TORONTO (AP) _ Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a new $172 million reconstruction aid package for Afghanistan on Monday, heeding calls by opposition lawmakers for Canada to focus more on development projects in the country.
The opposition has criticized Harper's Conservative government for putting too much emphasis on fighting Taliban insurgents at the expense of reconstruction. Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion said Canada has spent nine times more on its military efforts in Afghanistan than it has on humanitarian aid.
Harper said the government initially focused on security because it was the first time NATO forces had attempted to truly stabilize the former Taliban stronghold in the south.
``We're now in a position because of the success of the security to make additional commitments on reconstruction and development,'' Harper said. ``These are hard won gains by the military.''
Harper said now is the time to ``redouble their efforts'' to rebuild Afghanistan.
The new funding, to be disbursed this year and next, will go toward five different areas: governance and development, counter-narcotics, policing, de-mining and road construction.
The funding is in addition to $860 million Canada has already pledged for reconstruction.
Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, expressed gratitude for Ottawa's continued assistance and noted that other countries have increased aid, as well.
``It comes at a very critical time for Afghanistan,'' Samad said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ``It's a realization that we have not done as well in the area of development as we would have liked to in the past five years, and now is the time to correct the course.''
Harper's announcement comes as Canada marks its one-year anniversary of its mission in southern Kandahar province. There are some 2,500 Canadian soldiers fighting alongside Afghan, American and other NATO forces trying to weed out Taliban fighters in the region.
Canada has suffered 44 fatalities in Afghanistan _ 36 of them last year.
Britain's Defense Secretary on Monday announced the deployment of 1,400 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle a threatened Taliban spring offensive.
The deployment will bring British troop levels in Afghanistan to around 7,700 until 2009, meaning Britain will have more forces based there than in Iraq for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion.