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Operation ATHENA was Canada’s contribution of peace-support and combat forces to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from 17 July 2003 to 1 December 2011.

Joint Task Force Afghanistan

Joint Task Force Afghanistan comprised all Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed on Operation ATHENA. The typical tour of duty with Joint Task Force Afghanistan was six months, although personnel assigned to headquarters units and advisory or mentoring tasks served tours ranging from seven to 12 months.

Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar Province concluded on 7 July 2011 with the handover of the Canadian area of responsibility to a U.S. Army task force, and the end of Rotation 10 of Joint Task Force Afghanistan. Rotation 11 is the Mission Transition Task Force, responsible for closing down Canadian activities at Kandahar Airfield.

Mission context

Operation ATHENA had two phases. In Phase I, it was essentially a peace-support mission in Kabul, where ISAF was concerned with ensuring security while the nascent Afghan government developed its constitution and held its first elections. In Phase II, Operation ATHENA moved to Kandahar Province to become the Canadian Armed Forces’ longest-running combat mission.

Origins of ISAF

ISAF was formed under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1386 of 20 December 2001 with a mandate to maintain security in and around Kabul so employees of the Afghan Interim Authority (the body governing Afghanistan under the terms of the Bonn Agreement) and the United Nations could operate in a secure environment. Britain was the first country to serve as lead nation, from December 2001 to June 2002. Resolution 1413 of 23 May 2002 extended the ISAF mission and authorization to 20 December 2002, and Germany and the Netherlands took over from Britain to share the lead. On 27 November 2002, the mandate was extended again by Resolution 1444 to run until 20 December 2003.

In June 2002, the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, returned from exile to convene the Loya Jirga, the grand tribal council of Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga established the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, and elected Hamid Karzai as its president and head of the Afghan Transitional Authority, which replaced the Afghan Interim Authority.

Operation ATHENA Phase I: Kabul

Operation ATHENA began on 17 July 2003 with the installation of Brigadier-General Peter Devlin of Canada for a six-month tour in command of ISAF’s Kabul Multi-National Brigade. On 19 July 2003, the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group, began deploying to Kabul as Roto 0 of Task Force Kabul.

ISAF became a NATO mission on 11 August 2003. On the same day, Major-General Andrew Leslie of Canada was installed as Deputy Commander of ISAF in Kabul. Its main focus during the first year of NATO leadership was helping the Afghan Transitional Authority maintain a safe and secure environment in Kabul while the Loya Jirga developed and ratified a constitution for Afghanistan (completed 4 January 2004).

On 9 February 2004, Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier of Canada accepted the command of ISAF, which he retained until handing over to LGen Jean-Louis Py of France on 9 August 2004.

ISAF’s primary objective in 2004 was ensuring the safe conduct of Afghanistan’s first democratic election, which was held on 9 October 2004 to choose 250 Members of Parliament and the President. Despite widespread threats and isolated outbreaks of violence, some 80 percent of eligible voters turned out on election day. Hamid Karzai was declared the winner, and on 9 December 2004 he was inaugurated President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Rotations during Phase I

Roto 0 August 2003– February 2004 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group
Roto 1 February 2004– August 2004 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battalion Group
Roto 2 August 2004– February 2005 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battalion Group
Roto 3 February 2005– July 2005 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group

 Operation ATHENA Phase II: Kandahar

In 2005, ISAF began to extend its operations beyond Kabul to support the development and growth of Afghanistan’s governmental institutions, especially its national security forces. At that time, ISAF also joined the extensive efforts by governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout Afghanistan to rebuild its shattered communities.

The Afghanistan Compact

Signed on 1 February 2006 and valid for five years, the Afghanistan Compact governed the relationship between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the coalition forces then operating in Afghanistan: ISAF, and U.S.-led forces deployed under Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Signatories to the Afghanistan Compact agreed to a wide-ranging program of activity based on three "critical and interdependent" areas of activity:

  • security,
  • governance, rule of law and human rights; and
  • economic development.

A further "vital and cross-cutting area of work" was also identified: eliminating the narcotics industry, described as “a formidable threat to the people and state of Afghanistan, the region and beyond.” Benchmarks and timelines are set out in Annex I. Annex II addresses the issue of effectiveness of aid efforts in Afghanistan, and Annex III covers coordination and monitoring.

New mission objectives and the "whole of government" approach

In order to align the Canadian contribution to ISAF with the objectives set out in the Afghanistan Compact, the program developed for Phase II of Operation ATHENA was something new for the Canadian Armed Forces. For the first time, the Canadian Armed Forces would conduct an overseas operation as a component — albeit the largest one — of a deployed “whole of government” effort.

The new military task force — dubbed Joint Task Force Afghanistan — would deliver mission effects in the areas of security for the people of Kandahar Province and capability development in the Afghan National Army, and, later, in the Afghan National Police. To work toward objectives in the areas of governance, rule of law, human rights and economic development, the new Canadian mission also included diplomats, development workers, law enforcement and corrections officers, and other civilians with valuable expertise to share with the Afghan government.

Significantly, the whole-of-government effort was directed from Ottawa by a special Cabinet Committee on Afghanistan to ensure that all participating departments and agencies aligned their activities on the same objectives. In 2008, to strengthen the civilian elements of the Canadian mission, the position of the Representative of Canada in Kandahar was created to provide focussed leadership and co-ordination.

Task Force Kandahar

As it expanded through Afghanistan, ISAF organized its personnel and assets in provincial Task Forces responsible for the development of Afghanistan’s national security forces, and maintaining a safe and secure environment to allow development and capacity-building work to continue.

In August 2005, the Canadian whole-of-government mission took over Kandahar Province from a U.S. Army task force deployed under Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, and the second phase of Operation ATHENA began.

The civilian elements of the whole-of-government team were concentrated in the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, which was one of the first mission elements to take shape. Another notable Canadian effort developed at the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, where Canada provided the command team and most of the medical personnel (both military and civilian) from February 2006 to August 2008. Canadian medical personnel continued to serve at the Role 3 hospital, now under U.S. command, until November 2011.

Mid-mandate review: The Manley Report and its effects

On 12 October 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed retired Cabinet minister John Manley to lead an independent, non-partisan panel tasked to review Canada’s mission and future role in Afghanistan. The Manley Report, tabled in the House of Commons on 28 January 2008, affirmed the value of the mission while pointing out important deficiencies in its design that required immediate correction if the mission was to continue. The primary recommendations were acted on within the year. Most significant were:

  • a request to ISAF for additional troops to bring Task Force Kandahar to brigade size, met by the U.S. Army during the summer with the deployment of a regiment of infantry;
  • the development and deployment of an Air Wing to add helicopter airlift and unmanned aerial vehicles to the Canadian task force; and
  • the transfer of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team from military to civilian leadership.

CF units in Afghanistan

Canadian Armed Forces personnel served in the following ISAF organizations:

  • Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team: Military engineers, legal and medical advisors, Civil-Military Co-operation personnel and force protection personnel from August 2005 to August 2010; command team from August 2005 to August 2008
  • A headquarters, a battle group and support units for Task Force Kandahar, a brigade-sized formation under ISAF Regional Command (South) and headquartered at Kandahar Airfield, from January 2006 to June 2011
  • Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield: Military and civilian medical staff from February 2006 to December 2011; command team from February 2006 to August 2008
  • Military personnel for the Operational Mentor and Liaison Team from August 2006 to June 2011
  • The Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing from December 2008 to August 2011
  • Military personnel to serve with other ISAF units, including:
    • ISAF Headquarters in Kabul (August 2003–present)
    • ISAF Regional Command (South) Headquarters at Kandahar Airfield (August 2005–November 2011)
    • Commander, Kandahar Airfield (August 2005–November 2011)

The Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team

Comprising experienced diplomats, development workers, police and corrections officers as well as military personnel, ISAF’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) promote the policies and priorities of Afghanistan’s national government with local authorities, encourage reform initiatives, and coordinate development projects.

The Government of Canada formed the KPRT in August 2005 at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City.

Through its Construction Management Office and Specialist Engineering Team, the Canadian KPRT provided co-ordination and expert engineering support services to a multitude of projects executed by Afghan contractors. The Canadian development effort was led by three signature projects:

  • The Dahla Dam and irrigation system;
  • Education in Kandahar Province; and
  • Eradication of polio.

Responsibility for the security and management of Camp Nathan Smith and the Kandahar City operating area was transferred from Canada to the United States in early August 2010 in line with the new division of coalition responsibilities in southern Afghanistan. The August 2010 transfer of responsibility meant that life-support services such as camp security, health care, food and accommodations would be provided by the U.S. At the same time, the responsibilities of the Construction Management Office and the Specialist Engineering Team were assumed by the Task Force Kandahar Engineer Regiment.

The development and governance initiatives of the KPRT continued under civilian leadership until the summer of 2011.

Task Force Kandahar

As of June 2011, Task Force Kandahar (TFK) included the following capabilities:

  • a headquarters, supported by intelligence, communications and field security assets,
  • Brigade Troops to support the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT) at Camp Nathan Smith, including civil-military co-operation (CIMIC) teams and Stabilization Companies,
  • manoeuvre units, including a Canadian battle group and a substantial U.S. Army presence,
  • operational mentor and liaison teams, and
  • an engineer regiment.

Brigade Troops

CIMIC teams supported the whole-of-government effort centred in the KPRT to promote governance at community level in the districts of Panjwai and Dand, and to encourage and enable participation in development projects.

The soldiers of the Stabilization Companies provided force protection and other defensive support to the civilian personnel of the KPRT, including diplomats, development workers, correctional staff and police trainers.

Manoeuvre units

The manoeuvre units of Task Force Kandahar carried out the "clear, hold, build" operations in their area of responsibility, always in co-operation with other coalition forces and in partnership with the Afghan National Army and other elements of the Afghan national security forces.

The Canadian battle group that served in Kandahar Province from October 2005 to June 2011 represented such a large proportion of Op ATHENA personnel that its rotations came to represent the entire operation. The battle group consisted of a full battalion of infantry, a tank squadron, an armoured reconnaissance squadron, a battery of field artillery, and a field engineer squadron. U.S. Army units, added for the first time in August 2008, operated under Canadian operational command in Task Force Kandahar.

Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams

As part of a long-term strategy to build institutional capacity in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM-A) provides training facilities and programs in every province and region of Afghanistan. (Note: Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan continues with the 950-strong Canadian contingent in the NTM-A, which is deployed in the Kabul area, in Mazar-e-Sharif and in Herat under Operation ATTENTION.)

To maintain the professional development effort into operational units of the Afghan national security forces, ISAF task forces are partnered with ANA and ANP formations in their area of responsibility. The experienced soldiers of the Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLTs) work 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.

The first Canadian OMLT deployed to Kandahar Province in August 2006 to work with the 1st Brigade, 205 Corps, Afghan National Army (1/205 ANA). In 2007, a similar effort was launched in the Afghan National Police (ANP), and the Canadian OMLT expanded to support ANP detachments at Police Sub-Stations across Kandahar Province.

Task Force Kandahar Engineer Regiment

Comprising all engineer assets in Task Force Kandahar not assigned to its manoeuvre units, the TFK Engineer Regiment was responsible for:

  • developing and implementing defences against explosive ordnance and improvised explosive devices;
  • planning and managing construction projects executed by Afghan contractors; and
  • all other construction and engineering work the task force required.
Rotations during Phase II
Roto 0 August 2005– February 2006 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group
Roto 1 February 2006– July 2006

1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group

Roto 2 August 2006– February 2007 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group
Roto 3 February 2007– August 2007 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group
Roto 4 August 2007– February 2008 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group
Roto 5 February 2008– August 2008 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group
Roto 6 August 2008– February 2009 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group
Roto 7 February 2009– August 2009 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group
Roto 8 August 2009– February 2010 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group
Roto 9 February 2010– October 2010 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group
Roto 10 October 2010 – July 2011 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group
Roto 11 July–December 2011 Mission Transition Task Force, made up primarily from Land Force Western Area

Related links

Department of National Defence

Other Government of Canada departments

International missions

Pertinent documents

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