Canada

Combat troops from Afghanistan land in Ottawa

It was an emotional scene at the Ottawa International Airport as one of the last flights carrying Canadian troops landed on Friday, marking the end of this country's combat mission in Afghanistan.

It was an emotional scene at the Ottawa International Airport as one of the last flights carrying Canadian troops landed on Friday, marking the end of this country's combat mission in Afghanistan.

Since the mission began in 2002 Canada has lost 157 soldiers. A few more flights are scheduled between now and mid-August.

Bagpipes played and family members waiting on the tarmac applauded and cheered as 117 soldiers came off the plane, which also carried Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, who left Kandahar after transferring command of the mission to U.S. army Col. Todd Wood.

Family members hugged and kissed soldiers who waited to be processed.

"To live 11 months without a father — it's really, really hard. Or a mother, even, it's really hard," said Marie-Michelle McNicoll, who was among the eager people waiting at the airport.

Steve Douglas held his young granddaughter while he waited for his son, Christian.

"He left for the first op when she was like a month old, and the second op when his son was a month old," he said. "It's been stressful."

Bombardier Christian Douglas said the return is bittersweet.

"It's kind of sad that we're leaving there, because we weren't really done yet," he said. "But it's nice that we're done — done this mission."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk were among the dignitaries on hand to greet the troops.

"In addition to repatriating equipment and personnel back to Canada, we are taking back some very hard and important lessons from Afghanistan that will serve us well into the future," MacKay said Friday.

Natynczyk addressed the families before the plane arrived, thanking them for their support and saying that the mission in Afghanistan wouldn't have been successful without their support.

Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, who is head of the Canadian army, also spoke about the future.

"We move and transition from combat into training support. [It's] really important and key for the future," Devlin said.

"I think that it's one that adds great value to the stability and future growth of Afghanistan as a nation, and in particular the Afghan national army and Afghan police."

About 950 Canadian troops will remain in the Kabul area as part of a training mission until 2014.

In an interview with CBC News, retired Gen. George MacDonald said it is a significant day for Canada's military because it marks the symbolic end of the country's combat mission in Afghanistan.

"The military has been intensely engaged in Afghanistan for about 10 years now and it's been a fairly significant burden … and, of course, there's been those unfortunate combat losses as well."

"Canadians can be very proud of the participation of Canada in Afghanistan, not just the military but from a diplomatic and an international aid perspective as well," he said.

"We've contributed significantly to provide that security and stability that will allow Afghans to get a job, to provide for their families, to better their own quality of life."

MacKay also said that he believes there's been a "suppression" of Afghanistan's ability to export terror.

With files from CBC's Briar Stewart and The Canadian Press

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