THE CANADIAN PRESS — MA'SUM GHAR, Afghanistan - Canada's desert war came to an end Tuesday when soldiers of the Royal 22e Regiment stood down and formally handed over their battlefield to American units.
The country's legal command responsibility for the western Kandahar district of Panjwaii will continue for several days, but Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner's headquarters will be directing U.S. combat units.
Almost all Canadian troops are now out of the killing fields of Kandahar, save for a handful of soldiers who will serve for a few more weeks, but attached to American platoons.
Parliament ordered an end to the Canadian combat mission in southern Afghanistan back in 2008 and set July 2011 as the deadline.
The Conservative government has since announced that 950 soldiers and support staff will carry out a training mission in the Afghan capital until 2014.
The transfer of battle group command took place at Ma'sum Ghar, the crusted, petrified volcanic mountain soaked in Canadian blood at the onset of fighting in 2006.
The ceremony was an almost understated ending to a war that mezermized and horrified the country in equal measure, but has now largely fallen off the public agenda.
If Kandahar was a national trauma, Ma'sum Ghar was at its epicentre.
The Van Doo battle group commander says the base is symbolic of much of the sacrifice of Canadians over the last five-and-a-half years.
"Everywhere in battle where Canadian soldiers have sacrificed their lives, we have examples of similar places in a number of our conflicts," said Lt.-Col. Michel-Henri St-Louis. "So Ma'sum Ghar is symbolic and had been at the centre of our deployment and was witness to much of our sacrifices."
The mountain was first captured by troops in the summer of 2006 as fighting raged throughout the districts of Panjwaii and Zharey.
It was turned into camp and used as the launching point for the landmark battle Operation Medusa that fall.
The formal signing ceremony took place in the compound of Afghan National Army troops, whom Canadians have trained and mentored throughout the war.
Lt.-Col. Steve Miller, commander of the 3rd Battalion 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment, said the region he inherited is much quieter than he expected.
"We actually expected this fight to be more kinetic than it had been in the last 30 days," he said. "This area has not seen the spike (in violence) that usually occurs here during the spring following the poppy harvest."
The majority of the lull can be attributed to the Van Doos, who uncovered and seized large weapons caches over the last six months, he said.
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press