Maj. Andrew Atherton and 170 of his Royal Canadian Dragoons provide escorts for the truck convoys carrying the makings of the new base along a two-lane highway threatened by roadside booby traps and suicide bombers, as well as the normal hazards of dust, heat and bad drivers.On what I am starting to see as an undertold story of 2006, NATO and other nations are moving to pretty much take over Afghanistan operations.
Atherton's Coyote and LAV III light armoured vehicles, armed with 25-mm cannons and machineguns, provide the security the convoys need for the 10-hour, 450-kilometre trip. He can also call on heavier elements, including air support from other members of the NATO coalition.
"Kandahar is not just a different place in Afghanistan, it's a completely different mission."
Kandahar, he said, is much more like Iraq. There are radical Islamic elements, high levels of poverty and a porous border with Pakistan through which men and arms percolate with ease.
"We're moving from what was, in a sense, a stability and peacemaking operation in Kabul to a very different mission in Kandahar which could include everything from an Iraqi-style insurgency and putting down that insurgency down to elements of diplomacy and aid that need to be rolled out in the region to stabilize it."
There are about 1,000 Canadian personnel in Afghanistan now. They are shutting down the base in Kabul and opening up in Kandahar.
By February, Canada will have about 2,000 soldiers based in Kandahar, including a provincial reconstruction team to help rebuild infrastructure, security elements, a medical detachment and a headquarters.
Though poorly equipped and underfunded on the whole, the Canadians are leaning in hard and sending their best to Afghanistan. They also plan to increase military spending over the rest of the decade, so keep an eye out for our Northern brothers. They are a good shot, and good friends.