Liberals mum on Afghan security funding renewal in wake of Kandahar attack

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan scrums with media in Ottawa on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Matthew Usherwood

OTTAWA – Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was non-committal Wednesday about renewing Canada’s $300 million support for Afghan security forces, despite a deadly attack at Kandahar Airfield that left dozens dead.

An aid request to the international community as a whole was approved by NATO foreign ministers last week, but Sajjan said it will be treated in the same manner as other urgent security matters.

“We’ll be reviewing all different options when it comes to supporting the fight against terrorism around the world and this will be no different,” the minister said.

He served three tours in the war-ravaged nation as a liaison officer who helped compile intelligence on both Taliban insurgents and local officials.

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He said it was hard to watch the carnage that took place this week during a nearly 24-hour assault on the airfield near the southern Afghan city, an installation which houses a military wing, a civilian wing and a NATO base.

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As many as 37 people were killed and another 35 wounded in the brazen attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. The airfield served as headquarters and home base for Canadians during the Afghan war.

“When I first read it, it’s always hard to see an attack like that happen with the loss of life,” said Sajjan.

He quickly noted the Afghans stood their ground and gained control of the situation, a credit to the Canadian troops who mentored them throughout the five-year combat mission and later during a three-year training exercise in Kabul.

Canada no longer has a military presence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have stepped up their attacks across the country, including a September battle which saw them capture and hold the northern city of Kunduz for three days.

Afghan forces have struggled to roll back the insurgents since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.

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In Brussels, a NATO spokesman for the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said there were no coalition casualties in the Kandahar assault.

U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn said the Taliban “never physically entered the airfield” in Kandahar, but fired toward the air base from positions inside a nearby school.

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NATO says it needs to raise $4 billion a year to keep the security forces going up to 2020.

Donor countries began paying the bills for Afghan troops and police following the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago and the Harper government made a $330 million commitment up to 2017.

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