Canadian Troops in Afghanistan

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2003 Volume 24 Issue 4

The most recent deployment of Canadian armed forces to Afghanistan began in August when Canadian infantry troops arrived there as part of “Operation Athena,” the Canadian contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). About 1,900 Canadian Forces personnel were deployed in the first of two six-month rotations to meet a one-year commitment made by the Canadian government in February. Defence Minister John McCallum announced in late September that the cost of the operation would total about $650-million, of which $445-million would be drawn from additional Treasury Board funding. The government also will provide about $300-million in aid to Afghanistan.

Under Operation Athena about 1,700 Canadian troops were sent to Kabul, with the remainder deployed elsewhere in the region around Afghanistan in support of the mission. The majority of the personnel in Kabul form a battalion group equipped with light-armoured infantry fighting vehicles (LAV-IIIs), howitzers, Coyote armoured reconnaissance vehicles, and eventually an “unmanned air vehicle (UAV)” surveillance system. The battalion group is part of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade under the command of a Canadian brigadier-general. According to a Department of National Defence (DND) press release, the multi-national brigade “is a robust, tactical military organization designed to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority in its efforts to create a safer, more secure environment in Kabul” (DND 2003a). Other Canadian Kabul-based personnel include engineers, military police, and reconnaissance and medical support staff.

As DND background material makes clear, the International Security Assistance Force – and consequently Operation Athena – is not a UN operation. The Canadian Forces commitment to the civilian-led UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), identified as Operation ACCIUS when it was announced in November 2002, consists of one officer. ISAF, although authorized by a UN resolution (UNSCR 1386) in December 2001, was led by the UK, Turkey, and a shared German-Dutch Corps before it came under NATO command in August and became the first official NATO operation outside Europe. The UN mandated the ISAF to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority in the Kabul area. The Canadian government’s goal for Operation Athena “is to prevent Afghanistan from relapsing into a failed state that provides a safe haven for terrorists and terrorist organizations” (DND 2003b). Operation Athena is thus Canada’s latest contribution to the “War on Terror.”

The previous deployment of Canadian troops to Afghanistan was announced by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in October 2001 as part of the Canadian commitment to an international force to “conduct a campaign against terrorism.” Under “Operation Apollo,” Canadian Forces personnel were quickly sent to the region, some directly to Afghanistan, but most as part of a Naval Task Group patrolling the north Arabian Sea. Since October 2001 Canadian patrol frigates and supply vessels have rotated in and out of the region, providing support to other multinational force ships or conducting interdiction actions, such as boarding vessels to apprehend suspected members of terrorist groups. At its peak in January 2002, the Canadian Naval Task Group comprised six warships and about 1,500 Navy personnel. Since early September 2003, the frigate HMCS Calgary has been the sole Canadian vessel on patrol.

As part of Operation Apollo, in January 2002 Canada also sent a battle group of about 750 soldiers to Kandahar in Afghanistan to assist US troops in roles ranging from reconnaissance to combat. The reconnaissance troops were equipped with Coyote vehicles specifically requested by US forces. During the six months of the battle group operations in Afghanistan, four Canadian soldiers on training exercises were killed by US “friendly fire” when fighter pilots dropped bombs during active patrol. The battle group troops returned from the Operation Apollo mission in July 2002. Operation Apollo also was supported by Canadian air force personnel and equipment. The air force airlifted personnel into the region between November 2001 and May 2002 using Polaris (Airbus A310) transport aircraft, and provided reconnaissance and surveillance operations using Aurora long-range patrol aircraft from January 2002 to June 2003.

Some previous Canadian missions in Afghanistan will be carried over to Operation Athena. The use of Hercules transport aircraft to move personnel and equipment within the region, and some logistical and communications support tasks of Operation Apollo will continue. According to the Defence Associations National Network (2003, p. 8), some personnel from the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) also will be assigned to the Canadian ISAF contingent. The JTF2 is the secretive commando unit of the Canadian forces which has fought with US troops throughout Afghanistan, and was photographed taking captured prisoners to US forces in January 2002.



DND 2003a, Media Advisory MA 03.022, July 16.

DND 2003b, Backgrounder BG–03.039c, October 17.

National Network News 2003, Summer, Defence Associations National Network.


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