Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien says, for the time being, his country will not be sending troops beyond the Afghan capital, Kabul, despite plans to expand peacekeeping operations into violent, rural Afghanistan.
On a one-day visit to Afghanistan, Mr. Chretien told reporters that Canadian peacekeepers will not deploy outside Kabul in the foreseeable future.
"We don't have the intention of doing that at this moment," he said. "Eventually, there might be different needs. But the needs of today (are), we have to concentrate in Kabul."
Canada currently holds rotating command of the 5,500 troops in the International Security Assistance Force, known as I-SAF.
The Afghan government has long called for I-SAF peacekeepers to deploy beyond the capital, into the countryside, where terror attacks and banditry represent a serious security threat.
The NATO military alliance, which took over control of the I-SAF force in August, has agreed to begin deployment outside of Kabul. German troops attached to the force are now being sent to Kunduz province as part of the expansion.
But Mr. Chretien, whose country is one of the biggest contributors of troops to I-SAF, says its current role as commanders of the force means its troops will stay in the capital.
"As we are the senior (patrol) in Kabul, we have to concentrate in Kabul, but our role as the senior in I-SAF will lead to perhaps induce other people to come," he stressed. "As I can say as prime minister of Canada, it is a place, being here today, (where) I can measure the effect of our presence."
Mr. Chretien's comments follow the death of two Canadian peacekeepers in an explosion earlier this month on the southwestern outskirts of Kabul.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether the explosion was a land mine accident or a deliberate act of sabotage.