Troops dazzle visiting NHLers

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

KANDAHAR -- This was the ultimate road trip for NHLers Dave Hutchison, Bob Probert and Mark Napier.

The trio joined Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. executive vice-president and COO Tom Anselmi to experience a night "outside the wire" of Kandahar Airfield in that part of Afghanistan where Taliban activity is much higher.

Accompanied by Canadian Forces personnel, they travelled by helicopter to visit several forward operating bases near the hot spots of Taliban activity.

"Absolutely wild," Hutchison said. "The troops are about as old as my kids, but you can't believe how little our troops have to exist on out there. Our tent had an inch of dust on the ground, yet it was considered the penthouse suite. And all these soldiers came up to us to thank us for coming when it's us who should be thanking them."

The Taliban scatter whenever the multinational task force brings out its big weaponry, but it's still able to launch crude missles, usually old Soviet ordnance on timed fuses that land harmlessly around KAF.

"We also saw some Afghans who have to carve a trench out of the mountain just to get a little water," Hutchison said.

The Team Canada group was also allowed to take part in a simulated field exercise with body armour, paintball type ammunition and balaclavas.

Anselmi knew of the conditions here from last year's visit to the KAF hospital. A father had walked miles to bring in his young daughter, whose leg had been blown off and one eye blinded by the same Taliban mine that killed her two brothers. Just as the Canadian doctors had stabilized her, hoping to send her to a military hospital in Germany, the father returned from burying his sons and discharged his daughter. Her fate remains unknown.

"Throughout the day and night we were gone, we saw a lot of ways that Canadians are making a difference," Anselmi said. "We flew over fields that had been empty a few years ago and now there were farmers waving at us.

"There was a Red Cross school which the Taliban had attacked and killed people a couple of years ago that is now operating again.

"We saw where our Provincial Reconstruction Team has been building roads and putting the Afghans to work, instead of letting them get recruited by the Taliban."

The latter's ability to bribe the locals into opposing the multinational effort, usually through drug money, is hampering Canadian attempts to bring stability.

The route home included an eventful drive through Kandahar City, which has its share of poverty, but has seen a spike in population after many fled the Taliban.

"There were people sleeping on the side of the road and traffic whipping past them," an amazed Hutchison said. "There wasn't any traffic control to speak of."


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