Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan are playing an "absolutely critica
l" role in the American-led war on terror, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday during a visit to Nova Scotia.
Rice, who spoke during a news conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay in the northern town of Stellarton, is on a two-day visit to the province to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The Canadian contribution to helping build stability in Afghanistan is absolutely critical to the war on terror,"
said Rice, who travelled to MacKay's home riding after she arrived in the province on Monday.
"I know that there is a sacrifice, I know that it is hard work. I know there are times that it seems that things aren't going in a straight line,"
"Big historic circumstances often don't go in a straight line."
Canada has been in Afghanistan since early 2002, shortly after the United States invaded to topple the Taliban government in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Canada's military currently has more than 2,000 troops there and is leading the NATO forces in the southern provinces.
However, public support for the mission has dipped in recent weeks following the deaths of five Canadian soldiers â€” including one killed in error by U.S. forces â€” in a massive anti-Taliban operation launched 10 days ago. Since the mission began, 31 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed.
On the weekend, the NDP passed a resolution making withdrawal from Afghanistan a formal party policy.
Canada will stay course: MacKay
NATO's top commander made an appeal last week for the alliance's members to send more troops to Afghanistan. But MacKay said Rice had not asked Canada to boost its deployment.
He said Canada is committed to the mission because Canadian efforts and sacrifices will pay off not only in Afghanistan, but also at home.
"If we leave it to the terrorists to continue to flourish in places like Afghanistan, they'll find us. They'll come here and they'll try to wreak havoc in our lives," he said. "We cannot retreat, we cannot come back."
The foreign minister also offered an old expression from the Maritimes to get his point across.
"Boats are safe in the harbour, but that's not what they're made for."
Speaking after U.S. embassy attacked in Syria
MacKay, who spoke hours after gunmen tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, said Canada's increasingly tighter alliances with the U.S. do not make it a bigger target for attacks.
"I don't think it elevates Canada as a target to be doing our share in the world,"
No Americans were killed in the Tuesday morning incident in the Syrian capital, but three of the four attackers died when they tried to storm the embassy with automatic rifles, hand grenades and an explosives-packed vehicle.
Rice said she was grateful the attack didn't succeed and that it was too early to tell who was responsible.
Rice and MacKay spoke at Stellarton's Museum of Industry following breakfast and a morning walkabout that included a stop at a local Tim Hortons.
Rice, MacKay stress friendship
After landing on Monday, in a ceremony at the Halifax International Airport, Rice thanked Canadians who helped host 21,000 passengers forced to land in Canada when U.S. skies were closed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Since taking office after the Jan. 23 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have focused on improving co-operation with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush after strains in the relationship under the former Liberal governments of Jean ChrÃ©tien and Paul Martin.
MacKay said the two governments may sometimes disagree, but Canada and the U.S. will are allies because of a "deep sense of kinship
" the two countries share.
"We will remain the best of friends, but we may not always agree, we will certainly find a way to find solutions that work for the benefit of both nations,"
Rice stressed the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship in the everyday lives of people living on both sides of the border.
"We tend to forget how daily and ordinary our relationship is," she said.
"It's the most active of relationships at a level of people to people, not just government to government."