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Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie says the lengthy stay may be necessary to help that country break out of "a cycle of warlords and tribalism."
Leslie made the remarks on Sunday at the Couchiching Summer Conference in Orillia, Ont., north of Toronto.
"Afghanistan is a 20-year venture," he said.
But, he said, the commitment is a necessary one.
"There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for," Leslie said, in remarks reported in Monday's Toronto Star newspaper.
Meanwhile, Canada's efforts in Afghanistan get another boost Monday with the departure of more soldiers from Fredericton.
But, as the soldiers leave, Leslie warns Canadians should be prepared for a long mission, that could cost lives.
"Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you," he said.
His remarks echo comments made this summer by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier.
He, too, warned that Canadians should prepare for military casualties.
By sending troops to Afghanistan, Canada is actually protecting itself in the long run, he said in July.