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Canada's nine-year desert mission in Afghanistan is ending, with troops handing over control of the western Kandahar district of Panjwaii to US forces.
Early Wednesday morning, 117 Canadian troops left Kandahar airfield. They're the first of 3000 troops to leave Afghanistan this week, before the Canadian mission officially ends on Thursday.
While other countries have announced troop withdrawals, Canada is the first major contributor to begin a pull-out this year. Its forces had been mandated by parliament to return home in 2011.
A total of 159 Canadians died during the country's mission in Afghanistan, including a journalist.
The Canadian Press reports that most of Canada's troops have completed their final patrols of the “killing fields of Kandahar”, while adding that a handful of soldiers attached to US platoons would stay on for a few more weeks.
The handing-over ceremony to US forces took place at Kandahar's Forward Operating Base Ma Sum Ghar, with the area's Afghan commander paying tribute to the soldiers. Brig Gen Ahmad Habibi said:
You have all earned a great name in the heart of people in Afghanistan and please take that with pride to your homes.
Agence France Presse reported that the Canadian troops would have the benefit of a five-day "decompression" period in Cyprus on the way home, to help them adjust to civilian life.
In Cyprus, they will learn about the psychological impact of war, and be given access to counseling services.
Meanwhile a separate Canadian training mission, involving some 950 troops, will be based in Afghanistan to train local security forces.
The United States plans to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, while countries including France, Belgium and Britain have announced withdrawals.