The Canadian Mission in Kandahar
Almost five years after the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, the American public is largely unaware of the scope of NATO's commitment to providing stability for the Afghan people and combating al Qaeda and the Taliban. Through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO plans to increase its personnel in Afghanistan to approximately 15,000, and will expand the mission into the southeastern provinces of Day Kundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul. These provinces are areas of increased Taliban and al Qaeda activity, and suicide bombings, roadside bombings and small scale assaults against Afghan and NATO security forces have risen dramatically over the past year.
Canada is playing a crucial role by securing Kandahar province, which is the birthplace and former seat of power of the Taliban within Afghanistan. The Canadian government has committed over 2,300 Canadian troops to Task Force Afghanistan, which is commanded by Brigadier-General David Fraser. BGen Frazer also commands the Multi National Brigade for Regional Command South.
Task Force Afghanistan is comprised of a headquarters and communications team, various support elements, an engineer squadron, an artillery battery, an armored reconnaissance troop, a Provincial Reconstruction Team, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team, medical personnel, and an assortment of advisers to the Afghan government and security forces. Task Force Afghanistan's main punch is provided by over 1,000 troops from 1st Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment (1 PPCLI), which is augmented by a company from the 2 PPCLI.
The 1 PPCLI is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hope, and is based out of Edmonton, Alberta. The fist of the battalion is comprised of four rifle companies. The companies are supported by reconnaissance, mortar, anti-armor, assault pioneers (engineers), signals, logistics and headquarters platoons. The combat vehicles include LAV IIIs (Light Armored Vehicles), M-113A1, the Grizzly armored personnel carrier, and newly purchased RG-31 Nyalas. The battalion arrived in Kandahar in February of this year and their deployment ends in August.
The PPCLI Regiment has a storied combat history. The regiment fought in World War I at the First Battle of Ypres and the battle of Frezenbrerg, which included a deadly chemical assault by the German Army in which 4 officers and 150 enlisted surviving the attack; World War II in the invasion of Italy and the liberation of Holland; and Korea at Kapyong. The regiment continues its tradition of service in Afghanistan, and has seen its share of action since it arrived in Kandahar.
In April, four soldiers from the 1 PPCLI were killed near Gumbad when their lightly armored Mercedes wagon was struck by a roadside bomb. Another soldier was killed during a firefight with the Taliban. Earlier this week, Canadian soldiers captured ten suspected Taliban during a raid near Gumbad. Today, Captain Nichola Goddard was killed during an operation in the Panjwai district just as the Canadian Parliament prepared to vote on extending the mission in Afghanistan by two years. "The operation was planned after reports were received of Taliban massing in large numbers," according to a Canadian spokesman. A United Nations convoy was also attacked by a suicide bomber in Kandahar City, with one UN employee wounded. The Canadian base in Kandahar recently came under a "rocket attack" (two rockets were fired), the fifth since the deployment began in February.
The Taliban is regrouping along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and has built up infrastructure and safe havens in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, particularly in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Tank and Kyber agencies. ABC News also reports the Taliban is regrouping "Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni, Helmand, Nimruz and Farah in central and southwestern Afghanistan," and has established Shariah courts to carry out executions. The Taliban believes it can fracture the NATO mission and is targeting the Canadian forces. "We think that when we kill enough Canadians, they will quit war and return home," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yuosaf Ahmedi, in late April. The Canadians in Task Force Afghanistan disagree, and are taking the fight to the enemies of the Afghan people.