Beyond its troops and tanks, Canada casts a long shadow at Kandahar Airfield, the hub of the coalition's Afghan mission.
There's the Canadian gym, popular among the nearly 20,000 soldiers from other countries. So too is the on-base Tim Hortons, owned and operated by the Canadian Forces. The base's prominent Canadian-built hockey pad is home to a house league, which is dominated, naturally, by Canadian teams.
KAF is heavy on its Can-con, all of it built since Kandahar became the focus of Canada's Afghan mission in 2006. But with Canadian combat troops set to withdraw next summer, coalition countries face a cold reality: KAF without Canada.
Call it Ottawa's other pullout.
"We'd take all our equipment," says Jan Kwasniewski, Canada's manager of troop welfare at the base. It's a long packing list. His crews will take home the gym's weights, leaving the 900 foreign soldiers it draws each week to find other facilities. Canada will take its hockey gear, leaving only the rink and about three non-Canadian teams. Even the Tim Hortons, self-contained in a trailer, will be shipped home. The gear will get repacked and prepared for the Canadian military's next theatre of operations. When the Canadians first arrived in Kandahar, they unpacked gym equipment that had last been used by Canadian troops serving with the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia in the 1990s.
About the only sign left of Canada's presence on the sprawling base will be the maple leafs dotting the boards around the iceless hockey rink. Asked if he is worried about the effect on the morale of other NATO troops when the perks of Canada's easygoing culture have gone, Mr. Kwasniewski smiles.
"The priority is for the Canadians," the former infantryman says. "We're here for them first. I always have to keep that in mind."
Preparations are not yet under way for the withdrawal of Canadian services at the base, and as long as the soldiers are here, what are called welfare programs will remain in place.
But other nations may soon get an early taste of life of without Canadiana. The Canadian Forces is in the final stages of a plan to build a new Tim Hortons trailer. It will be roughly double the size of the existing one and be located in the Canadian compound rather than its present spot on KAF's multinational boardwalk market. It will be more convenient for the Canadians, much less so for other NATO troops.
"What are you going to do then?" says Lieutenant Tom Allen, a British helicopter crewman, while he and fellow flyer Lieutenant Luke Huntley each drain an iced cappuccino.
"Most of us work on the opposite side of the airfield, so it's convenient," Lt. Allen says. "I know it's massive in Canada. It's like Starbucks everywhere else. But I'd never heard of it before I came here."
Beyond the extensive list of Canadian-sponsored development projects in Afghanistan and the years of contributions by soldiers in the field, there is at least one hope for a lasting Canadian footprint at the base - the outdoor hockey rink.
It will be up to the three teams that remain to try and find others to play. Though acknowledging his team will probably win more games, Slovakian First Lieutenant Jozef Hracho says running the league without Canada won't be much fun. His team is even playing with Canadian equipment, borrowed while they ship in their own.
"The teams will continue, but not be so good," says Lt. Hracho, a passionate fan of Slovak star and former NHLer Zigmund Palffy. "Nobody else will beat us, but it will not be fun."
Standing in the Canadian gym, Canadian soldier Dave Gagliano agrees the Slovaks will have a tough time finding a decent opponent.
"Definitely the Slovakians are our toughest competitors, our toughest non-Canadian team," says Corporal Gagliano, 34, one of the hockey league's administrators.
He explains that when each rotation turns over, new teams are created and the league starts again from scratch. He hopes that cycle will continue once Canadian troops, and all they bring with them, leave.
"I don't know. It's hard to say," Cpl. Gagliano says. "My wish is that the legacy carries on."Report Typo/Error