister paid a visit to his troops on the front lines in Afghanistan, defying security concerns in staying overnight in order to show his solidarity with the Canadian contingent of the Coalition. Stephen Harper told his soldiers that although some at home might question their mission, Canada would not cut and run on his watch:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent his second day in turbulent Afghanistan on Monday with a clear message to doubters back home that Canada won't be a pushover.

"You can't lead from the bleachers. I want Canada to be a leader," he told about 1,000 Canadian soldiers at the base of the multinational mission led by a Canadian general.

Harper's surprise visit to Afghanistan, which began on Sunday, is meant to lend support to troops facing twin problems: a stubborn insurgency that has claimed the lives of 12 Canadians since 2002 and a public back in Canada that has shown wavering support for the mission.

Harper's lengthy stay impressed his troops and provided a boost for morale. That boost was tempered by the news that Canadians at home appear to be wavering in their support of the mission. The Canadian Press quotes one enlistee as saying that the lack of support "burns me," noting that Canadians didn't have a problem with their missions in Bosnia or Kosovo. For Harper's part, he told the media that the debate was over on the deployment:

"The debate over deployment is over. I think it's over for most of the Canadian people. We've got men and women there and we're going to support them."

Mr. Harper did say there will be time for debate in the future, when Canada must decide whether to extend its tour in the area. The Canadians give up command of the force in August, while the country's military commitment runs out in the new year.

"There will be obviously fence posts in the future where we will make future decisions about deployment, but as long as we have troops, police, diplomats, development officials, we're going to support them."

Harper hasn't taken the poll-watching route of leadership, quite obviously, and he has more vulnerability to shifts in public opinion than an American president. This show of resolve will not just boost Canadian troop morale, but also the morale of Canada's allies in this effort.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 13, 2006 5:56 AM

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