First wave of Afghanistan troop withdrawal arrives
Majority of combat troops expected to return to Canada by end of July
About 60 soldiers received a warm homecoming when they arrived in Quebec City Monday from their final tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The soldiers were all members of the Royal 22nd Regiment based at CFB Valcartier near the provincial capital and they were the first group to be sent home as Canada winds down its combat role against the Taliban.
About 1,900 troops are expected to return to Valcartier by the end of July. They comprise the majority of the approximately 2,700 soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan.
As they arrived at Quebec City's Jean Lesage Airport the troops were greeted by a band and family members, including several women with young children.
Capt. Nicholas George returned from his first tour of duty in the highly dangerous Panjwai district, where Canada took credit for beating back the Taliban.
George said it was a fulfilling experience, but he's glad to be back on Canadian soil.
"I'm happy that we got a chance to come home," he said.
Officials said they had made great strides in recent months containing insurgents and securing parts of the country where the Taliban had a firm grip when troops first arrived.
Last December the federal government announced that Canada would take on a new, non-combat training role in Afghanistan, starting in 2011. Canada will provide up to 950 Canadian Forces personnel to continue training the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan National Army until 2014.
Some military experts believe that dangers will remain for deployed Canadian soldiers.
"They are in fact in harm's way, no question about it. If you're going to have a foreign uniform on anyplace you are deployed in Afghanistan, [it] is not safe," said retired Colonel and military law expert Michel Drapeau.
Drapeau said that inexperience, combined with language barriers, will present serious safety hazards for years to come.
Since 2002, 156 members of the Canadian Forces have been killed serving in the Afghanistan mission. The last three soldiers who perished in Afghanistan were members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, which has lost 15 soldiers since the war began.