Instead of donning their new tan-coloured uniforms, Canadian soldiers will be decked out in their more noticeable - and sometimes ridiculed - dark-green outfits in Kabul this year in a conscious bid to stand out from the crowd and other Western troops.
Major-General Andrew Leslie, who will lead the mission to Afghanistan, said he wants Canadian soldiers to be a visible presence in the capital city.
Soldiers and their families are worried about the threat of suicide bombers and snipers in the streets of Kabul, but the Canadian troops won't go into hiding. Gen. Leslie said Canadians have "to be seen" if they are to provide security in the volatile area and support the shaky interim regime of Hamid Karzai.
Gen. Leslie wants his troops to establish a rapport with local residents, and said the Canadian soldiers on patrol will bring stability to the unruly area with their obvious presence. He said the Canadian policy is to be "firm, fair and friendly" with the Afghans.
The green uniforms will set the Canadians apart from U.S. soldiers and most German troops in Afghanistan, who wear sand-coloured uniforms in the warm, mountainous area. Daytime temperatures this week in Kabul are in the low 30s.
A contingent of 1,500 Canadians will start operating with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul in August.
About 200 Canadian soldiers are already in Afghanistan setting up camp.
"We have tans and greens. My decision is to start in greens," Gen. Leslie said in an interview. "I want [the Canadian soldiers]to be seen when they first arrive on the ground, so that people can differentiate them between everyone else. Most others are wearing tans."
While Canadians will be distinct from most other soldiers in Kabul, Gen. Leslie said that Canada's good international standing will not shield his troops from potential attacks. He said that terrorists can target any Western soldier in Afghanistan.
In their first mission to southern Afghanistan last year, Canadian soldiers were the object of ridicule because they were the only members of the multinational coalition without tan uniforms in the desert-like conditions.
Gen. Leslie said that this time around, Canadian soldiers will bring both greens and tans to Afghanistan. He said he is willing to switch to tan uniforms if the green ones increase the risk of an attack.
"If it looks like we're being targeted or that's the wrong decision, I will switch into tan," he said, adding that the Afghan national army wears green.
Gen. Leslie said his decision in favour of green uniforms is not based on the weather. Unlike some of his soldiers, he does not believe that tan uniforms are lighter or cooler than dark-green ones. He pointed out that whatever the temperature, soldiers wear bullet-proof plates and flak jackets and carry some 20 kilograms of equipment, including water and munitions.
Gen. Leslie said Canadian soldiers will wear green uniforms on sensitive nighttime missions. While most Canadian troops will be employed in daytime street patrols, there will also be nighttime missions to prevent battles between feuding factions and to stop the shipment of dangerous material into Kabul.
"When you're up in the mountains and you're operating in a lights-out environment, the greens themselves offer better camouflage and concealment," Gen. Leslie said.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said the Canadian Forces are making the right choice, given the overall goal to provide an "international presence" in Afghanistan. He said the greens won't pose an additional security risk.
"Whether you're going to be in sand or green makes absolutely no difference if some suicide bomber decided to take you on," he said.
Gen. Leslie painted a grim picture of the southwestern corner of Kabul that the Canadians will patrol. Soldiers from the Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont., will be among the first Western troops to patrol the dense rows of mud huts and walled compounds.
Gen. Leslie said the area, which he twice visited, is swarming with refugees and "people desperately trying to survive," along with members of the rival factions.
"That area is very dangerous. It has been lightly patrolled by members of the International Security Assistance Force," he said, pointing out that almost all Afghans carry weapons.
Four German soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul in May when a bomber attacked a bus on the way to the airport. Canadian officers have since decided that their soldiers will only travel in armoured vehicles.
"The greatest period of concern I have is after the initial surge, when we start to get out there and we actually conduct patrols through those very densely packed, essentially mud dwellings," Gen. Leslie said.
Still, he predicted the presence of 1,500 Canadians in the area will "do wonders in promoting respect for the rule of law."