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Op Apollo

From November 2001 to July 2002, the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)  were part of Op Apollo, Canada's military contribution to the international campaign against terrorism.

Afghan water is top quality

By Paul Cowan, Edmonton Sun, Thursday, April 11, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Purer than the rain - that's the drinking water for Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan. 

"The water here is better than in Edmonton." said Sgt. Mark Pennie, who operates the mobile water purification plant at the coalition base at Kandahar airport. 

The Canadian water system is so good that the Americans closed theirs down and now rely on Pennie and his Reverse Osmosis Purification Unit. 

It produces 50,000 to 60,000 litres of water a day. 

96.6 % PURE 

Pennie, a 17-year Forces-veteran, said he was saddened to learn that a Calgary mom was blaming his water for her soldier son's diarrhea and wanted to ship out bottled water. 

"She can drink bottled water if she likes but the water we have here is purer," he said. "The filter process only lets through pure water molecules. 

"Most things in nature are bigger than a water molecule which means the water is 96.6% pure. "That's better than any Canadian city's water supply or bottled water." 

The water supply is drawn from a well at the airfield and filtered eight times by the purification plant before being distributed. 

"If we didn't have to add chlorine it would be tasteless because there are no minerals or ions in it," explained Pennie, who is from Fort Saskatchewan. 

"We have to chlorinate it because some of the cups and containers the soldiers themselves use may be contaminated." 

Pennie even has a machine for producing small, individual packs of water for the soldiers. 


"Bottle water goes off," he said. 

"And we have no control over the sanitation of the plants out here which supply the bottled water. 

"The water produced by this unit is so pure they use it in the operating room." 

Army doc Capt. Roger King said if people were having problems with diarrhea, it isn't caused by the water. 

"If it was the water, everybody would have it," he said. 

"The pattern is viral and most likely caused by people not washing their hands." 


Refurbishing Afghan schools would cost  military little but support lagging. 

Stephen Thorne, Canadian Press, 09 Apr 2002

MANDI SAR, Afghanistan - Some benches, a few windows, a lick of paint. About a week's work is all it would take to make a lifetime of difference to the children of Mandi Sar, a small village in the heart of Taliban country between Kandahar and the coalition forces base at the city's former international airport. 

But for Canadian troops fighting the war on terrorism, the money and the materials are thousands of kilometres and layers of bureaucracy away. 

"It's got some really good possibilities, that place," said Sgt. Martin Brink, a licensed carpenter from Goderich, Ont., serving with 1 Combat Engineer Regiment. 

Brink spent half an hour measuring 12 rooms in the walled, U-shaped building at the village edge. The courtyard has already been cleared of unexploded bombs. 

But when they'll be able to refurbish the school and others like it in other villages - if at all - is anybody's guess. 

"There's a whole generation of young people there who have never received a formal education," says Capt. Alex Watson, a liason officer with the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. 

"It's dangerous for everybody involved." 

Watson, whose job is partly to win the hearts and minds of neighbouring villagers and partly to leave a Canadian legacy to the people of southern Afghanistan, has made education his No. 1 priority. 

The problem is that, while approving $50,000-Cdn funding for such small projects, the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA, has failed to deliver. Also, a drive to collect three sea containers of school supplies is hung up in Ottawa's approval process. 

A CIDA spokeswoman said Monday that there's been no change in the organization's position from remarks made Friday by spokesman Steven Morris. 

"We're looking at their request," Morris told the Canadian Press Friday from the federal agency's offices in Ottawa. "All of this has to go through various procedures. 

"We don't consider that as being held up and neither does national defence." 

However, Watson and others fear that by the time money and materials arrive, the Canadians will be leaving. 

The captain has already revised his ideals, and is still coming to terms with what he can and cannot accomplish during his six-month stay in Afghanistan. 

"We're going to be here for a limited amount of time and have a limited effect on these people," he said. "Some of the institutions here in Afghanistan have been continuing for thousands of years. So I'm realistic about the impact we can have. 

"On the other hand, if we're going to have an impact, it might as well be a positive one. And it doesn't take a whole lot in terms of materials to do that." 

Brink estimates it would cost less than $5,000 to refurbish the Mandi Sar school. The Kandahar provincial government has already committed money for teachers, who were already at work in another village further north on Tuesday. 

"The problem we have now is that there is such a limited amount of stock coming in in terms of our own needs," said Brink's boss, Maj. Rod Keller of Guelph, Ont. 

"Until we can really sort ourselves out in our own camp, it's difficult to justify that." 

Mission creep - growing responsibilities - is always a concern, said Keller. At the same time, Canadians have always contributed to the betterment of the places they've been, even if it involves only nails and wood. 

Impressions are everything in Afghanistan, Watson says. The bearded men who dominate Afghan society in their turbans take pride in their appearance. 

"By extension, the appearance of a building goes a long way, too. It adds to the pride of that community; it adds to the esteem of the children - they belong to something that matters which isn't the Taliban or al-Qaida." 

Watson says he isn't above painting big red maple leaves on the doors, just to remind those children that the school was something the Canadians did for them, "versus the Russians, who didn't do much of anything for them, except kill them." 

© The Canadian Press, 2002


Canuck operation tracks suspicious area movements

By Paul Cowan, Edmonton Sun, Monday, April 8, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Canadian troops mounted their biggest operation in weeks yesterday, hunting a mountainous area for a truck-mounted missile launcher. 

The launcher was spotted near the coalition base at Kandahar Airport, where the Canadians have been ensconced since sweeping a strategic mountain ridge of Taliban and al-Qaida positions last month. 

"Several suspicious tracks were seen going into a mountain area and they were believed to be associated with a multi-tube rocket launcher," explained Capt. Trevor Cadieu, a native of Vernon B.C., with 11 years in the military. 

"Earlier reconnaissance had determined that there were potential Taliban and al-Qaida positions in the same area." 

The rocket launcher sparked a major alert at the base when it was first identified a couple of nights ago and Canadian troops were mustered to chase it. 

The force included Coyote armoured reconnaissance vehicles from the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), infantry in Bison armoured personnel carriers, and Iltis jeeps toting anti-tank missiles. Humvees armed with heavy machine-guns were also included in the force, which converged on the mountain area east of the airfield from two different directions. 

U.S. Apache attack helicopters provided air cover. 

Explosive specialists from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment were also in the force to advise on mine danger and deal with any booby traps or unexploded munitions found in enemy positions. 

"No enemy forces were found but several caves in fighting positions were identified," said Cadieu. 

The Canadians returned to base without making contact with any enemy forces. 

Last month, a Canadian-led force spent three days on a strategic mountain range clearing out Taliban and al-Qaida weapons caches. 

Soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, under Canadian command, killed at least three enemy holdouts, during the operation. Stocks of weapons, ammunition and defensive positions were destroyed. 

The Canadian troops of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group have been told by senior officers to expect more action before they return to Canada in June or July. 

The bulk of the 800-plus force is drawn from the Edmonton Garrison. 

It is built around the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry but includes troops from nearly every unit based in Edmonton. There are also members of the PPCLI's 2nd Battalion from Winnipeg and Shilo-based 1 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. 

Signallers from Kingston have also been attached to the force. 

The battle group is part of Task Force Rakkasans which in turn is based around the 187 Regiment of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).


Rain follows battle thunder

By Paul Cowan,  Edmonton Sun, Friday, April 5, 2002

KANDAHAR -- Who'd have thought it could rain during a desert sandstorm? 

Welcome to Kandahar international airport, home to 800-plus Canadian troops of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group. It can be a difficult place weather-wise, as you've likely heard. 

As I write, 60-knot winds are whipping through the semi-derelict hallways of the terminal building while torrential rain pounds from the orange sky. 

The normally bright blue sky has been clouded over most of the afternoon. The light that filters through has been a pale orange. It's like living inside an upturned plastic bowl or under a low-watt tangerine light bulb. 

The storm has trapped Minister of National Defence Art Eggleton and the head of the Armed Forces, General Ray Henault at the airport. They were paying a brief visit to the troops but can't fly out in the conditions. 

The day started so normally. I rose before dawn to march out to a firing range near the camp with Bravo Company of the 3 Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. 

After their successful sweep of Taliban and al-Qaida positions southeast of Gardez a few weeks back, commanders are keen to keep the Canucks at fighting pitch.

As the dawn-streaked sky began to brighten, low lines of Canadian troops plodded along the road leading to the firing range. The troops walked in groups of about eight. 

The company commander, Maj. Mike Blackburn from Weyburn, Sask., would stop once in a while to check out something suspicious through the scope of his rifle. 

When he stopped, his troops dropped to their knees and took up defensive positions. There's always the chance some bush or trashed building harbours a sniper. 

I wish I had the hard plastic kneepads the soldiers wear. 

As Blackburn scans for trouble, the only sound is the whistling of the desert wind. 

After a long march we reach the training ground. 

"The scenario is an enemy force has been located in a corral and a platoon attack is being mounted to clear them," explained Capt. Frank Sbarra. "We are going to paste the area with mortars and use machine-guns to suppress the enemy while a platoon break-in force goes in." 

The 'enemy' is a series of black paper, half-man-shaped targets dotted around the mud-walled corral and area. 

But this is no game. The troops are firing real bullets and throwing real grenades. Live mortar rounds are exploding. 

Safety is a priority and the shooting stops as soon as there is any hitch. 

Soldiers not involved in the firing exercise are detailed to stand guard against attack. 

"Make sure no one is sneaking up on us and putting the boots to us," Sbarra briefs them. 

The troops have to stay within a certain area. Outside of it could still contain mines and booby traps. A U.S. soldier died at the range a few days back after stepping on a mine. 

"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said platoon commander Lieut. Derek Prohar, a two-year veteran from Avonlea, Sask., through the whipping wind and flying sand. 

The signal to go into action is the thud and boom of the mortar support. The chatter of machine-guns fills the air as the troops go forward in small groups towards the corral. 

Combat engineers blow a path through the barbed wire for them with a blast which sends out a wave of hot air and buffets people 100 metres away. 

The soldiers battle their way through the rubble of the corral. Dust flies into the air around the paper targets and the soldiers blast at them with rifles and machine-guns. 

Soldiers dash from one pile of rubble to another as they fight their way through the corral. The only thing missing is someone firing back. 

Then, after the engineers unleash yet another earth-shaking blast, the troops fall back. Another platoon is lined up to make the attack. 

But within minutes of going into action, everything stops. A hand grenade has failed to go off, which means a minimum half-hour wait under safety regulations while it's dealt with. 

The troops wait as the first of a series of mini-sandstorms blows in. Then the mortar teams go back into action. 

It takes 15 seconds after the mortar round leaves the tube for it to explode almost a kilometre away. 

The machine-guns let rip again and the exercise is back on. 

The sandstorm is so bad that the attacking troops are flickering ghosts emerging and disappearing in clouds of dust. 

After about six hours, all three platoons have had their chance to carry out an attack on the corral. 

Everyone heads for the trucks, which are waiting to take the troops back to the base. 

And that's when it starts to rain.


It's a Blast!

By Paul Cowan, Edmonton Sun, Thursday, April 4, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Cache Seventeen goes up like an oil well blowout, a solid block of orange flame shooting into the bright blue desert sky. 

"That'll teach them to try and booby-trap us," says combat engineer Cpl. Dave Mogg with satisfaction. 

Mogg is one of four members of Edmonton's 1 Combat Engineer Regiment who helped destroy a cache of Soviet weapons and rocket fuel found in a building near the old Russian barracks at Kandahar airport. 

A room in the derelict building is found stacked with wooden crates packed full of solid fuel rods for SAM 3 missiles.

The top crate is booby-trapped. Judging by the explosion when the engineers destroy the cache, the trap would have wiped them out if it hadn't been found. 

The guys from 12 Field Squadron of the combat engineers are out with a team from the U.S. 53rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal out of Yakima, Washington, to destroy the cache. 

The three-vehicle convoy leaves the coalition base at the airport around 9 a.m. local time yesterday. As the two Humvees and truck approach the checkpoint at the exit all the soldiers lock and load their weapons. 

One of the Humvees contains a medic who stays about half a kilometre away from the building where the engineers are working. She wouldn't be able to help if she got caught in the blast when something goes wrong. 

The Canadians are pumped about the job. They're expecting a big bang. 

"When the supersonic wave hits your body, it's awesome," says U.S. explosives expert Winston McElrea. 

"Yeah, and you get the tink, tink as the shrapnel falls around you," agrees Mogg. 

"Frag is really unpredictable," adds McElrea. 

Combat Engineer Steve La Forge, who has been in the army "seven years and 10 days," talks of seeing the shock wave moving through the sand after a big blast. 

The building that contains the rockets' solid-fuel rods is near the bombed-out Soviet-era barrack blocks just outside the airport perimeter. It is badly damaged and rust-encrusted 12.7-mm anti-aircraft shells are littered around it. 

"The local people pull them apart to get the propellant out," explains La Forge. "They use it to light fires. 

"Three of them were blown up a couple of weeks back a couple of hundred metres from here while trying to do that." 

Canadian team leader Sgt. Doug Douval said the booby trap made getting rid of the munitions an easy decision. 

"There's no point messing around and taking chances." 

They decide to douse the crates in diesel fuel and then set them alight using thermite grenades detonated by burning fuse wire. 

"We could use remote detonation but that would mean having to come back for the  (remote) receiver afterwards," explains Douval. 

In another room, the engineers find more boxes of 12.7-mm shells and bullets for rifles and machine-guns. They start shifting the boxes of shells into the room where the fuel rods are stored. 

La Forge says he's more worried about a scorpion jumping out than booby-trapped ammo boxes. 

Then, quite suddenly, all the work stops. 

"They've found a piece of string which leads from one box to another box," explains Mogg. "So, it's been decided to take no chances and burn the rest where they are." 

This means laying a fuse into the other room and putting a thermite grenade canister onto one of the diesel-soaked boxes. 

The other rooms are littered with various military debris - any of it could be booby-trapped and one false move could be fatal. 

"This work is always interesting," says Mogg. "You have to put a lot of trust in the guys you work with." 

All the while the fourth combat engineer, Cpl. Keith Porteous, has been outside scanning the area for intruders. Once everything is in place, a call is made to the base to tell aircraft to stay clear of the area. 

The engineers then jump into their vehicles and drive to an observation point about a kilometre away. On the way they pick up two Afghan soldiers. 

"We used to have a problem getting them to move but now we just say "boom'' and they get on the truck," says La Forge. 

At first there is little to see. Some smoke comes from the building as the engineers crane to see what is going on. Then a grey mushroom cloud rises from the building followed by a loud blast, which sends everyone running for cover. 

Then there's a roar and a block of flame shoots into the sky as the building starts to blaze. As the flames rage the air is filled with booms as the solid-fuel rods detonate. Next, the ammunition starts to explode, with the pops and cracks sounding like a small war has broken out. 

There are more explosions and smoke starts to rise from a spot about 200 metres from the building. "Looks like one of the rocket boxes got kicked out by the blast," says someone. 

"It'll be a long time before we see anything like this again," says La Forge. 

Now there are bright flashes in the flames and the occasional burning object arcs into the sky. 

But the show is over and it's time to go back to the base. As the convoy re-enters the camp the soldiers unchamber the bullets "up the spout" and put them back into the magazines of their C-7 rifles. 

Everyone agrees it's been a good day's work.


Canadian troops on high Sunday March 17, 2002 

By Stephen Thorne-- The Canadian Press

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (CP) -- Canada's troops have been promised other operations, likely more harrowing ones. But none will likely match the poignancy of their first week of combat in 50 years.

For many, last week's assualt in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan was the pinnacle of their careers, the culmination of years of training. And it answered the lingering question that gnaws at the back of every soldier's mind at some time or another: How would I respond in the real deal?

This was no peacekeeping mission.

The troops been told there were between 60 and 80 al-Qaida still on the 3,500-metre mountain called Tergul Ghar -- known to them as the Whale's Back, or the Whale.

Seven kilometres long, three kilometres wide at the base, the Whale contained at least 30 known cave complexes and mortar positions.

It stood at the mouth of the barren Shah-e-Kot Valley, gateway to the Takur Ghar and Pecawul Ghar mountain ranges, through which al-Qaida and Taliban fighters had been escaping into Pakistan.

A few months ago, al-Qaida fighters from places like Chechnya, Pakistan and Uzbekistan moved in and told area villagers they planned to stay and fight to the death. The villagers were told they could stay or go. They all left.

The Whale played a key role in stalling U.S. forces when they launched Operation Anaconda last month. It had been heavily bombed. The Canadians were asked to finish the job.

A, B and C companies of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were there, along with a platoon of mortars, a direct-fire support unit, an administrative company and 12 Field Squadron of the Edmonton-based 1 Combat Engineer Regiment.

There were also 120 assault troops from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division.

They were all led in by the PPCLI's reconnaissance platoon, the eyes and ears of the battalion.

There was a sense of history on the tarmac at Bagram air base last Wednesday as the Canadians in their distinctive green combat fatigues lined up in 43- to 50-person chalks, or helicopter loads, ready to be ferried into the combat zone. There were four women among them.

If one helicopter were brought down, the next one wouldn't stop or turn back, Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran warned his troops.

Under the hot Afghan sun, the soldiers waited, some standing, some sitting, their masses of equipment lined up in rows. Some used the sighting mirror on their compasses as they painted their faces shades of green and brown for camouflage. Others quietly talked or appeared to be off in thought.

Military chaplains administered communion to those who wanted it.

When the order to move out came, the soldiers were packed like sardines into the twin-bladed Chinook helicopters. A crewman pointed a heavy machine-gun out the open back.

The 55-minute flights -- probably the most dangerous 55 minutes these troops will ever spend in the air -- were rough.

They flew low, following the contours of the mountains and the hills, passing over walled compounds and villages, scattering herds of sheep and goats.

They landed in clouds of dust halfway up the Whale, troops pouring out the back of the choppers and scattering like ants up the steep ridges and into the crevices for cover.

The 20-man reconnaissance, or recce (pronounced REK-ky), platoon forged ahead, splitting into sections of seven or eight apiece.

Capt. Ryan Latinovich, a graduate of the Royal Military College and, at 28, already a nine-year Canadian Forces veteran, commanded the platoon.

Latinovich, a native of Welland, Ont., made his way up top and down the ridgeline with his signaller, Master Cpl. Erik Kerr of Edmonton, and Sgt. Torry White and his section -- Master Cpl. Chuck Cote of Edmonton, Master Cpl. Vic Mover of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Master Cpl. Jeff Whibbs of Peterborough, Ont., along with Pte. Shaun Cameron of Duck Lake, Sask., and Pte. Francis McCann of Langley, B.C.

It was hard going. The mountainsides were steep and covered in loose shale. There were the remnants of the U.S. bombing -- craters in the hard rock the size of Jacuzzis or bigger. Unexploded ordinance and ammunition were scattered everywhere.

Loaded down with packs weighing between 25 and 45 kilograms, carrying weapons, helmets and flak jackets, they proceeded slowly, carefully placing each step.

The thin mountain air robbed lungs of oxygen; the anticipation of what lay around each corner and over each rise quickened heart rates and compounded the effects of altitude and exertion.

The closest welcoming committee was friendly: anti-Taliban Afghan soldiers sitting on the peak of the nearest outcrop. They watched for a while, then left.

The Afghan troops had moved in while the Canadian operation was being planned, rousting some al-Qaida but at the same time preventing the Americans from dropping three powerful daisycutter bombs intended to make way for the Canadian assault.

They Afghan allies killed two al-Qaida and captured 12, "screwing it up for the rest of us," Stogran told his troops with typical bravado when the operation ended.

White's section with Latinovich and his signaller made it up top within a few hours. U.S. Marine helicopter gunships flew overhead, a comforting sight that was not seen much in the days that followed.

The Canadians were almost totally dependant on U.S. logistical support and didn't get enough. Rations -- food and water -- were critically thin by the time resupply arrived two days later. Air support was minimal and airlift was undependable.

The eight recce troops spent their first night fully exposed on the ridgeline, sleeping without tents under a starlit sky. They kept watch in shifts, as they would throughout the operation.

It was cold and a steady wind blew across the mountaintop. American B-52s and F-15s dropped bombs in the ranges across the valley, the explosions illuminating the sky and, long seconds later, the thunderous booms echoing across the valley.

The next day, Thursday, would prove to be the high point of the young Latinovich's career so far.

The eight recce troops forged on, huffing up and down the peaks of the Whale and around its obstacles -- both natural and man-made.

They encountered a cave and a mortar position, later destroyed by U.S. engineers. Elsewhere on the mountain, Canadian engineers were destroying more caves and mortar positions -- a total of 45 were found on the four-day operation, 15 more than previously had been known to exist.

White and Mover set out ahead to scout the terrain. Nearing the end of the Whale, they found a bomb hole and debris, including a tripod mount, an unexploded grenade and belts of ammunition.

Around a large rock they found a single gun position -- a small dugout with a rock wall. Down to the left was more ammunition, three mortars and a recoilless rifle with a round inside.

They looked across 200 metres and there was their objective -- a castle-like outcropping that likely represented the mountain's highest point.

Their trek had taken them southward along the mountain ridge. Through binoculars, they could make out a covered bunker at the castle outcropping pointing east into the valley.

"What keyed me to the fact that it was a good objective was that all the way along the ridgeline, the bunkers had been destroyed," said White, a boyish 30 with blond hair and a sunburnt nose. "This one was intact."

There was no view back up the ridgeline that they could see.

Latinovich arrived and the two consulted. White radioed the assault troops of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division and Whibbs made the long, hard trek back along the ridge to lead them in.

During the 21/2 hours it took the Americans to arrive, the Canadians took cover and watched the castle position.

Reconnaissance troops are lightly armed, trained to move among the enemy, gather information about strength, terrain and enemy defences and gauge plans of attack.

Latinovich and White did just that, assessing the best routes for an assault.

There was a natural rock wall tailing away from the single gun position on their left. On the right, there was just enough room for the American troops to assemble and mount a sweeping assault from behind the bunker.

The U.S. officers accepted their plan and proceeded with frightening speed and precision.

With the Canadians covering their flanks, a dozen U.S. soldiers lined up along the rock wall to the left, guns at the ready, awaiting the order to fire.

On that order, two of them shot anti-tank missiles into the bunker, destroying it and blowing the head off an al-Qaida member who was apparently about to eat a bowl of rice.

The rest opened up with a deafening barrage from light and heavy machine-guns. Their barrels smoking, the assault element swarmed over the rock formation, firing their guns down into cave openings known as spider holes.

They dropped fragmentation grenades and 4.5-kilogram satchels of C-4 plastic explosive, which packs about twice the punch of TNT.

The booms rumbled and the smoke billowed out of spider holes all around the formation, part of which crumbled, changing the landscape of that part of the Shah-e-Kot forever.

There were three Canadian soldiers among the forward element -- snipers who didn't want to be identified.

At least two Afghans were found dead on the rock. One had been killed earlier and was partially buried. A pick and shovel lay beside his grave. A blanket covered his body.

The cave complex was massive, according to the man who led the attack, 1st Lieut. Greg Darling. From the little they could see, there were caches of rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and small-arms ammunition.

There was also food and medical supplies, including intravenous packets hanging from the ceiling. Darling thought there may be more dead inside.

The Canadians "brought me up here," Darling said after the assault. "I didn't even know exactly where my objective was."

Meanwhile, the engineers were scrambling up and down steep cliffs all over the mountain, firing rockets inside, then opening up with machine-guns.

In one of the lesser-envied jobs of the whole operation, it was they who stuck their heads inside the caves first, finding ammunition, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

There were also two bodies in one cave and all over they found remnants of clothing, lanterns, stoves. The American engineers company killed three al-Qaida as they ran from a cave Thursday, the same day that Latinovich and White led the U.S. assault troops in.

"The speed with which we had to move meant that we had to decentralize," said the Canadian engineer commander, Maj. Rod Keller of Guelph, Ont.

"This mission, I think we hit it right on the mark. We carried the right amount of explosives and weaponry to do the job."

On Saturday, the Canadian companies made their final sweep. "Sweep" is a bad word for it, though. It was grinding, exhausting work.

The Whale is surrounded by high ridges fanning out from the mountain like waves and riddled with openings that might or might not be caves. Stogran personally scaled one of the features himself to oversee parts of the operation.

His troops forayed down the mountain cliffs, fully loaded and then made their way in and out of the ridges, up and down, sliding on their behinds down loose-rock slopes.

They found some caves, but their prize came later when they discovered an adobe hut at the mountain's base that the al-Qaida had apparently been using as a refuge from mountaintop duty. It was filled with supplies and documents, all duly seized by the Canadians.

Speaking to his troops before they left for Bagram on Sunday, Stogran quoted U.S. President George Bush, who said in Washington on Thursday that Canadians "have put troops on the ground in Afghanistan and they have performed brilliantly and for that we are grateful."

The only Canadian casualties were sprained ankles and some broken bones from falls.

"Well done," Stogran told his troops on the regiment's birthday. "This is probably the first of many operations. I would expect that based on your performance on the Whale, you will be the spearhead. Just keep doing exactly what you're doing."

For Latinovich, a career soldier, it was "nothing but fun."

"This is what I've been wanting to do," he said. "Recce platoon commander has been my goal since Day 1 in the army."

In an interview, Stogran said the operation will likely turn out to be a warm-up.

"Something big's in store for us," he predicted. "We demonstrated to them that we exceed expectations and we will exceed expectations in everything we do."