ARGHANDAB - The Royal 22e Régiment, based in Quebec City, provides the bulk of the force to the Canadian Battle Group in Kandahar province. Known as the "Van Doos," for the Quebecois pronunciation of "22nd" or vingt-deux, they are Canada's premiere Francophone fighting force and, for this year's fighting season in southern Afghanistan, the sharp edge of the Canadian military sword. For the next week, I will be on a joint US/Afghan/Canadian operation with the Canadian Battle Group in Khakriz, a district of Kandahar province where the Taliban have operated with impunity for years now.
First we have to get to Khakriz. We start at Kandahar Air Field (KAF), the monstruously large airport built by the US in the 1950s as a refueling point between the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Soviet airports in Central Asia were off-limits, so the long runway and hideous terminal (it looks like a clay model first-draft of the marginally less ugly Dulles) were meant to accommodate passengers passing from Beirut, say, to Bangkok. By the time the airport was finished, though, Boeing's 707 had come to dominate commercial travel, and unlike previous planes it needed no Central Asian stop. For most of the airfield's existence, then, it has served as a military base for occupying powers, and only secondarily as a civil aviation folly project on the outskirts of a city that needed an airport only a fraction of its size.