Defence Minister Peter MacKay. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)
OTTAWA - OTTAWA - Canada may leave some soldiers in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends next July, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.
MacKay said the government is considering leaving a number of trainers in the country to work with the Afghan National Security Forces.
'We've been crystal clear in saying the combat mission will end July (2011)... But training is an option, and it's something we've been very good at, quite frankly," MacKay said.
The prime minister will have more to say as they get closer to a NATO meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 19-20, MacKay said. But the discussions are about putting trainers somewhere outside of Kandahar province, "behind the wire" – in a protected zone.
MacKay said there are about 400 Canadian Forces doing training right now, with NATO estimating they need another 900 trainers.
Canadian officials are reportedly meeting in Afghanistan this week to firm up the details.
U.S. Senator John McCain told CTV's Question Period Sunday Americans would "really, really appreciate it" if Canada kept military trainers in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends. McCain serves on the U.S. Senate armed services committee.
A spokesman for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said there have been only general discussions so far and the party is waiting for more details.
While the Liberals have been open to leaving military trainers in Afghanistan, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois want them pulled out.
Bloc defence critic Claude Bachand said they're open to leaving police trainers in the country. NDP defence critic Jack Harris said anything other than ending the mission needs parliamentary debate.
"It's quite surprising to hear that any decision is going to be announced by Nov. 18, long before any parliamentary debate or resolution can take place on it," Harris said.