Canada in the War in Afghanistan

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Canada's role in the Afghanistan War began in late 2001. Canada sent its first element of soldiers secretly in October 2001 from Joint Task Force 2,[1] and the first contingents of regular Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in January–February 2002. Canada took on a larger role during the Afghan conflict starting in 2006 after the Canadian troops were redeployed to Kandahar province. 2,500 Canadian Forces (CF) personnel were in Afghanistan and 1,200 made up the combat battle group.[2] At the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that an undisclosed number of Canadian soldiers would remain in the country to help train and mentor the Afghan National Army until 12 March 2014.

In 2001, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Minister of National Defence Art Eggleton advised Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to authorize more than 100 Canadian Forces members serving on military exchange programs in the United States and other countries to participate in U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Eggleton summed up the dominant thinking in the government at the time when he said, "Any Canadian military deployment to Afghanistan may well be similar to a situation in Eritrea and Ethiopia where we went in on the first wave, we helped establish the stabilization, the basis for ongoing peace support operations that would come after ... but then turned it over to somebody else."[3] The operations were aimed at identifying and neutralizing al-Qaeda members in that country, as well as toppling the Taliban regime, which was supporting international terrorism.

Canadian experience in nation-building and sector reform[edit]

In post-Cold War conflicts, Canada experienced a steep—and at times bloody—learning curve as it tried to develop new techniques to contain violence and restore functioning civil societies.[4] After a 15-hour firefight in Croatia involving Canadian troops at a site known as the Medak Pocket, it became clear that the rules of engagement had to allow that what was defined initially as "peacekeeping forces” to be able to make that rapid tactical transition. It meant that they had to be allowed to take the offensive in combat just as much as they were allowed to do so for peacekeeping."[5] This notion is reflected in the training and professionalism of the Canadian army mentioned later on the page. Moving to Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti a new peacekeeping partnership began to form. It required the assistance of soldiers and development organizations working closely to achieve their rebuilding goals. These peacekeeping initiatives carried out by Canadians and other NATO troops in these post-Cold War conflicts are similar to what they are carrying out in Afghanistan. Some even consider this to be an example of the “new normal.”[6]

2001–2002: initial deployment[edit]

General Ray Henault, Chief of the Defence Staff, issued preliminary orders to several CF units, as Operation Apollo was established. The Canadian commitment was originally planned to last to October 2003.

Approximately 40 Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) assaulters were sent to southern Afghanistan in early December 2001, although the Canadian public was not informed of the deployment, following the American declaration of a War on Terror. Sean M. Maloney's book Enduring the Freedom, however, reported that JTF2 was secretly deployed without Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's knowledge in early October 2001.[1] (In October 2004, JTF2 received the US Navy Presidential Unit Citation as part of Task Force K-Bar, a multinational special-operations task force led by the US Navy SEALs that was decorated for its operations during the period 17 October 2001 through 30 March 2002.)

Regular forces arrived in Kandahar in January–February 2002. In March, three Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) snipers fought alongside U.S. Army units during Operation Anaconda. In the operation the team broke, and re-broke, the kill record for a long-distance sniper kill set in the Vietnam War by a U.S. Marine, Staff Sergeant Carlos Hathcock.[7][8] Operation Anaconda was also the first time since the Korean War that Canadian soldiers relieved American soldiers in a combat situation. Canadian forces also undertook Operation Harpoon in the Shah-i-Kot Valley. Other forces in the country provided garrison and security troops.

The Tarnak Farm incident occurred on 18 April 2002, when an American F-16 jet dropped a laser-guided bomb on a group of soldiers from the 3rd Battalion PPCLI Battle Group. The soldiers were conducting night-time training on a designated live-fire range, and the American pilots mistook their gunfire for a Taliban insurgent attack. The friendly fire incident killed four Canadians and wounded eight. Their deaths were the first Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, and the first in a combat zone since the Korean War.[9]

2003–2005: Operation Athena[edit]

In August 2003, the Canadian Forces moved to the northern city of Kabul where it became the commanding nation of the newly formed International Security Assistance Force. Canada dubbed this Operation Athena and a 1,900-strong Canadian task force provided assistance to civilian infrastructure such as well-digging and repair of local buildings.

In March 2004, Canada committed $250 million in aid to Afghanistan, and $5 million to support the 2004 Afghan election.[10]

On 13 February 2005, Defence Minister Bill Graham announced Canada was doubling the number of troops in Afghanistan by the coming summer, from 600 troops in Kabul to 1200.[11]

In spring 2005 officials announced that the Canadian Forces would move back to the volatile Kandahar Province as the U.S. forces handed command to the Canadians in the region. Stage one of Operation Athena ended in December 2005 and the fulfillment of the stated aim of "rebuilding the democratic process" in Afghanistan.[12]

Mission-specific training[edit]

In addition to the standard training for combat, mission-specific training has been part of a Canadian soldier's preparation for service on peacekeeping, peace making and stability operations since the 1960s. This plays a huge part in the war in Afghanistan. In preparations, "soldiers needed to know as much as possible about local customs, culture, and politics, and about the nature and motivation of groups that might oppose the establishment of peace and order."[13] This, accompanied with psychological triaging with a soldier's family, made this deployment of Canadian forces the most ever prepared overseas. In training for the mission the goal in Afghanistan was clear: "The Afghan mission would only succeed when the Government of Afghanistan could provide for the needs of its people."[13] It was this notion that shaped the Canadian and NATO approach toward reconstructing the Afghan society.

2006 renewed commitments: Operation Archer[edit]

Canadian soldiers fire an M777 155mm Howitzer field artillery gun at Taliban fighting positions near the Sangin District Center.

Operation Archer followed Athena beginning in February 2006. Unlike the ISAF-led ATHENA, ARCHER was part of the American military command. By the spring of 2006, Canada had a major role in southern Afghanistan, with Task Force Afghanistan being a battle group of 2,300 soldiers based at Kandahar. Canada also commanded the Multi-National Brigade for Regional Command South, a main military force in the region. In May 2006, the Canadian government extended Canadian military commitments to Afghanistan by two years, replacing earlier plans to withdraw soldiers in 2006.

On 28 February 2006, control of Regional Command South was transferred from U.S. Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry to Canadian Brigadier-General David Fraser in a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield.

Additionally, Foreign Affairs Canada stated that the commitment was more than just military, employing a "whole of government approach", in which a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), utilizing personnel from the military, Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, would provide a dual role of security as well as reconstruction of the country and political structure.[12]

On 31 July 2006, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force assumed command of the south of the country and the Canadian Task Force was transferred from the jurisdiction of ARCHER (Operation Enduring Freedom) back to ATHENA (ISAF).

2006–2009: Taliban resurgence[edit]

Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) during a patrol

When the Canadian Forces returned to Kandahar after being deployed to Kabul in 2003, the Taliban began a major offensive, and the Canadians were caught in the middle. After a spring in which a record number of attacks against Canadian soldiers had been set, which included six deaths to the CF, the Taliban in Kandahar and Helmand provinces were massing.

Operation Mountain Thrust was launched in the beginning of the summer in 2006. Canadians of the 1 PPCLI Battle Group were one of the leading combatants and the first fighting when the Battle of Panjwaii took place. Complex mud-walled compounds made the rural Panjwaii District take on an almost urban style of fighting in some places. Daily firefights, artillery bombardments, and allied airstrikes turned the tides of the battle in favour of the Canadians. After Operation Mountain Thrust came to an end, Taliban fighters flooded back into the Panjwaii District in numbers that had not been seen yet in a single area in the "post Anaconda" war.

The Canadian Forces came under NATO command at the end of July, and the 1 RCR Battle Group replaced the PPCLI. Canadians launched Operation Medusa in September in an attempt to clear the areas of Taliban fighters from Panjwaii once and for all. The fighting of Operation Medusa led the way to the second, and most fierce Battle of Panjwaii in which daily gun-battles, ambushes, and mortar and rocket attacks were targeting the Canadian troops. The Taliban had massed with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 fighters. The Taliban were reluctant to give up the area, and after being surrounded by the Canadian Forces, they dug in and fought a more conventional style battle. After weeks of fighting, the Taliban had been cleared from the Panjwaii area and Canadian reconstruction efforts in the area began.

On 15 September 2006, the Canadian government committed a squadron of Leopard C2 tanks from Lord Strathcona's Horse, and an additional 200 to 500 troops to Afghanistan.[14]

Canadian CH-147 and CH-146 over Daman District Center.

On 1 November 2006, Dutch Major-General Ton Van Loon succeeded Brigadier-General David Fraser as head of NATO Regional Command South in Afghanistan, a post which he retained for six months.[15]

On 15 December 2006, the Canadians launched Operation Falcon Summit into Zhari District, to the north of Panjwaii. The operation was the Canadian involvement in the NATO-led Operation Mountain Fury. During Operation Falcon Summit, the Canadians gained control of several key villages and towns that were former Taliban havens, such as Howz-E Madad. During the first week of the operation, massive Canadian artillery and tank barrages were carried out in a successful attempt to clear pockets of Taliban resistance. The operation concluded with plans to build a new road linking Panjwaii with Kandahar's Highway 1 that runs east-west through Zhari.

In February 2007, the 2 RCR Battle Group took over to carry on with combat operations in several districts in Kandahar Province.

From 15 July 2007 to February 2008, units from CFB Valcartier near Quebec City served in Kandahar filling most positions in the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) and providing the protective company for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The 3rd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group, with supporting troops from 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group and a composite tank squadron from Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) conducted operations on the ground. This rotation reflected a change in Canadian tactics, with emphasis on systematically clearing-holding-building in the districts of Panjwaii and Zhari, while also protecting Arghandab District and the Afghan–Pakistan border in the area of Spin Boldak. The focus was on intimately working with the Afghan army, police and civil administration to hold cleared areas rather than subsequently lose them to returning Taliban, as had previously occurred throughout the South and East.

In February 2008, the Van Doos contingent was replaced by force centred on a PPCLI battle group. Also in February 2008, Canadian Major-General Marc Lessard took command of Regional Command South for nine months.

On 13 March 2008, the Harper Conservative government's motion to extend the military mission past February 2009 into 2011 was approved in a parliamentary vote with the support of the Liberal opposition. The extension of almost another three years had a focus on reconstruction and training of Afghan troops, and set a firm pullout date, calling for Canadian troops to leave Afghanistan by December 2011. While the Liberals voted in favour of the Conservatives' confidence motion, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois voted against it, having consistently rejected any extension of the military mission. NDP leader Jack Layton said "There are millions of Canadians who don't want this strategy to continue. The population prefers a road to peace."[16]

As part of the new American administration's policy on Afghanistan, it was announced that 17,000 new U.S. troops would be deployed to the country with a third stationed in Kandahar province.[17] On 10 August 2009, Brig-Gen. Jonathan Vance of Task Force Kandahar transferred the authority of some of Kandahar Province to Col. Harry Tunnell IV, commander of the U.S. army's 5th Stryker Brigade. Canadian troops were then stationed primarily around Kandahar City and the surrounding districts.[18]

2010–2011: American troop surge, Heavy skirmishes, combat end[edit]

On 1 December 2009 U.S. President Obama announced a major troop increase that would send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.[19] The Canadian troops remained mostly active in the Panjwaii and Kandahar districts, where they were located at the end of 2009.[citation needed] Canadians were also active in the Zhari and Daman districts.[20]

In February 2010 Canadian air forces and ground troops from 3PPCLI took part in the highly publicized Marja offensive.[21] In early 2010, Task Force Kandahar also contributed to creating the 3rd brigade of the 205th ANA Corps that was deployed in Kandahar and Helmand province. In April 2010 the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR), along with O Company of the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment (3RCR) was deployed to relieve PPCLI in the southern districts of Kandahar province. As the end of May 2010 approached, heavy fighting ensued and continued for much of the summer. During this time, two major operations involving about 160 troops along with two platoons of ANA were conducted under the name Operation Azida 1 and Operation Azida 2. 7 Platoon 3RCR's involvement in the operations over three months confronted them with as many as 75 skirmishes with Taliban forces, and approximately 50–75 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found. On one occasion, a Chinook helicopter was struck in flight by an insurgent RPG. This resulted in a hard landing, and destruction of the helicopter, but with no reported serious injuries. The violent clashes and skirmishes continued through until the end of August 2010, leaving O Company 3RCR and their combat attachments with over a dozen serious injuries.[22] Two weeks later Canadian Forces transferred Kandahar city to the Americans. As of this point, most of Canada's forces were in the Panjwaii district as well as Dand and Daman.[23] On 27 November 2010, in the tenth and final troop rotation, the 1st Battalion of the Royal 22e Régiment took over, marking the final rotation before Canada's withdrawal from Afghanistan.[24]

Canada withdrew the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan in 2011, with the Infantry Battle Group withdrawn by the end of July (handover of battlespace completed 6 July around 09:00 Afghanistan Standard Time), and all Canadian Forces personnel and equipment were withdrawn from Kandahar by the end of December 2011. In September 2008, Conservative leader Stephen Harper pledged this, saying a decade at war is enough, after having extended the withdrawal deadline twice previously. He acknowledged that neither the Canadian public nor the troops themselves had any appetite to stay longer in the war and said that only a small group of advisers might remain.[25][26][27][28][29]

2012–2014: NATO Training Mission and withdrawal[edit]

On 9 December 2010, it was announced that after the end of combat operations in July 2011, Canadian Forces (approximately 950 newly posted specialized personnel) would be posted to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan to continue the training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.[30] Canada's contribution to this mission was dubbed Operation Attention and took place mostly around Kabul with some training occurring at Mazar-i-Sharif.[31]

By late 2013 Canada began withdrawing its final soldiers from the training mission. In October the force was down to 650 personnel from over 800 and the withdrawal from Afghanistan was scheduled to be completed by March 2014.[31] On 12 March the government announced with little fanfare that the mission was formally completed with a flag-lowering ceremony held in Kabul.[32] [33] The last 84 soldiers left Afghanistan on 15 March 2014, ending Canada's twelve-year military presence in the country.[34]

Provincial reconstruction team[edit]

A key element of Canadian operations in Afghanistan is the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT), one of 25 provincial reconstruction teams throughout the country. A Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is a unit introduced by the United States government to support reconstruction efforts in unstable states, performing duties ranging from humanitarian work to the training of police and the military. Following NATO's involvement, command of some PRTs was transferred from the US to other nations under the ISAF.

The Kandahar PRT is composed of around 330–335 personnel composed largely of Canadian Forces elements (315), but also of a few diplomats, correctional officers, development specialists, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).[35][36][37] The Kandahar PRT also includes one U.S. State Department official, one U.S. development official, and several U.S. police mentors.[36]

By 2007, Canada's effort was in full effect to rebuild Kandahar. The KPRT task was concerning the National Solidarity Program (NSP). The NSP was "designed to re-generate local village councils and their ability to work for a common purpose, something sorely lacking after 25 years of focus on basic self-preservation."[38] The role of KPRT to fulfil the goals of the NSP was one that required much time and patience. As the NSP grew, "power shifted away from drug lords and Taliban chieftains and back to Afghans" through the rebuilding of community and creating trust in the "power of good government."[38]

Canada and its allies used several methods to develop and build the economy in Kandahar. One of its main challenges was convincing its people that their future lies in good government and much had to be done. One of the tasks at hand was the organization and professionalism that needed to be added to the Afghan police. The problem that Canadians faced is that one day they may be dealing with Afghan police who assist with tracking down the Taliban, and the next a corrupt police force taking bribes from the Taliban and drug lords. To correct this, the Canadians used the RCMP to "train new police forces in war-shattered societies."[39]

Another crucial element toward the rebirth of Kandahar is its agriculture, and the need to show farmers how to prosper. After facing ten years of drought "CIDA focused development on getting wadis, karezes, canals, and more modern pipelines into the older fields so that farmers could radically increase crop production."[40] The next step was then teaching the Afghan farmers how to "improve crop yields" which they were receptive to, wanting to improve their way of life. The difficulty with farmers in this region is the fact that their interests coincide with the Taliban and local drug lords. Both these groups, "depend on a climate of fear and dependency in the countryside to support their lifestyles and their wars."[41] By 2007 the work of the PRT was gaining considerable ground. This was evident as "Kandaharis took on much of the rebuilding process themselves." The Taliban threat was down and the UN plan for the people of Kandahar to help it its own renewal was in full effect. Despite the continued fighting and Taliban resurgence Kandahar was maintaining stability and beginning to prosper.

The PRT is about one-eighth the size of the overall 2,830 Canadian military forces in Afghanistan. The 2008 Manley Report recommended that the KPRT be given more funding and attention and be placed under civilian leadership instead. The KPRT was transferred to a civilian command in April 2010, during the update in the US civilian surge to Kandahar, with the Representative of Canada in Kandahar Ben Rowswell as KPRT Director and former US Ambassador Bill Harris as Deputy Director. With impending Canadian drawdown in 2011 and increasing number of US soldiers and civilians in Kandahar, the KPRT transitioned from Canadian to American command in late 2010, completed with the transfer of authority in early 2011 of KPRT directorship from Tim Martin to American diplomat Ben Moeling.[36]

"Signature" projects[edit]

Following the recommendations of the Manley report, the Canadian government sought to highlight several so-called "signature" projects in Kandahar Province.[36] The government of Canada's communications on Afghanistan website highlights:[42]

  • Dahla Dam and irrigation system: Canada put $50 million over three years toward this project to assist with irrigation and basic services across the region. It was believed that it would create 10,000 seasonal jobs.
  • Education: Canada put $12 million over three years into improving the education system across Kandahar.
  • Polio eradication: Canada put up to $60 million over three years toward this project to see the immunization of an estimated seven million children across Afghanistan, including 350,000 in the province of Kandahar.

As a result of these signature projects, "Within five years, more than six thousand schools have been rebuilt and six of thirteen million children are now in school. Roads and bridges have been repaired, new roads have been built, and new wells have been dug. Access to health clinics is vastly better than it was five years ago and the infant mortality rate is beginning to drop. Programs in rural transportation, safe drinking water, irrigation, and schools are among the twenty thousand projects that are now underway."[43] The work of the NSP also saw tremendous progression in the Afghan government. For example, "More than sixteen thousand locally elected community development councils now dot Afghanistan, and elected leaders choose projects that meet their priorities."[43]

Other operations[edit]

  • Canada's naval contribution to the Afghanistan War was part of the American-led Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150). The purpose of which is for maritime patrol and enforcement near Afghanistan.[44] Originally Canada served as part of Operation APOLLO but after its conclusion in October 2003 it was designated Operation ALTAIR in January 2004.[44] ALTAIR ended on September 2008 and its duties transferred to Operation SAIPH which had more of a focus on the Horn of Africa region.[45]
  • The Canadian Security Intelligence Service increased activities abroad, including in support of Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan. The executive director of its civilian oversight committee noted in January 2009 that this had noticeably altered the spy agency and urged policy improvements to manage its growing operations overseas.[46]
  • Canada assisted in the collection, storage and decommissioning of 10,000 heavy weapons left in Afghanistan including artillery, tanks and rocket launchers, used in decades of conflict in the country.[12]
  • Canada helped clear about one third of the estimated 10 to 15 million mines in Afghanistan.[12]
  • Canada lent money to over 140,000 people in Afghanistan.[12]
  • Canada helped train the Afghan police and army.[12][47]
  • Since December 2001, Canada was an active participant in the civilian-led United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The Canadian military terms it Operation ACCIUS.
  • In September 2005 Canada initiated the Strategic Advisory Team – Afghanistan (SAT-A), known as Operation ARGUS, to mentor aspects of the Afghan government on defence issues. It usually contains around fifteen personnel and one Canadian International Development Agency official.[48][49] The SAT-A had often been considered a pet project of CDS Rick Hillier and was shut down August 2008 a month after his retirement.[50]
  • Since early 2006, the Canadian Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) has helped to train and equip the Afghan National Army to take over security when the coalition pulls out. Currently the OMLT consists of around 200 personnel training 1,000 Afghan soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 205th Corps. The OMLT also has a subgroup that mentors the Afghan National Police.[48][51]

Public opinion[edit]

The mission to Afghanistan was politically controversial with the Canadian public: On 31 August 2006, New Democrat leader Jack Layton called for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from the south of Afghanistan, to begin immediately and soon afterwards pursue peace negotiations with the Taliban insurgents. He argued that the mission lacked clear objectives and measures of success and that the counter-insurgency operation was undermining reconstruction in Afghanistan.[52] The Liberals and the governing Conservatives were generally supportive of the mission in Afghanistan. While initially in support of the war, the Bloc Québécois opposed any extension beyond the initial withdrawal date. Opinion amongst pundits and academics was generally divided along the ideological lines, with left-leaning media outlets and think-tanks being against the war, and right-leaning publications and institutes being supportive.

Successive surveys conducted by various pollsters across the political spectrum suggest opposition to the war in the general public grew with time:

  • At the end of 2001, a poll quoted by The Washington Post showed that 74% of Canadians supported the US-led war in Afghanistan.[53]
  • One year after the September 11 attacks, Ekos reported that a majority of Canadians still supported the participation of the Canadian military in Afghanistan, with only one in five opposing.[54]
  • In 2006, as Canada was expanding its presence in the country, a Strategic Counsel poll conducted for CTV News and The Globe and Mail suggested that a majority of Canadians opposed or were ambivalent to the War in Afghanistan, with 54% opposing. In Quebec, as much as 70% opposed the war, while in the West more Canadians were in support (49%) than opposed (45%).[55]
  • In May 2008, after the Government extended the Canadian mission as recommended by a report from John Manley, a national poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion suggested that 54% of Canadians thought the House of Commons was wrong, while 41% agreed; two months later, 58% opposed and 36% agreed. At that point, Canada had lost 86 soldiers in the war.[56]
  • In December 2009, public opinion on the War in Afghanistan stood at approximately the same numbers, with 53% opposing and 42% supporting the mission in Afghanistan. However, 66% were opposed to expanding Canada's role in the country, 28% were in support. At that point, Canada had lost 133 soldiers in the war.[57]
  • At the end of 2010, nine years after the initial invasion, the Canadian government decided to extend Canada's involvement until 2014; however the combat mission was ending in 2011, and the new mission involved 950 trainers to help train Afghan troops. According to a national poll conducted by Angus Reid, 48% of Canadians agreed with this decision, while 44% disagreed; however, 56% still opposed the military mission in the country.[58]
  • As the combat mission wrapped up, a poll conducted on 1570 Canadians in July 2011 for QMI Agency and Sun Media showed 30% of respondents felt the sacrifice was worthwhile, and 58% did not. The Léger poll also found that male respondents were more likely to feel the mission was worth the sacrifice than female respondents.[59]

Many Canadians were vocal in their opposition to the war, and several protests were held by many anti-war groups, most of them organized under the Canadian Peace Alliance umbrella. In Quebec, some parliamentarians refused to stand in honour of soldiers visiting the National Assembly.[60] Other Canadians were supportive of the mission, and more particularly of the troops.[61] A grassroots phenomenon known as the Highway of Heroes that started in 2006 saw hundreds of local residents gathering along bridges to salute soldiers' remains travelling between CFB Trenton and the Coroner's office in Toronto. Some Canadians also participated in Red Fridays in honour of the soldiers.


Military deaths[edit]

A US Marine CH-53E lands next to a downed Canadian CH-47 during tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel in Kandahar Province.

Between 2001 and 2014, 159 Canadian soldiers died while on a mission in Afghanistan. (The 159th fatality was added in October 2015, when the Department of National Defence determined that the death in 2005 was mission-related.) Of these, 123 were due to hostile circumstances, including 95 due to improvised explosive device (IED) or landmines, 21 due to rocket-propelled grenade, small arms or mortar fire, 11 due to suicide bomb attacks, and one died falling from a cliff during a combat operation that involved firefight. An additional 22 soldiers died in accidents or other non-combat circumstances; 7 due to friendly fire, 6 in vehicle crashes, 2 in a helicopter crash, 2 from accidental falls, 2 from accidental gunshots, 1 suicide death and 2 unspecified non-combat-related deaths in the country. Additionally, one unspecified non-combat-related death occurred at a support base in the Persian Gulf. Canada suffered the third-highest absolute number of deaths of any nation among the foreign military participants, and one of the highest casualties per capita of coalition members since the beginning of the war.[62][63] More than 2000 soldiers were injured during the war between April 2002 and December 2011. 635 soldiers were injured in action while 1412 were injured in patrol or non-combat situations.[64]

Non-military deaths[edit]

One senior Foreign Affairs official, Glyn Berry, and four Canadian civilians were killed in Afghanistan due to hostile circumstances.

Name Hometown Employment Date Circumstance
Glyn Berry United Kingdom Senior Foreign Affairs officer 15 January 2006 Died in a suicide attack while travelling in an armoured G-wagon.[65]
Mike Frastacky Vancouver, British Columbia Civilian carpenter 23 July 2006 Murdered in Nahrin.[66][67][68]
Jacqueline Kirk Montreal, Quebec Civilian aid worker 14 August 2008 Killed along with an American aid worker and their Afghan driver when the vehicle they were riding in was ambushed by gunmen while travelling between Gardez and Kabul.[69]
Shirley Case Williams Lake, British Columbia Civilian aid worker
Michelle Lang Vancouver, British Columbia Journalist working for the Calgary Herald 30 December 2009 Killed along with 4 Canadian soldiers when their vehicle was struck by an IED.[70]

Military equipment lost or damaged[edit]

The Canadian Forces lost over 34 vehicles and 359 were damaged during the mission. The land force lost 13 LAV-III and another 159 were damaged by roadside bombs or enemy fire. At least three Leopard C2 were destroyed and 15 were damaged. A dozen of unspecified trucks in various sizes and models were damaged and seven were destroyed. A number of floodlight assembly trailers and kitchen trailers were destroyed during various rocket attacks against Kandahar International Airport.[71]

Unit recognition[edit]

Battle honours for the Afghanistan mission was bestowed in May 2014 to units of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force that participated. Fifteen RCN surface vessels received the theatre honour "Arabian Sea." The "Afghanistan" theatre honour went to two units of the RCN, 65 units of the Canadian Army, 4 units of the RCAF and 1 unit of the Special Forces.[72]

Several units were recognized with the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation, including the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1st Battalion, PPCLI, 3rd Battalion, PPCLI, and 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment.[73]

The Calgary Highlanders were awarded the Canadian Forces Unit Commendation for contributing more reserve soldiers to deployed units in Afghanistan than any other reserve unit. The unit deployed 107% of its established strength to the mission in Afghanistan, "significantly more than any other reserve unit."[74]

Individual valour and bravery awards[edit]

Over the first four years in Afghanistan, a number of decorations for bravery or for military merit were awarded to Canadian soldiers. Of particular note, in December 2003, four PPCLI snipers from 3 PPCLI were awarded Mentions in Dispatches by the Canadian Army and the Bronze Star by the U.S. Army for their actions in combat during Operation Anaconda, 2–11 March 2002. These were Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale, Master Corporal Tim McMeekin, Corporal Dennis Eason, Corporal Rob Furlong and Master Corporal Arron Perry .[75]

The numbers of decorations being awarded increased when Canadian forces took over responsibility for Kandahar Province in 2006 and confronted an insurgency that was determined to regain control of the Pashtun heartland. During the period 2006-2011, Canadian forces came under fire from enemy forces for the first time since the Korean War and, because of this, 109 Decorations for Military Valour were awarded for the first time since the new system of decorations had been established in 1993. By the end of Operation Athena in 2011, the following awards had been made for courage "in the presence of the enemy."

  • Star of Military Valour - 20
  • Medal of Military Valour - 89
  • Mentions in Despatches - 308[76]

The first awards of Decorations for Military Valour were made in 2006 to members of 1 PPCLI Battle Group.

On 27 October 2006, Sergeant Patrick Tower of the PPCLI became the first ever recipient of the Canadian Star of Military Valour. It came as a result of actions on 3 August 2006, where he assumed command of his platoon under fire, and escorted them to safety.[77]

Sergeant Michael Thomas Victor Denine, PPCLI, was awarded the Medal of Military Valour for his actions as part of Operation Archer. On 17 May 2006, though under intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire, Sergeant Denine exited a light armoured vehicle and manned the pintle-mounted machine gun. In spite of being completely exposed to enemy fire, Sergeant Denine laid down such a volume of suppressive fire that he forced the enemy to withdraw.[77]

On 24 May 2006, while under intense enemy fire, Master Corporal Collin Ryan Fitzgerald, PPCLI, entered and re-entered a burning platoon vehicle, driving it off the roadway and allowing the other vehicles trapped in the enemy's kill zone to break free, for which he was awarded the Medal of Military Valour.[77]

Canadian Navy Lt. Haley Mooney sorting donations sent from the United States to Camp Eggers, Kabul.

On 13 July, during Operation Archer, Private Jason Lamont, PPCLI, ran across open ground through concentrated enemy fire in order to deliver first aid to a wounded comrade, for which he was also awarded the Medal of Military Valour.[77]

Major William Hilton Fletcher, PPCLI, received the Star of Military Valour.[78] He was recognized for demonstrating extraordinary bravery during his service in Afghanistan from January to August 2006. He repeatedly exposed himself to intense fire while leading C Company, 1 PPCLI Battle Group, on foot, to assault heavily defended enemy positions.

Captain Derek Prohar, PPCLI, received the Medal of Military Valour. Assigned as liaison officer with the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan during the battle at Sperwan Ghar, 5–12 September 2006, Captain Prohar operated as the rear machine gunner on the battalion commander's vehicle. He was wounded by an improvised explosive device during an intense enemy ambush. Despite his injuries, he continued returning fire and assisted the commander with the control of the attack, which resulted in the successful seizing of key terrain.[79]

Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Chris Hasler, a Canadian, was invested with the Distinguished Flying Cross personally by Queen Elizabeth II on 23 May 2007 for flying resupply missions under fire in Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan in 2006. He is the first Canadian to be decorated for bravery in the air since the Korean War.[80]

At the end of 2006, every Canadian soldier was selected by the Canadian Press as the Canadian Newsmaker of the Year due to the war in Afghanistan.[81]


Canadian soldier charged with second-degree murder[edit]

In late December 2008, reports began to surface of possible "inappropriate conduct" concerning the death of a "presumed insurgent".[82] The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service investigated the incident, resulting in second-degree murder charges against Captain Robert Semrau on 31 December 2008.[83] According to court documents released on 6 January 2009, Captain Semrau, who was serving with NATO's Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team supervising and mentoring Afghan soldiers in Helmand Provence, is alleged to have killed a wounded insurgent found by Afghan National Army troops after they came under a Taliban ambush on 19 October 2008. According to the "detention review synopsis" filed by Crown prosecutor Major Marylene Trudel, Afghan soldiers found a man whose wounds "appeared too severe for any type of treatment in situ" and disarmed him. The statement goes on to allege that Semrau was seen near the wounded man when two shots were heard.[84][85] The document states that "After evaluating all available evidence, the prosecution believes that it was Captain Semrau who fired both shots, that these shots resulted in the death of the severely wounded insurgent and that Captain Semrau had no lawful justification for shooting the severely wounded insurgent".[85] The prosecution also claimed that it would produce a witness who would testify that he saw Semrau shoot the wounded man. The body of the man was left behind at the scene of the ambush and was never found.[84] Major Trudel added that the charges against Captain Semrau could change and that the prosecution was "still a step behind that process."[84]

On 18 September 2009, the Canadian Forces announced that Captain Semrau would be facing General Court Martial on four charges:

  • Second Degree Murder – contrary to Section 130 of the National Defence Act, pursuant to Section 235(1) of the Criminal Code
  • Attempt to Commit Murder (alternative to the Charge of Second Degree Murder) – contrary to Section 130 of the National Defence Act, pursuant to Section 239(1)(a.1) of the Criminal Code
  • Behaving in a Disgraceful Manner – contrary to Section 93 of the National Defence Act
  • Negligently Performing a Military Duty – contrary to Section 124 of the National Defence Act.[86]

Court Proceedings began on 25 January 2010, before a Military Judge and a five-person panel.[87] On 24 March, Semrau pleaded not guilty to the four charges. On 19 July, he was found not guilty of murder, attempted murder, and negligence, but guilty of disgraceful conduct.[88][89] On 5 October 2010, he was dismissed from the military and his rank was reduced to second lieutenant, but he was not sentenced to jail.[90] Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Guy Perron, explaining his sentencing, described Captain Semrau as a courageous soldier and leader, and that he was "probably caught between his moral values and his duties as a soldier". He also said that Captain Semrau had even more responsibility towards his duties because he was in a leadership position "How can we expect our soldiers to respect the rules of engagement if our officers don't?".[91]

Robert Semrau was interviewed for CBC radio on the publication of his book, The Taliban Don't Wave.[92]

Afghan detainee abuse scandal[edit]

In 2007 allegations arose that the Canadian military was handing detainees over to the Afghan military without first making sure that they would not be abused. This evolved into a political scandal in Canada that eventually resulted in Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor being demoted.

On 18 November 2009, allegations regarding the treatment of Taliban prisoners captured by Canadian forces in Afghanistan resurfaced in parliamentary testimony by Richard Colvin, the second highest-ranked member of Canada's diplomatic service in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. Colvin testified that "According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was a standard operating procedure." Colvin also testified that he had made numerous reports to both the Department of Defence and the Foreign Affairs Department about the situation, starting in 2006.[93] Defence Minister Peter MacKay responded to the allegations saying "I don't believe it's credible. I don't believe it's backed up by fact and what we have to deal with in a parliamentary hearing, as we do in a court of law, or another judicial or public inquiry, is evidence that can be substantiated".[94]

Financial cost[edit]

The estimated cost of continuing Canadian operations in Afghanistan is the subject of considerable debate. Initial government estimates for the period 2001 to 2009 were as low as CAD$9 billion according to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay in June 2006,[95][96] but later government estimates of the incremental cost of the conflict (as distinct from the fixed cost of DND operations unrelated to Afghanistan) increased to CAD$5 billion in March 2008 due to equipment purchases.[97]

Independent estimates of the total cost of the conflict range as high as CAD$18.5 billion by 2011, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.[98] The discrepancy between this and government estimates lies in the difficulty in distinguishing between routine military costs and those dedicated specifically to the Afghan conflict, as well as the inclusion of long term costs relating to injured soldiers and estimated lost productivity caused by personnel afflicted with Operational Stress Injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.



Effect of War in Afghanistan on Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Equipment[edit]

Canada's effort in Afghanistan had a noticeable effect on some of the CAF's equipment holdings. The three most obvious areas are: tactical aviation, UAVs, and main battle tanks (MBT).

During and following the war, Canada's tactical aviation evolved from using utility versions of the CH-146 Griffon solely to using a mix of CH-47 Chinook and CH-146 Griffon, the latter of which often act as armed escorts.

The many year effort to provide the CAF with UAVs came to fruition with the deployment of the SAGEM Sperwer to Kabul initially and then to Kandahar.

The fighting in Kandahar, notably during Operation Medusa, led the CAF to abandon its plan to transition to a wheeled, lightly armoured, 105mm-armed Armoured Combat Vehicle (see Tanks of Canada) instead of its Leopard 1 MBTs. In fact, it replaced the Leopard 1 with the Leopard 2 MBT.

Table of Some Relevant Equipment[edit]

UAV AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
HEAVY DUTY TRUCK Mercedes-Benz Actros
MINE DETECTION VEHICLE Chubby (mine detection system)
MINE-RESISTANT CLEARENCE VEHICLE Buffalo (mine protected vehicle)
HOWITZER M777 155mm Howitzer
ARMOURED PERSONNEL CARRIER Bison (armoured personnel carrier)
LIGHT RECONNAISSANCE VEHICLE Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle
ARMORED HEAVY DUTY TRUCK Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle System (AHSVS)
ANTI-TANK Carl Gustaf 8.4cm recoilless rifle


Diplomatic ties[edit]

On 25 January 2002, Canada officially re-established diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. This was followed by the opening of Canada's embassy in Kabul in September 2003. Canada's current representative is Ambassador Francois Rivest.

In Popular Culture[edit]

The movie Hyena Road revolves around a group of Canadian soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) fighting the Taliban while surrounded by the political, tribal, and military complexities of Kandahar Province. The eponymous novel based on the movie's screenplay by Paul Gross was published in 2015.

See also[edit]


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  • Stein, Janice Gross; Lang, Eugene (2008). The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143055372.
  • Windsor, Lee; Charters, David; Wilson, Brent (2008). Kandahar Tour: the Turning Point in Canada's Afghan Mission. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470157886.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]