TORONTO -- The Conservative government has pumped billions into the Canadian military, but the Afghan mission has taken a tough toll and it may need a year off to recover when troops pull out in 2011, says the army chief.
Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the army's top commander, told a Senate committee the army needs more equipment and more manpower and is having trouble retaining staff.
"We are not growing as fast as we would have wanted," he said, noting the land forces are short 600 to 700 people. "An army needs a constant stream of young men and women who are willing to carry a rifle and go off and do the sorts of things we're doing now."
Even ex-soldiers are being courted to return and join the war in Afghanistan.
The personnel shortage and equipment that requires constant maintenance have taken a heavy toll, said Leslie.
"Beginning in July 2011, we will have to explore the possibility of taking a short operational break, that is well-organized and synchronized, of at least one year,'' he said.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said recruitment is ongoing and the government is "continuing to do everything (it) can on the equipment side."
The military is concerned there are 40 Leopard 2 battle tanks sitting in a Montreal warehouse waiting for the feds to hire a contractor to refurbish them. MacKay called the tanks "game changers" and said the government is trying to get them "into theatre as quickly as possible."
Meanwhile, the government is softening its stand on speaking with the Taliban after U.S. President Barack Obama suggested Saturday negotiations with its moderate elements might help bring peace to Afghanistan. The NDP had previously suggested talks with the Taliban could be fruitful, but Tories scoffed at the idea.