The first Canadian Armed Forces contribution to the campaign against terrorism in Southwest Asia came at sea. Beginning in October 2001, Canadian ships would see ongoing duty in the waters of the region, supporting and defending the international fleet operating there as well as locating and searching unknown boats looking for illegal activity.
The Aurora patrol aircraft and Hercules and Polaris transport planes of the Canadian Armed Forces Air Command would also be active in Afghanistan and the waters off Southwest Asia, filling important roles in marine surveillance, transporting supplies and personnel, and evacuating casualties. Canadian helicopters also provided important service in identifying merchant’s vessels and offering valuable transport support over the years.
Canadian soldiers soon travelled to Afghanistan as well. The first were commandos from the elite Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) in December 2001, followed by other Canadian soldiers in January 2002 who were initially based in Kandahar. There they joined American and British troops already fighting to topple the Taliban regime, eliminate terrorist operations and establish the basis for lasting peace in the troubled country.
With the eventual fall from power of the Taliban, attention turned to stabilizing the country and helping establish a new Afghan government. The UN authorized a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to take on this challenge. The initial Canadian contribution to the ISAF in the summer of 2003 consisted of more than 700 Canadian Armed Forces members stationed in Kabul, the country’s capital, with 200 more providing support from elsewhere in Southwest Asia. In Kabul, the Canadians patrolled the western sector of the city, helped operate the airport and assisted in rebuilding the Afghan National Army.
In 2005, the Canadian Armed Forces’ role evolved again when they began to shift back to the volatile Kandahar region. While the Taliban government had been toppled, the group remained a strong presence in some areas of the country. Indeed, Canada’s return to Kandahar coincided with a resurgence in Taliban activity and our soldiers quickly found themselves the targets of attack.
The numbers of Canadian soldiers soon swelled to approximately 2,300 to help deal with the enemy and support the Provincial Reconstruction Team operating there. Canadian tanks, artillery and infantry soldiers all took part in many ground operations in Kandahar, including large-scale offensives against massed Taliban forces. This chapter of Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan was the most perilous. Anytime Canadian soldiers left the relative safety of their main camps to go “outside the wire,” the danger was very real.
Canada’s combat role in the country ended in 2011 when the focus shifted to training Afghanistan’s army and police force and the last of our service members left the country in March 2014. But Canada’s efforts in the troubled country have been numerous. Reaching out in an attempt to build trust and win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan was an important goal. In addition to their military activities, Canadian Armed Forces members engaged in many humanitarian efforts like digging wells, rebuilding schools and distributing medical and relief supplies, both as part of their official mission and on a volunteer basis.