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Canada Extends Afghan Mission

Canadian Prime Minister Harper (left) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in March (RFE/RL) May 18, 2006 -- Canada's parliament has voted to continue the mission of Canadian forces in Afghanistan for at least two more years. The vote came at the end of a day when intense fighting flared up between insurgents and Afghan and international troops in southern Afghanistan.

After six hours of debate late on May 17, the House of Commons voted 149-145 in favor of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion to extend the mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan until February 2009. The minority Conservatives needed votes from the opposition Liberals, whose deputies were allowed to vote freely, to ensure passage, AP reported.

Canada currently has some 2,300 troops in Afghanistan, mainly in the country's southern region, serving in the international security and stabilization mission. The Canadian deployment had been set to expire in February 2007.

The parliament vote came after a female Canadian soldier was reported killed in fighting with Taliban militants in Kandahar Province the same day. It was the 16th death of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan since Canadian troops arrived in the country more than four years ago as part of the NATO presence.

Pitched Battles In South

Officials in Afghanistan say heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan has killed at least nine police, a Canadian soldier and more than 30 Taliban militants.

One battle continued for several hours late Wednesday as hundreds of Taliban fighters were said to have attacked police and government buildings in the town of Mosa Qala in Helmand province.

A Canadian military spokesman said a Canadian soldier and some 18 Taliban militants were killed in another battle in Kandahar Province.

Both of those provinces are in the Pashtun-dominated south of the country, a former Taliban stronghold where Afghan and international troops have faced a surge in violent attacks by presumed insurgents.

Suicide Attack In West

In a separate incident, police said a suicide car bomber attacked vehicles carrying foreigners in the western city ofHerat today, killing at least one foreign national. AP reported that the dead victim was an American national "working on a counternarcotics project," adding that a Herat police official could not confirm the nationalities of the two wounded foreigners.

A spokesman for the NATO-led security force in Herat said none of that contingent's troops were involved in the incident.