News: Canadians building trust with Afghans

Published in the June 2 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Canadians building trust with Afghans

The war in Afghanistan is far from over, but soldiers returning home to Edmonton say the battle to win the trust of the Afghan people is being won.

“There was a significant increase in the level of trust and understanding between ourselves, the Afghan security forces and the local national population, whereas when we first arrived there was very little co-operation, very little trust and understanding and very little communication,” said Maj. Wayne Niven, one of over 100 Edmonton-based soldiers to return to homeground at the Edmonton International Airport, just after 3 a.m. Tuesday.

“By the end of our tour we were regularly being approached … by the local nationals, identifying suspicious activities, security concerns, IEDs and the like.”

Niven, 35, said his seven-month tour was “extremely rewarding” with troops seeing a marked change in the attitude of Afghan locals towards the Canadian Forces.

Capt. James O’Neill, 33, who patrolled and helped with local water and irrigation projects, shared the same sentiment.

“The tour went really well, very successful,” O’Neill said. “We were active patrolling pretty much on an everyday basis … I believe that we accomplished a lot there.”

Niven said Canadian troops were embedded among the population in a newer area of the Panjwaii district in southern Afghanistan.

“It’s great to be home,” said Niven. “It’s been a long tour.”

Niven was reunited with his wife and two young girls at the Edmonton Garrison later in the morning, while O’Neill met with his girlfriend and dog.

O’Neill plans to spend the next 55 days he has off with family and plans to take up surfing when he vacations in B.C. next month.

While the majority of returning soldiers were most excited to see and hug friends and family, Cpl. Angel Goodlad, 23, couldn’t wait to do something else.

“Eat sushi and drink Caesars,” she said, laughing.

This was Goodlad’s first tour, which she described as “very, very busy.”

The returning group of soldiers marks the last of the Land Force Western Area task force 3-09.

Over 2,500 soldiers have returned to Canada since mid-April.

Canada is set to withdraw from the mission in Afghanistan by 2011.

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