DISTRICT SHAH VALI KOWT, Afghanistan - Canadian soldiers from the Royal 22nd Regiment moved deep into hostile territory over the weekend, patrolling a vast region of Afghanistan known to be sympathetic to the Taliban.

Canadian troops did not confront insurgents during this trek but they are convinced the territory is guided by a "phantom Taliban government."

Along roads, through fields and mountains, the soldiers cut a wide swath across a region north of Kandahar in light armoured vehicles. They continued their patrol on foot through punishing 50 degree C heat.

At best, the reception from local villagers was polite and lukewarm, as most men and children - women are absent from public spaces in Afghan villages -- watched the soldiers march with a mix of fear, mistrust and sometimes hostility in their eyes.

The troops are often seen as invaders.

One youth, who hid a sickle behind his back was told by a soldier to drop his weapon. An elder intervened and persuaded the young man to get rid of the object before the situation deteriorated.

Elsewhere, residents in a hamlet acknowledged the troops with indifference. The locals spoke among themselves and drank tea, while an officer tried to persuade citizens to show the soldiers around the village.

"The Americans came here and they promised to build a school," said Chalam Abad, an elder claiming to be the town's mayor.

"They never did it."

Abad, speaking through an interpreter, said he had not seen NATO soldiers in the community for at least three years.

Villagers said they have never had a problem with the Taliban. Some said the Taliban have never set foot in the region.

The International Security Assistance Force, of which Canada is a member, thinks otherwise.

"There is a phantom Taliban government here," said one officer.

"That's why we have to be present here, checking over the terrain to counter infiltration by the Taliban."

For his part, Sgt. Steve Dufour says there is still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan before winning over the local population.

"There are people who are frightened and we see that there is still lots of information to send to the villages to explain to people that we are here to help," he said