The Canadian Armed Forces Legacy in Afghanistan

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) conducted operations in Afghanistan for more than 12 years in a number of different roles involving air, land and sea assets. CAF activities included combat, security, development, support and training operations in varying capacities and regions in Afghanistan.

Since the beginning of the mission, more than 40,000 CAF members have deployed to Afghanistan, many more than once, making the military engagement the largest deployment of CAF personnel since the Second World War.

The international mission in Afghanistan

Canada was part of a larger NATO-led and United Nations-sanctioned mission that included several NATO and other like-minded nations. The international community is focused on helping the Government of Afghanistan assume responsibility for security, governance and development and to help the Afghan people rebuild their nation as a stable, democratic, self-sufficient society.

The first step in this transition process (known as Inteqal) focuses on transferring the responsibility for security from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan national security forces (ANSF) by 31 December 2014.

Successful transition requires that the ANSF be fully capable of tackling security challenges on a sustainable and irreversible basis. Non-existent in 2001, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police have grown in size and strength. Today, there are nearly 350,000 uniformed Afghan soldiers and police that are planning, leading and conducting across the entire country. The transition process is on track to be completed by the end of 2014.

Canada’s mission in Afghanistan

Canada’s ultimate goal is to help Afghans rebuild Afghanistan into a viable country that is better governed, more stable and secure, and never again a safe haven for terrorists. To this end, Canadians have assisted in improving security, diplomacy, human rights and development.

CAF activities aimed to establish the security required to promote development and an environment conducive to the improvement of Afghan life. CAF members:

  • conducted combat operations to root out and drive out insurgent groups such as the Taliban to create a secure environment for development and reconstruction to take place;
  • maintained security in various areas to allow Afghans to rebuild;
  • facilitated the delivery of programs and projects that support national economic recovery and rehabilitation; and
  • trained members of the ANSF and senior officials in the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence to provide them with the tools necessary to sustain their own security.

Afghanistan’s challenges cannot be overcome by military means alone. As well as military personnel, the Canadian effort in Afghanistan included diplomats, development workers, police officers, and experts in human rights, good governance, the rule of law, and the institutions of a healthy democracy. This wide range of expertise was assembled to bring a whole-of-government approach to the complex task of nation-building.

The CAF were one component of this effort that also included other Canadian government departments, such as:

  • the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada;
  • the Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
  • Canadian civilian police departments;
  • Public Safety;
  • Correctional Services Canada; and
  • Canada Border Services Agency, among others.

Canadian Armed Forces operations in Afghanistan

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1368 condemning the attacks and supporting international efforts to root out terrorism in Afghanistan.

On 7 October 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom launch Operation Enduring Freedom to dismantle the Al-Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan and to remove the Taliban regime from power. On the same day, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that Canada would contribute air, land and sea forces to the international campaign against terrorism. Operation APOLLO, the CAF contribution to the campaign, officially began, marking Canada’s entry in the international mission.

Operation APOLLO (October 2001 – October 2003)

Operation APOLLO was Canada's military contribution to the international campaign against terrorism from October 2001 to October 2003.

At sea, Canada was the first coalition nation after the United States to send warships to the Southwest Asia operational theatre. It was Canada’s largest naval commitment since the Second World War.

Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ships were sent to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf with the principal task of maintaining control of the maritime area of operations. In total, 15 different ships deployed to region to:

  • support military operations in Afghanistan;
  • participate in the defence of United States Navy ships transporting US ground and air forces; and
  • support multinational counterterrorism activities in the region at sea.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) deployed a Strategic Airlift Detachment (SAL Det) in November 2001, followed by a Long-Range Patrol Detachment (LRP Det) and a Tactical Airlift Detachment (TAL Det) in January 2002. A maritime helicopter detachment also accompanied RCN ships to support Canadian and coalition operations at sea.

The detachments were essential in assisting with medical evacuations, resupply for troops on the ground, rapid deliveries, and the movement of personnel. The SAL Det was used to transport troops, equipment and cargo from Canada to the region. The TAL Det was responsible for transporting personnel and equipment into the theatre of operations in Afghanistan. The LRP Det assisted with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to maintain coalition situational awareness of the theatre of operations.

In late-2001, the first Canadian Special Forces members arrived in Afghanistan to support multinational counter-terrorism operations. In February 2002, the first elements of the Canadian Battalion Group based on 3 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry  arrived in Afghanistan and became an integral part of the 187th Brigade Combat Team of the United States 101st Airborne Division. Working alongside their American counterparts, Canadians fought the insurgency to repel them from their strongholds.

The naval task group reached its peak in January 2002 with six warships and 1,500 personnel deployed. Starting in February 2002, Canada led a multinational task group of coalition ships in the Gulf of Oman which included, at various times, 16 ships and several aircraft from eight different countries.

From 2001 to 2003, RCAF deployments carried more than 3.4 million kilograms of cargo, transported 2,300 passengers and logged over 4,300 flying hours.

In December 2003, the naval commitment to Op APOLLO ended after four rotations. Between January 2004 and October 2008, Canadian ships continued to deploy to the region to support the international campaign against terrorism as part of Operation ALTAIR.

Operation ACCIUS (November 2002 – June 2005)

Operation ACCIUS was Canada’s contribution of two senior Canadian Forces officers to the Military Advisory Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The UNAMA Military Advisory Unit (MAU) consisted of officers from several nations who served as military liaison officers (MLO) at UNAMA regional offices across Afghanistan. Its primary objective was to support UNAMA aims in the field of security sector reform, security capacity building, and security confidence building.

MLOs supported these initiatives and developed confidence and cooperation between Afghan and coalition security forces as well as other organizations and agencies. They promoted mutual understanding, trust and synchronization.

UNAMA and its mandate

UNAMA was established on 28 March 2002 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1401 with a mandate to support the reconstruction and national reconciliation processes set out in the Bonn Agreement of December 2001. UNAMA’s mandate has since been renewed several times, most recently on 17 March 2014 as part of UN Resolution 2145 (2014).

UNAMA has several functions, including:

  • lead and coordinate international efforts in assisting Afghanistan with its transition while reinforcing Afghan sovereignty, leadership and ownership;
  • support the organization of elections and the sustainability, integrity and inclusiveness of the electoral process;
  • support peace and reconciliation efforts;
  • assist in increasing greater coherence, coordination and efficiency among UN agencies, funds and programs in Afghanistan; and
  • coordinate and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Operation ATHENA (August 2003 – December 2011)

In August 2003, phase 1 of Operation ATHENA began – Canada’s contribution of peace-support and combat forces to ISAF. For the next two years, Canada provided an infantry battle group and the command element of a multinational brigade (from February to July 2004) to help establish and enhance security in and around the capital, Kabul. CAF troops conducted foot patrols, surveillance missions, armed raids on illegal weapons caches and provided security to facilitate elections.

Phase 1 of Op ATHENA ended in August 2005 and the Canadian task force began transitioning to Kandahar until January 2006.

The second phase of Op ATHENA saw CAF members conducting combat operations in Kandahar province (specifically in the Dand, Arghandab, Panjwayi, and Zhari districts) until July 2011. The CAF remained committed to enabling and contributing to whole-of-government outcomes; building and enabling ANSF capacity; and establishing and maintaining security.

Canada assumed responsibility for the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team from the United States in August 2005. Approximately 350 military, police, foreign affairs, correctional services and development personnel came together to form a whole-of-government team committed to improving the quality of life of residents of Kandahar province by assisting with the provision of governance, security and development.

For more than five years, CAF members fought the insurgency in what was considered one of the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan – Kandahar. At its peak, the Canadian battle group included nearly 3,000 personnel and was augmented by an air wing from December 2008 to August 2011.

The Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing was established as a result of recommendations made in the final report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan. The additional in-theatre air capacity provided tactical airlift support to Canadian and ISAF forces as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. It included a robust command and control structure and a variety of aircraft such as:

  • the Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan, which operated the CH-147 Chinook, CH-146 Griffon and chartered Mi-8 helicopters;
  • the Canadian Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Detachment, which operated the CU-170 Heron UAV;
  • the Tactical Airlift Unit operating the CC-130 Hercules; and
  • Camp Mirage, the Theatre Support Element in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

With the introduction of CC-177 Globemaster III aircraft in 2007, the RCAF expanded its role by providing the critical air bridge between Canada and Afghanistan with regular sustainment flights in support of operations. In total, 746 missions were flown totaling close to 17,000 hours of flight contributing to the successful delivery of 32,000 troops and 65 million pounds of freight to Kabul, Kandahar and Bagram airfields in direct support of coalition forces.

The Air Wing helped save Canadian, allied and Afghan lives by reducing exposure to ambushes, landmines and improvised explosive devices as was a consequence of previous ground movements. In total, the Air Wing transported more than 200,000 passengers and moved 37 million pounds of cargo.

Throughout Op ATHENA, senior Canadian officers commanded coalition battle groups, while CAF members integrated and operated alongside international troops at all levels. Canadians took part in and commanded several large-scale multinational operations aimed at protecting Afghans where they live and sleep, reducing the influence of the insurgency, eliminating insurgent strongholds and creating a secure environment for development work to take place, and supported developmental work thereafter.

Canada deployed a robust Special Operations Task Force to Kandahar province that targeted insurgent leaders, contributed to force protection by conducting operations against improvised explosive device facilitators and trained and mentored Afghan Special Forces.

The CAF also fielded Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to work alongside and within Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) units. OMLTs worked with ANA and ANP units to deliver individual and group training, to mentor leaders at every rank level, and to provide liaison with ISAF forces in partnered operations.

Combat operations officially ended in July 2011. As the last of 12 rotations under phase 2 of Op ATHENA, the Mission Transition Task Force (MTTF) was deployed to conclude all aspects of the Canadian military mission in Kandahar Province by 31 December 2011. The MTTF was responsible for preparing, repairing, packing and shipping vehicles, equipment and material to the new CAF operation in Kabul or back to Canada.

Operation ALTAIR (July 2004 – September 2008)

Operation ALTAIR was Canada’s contribution of warships to operations supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. On each of the first four rotations of Op ALTAIR, a single Halifax-class frigate was integrated into a U.S. Navy carrier strike group on reaching the area of responsibility. On the last rotation, a three-ship Canadian task group operated with Combined Task Force 150.

Deployments on Op ALTAIR helped keep Canada’s navy relevant, responsive, and effective. The naval presence demonstrated Canada’s commitment to international security and the campaign against terrorism, and significantly enhanced the interoperability of the Canadian and U.S. navies.

Operation ARGUS (September 2005 – August 2008)

Operation ARGUS was the deployment of the Strategic Advisory Team Afghanistan (SAT-A) – a team of strategic military planners. The SAT-A assisted the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan develop key national strategies, and mechanisms for the effective implementation of those strategies.

With about 15 military and civilian members at its height, the SAT-A included:

  • a small command and support element;
  • two teams of strategic planners;
  • a defence analyst;
  • a strategic communications advisor; and
  • a development expert.

The SAT-A cooperated closely with the Canadian Embassy and representatives of the Afghan government to provide direct planning support to government ministries and groups responsible for development and governance. The SAT-A worked extensively with the Afghan government’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, and with working groups on national development strategy, public administration reform, and gender equity policy in the Afghan Civil Service.

The members of SAT-A planning teams brought a wide range of training, education, experience and strategic planning skills (both civilian and military) to bear on complex civil problems. They embedded with Afghan government ministries and agencies and worked under Afghan direction to help Afghan government officials integrate the substantive ideas of international experts and their own national leadership into cohesive strategic plans.

Operation ARCHER (February – July 2006)

The primary activity under Operation ARCHER was the deployment of about 12 senior CAF members in Kabul with the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A). The CSTC-A was a U.S.-led multinational organization that provided mentors and trainers to help Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior organize, train, equip, employ and support the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

The military nature and coalition structure of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM made it adaptable to a wide range of multinational projects, such as the CSTC-A, designed to help the Afghan authorities build the components of a new security infrastructure: operational forces and their sustaining institutions, and the general staff and ministries to direct these organizations. These projects were part of the long-term international effort to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, government and national institutions, including the army and police, that began with the fall of the Taliban in December 2001.

Operation SAIPH (October 2009 – May 2012)

From 25 October 2009 to 31 May 2012, Operation SAIPH was Canadas periodic participation in the international campaign to enhance maritime security in the North Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the waters around the Horn of Africa.

Operation SAIPH had five areas of mission focus:

  • counter-piracy efforts under Operation OCEAN SHIELD, a continuing mission directed from the NATO Maritime Component Command Headquarters in Northwood, England;
  • counter-terrorism operations as part of Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), a combatant flotilla of Combined Maritime Forces headquartered in Bahrain;
  • military-to-military engagements with the nations of the region;
  • building and improving strategic relationships in the region; and
  • helping the nations of the region develop their military capabilities.
Operation ATTENTION (May 2011 – March 2014)

While this monumental task was occurring, Op ATTENTION was ramping up. Op ATTENTION was Canada's participation in the NTM-A, which delivers training and professional development support to the national security forces of Afghanistan: the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Air Force, and the Afghan National Police.

Canada’s troop contribution was the second largest within NTM-A which also included providing the organization’s deputy commanding general. Canadians were involved in establishing basic individual recruit training institutions and also played a key role in training more than 160 Afghan Kandaks (battalion sized units). In addition, CAF members provided specialized training in fields such as medicine, logistics, signals and air operations.

Canadians have been instrumental in assisting in the development of the capacity and capability of the Afghan national security forces to enable them to take responsibility of their own security by 31 December 2014.

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