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The Canadian military must sort out what it wants to donate to the Afghans and what it will scrap or sell to allies. (FINBARR O'REILLY/Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)
The Canadian military must sort out what it wants to donate to the Afghans and what it will scrap or sell to allies. (FINBARR O'REILLY/Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

Withdrawal

Sort, scrap and sell Add to ...

After they serve the last double-double in Kandahar in 2011, what's left of the world's most remote Tim Hortons outlet will probably be turned over to Canada's NATO allies.

It'll be part of this country's planned exit of combat soldiers from Afghanistan, an undertaking that begins in July, 2011, and will amount to Canada's biggest military withdrawal since the post-Cold War pullout from Germany.

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Canada's top soldier, Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, has given the order for Canadian Forces logistics whizzes to begin mapping out the move, expected to be finished by the end of 2011. That's in keeping with a 2008 deal between the Harper government and Opposition Liberals that extended the combat mission until July, 2011, with a pullout taking until Dec. 31.

But soldier supply clerks will have to build some wiggle room into their plans to repatriate the tonnes of bullets, beans and bandages that keep Canada's military functioning in Afghanistan.

Although the Conservatives have yet to make it clear, it's expected hundreds of soldiers may need to remain behind to protect reconstruction and development. Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie guesses up to 500 or 600 soldiers would stay in Afghanistan to keep watch over Canadian development projects or even to train local army and police.

The Harper government has so far been reluctant to spell out how many soldiers are staying behind after the 2011 pullout. During the 2008 election campaign, the Prime Minister acknowledged that not every single soldier will return with the combat pullout, and it's expected lingering pressure from the Obama administration to help out may lead to a contingent remaining.

Military analysts speculated that Gen. Natynczyk's decision to draw attention to withdrawal planning this week - his orders to make plans were actually given last summer - may have been an effort to force Ottawa to make clear its post-2011 intentions in Afghanistan.

The scale of the moving job facing Canadian soldiers is huge. "It is a massive logistical undertaking," one Defence Department spokesman said.

Even before it starts packing, the military must perform a triage of sorts on its belongings in Kandahar, sorting out what it will donate to the Afghans and what it will scrap or sell to allies.

Canada's military inventory in Kandahar is full of diverse equipment from fitness machines to snow-moving vehicles left over from more northerly operations.

It's inefficient to fly everything home, even though Canada recently bought big cargo lift airplanes.

That leaves ocean shipping - but because Afghanistan is landlocked, planners will have to find a safe route to truck goods to another country's port. The shortest trip would be south via Pakistan, but as Retired Colonel Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, points out, this is an uncertain route given insurgent trouble there. The alternative might be what the United States is doing, shipping goods via a rail route connected to European ports.

In the meantime, planners are busy calculating how many shipping containers will be needed for the task and ensuring they will have a charter ship in place to carry freight.

"It's like a gi-normous house move where every piece has to be inventoried so when it comes here it can go right into the warehouses," one Defence Department staffer said.

 

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