Relatives of the latest group of soldiers heading to Afghanistan say they're proud of their loved ones, but they are deeply concerned about what awaits them in the war-weary country.
There were tears and hugs as 120 troops gathered in a drill hall at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown on Monday for a last goodbye before starting their six-month tour of duty. Some 1,200 soldiers from the New Brunswick base will be part of the current troop rotation, involving close to 2,500 soldiers.
Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters told reporters they support the mission to restore peace and stability Afghanistan, but they are afraid for the soldiers' safety.
Parents are confident the troops have been well trained.
Verna Caul travelled from Newfoundland and Labrador to say goodbye to her 23-year-old son, Cpl. Stephen Drake. Caul said her son decided to join the Canadian military after the 9-11 attacks.
"I'm very proud of him," Caul said, as tears rolled down her cheeks. "I pray he comes back safe. We can only pray."
The soldiers are heading into uneasy times in the Kandahar area of southern Afghanistan.
There is speculation the Taliban is preparing a spring offensive against the NATO mission.
Lt.-Col. Robert Walker, who will assume command of the battle group in the Kandahar area, said he is guardedly optimistic about the mission.
"I really have no apprehensions about what we're going to do," Walker said in an interview.
"Yes, we are anticipating a spring offensive. To what extent, I'm not sure. They (the Taliban) took some hard defeats through the summer and fall." Walker said that although the situation in southern Afghanistan is fragile, he believes life there is improving and residents are feeling more secure. He said two weeks ago, 3,000 Afghan villagers returned to their homes.
Master Cpl. Stephen Mills, 33, said the possibility of a spring offensive by the Taliban is on the minds of the soldiers. But he said the troops are ready. "We've had numerous briefings on the threat there," Mills said in an interview. "It's no surprise what we're getting into. Everyone knows what to expect. As far as what we can expect from them, who is to say? ... But whatever they give us, we'll handle it the way we've been trained."
The fresh troops from Gagetown and other Canadian bases will be replacing soldiers who endured a gruelling tour of duty as the Taliban-led insurgency intensified its attacks.
Nearly 4,000 people were killed in Afghan violence in 2006, including 37 Canadians. It was the bloodiest period since the Taliban were overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.
According to Gen. Rick Hillier's campaign plan for Afghanistan, success is defined as establishing and training Afghan security forces to the point where they can control their own borders with guidance from their own government. Complete Story