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Canadian Embassy honors soldiers who died in Afghanistan

by Sarah Alaoui

Just days before President Obama’s Memorial Day weekend trip to visit troops in Afghanistan, Canada’s embassy in Washington held a ceremony to mark more than 12 years of service in that war-torn nation. The embassy, located on Pennsylvania Avenue within view of the Capitol, has long symbolized the close ties between the United States and Canada and was a fitting venue for the vigil.

“They went to serve for their buddy on their left and their teammate on their right,” Lt. Gen. Stuart Beare, commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, told families of the fallen soldiers.

Rob Nicholson, Canada’s minister of national defense, and Maj. Gen. Nicolas Matern, Canada’s defense attaché to the United States, talk with dignitaries and family members at a May 22 ceremony to honor soldiers who died while serving in Afghanistan. Photos: Keegan Bursaw / Canadian Embassy

The event showcased the Afghanistan Memorial, a cenotaph consisting of the original granite plaques at Kandahar Airfield recognizing the 161 Canadians and 40 U.S. soldiers under Canadian command who have died in battle. These individuals – many as young as 18 or 19 – endured long periods away from home and witnessed the deaths of their fellow soldiers and other atrocities of war. Besides soldiers, Canadians honored by the plaques include a diplomat, a civilian contractor and a journalist.

“No country has carried the heaviest burden as Afghanistan itself,” said Lt. Col. Dan Smith, commanding officer of the Canadian Defense Liaison Staff.

Granite plaques engraved with the names and likenesses of fallen U.S. and Canadian soldiers are on display at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, described the sacrifices Western allies made for his country. More than 39,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in Afghanistan or in support of the mission from other countries. While the beginning of the mission focused on hunting down terrorists in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, Canada’s operation evolved to include supporting development and governance projects to assist Afghan citizens.

The Canadian mission in Afghanistan officially came to a close on Mar. 12, 2014.

Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at the May 22 vigil while a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stands at attention.

“Let us reflect on their courageous acts and enormous sacrifice to protect the people of Afghanistan,” Hakimi said.

Beyond the military operations in Afghanistan, NATO allies have also contributed to development on the ground. Together, Canadian and U.S. troops helped train Afghanistan’s national army, air force and police. They also lived among the Afghan people and worked on development projects.

Granite plaques engraved with the names and likenesses of fallen U.S. and Canadian soldiers are on display at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

NATO has recognized Canadian military achievements at Kandahar airfield, where they established, supported and commanded the NATO Multinational Role 3 Medical Unit. This was the first multinational field hospital of its kind involved in combat operations.

“Today, because of the hard work of the Canadian and American people, Afghanistan is a safer place with more opportunities for children – especially for girls,” Hakimi said.

Denis Stevens, deputy chief of mission at the Canadian Embassy, addresses the audience at the Afghanistan vigil.

At present, 32,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan — down sharply from the peak of 100,000 in 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed.

Sarah Alaoui is a freelance contributor to The Washington Diplomat.




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