Canada has extended its deployment in Afghanistan after earlier hinting that a lack of participation in combat missions by NATO partners could cause them to withdraw. Not only did they extend their mission by three years, but they also committed to increasing their own participation. The news comes as NATO prepare to fight an expected Taliban spring offensive:

Parliament voted Thursday to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan to 2011, provided NATO supplies more troops and equipment to back up its forces in the volatile south.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been under growing pressure to withdraw Canada’s 2,500 troops as the death toll has mounted, now at 80 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat. The mission was set to expire in February 2009.

But the minority Conservative government and opposition Liberals agreed last month to vote together on the motion, which passed 198-77. The Liberal backed the extension after Harper promised the mission would increase its focus on training and reconstruction.

Conservatives had declared the motion a confidence vote, which would have triggered early elections if it failed.

Canada had a right to complain. Only the US, UK, and the Dutch have shouldered the large part of the combat operations, while the rest of NATO has limited their involvement to non-combat tasks. With Canada taking casualties, their citizens began to wonder why more of its allies didn’t have the same level of commitment. France, in a surprising development, agreed with Canada and agreed to bolster its own combat commitment and has tried to get more European nations to follow suit.

Whether or not that had anything to do with it, Canada united — more or less — to send a clear signal to the Taliban and al-Qaeda that they would not run from the fight. Both Tories and Grits voted for the extension, also surprising given the controversy over the question. It shows a level of commitment that demonstrates why Canada has been such a good friend to the US.