Canadians leave UAE base

The Canadian military has packed up and left its once-secret logistics base that anchored a vital supply route to its troops in Afghanistan.

The Canadian military has packed up and left its once-secret logistics base that anchored a vital supply route to its troops in Afghanistan.

Operations at Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates were officially brought to a close at a ceremony on Wednesday that was restricted to military personnel.

Canada was asked to leave the Dubai base last month following a dispute between Ottawa and the U.A.E. over airline landing rights at Canadian airports.

The federal government refused to submit to Emirian demands its two national carriers, Emirates and Etihad, be granted more access to destinations in Canada.

Military planners were given one month to vacate a base that was not only an operational hub, but one they had been counting on for Canada's withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.

"It was a scramble," Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk said during a visit to Kandahar Airfield. "We had to move a lot of equipment over a month's period of time."

Much of the logistical capacity has been transferred to an American base in Spangdahlem, Germany, which the Canadian military had already been using for its C-17 aircraft.

Natynczyk said the Canadian government was in the process of hammering out a memorandum of understanding with another country for use of an additional site.

There is also speculation that Canada will continue sending non-sensitive material through the Pakistani port of Karachi as it begins scaling down its mission in July.

"We're able to work now using other areas that we had started laying the groundwork for years ago," he said.

The country's top general added that the search for suitable alternatives continues a process that began when Canada became involved in military actions in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"When we came in here in 2001 we didn't have pre-existing arrangements with some of the countries, so we've been working since then to have locations around the globe that ... we could rely ... for logistics support."

The existence of the Canadian base in Dubai had long been a closely guarded secret. Until recently, reporters were forbidden from mentioning its name or location.

It was a way station for soldiers and valuable equipment either coming or going to Afghanistan. The bodies of fallen soldiers were honoured there as they made their way back to CFB Trenton in Ontario.

According to military figures only now being made public, transit through Camp Mirage increased steadily from 2001 right up to Wednesday. An average of 3.6 million kilograms of cargo were being moved by air each year, and as many as 32,500 Canadian personnel passed through its gates annually.

For soldiers based in Kandahar, it was also a favourite stopover spot during leave. Many boast of buying cheap engagement rings, and other jewelry, at Dubai's historic gold market, commonly known as the "gold souk."

"For our soldiers, the U.A.E. has been a peaceful oasis en-route to and from dangerous places and duties," Maj. Gen. Alain Parent, deputy commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, said during a speech at Wednesday's closing ceremony.

"It was here that they could put away their helmets and armour and enjoy peace and freedom for a few hours or days before their onward journeys."

Military officials in Kandahar circulated copies on Thursday of Parent's comments, along with the program from the closure ceremony.

The Department of Foreign Affairs refused to allow embedded journalists in Afghanistan to attend. In his remarks, Parent asked those present, including "Emirati comrades," to not "simply wash our hands of our partnership."

He ended his speech by saying: "I hope and expect that we will one day have the opportunity to work together again."