OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday said Afghanistan “is no longer a source of global terrorism” during a surprise visit to the war-torn country, but still urged vigilance on the threat.
His office announced the one-day trip after his jet was wheels-up. It comes as Canada prepares to transition to a training mission after nine years of combat in Afghanistan.
“This country does not represent a geostrategic risk to the world,” Canada’s public broadcaster CBC quoted Harper as saying in a speech. “It is no longer a source of global terrorism.”
However, he added, nations such as Canada must remain vigilant.
“Some might think that given all our sacrifices and with news of Osama bin Laden’s death, the threat of terrorism has vanished,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s an illusion.
“We cannot pretend that terrorism (from elsewhere) does not threaten our world or our nation.”
Afghanistan’s support for Al Qaeda led to the invasion of the country by US and its allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
A spokesperson for Harper told AFP the prime minister made the trip “to thank the troops for their work and to get a briefing on the transition.”
During the one-day visit, Harper met with Canadian soldiers at their base at Kandahar Airfield and toured parts of the country by helicopter, including a stop at a remote western outpost or “forward operating base” in Sperwan Ghar.
He reportedly sat in a lookout, laid a wreath during a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers, and toured the wheat and barley fields of Tarnak Farms, once a hotbed of Taliban activity where in 2002 Canada’s first four casualties in Afghanistan occurred in a friendly-fire incident.
There he spoke with a local farmer, said CBC.
The Canadian International Development Agency poured four million dollars into the region southeast of Kandahar City to transform it into an agricultural hub.
Harper was reportedly accompanied by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk, as well as several National Hockey League players.
Canadian combat troops are due to return home in July, but Ottawa plans to send up to 950 military trainers to coach Afghan soldiers.
A soldier who died of “non combat-related wounds” on Saturday was the 156th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2002.