With the summer fighting season in full swing, the American general in charge of NATO forces here predicted continued hard combat in Kandahar province as Canada's military completed its formal pullout from Afghanistan today.
U.S. Major-General James L. Terry said combined NATO and Afghan forces have put "insurgent momentum in check."
But he told the American units taking over from the Canadians that the Taliban were far from beaten. "This is a critical time in Kandahar province," he said, "as the insurgents attempt to regain what they have held" in the recent past."
His comments came during the last of a series of ceremonial goodbyes marking the end of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, as Brigadier-General Dean Milner relinquished command of NATO troops in three Kandahar districts to the U.S. 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
The Alaska-based brigade, supplemented by Romanian army units, has already been operating in Zabul province immediately north of Kandahar as well as alongside Canadian troops here.
Some 35,000 foreign troops now operate within the southern regional command that includes Kandahar province, the highest level since NATO countries first became embroiled in Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the Taliban regime.
Nearly all are American soldiers, deployed beginning in late 2009 as the United States turned its attention from Iraq to Afghanistan and dramatically increased its troop levels.
While bomb attacks and firefights with insurgents have fallen off this year in the two districts where the last Canadian battle group was concentrated, southern Afghanistan remains a killing ground for Afghan and foreign troops as well as Afghan civilians.
Since the start of the year, 25 American servicemen and one Australian have been killed in Kandahar province, according to the tracking website, icasualties.org. One Canadian soldier died in an improvised explosive device blast in March.
Two other Canadian soldiers died of non-combat injuries in May and June, just as their tours were ending. Those deaths are under investigation as possible suicides.
Canadian soldiers fought across the whole of Kandahar province beginning in 2006, coming in just as the Taliban re-launched their campaign to regain control of Afghanistan.
"We held the line from 2006 to 2009, until the start of the surge," said Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard, who commanded the southern region for NATO in 2008 and now heads Canadian Forces overseas. "We held the line."