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Canadian PM Harper Says He Won't Extend Afghan Mission

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TORONTO — Canada will not extend its mission in Afghanistan even if President Barack Obama asks him to when the countries' leaders meet this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office said Monday.

Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas reiterated in a briefing Monday that Canada will withdraw its troops in 2011.

One hundred and thirty Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan, where Canada has 2,500 troops.

"Canada's position is clear," Soudas said. "The military component of the mission ends in 2011."

Canada first sent troops to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States and increased its deployment after declining a U.S. request to dispatch troops to Iraq.

Although Canada has usually served in more of a peacekeeping role in overseas missions after World War II, Harper has been a steadfast ally in the post-Sept. 11 fight against al-Qaida.

In 2005, Canada assumed responsibility for Kandahar, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces. Last year, Harper said Canada had done its part after serving in the volatile region and announced Canada's troops would be withdrawn in 2011, extending its mission by two years.

Although Canada's participation is slated to end in two years, critics are growing increasingly wary of a mission that they see as too dangerous.

Soudas said post-2011 Canada will examine what other contributions it can make in reconstruction, aid or training.

The Obama administration is considering whether to boost the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 approved to be there by the end of the year. Violence in Afghanistan has soared to record levels, requiring more troops to secure wide stretches of countryside.

"We expect that the president will have a chance to discuss with Prime Minister Harper when they meet on Wednesday our combined efforts in Afghanistan, where Canada has made significant contributions and sacrifices," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said. "The two leaders have met more than half a dozen occasions so far, which reflects the strength and breadth of the bilateral relationship."

Obama and Harper also are expected to discuss the economy, border security and the environment during Wednesday's one-hour meeting in the Oval Office.

The prime minister visits Obama as a possible election looms in Canada. The main opposition party has vowed to try to topple Harper's minority government in a no confidence vote at the first opportunity. That might happen as soon as Friday.

Harper will also visit the Senate majority and minority leaders and the House of Representatives speaker on Thursday to express concerns about the so-called Buy American provisions in the U.S. economic stimulus package. Those provisions that exclude Canadian companies from state and municipal construction projects.

The Canadian government and the Obama administration have named negotiators to examine a proposal by Canada that would grant American firms guaranteed access to Canadian procurement contracts in return for a waiver on Buy American provisions.

Canada and the U.S. share the largest trading relationship in the world. About 70 percent of Canada's exports go to the U.S. Soudas called the relationship with the U.S. Canada's most important.

The two leaders have already met several times but it will be Harper's first official trip to meet Obama in the U.S.

Obama visited Ottawa in February, shortly after being inaugurated, in his first visit to a foreign country as president.

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Associated Press Writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this story.