The first wave of Canadian troops was due to board a massive U.S. military transport plane late Thursday, and fly to the side of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The soldiers, 70 members of 3 Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, assembled at Edmonton Garrison for final, tearful good-byes with their families before their mission began.
There, behind screens set up to provide privacy, the troops and their families watched a videotaped message of encouragement from the Canadian commander in Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Pat Strogan.
Later in the evening they were whisked by the busload to Edmonton International Airport to await their flight to Kandahar aboard a C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft.
The troops will be followed within the next few weeks by the other 680 soldiers in the battalion. As well, members of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), based at Edmonton Garrison; the 2 Battalion PPCLI from Winnipeg and a mortar group from 1 Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Man. will eventually join the Canadian battle group in Afghanistan.
However, the Defence Department said Thursday their departure dates and stopovers during the trip to Afghanistan will not be made public for security reasons.
The soldiers of PPCLI will work alongside the U.S. 101st Airborne division, tracking down Taliban and al-Qaeda holdouts.
The Canadians will also provide security, minesweeping and backup for humanitarian projects in Afghanistan.
The first order of business though will be to simply spend a few days getting used to the desert conditions and high altitude of the region.