Canadian army's moving crew takes over in Kandahar
Canadians soldiers carry their baggage before leaving for home at Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan, Sunday, July 17, 2011. Canadian combat operations have ended and their troops will transition to a non-combat training role with up to 950 soldiers and support staff to train Afghan soldiers and police in areas of the north, west and Kabul.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Published Sunday, July 17, 2011 12:06PM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The refrain once upon a time used to be: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. But in Kandahar it has become: Pass the packing tape, please.
The army's moving and packing unit, known as the Mission Transition Task Force, came into being Sunday during a brief, understated ceremony.
It is charged with getting all of the vehicles, helicopters and thousands upon thousands of sea containers full of equipment back to Canada before the end of the year, the deadline set by Parliament to be out of Kandahar entirely.
Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, the country's overseas commander says the intent is to get everything back in good order so the army can be ready for another overseas mission, if called upon, by the end of 2012.
"We need this stuff back in Canada in tip-top shape soonest so the Canadian Forces can do operations somewhere in the world in the next few years," Lessard said.
The commander of the transition unit, Brig.-Gen. Charles Lamarre, says his job has been made a little easier by the fact that about 10 per cent of what he was send home is being diverted to support the new Canadian training mission in Kabul.
The Forces is selling off some things, most notably four CH-47D helicopters, which were purchased specifically for the Afghan mission to move troops around.
The air force in Canada isn't keen to bring them back because they are an older model of the tough battlefield helicopter and would require an almost completely separate supply chain to the newer Chinooks that have been purchased.
Lamarre says as far as he's been told by Defence headquarters no other allied nation has opted to buy them and the helicopters are still slated to be packed up and returned.
Lt.-Col. Virginia Tattersal, who is in charge of the move, says the most delicate item will be black and white marble memorial to fallen soldiers, currently located behind the Canadian headquarters.
She says combat engineers will take it apart piece by piece and it will be handled with extreme care.
"We're very conscious of the legacy of sacrifice here in Afghanistan," Tattersal said. "To send it home we want to do everything we can to make sure it's well packaged and it will make that long journey back to Canada."
It is unclear where in Canada the memorial will be reassembled and displayed.
The army is taking care with material that's been thrown out, especially broken electronics because the Taliban have been adept at using discarded junk to make bombs, said Tattersal.
"We're taking extreme care to strip out everything that can be used in another way," she said.
A photocopier was disassembled the other day, right down to the last screws and wires.
The most sensitive material, such as combat vehicles, is being flown out of Kandahar and either straight back to Canada or to Cyprus where its being off-loaded onto a container ship.
Non-sensitive material is being packed into sea containers and shipped overland to Pakistan where its being loaded onto cargo ships.
Virtually all combat troops are out of Kandahar, but a portion of the Canadian air wing continues to operate and will for some time to come.
Col. Al Meinzinger said the leased unmanned aerial vehicle detachment completed its last mission July 7 and provided surveillance to American units right up until it shut down at 10 o'clock that morning.
Chinook helicopters and their CH-146 Griffon escorts will continue flying until all Canadian equipment is repatriated from forward operating bases, moves that are expected to continue until at least the end of the month.
A detachment of Hercules transport planes will keep operating out of Kandahar until late fall, either moving material to Kabul or out of the country to the new staging base in Kuwait.
Lamarre says Canada is responsible for any environmental cleanup at the bases it occupied and much of that duty has already been completed in far-flung outposts.