First Battles in the Afghan War
Canada’s participation in the Afghan war begins on 7 October 2001, less than four weeks after the 11 September terrorist attacks. On that date, Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced that Canada would be contributing forces for two years in a vast international effort against terrorism.
In early December, the first 40 members of the Canadian Forces’ elite special-operations unit, Joint Task Force Two, were sent in Afghanistan. In mid-January 2002, this unit was joint by the first of some 700 members of the regular forces.
In March 2002, elements of the Joint Task Force Two and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry formed part of a multinational force in Operation Anaconda launched to destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktia Province. This operation marked the first large-scale battle of the war to include Canadian military.
These early months of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan were marred when, a friendly-fire incident took place on 18 April 2002 - an American F-16 dropped a laser-guided bomb on a group of Canadian soldiers who were in a night-time training mission on a designated live-fire range outside Kabul.
The incident caused the first Canadian deaths in a military campaign since the death of the private William Patrick Regan in the Korean War, 49 years earlier.
In February 2006, the role of the Canadians in Afghanistan underwent a major change. The Canadian forces assumed command from the American forces in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. The soldiers moved into this province at a time when violence was on the rise, particulary in the Pankwaye, a rural district in the west of the sector.
In May 2006, the growing violence was countered by Operation Mountain Thrust, the largest offensive since the fall of the Taliban more than five years earlier. The operation was commanded by the United States and led jointly by Americans and Canadians. It involved as well 3,500 Afghan soldiers and a number of British soldiers. About 8,000 troops fought in the battle.
On 17 May 2006, intense fire fights begin between the Canadians and Taliban insurgents. One of the exchanges took the life of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to be killed in combat.
On 12 July, fighting broke out in a series of mud-wall complexes held by Taliban forces. Though the Taliban had to withdraw, they did not leave the Panjwaye, nor did their influence dissipate. In the weeks that followed, their forces returned in even greater number.
Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led offensive of 2,000 troops from Canada, the United Kingdom the US, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Afghan National Army, began on 2 September 2006 as an operation directed to establish government control in Kandahar Province. The action was directed towards the town of Panjwaye.
In the first few days, about 200 suspected Taliban insurgents had been killed, but casualties among the allied forces had been also high. Three Canadians were killed in an assault on a Taliban position, while a forth was killed in a bomb attack on 2 September. On the morning of 4 September, a Canadian soldier was killed and more than 30 others were wounded when an American A-10 Thunderbolt II accidentally strafed the very same troops who had called in the air support.
The heavy fighting ended abruptly on 11 September 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As the Canadians advanced into the areas the enemy once controlled, they encountred only sporadic resistance and expected last stand never materialized. The Taliban retreated from the battlefield, leaving behind a large number of booby traps.
During this battle the Canadians suffered 12 deaths. On 17 September Operation Medusa ended. The following day, in the village of Char Kota, Pashmul, a mal cyclist approached Canadian soldiers who were handing out presents. He detonated a vest rigged with explosives, killing four soldiers, wounding several more and seriously injuring two dozen Afghan children.
The war against terrorism was very far from over.