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New Canadian commander predicts 'defining year' in Afghanistan

The coming months will be a definitive time for the combat mission in Afghanistan, says the newly appointed commander who will oversee the withdrawal of Canadian troops next summer.

Brigadier-General Dean Milner took command of Task Force Kandahar at a handover ceremony at Kandahar Air Field, the main NATO base in southern Afghanistan.

"This is a critical year. This is going to be a defining year," Gen. Milner said after the ceremony.

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He said the conditions are set for an overall effort in Kandahar province, where Canadian soldiers have battled Taliban insurgents and their allies for four years.

"This is the main effort. Now we're seeing more both coalition forces and Afghan forces focused in this specific province and also specifically where I'm going to operate, in the Dand and Panjwai districts."

There are a number of upcoming operations and improving security in the Taliban stronghold of Panjwai will be a priority, he added.

Canada's combat role ends next July, but the new commander said the impending end of the mission will not tie his hands in the coming months.

Gen. Milner took command from Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, who completed his second tour at the head of the mission after Brigadier-General Daniel Menard was dismissed in May.

Gen. Vance paid homage at the ceremony to the dedicated troops "who put it all on the line every day with, and for, our Afghan friends."

Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard, commander of Canadian forces overseas, thanked Gen. Vance for his strong leadership of troops in Kandahar, and for producing results against a "ruthless and resilient enemy."

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To Gen. Milner, he said: "You know very well what has to be done in the next 10 months, and that's to improve our stability efforts and results in Dand and Panjwai.

"There's one thing I want to reiterate: From a Canadian point of view, the next 10 months is not just solely about doing counterinsurgency operations," Gen. Lessard said.

"It's about delivering real, and I mean real, results for security, governance and development in Dand and Panjwai districts … with our Afghan friends."

Although he will be planning the country's combat exit in the coming months, Gen. Milner had no clarity to offer on what the role of the Canadian Forces might be in Afghanistan once that happens.

"That's a political decision."

The Canadian Press

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