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Canadian soldiers depart the CH-147 Chinook helicopter in this February 2009 file photo.MCpl Robert Bottrill

A small contingent of the Canadian military responsible for perimeter security, housing and runway maintenance at Kandahar Airfield will remain at the base for several months after Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan ends in July.

A group of about 40 servicemen and women will continue to provide support for ISAF forces until at least late October or early November, said Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Baird, the Canadian chief of airfield plans.

"Our billets are part of something called critical establishment, so they have to be manned," Lt.-Col. Baird said.

"Other countries hopefully will come forward and pick up the billets that we're currently providing personnel for."

The Canadians are part of a 300-member ISAF team largely overshadowed by the coalition forces carrying out operations outside the wire. But they are a vital backbone to the operations of Kandahar Airfield, the largest military base in southern Afghanistan.

"We tend to blend into the wallpaper," Lt.-Col. Baird said Monday from his office in the bomb-scarred airfield building known colloquially as the Taliban's Last Stand.

"It's true we're not the ones out there carrying the rifles and doing the counterinsurgency mission, but we still do perform valuable roles."

During Kandahar's rainy season a year ago, flash flooding swamped parts of the airfield with nearly two metres of water. Canadian engineers later helped to build berms to redirect floodwaters around the camp to minimize the damage of rainstorms this year.

"This time, when the floods happened, (they) weren't as severe," Lt.-Col. Baird said. "However, there were culverts that were washed out, bits of road that were washed out on the airfield and in and around the residential area here too.

"Our engineers were deeply involved in planning the repair and the reconstruction of all of the damaged infrastructure as a result of that."

The Canadians also help oversee shipments of food and fuel into the base, a job that has taken on greater significance since an influx of American troops last year swelled the airfield's population to 30,000.

With roughly 5,000 military and civilian flights arriving and departing each week, Kandahar Airfield is widely regarded as the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

"Running an airbase of this magnitude is a huge job," Lt.-Col. Baird said.

Lt.-Col. Baird's rotation ends in July, at which point a new group will take over for a tour expected to last four months.

He said the long-term vision is to transition command of the airbase to Afghanistan's Air Force or a civilian authority.

Canada's 2,800 troops stationed in Kandahar will pull out by the end of July, but up to 950 troops and support staff will remain in Afghanistan on a training mission until 2014.

The federal government has promised that military personnel would not be drawn into combat, but will instead help train the Afghan National Army in the relatively safe confines of Kabul.

But there's little room at the current NATO training centres and military schools that dot the Afghan capital. Allies have asked for help at the five regional army centres, among them Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south.