Some commentators on world events whose focus does not go beyond the present believe that 9/11 “changed everything.” Whatever one’s perspective, it did transform the Canadian military for a time, particularly the Army, and, with it, the primary reserves. In a NATO-led deployment, sanctioned by the United Nations, which lasted from 2001 to 2014, more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel saw service in Afghanistan. It was the largest operation since the Second World War.
The combat mission in Afghanistan put Canadian soldiers in action on a regular basis for the first time since the Korean War. The country and the military were largely ill-prepared and the latter badly underfunded. The myth associated with Canadian peacekeeping was a powerful one, a favourite not only of the public at large but also of the political classes, and its effect on military funding was deleterious.
The military mission began in 2001 with minimal Canadian participation. Navy ships and Joint Task Force 2 deployed to the area late in the year and were followed by a battle group to Kandahar Province in January 2002; it served in a combat role for six months. Under Operation ATHENA, Canada undertook a major effort, including a substantial combat force of over 2,300 soldiers, part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). First situated in Kabul (August 2003–December 2005), the force relocated to a regional command in Kandahar (August 2005–July 2011). ATHENA concluded with the Mission Transition Task Force (July–December 2011. From May 2011 until March 2014, Canada’s efforts were centred on Kabul and the NATO Training Mission.
This long-term and comparatively large-scale effort required a significant augmentation of the Regular Forces by the Primary Reserve. It is estimated that reservists comprised 20 to 25 per cent of any rotation in Afghanistan. Operation ATHENA concluded with the Mission Transition Task Force (July–December 2011), which closed the combat task force and moved its assets back to Canada or to other deployed task forces, especially CCTM-A in Kabul. From May 2011 until March 2014, Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan was centred on Kabul as part of the NATO Training Mission. Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan ended on 18 March 2014 when the last Canadians touched down in Ottawa onboard a CF117 Polaris aircraft, to be met by the Governor General and Prime Minister.
Argylls were in Afghanistan from the start, and one Argyll officer was there at the end of the combat mission in the summer of 2011. Their roles were as diverse as the mission itself: combat, force protection, logistical and administrative support, intelligence, as well as the training and development of Afghanistan’s governmental and social institutions and security forces.
The Argylls who volunteered reorganized their professional and personal lives to serve in Afghanistan. At home, the Argylls experienced a vastly increased tempo of training, unlike anything in recent memory. With the end of the training mission in the north, near Kabul (on which two Argyll officers had previously served), Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan ended.
In an action sanctioned by the United Nations and undertaken by NATO, the CAF and its reserves, including the Argylls, played their part. Two facts must be emphasized: first, Argylls performed well in all of their myriad tasks; secondly, there were few casualties.
The City of Hamilton commemorated the service of Hamilton-based soldiers at City Hall as part of the National Day of Honour on 9 May 2014 and, more recently, as part of the opening of Veterans’ Place at Gore Park. The Regiment was awarded a battle honour for the service of more than 60 of its soldiers in Afghanistan; it was attached to the Regimental Colour in 2015 and commemorated by a trooping ceremony.
In June 2017, the Hamilton Afghanistan Monument was dedicated to the Hamiltonians and Canadians who served in Afghanistan, including the 158 military and 3 civilians killed in theatre and the others who died subsequently as a result of their service. The monument is on the site of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.