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Operation Balye Deweh, or Light Candle, was what you might call a nice little op.

Except for a rough start -- Afghan National Police officers, out of uniform as is often the case, fired at some Canadian troops, coming so close that one soldier was actually grazed, and were then naturally enough fired upon in self-defence with three receiving minor injuries -- it went off pretty much without a hitch.

About four hours after it started, the boys in the Tactical Operations Centre, or TOC, here at the enormous coalition base at Kandahar Air Field had relaxed, and the senior ops officer, Major Eric Laforest, and I were having breakfast.

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Before midnight on Sunday local time, 8½ hours earlier in central Canada, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment was on the move.

The troops in their Light Armoured Vehicles left Patrol Base Wilson, their rudimentary home in Zhari district, which is their AO or Area of Operations, and moved about 10 kilometres east of the Canadian-built paved road called Route Summit, which links PBW, as it is universally called, and another base called Masum Ghar about 4½ kilometres away.

It is about 10 klicks from my house in downtown Toronto to the Thornhill home of my best friend; I know because I ran it once. I am the world's slowest and most inept runner but I ran it faster than an army convoy can travel the same distance in this part of southern Afghanistan.

Ten kilometres here is, or can be, equivalent to 100 almost anywhere else: There are few roads, fewer paved, which means they are ripe for buried bombs, and the alternatives are wadis, or dried-out river beds, which means a bumpy ride that plays hell with tires and suspensions and the like.

And always, of course, there is the possibility of Taliban.

The troops like to move under cover of darkness. As Major Laforest said, "Night is our friend," because it's cooler and sometimes safer. But it also means navigating by Night Vision Goggles or NVG, and it has hazards (going the wrong way, taking a bad turn) all its own.

They were headed for the village of Makuan, which, like all villages in the south, consists of a number of mud-walled compounds, each with an estimated eight to 10 people, and a single, smaller secondary compound not far away.

Makuan, which sits on the lush plain to the north of the Arghandab River, was picked because in the previous two weeks, intelligence led the Vandoos to believe that some of the Improvised Explosive Devices recently planted in Zhari, at least two to lethal effect for three members of the Vandoos, were made in this village.

Army ops always have "objectives," the particular piece of ground they want to take or cover. In an endearing display of their Québécois roots, Makuan itself was called Smoke-Meat, the smaller compound Pork Chop.

It is at the TOC that all the moving parts of an operation are controlled - infantry, the big guns of the artillery, choppers and planes. And for all that the Vandoos's TOC is at the moment in temporary, rather plain quarters, it is nonetheless a mixture of high-tech and low.

The former comes in the digitization of the battle space - meaning all the information fed from the field via vehicle GPS and satellites and secure Internet lines is easily displayed and updated so commanders have unparalleled situational awareness of what's happening on the ground. It's a massive amount of information, ultimately designed, as Major Laforest says, to allow "one guy with one brain," the commander, to visualize the battlefield and make the best decisions he can.

But easily the most exciting thing in the control room is what's on one of three screens -- a live, real-time feed from the Spewer Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

The TUAV is a round little bit of a plane with a Bombardier snowmobile-sized engine that is so cute my first instinct, upon seeing it last year, was to want to blow on its belly.

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But it punches much higher than its weight: The pictures it offers of the ground are in such astonishing detail it's hard to keep your eyes off it.

There are four components to situational awareness: Blue is for all the friendly forces, red for the bad guys (the ANP, circumstances depending, presumably can fit both categories), brown for "the ground which belongs to both" as Major Laforest said, and white for civilians.

In the room are planners, engineers, forward tactical air controllers and observation officers, signalers (the communications guys), logistics and intelligence officers and even a lawyer - Major Sébastien Bouchard from the Judge Advocate General, there to advise on the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement.

"Arguing with a lawyer," Major Laforest said with a grin to Major Bouchard, "is like mud-wrestling with a pig: After a while, you find that the pig actually likes it."

At 4.30 a.m. Monday local time, the two platoons from B Company and the ANP and Afghan National Army were in position, with the big guns with their enormous range a good distance away, providing what's called "overwatch," in case things went south.

A half-hour later, the troops began their advance. When they crossed the "line of departure" on foot - the point at which they were visible to any waiting potential enemy - the op officially began.

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By 6 a.m., Objective Pork Chop was cleared; by 7:45, Smoke-Meat was 90-per-cent done. All was quiet, the only excitement coming when a little base, Gundy Ghar, about 20 klicks away, was mortared.

But Op Light Candle was swift, unsuccessful in that no bomb-making cell was found, but successful in that it was conducted peacefully.

At the TOC, despite its distance away and all the big brains in the room and the high-tech geegaws, it wasn't a bloodless exercise.

The two Canadians who were killed in the blast about two weeks ago were Master Corporal Christian Duchesne, a medic with 5th Field Ambulance, and Master Warrant Officer Mario Mercier.

Both were well known and loved, but MWO Mercier was also Bravo Company's sergeant-major; it means he was not only the right arm of Officer Commanding Major David Abboud, but also part of his soul. The sergeant-major and the company OC are traditionally as close as brothers, and in this pairing, it was true.

Major Abboud was the man who gave the operation its name - Light Candle, in memory of those lost that day. And in the TOC, Major Laforest and the others all knew it.

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cblatchford@globeandmail.com

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