Kandahar kids get Canadian Christmas gifts

Canadian soldiers handed out toys and warm clothing to local children in Kandahar Wednesday as soldiers tried to spread the spirit of Christmas in the war torn land.

Soldiers hand out toys, warm clothing outside NATO base in southern Afghanistan

Canadian soldiers outside Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan faced a rowdy crowd of local civilians Wednesday but the encounter had a happy outcome.

Dozens of Afghan children walked away from the meeting with soldiers carrying stuffed toys, new clothes and other Christmas gifts from Canada's Armed Forces.

Two military trucks pulled up just outside the main base at the airfield and soldiers were immediately surrounded by boys and girls of all ages. Troops handed down purple, white and lime-green teddy bears, bars of soap, sweaters and scarves.

Despite the bright winter sunshine, the warm clothing is essential, according to Canadian troops involved in the exercise.

"It gets cold around here at night this time of year," said Cpl. Lisa Parianos, adding with a smile, " We tried to get it out in an orderly fashion but didn't work out so well."

Parianos was one of several Canadian Forces soldiers giving away the toys and clothing. In charge was Chief Warrant Officer Mike Hayes, who said the decision to give away surplus school supplies and toys was made earlier this week.

"We knew we had a lot of [leftover] stuff and we knew this was a good time to hand them out, so we brought them out on Christmas Eve," said Hayes, who serves as a liaison between the military and local people.

He said in 32 years of military service he was spending his first Christmas away from his family in Canada.

Parianos told CBC's David Common that the giveaway was an attempt to add some holiday spirit to life in Kandahar.

"It doesn't feel like Christmas here," she said. "We don't have anything Christmas-like here, so we're trying to make it feel that way by giving gifts to people."

Afghan women watched the gift distribution from the balconies of bombed-out apartment buildings, some exhorting their children to get closer to the action around the two Canadian military vehicles. Some called for young girls who'd missed out as boys jostled around the trucks to be given their share of the booty.

This is the seventh Christmas that Canadian forces have been in Afghanistan, with this country's soldiers involved in the U.S. led coalition in the country since October 2001.

In 2005, Canada joined the NATO mission to Afghanistan and deployed its forces in Kandahar province.

About 2,500 troops are involved in the Afghan deployment.