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Captured Afghanistan outpost torn down

Hard-won ground given up in change of priorities

From Monday's Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — A remote outpost on the edge of Taliban country that troops have fought for years to secure has been deliberately torn down.

Canadian and Afghan troops struggled for more than two years to gain control of a swatch of land called Mushan, near a cluster of villages about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar City. During that time, dozens of Afghan troops who were charged with guarding the post died, either by Taliban fire or in convoluted battles that saw them ambushed by their own government forces.

Although the Afghans and Canadian troops ultimately won the post, the Afghan National Army made the decision to cede it in a move last week because troops stationed there were rendered ineffective. Bordering on what can be equated as the wild west of the province – an austere, Taliban-laden area that bleeds into desert – the post had to be resupplied by helicopter drops and was not safely accessible by land.

Although it was close to a key route used by insurgents to advance towards the city, Mushan became more isolated over the course of the past six months as Canadian troops shuttered two nearby outposts, Zangabad and Talukan, which formed a sort of route between Mushan and the more established Canadian forward operating base, Masum Ghar.

Canadian military officials said it was the Afghan National Army that made the decision to shutter Mushan, which has often been held up as a symbol of the tenuous security in the remote region. Staffed by 60 Afghan soldiers and a small, rotating team of Canadian mentors, Mushan was deemed no longer strategically important for either army. Officials say the soldiers who were languishing there will be better-used in more densely populated areas closer to the city. While the Afghans led the mission to tear down Mushan – there were worries that if any infrastructure was left behind, militants would view the withdrawal as a concession or victory – they were backed by the full Canadian battle group when they launched the 96 hour tear-down operation. Two Canadian combat teams plus two U.S. combat companies under Canadian command participated in what was the first major operation for the Valcartier, Que.-based Van Doos, who have just begun a new summer rotation here.

Major Stéphane Briand, a spokesman for the battle group, said that while there was some fighting with insurgents over the course of the operation, which included more than 100 vehicles, no one was seriously injured.

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