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Gates heads to Canada for talks on war, weapons

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 26, 2011
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates departed for Canada on Wednesday for talks on the war in Afghanistan as well Ottawa's plans to purchase F-35 fighter jets, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Gates initially was due to meet both his Canadian and Mexican counterparts at a first-ever summit of North American defense ministers but Mexico's secretary of national defense, General Guillermo Galvan Galvan, could not attend due to illness, press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

An earlier attempt at a three-way meeting of the defense chiefs in July had to be scrapped because of a spike in violence in Mexico, he told a news conference.

Talks on Thursday with Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay would cover "ongoing US-Canada defense issues and areas of cooperation, including, of course, our mutual efforts in Afghanistan," Morrell said.

Amid sharp political debate in Canada over the government's plans to buy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Morrell acknowledged it was "a hot button issue" that would come up for discussion.

He said international partners were vital to keeping costs under control for the radar-evading fighter, which has been dogged by delays and rising costs.

"Our partners are needed, obviously, because the more quantity you buy, the price-per-copy will drop," he said.

"So we are obviously always trying to work with those countries that are committed to this, to keep them committed because it's for the overall good not just of the program, but of our defense posture around the world."

On the war in Afghanistan, Gates was expected to express appreciation to Canada for extending its military mission after lobbying from Washington.

Despite a deadline to bring all Canadian troops home by July 2011, the government plans to send 950 military trainers to a base in Kabul until 2014 in a non-combat role to advise Afghan soldiers, following the withdrawal of its 2,800 combat troops from Kandahar in the south.

Canadian troops have spent nearly nine years fighting insurgents as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, an effort that has cost over 150 Canadian soldiers' lives.

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