TORONTO – Canada announced Tuesday it was bringing home its 800 ground troops from Afghanistan this summer, ending their six-month mission.
Defense Minister Art Eggleton said navy, air and special forces would maintain their roles in the U.S.-led campaign.
"We'll continue to be a part of it," Eggleton said.
Canada's military resources were stretched by participation in peacekeeping missions and other duties around the world, making it difficult to maintain the 800 Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry troops based in Kandahar, Afghanistan, he said.
Those troops have been part of a U.S. airborne brigade providing security around the Kandahar base and searching mountains for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Asked if the mistaken bombing of Canadian troops that killed four soldiers and wounded eight in April had anything to do with the decision, Eggleton said: "As much of a tragedy as that was, no, it did not play into this decision."
In Kandahar, Lt. Col. Pat Stogran told the troops they would spend a week decompressing before heading home, the Canadian Press reported.
"Instead of spending that five or seven days in Kandahar, we're going some place where maybe there's a beach and some beer and some normal bed linen," Stogran said.
Canada has about 2,000 military personnel supporting the Afghan operations, including the 800 ground troops, an undisclosed number of special force members, as well as sailors aboard ships.
Eggleton said the special forces and navy missions would continue. He said the special force members would be rotated, meaning those in Afghanistan would be replaced upon completion of their tour of duty.
"We will not be rotating our ground troops in Kandahar, meaning this part of our operation will conclude in late July or early August," he said.
Eggleton said 4,000 Canadian force members currently were deployed around the world, stretching the resources of the Canadian military after years of budget cuts that have reduced its size.
The total number of troops is about 60,000, and military officials and opposition politicians constantly complain that they lack modern equipment and weaponry.
For example, the Canadian uniforms for the Afghanistan are green camouflage rather than the sand camouflage of U.S. troops.
Eggleton said Canada could send more ground troops to Afghanistan next year, after the next six-month rotation. Canadian media reports have said Romanian forces might replace the Canadian forces leaving this summer.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, praised the Canadian light infantry as a "magnificent outfit" and said other nations likely will send troops to replace the Canadians.
Two investigations are occurring simultaneously into the mistaken bombing, in which a U.S. fighter jet dropped a laser-guided bomb on Canadian troops carrying out live fire training at night.
The United States apologized for the bombing, but Canada expressed dissatisfaction that President Bush failed to immediately acknowledge the incident.