VANCOUVER – The first of the last deployments of Canadian troops to Afghanistan is en route to Kabul, to train Afghan forces and eventually hand over control of the country’s security operations.
Fifty soldiers took off from Edmonton International Airport on Monday. Another 50 were picked up from CFB Shilo, in Manitoba, along the way.
There will be another 900 that head to the country throughout the summer, but Canada’s time in Afghanistan is winding down.
WATCH: Troops deploy to Afghanistan
Those soldiers will participate in Canada’s contribution to the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A), known as Operation ATTENTION, preparing the Afghan National Army, Afghan Air Force and Afghan National Police to take over security of the country when the mission ends next year.
“By March 2014, our troops will be completely out of Afghanistan, with no plans for future missions there,” said Capt. Cynthia Kent, Public Affairs Officer for Canadian Joint Operations Control.
Canada has not had a combat role in the country since 2011 and the process to transfer security operations began.
Operation ATTENTION maintains about 900 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, with rotations coming in and going out.
This round of troops left just a day before it was announced the Taliban and the U.S. will hold talks to find a political solution to end the 12-year-old war.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday the Taliban met a key U.S. demand to not use Afghanistan as a base to threaten other countries.
This is the third and final phase of NTM-A, which began in Nov. 2009.
There are now 352,000 members of the Afghan forces, compared to just 40,000 in 2007.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, said Tuesday it may still take a “few months” to hand over security completely to the Afghans, The Associated Press reported.
Kent explains Canadians are “training the trainers.”
“Our role is to help them have a self-sustainable training program. So, that they will be able to do it all on their own, and they’re very close to that point right now,” Kent said.
Canadian Forces are operating primarily in Kabul, but also to some extent in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif – Afghanistan’s fourth largest city.
There are currently about 100,000 troops from 48 countries in Afghanistan at the moment – 66,000 from the U.S. alone.
U.S. president Barack Obama hasn’t clarified how many of his country’s troops may stay in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends at the end of next year, but it’s believed the number could be around 9,000.
It’s expected another 6,000 soldiers from allied forces will also remain there past 2014.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Kabul, on Tuesday.
Karzai said the security transition in the last of five provinces will take place in the next several months, as Afghanistan officially took control of its nationwide security.
“Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today,” Rasmussen said. “And time and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks.”
*With files from The Associated Press
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