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The Globe and Mail

Canada turns over command of Kandahar city to U.S.

A member of Stablization Company A, part of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, stands guard during a patrol Sunday August 9. 2009, while soldiers and Afghan police search a compound for weapons in Kandahar city.

Dene Moore/Dene Moore

With little fanfare, Canada relinquished command of Kandahar city to the Americans on Thursday as an influx of U.S. troops changed the dynamics in the Afghan province that had been overseen by Canadians for four years.

The new command structure has the province carved up into three distinct brigade-sized formations, all of them reporting to NATO's southern command.

Canada will now command a brigade-sized unit south and west of the provincial capital, in the Dand, Daman and Panjwaii districts.

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Panjwaii, in particular, has been a long-running problem in Canada's campaign against insurgent forces. The region is one of the birthplaces of the Taliban.

"It makes a lot of sense," Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, said in a recent interview.

"We're able to concentrate force, concentrate focus and so we can deal in detail with the sort of tactical challenge in making sure that districts and villages within those districts start to rebound."

Two weeks ago, Canada turned over the Zhari and Arghandab districts to the U.S., and now Kandahar city is under American command as well.

The change of command was expected, and it happened quietly without pomp and ceremony. Brig.-Gen.Vance and other commanders have spoken about the imminent changes in recent interviews.

Canada has more than 2,700 troops on the Afghanistan mission. They are expected to become less scattered across Kandahar province under the reorganization.

Brig.-Gen.Vance Vance said about 350 of those soldiers will provide support to civilian operations such as the provincial reconstruction team and the Canadian embassy in Kabul - areas outside of the battlegroup.

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The chief of staff for Task Force Kandahar, Lieutenant-Colonel Craig Dalton, told reporters late Thursday that the move had been a "gradual transition" set in place when the surge of American troops started filing into Afghanistan.

"It's significant in the sense that we've been in the city for a number of years," said Lt.-Col. Dalton.

"However, the real significance I believe is in allowing us to focus the number of forces that we currently have on a smaller area of operation and enable us to deliver - alongside our ANSF (Afghan national security forces) partners and the government of Afghanistan - better effects as we continue to wage this counter-insurgency effort," he said.

Lt.-Col. Dalton said the handover to the U.S. will be completed in a matter of weeks.

The reorganization is a major step forward said Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Bernard, head of mid- and long-term planning at Task Force Kandahar.

"If you look at TFK a few years back, it was a province so we had this battlegroup that was operating at the provincial level," he said.

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"We were here holding it and punching above our weight," he said, but the arrival of more coalition forces is good news for the counterinsurgency campaign.

Lt.-Col. Bernard pointed out the reorganization will provide significantly more coalition forces in Zhari, Arghandab, Dand and Panjwaii.

"It focuses our effort - less terrain and lesser population to be influenced. So it's all good news," he added.

The number of NATO troops in the province will hit 21,000 by the end of the summer, triple the number at this time last year.

Lt.-Col. Dalton said it would be wrong to call the change of command a lessening of Canada's influence in Kandahar.

"I don't believe there is a beginning to the end of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. We're here in support of Canada in accordance with parliamentary decision," he said.

"We're not looking towards the end, we're looking towards tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. But we're clearly focused on this next year and look forward to focusing on Panjwaii, Dand and Daman and delivering there for as long as we're in a position to do so."

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