Afghanistan's biggest yard sale as Canadians pack
Kandahar: From coffee pots and cabinets to barbecues and washing machines, Canadian forces are holding what might be the world's biggest yard sale as they end their combat mission in Afghanistan.
While the nearly 3,000 Canadian fighting forces wind up their mission in southern Kandahar province this week, a team of 350 troops are busily logging and selling thousands of household items from their dozens of military bases.
Nearly 75,000 items, covering the equivalent of 131 American football fields, will be sorted for sale, scrap or return to Canada along with the force's armoured vehicles, weapons and other military essentials.
Thousands of items will be auctioned by e-mail to other foreign troops, humanitarian workers or contractors working on the sprawling Kandahar airfield base, to ensure the military cleans up after itself after its nine years at war -- the Canadians arrived a few months after the 2001 US-led invasion.
"We don't want to leave a garbage dump here with a large Canadian flag," explained Lieutenant-Colonel Virginia Tattershall, commanding officer of the mission closure unit which is in charge of the move.
Tattershall's team has until the end of December to do what her right-hand man, Regimental Sergeant Major Brian Tuepah, compared to uprooting an entire town.
"When you're moving a small city, it takes a lot of effort," he said.
Tattershall used a complex flow chart studded with military acronyms as she explained how convoys of trucks carry equipment from remote Canadian outposts around the province to Kandahar for sorting.
The unit -- motto: "Bring Away With Effort And Honour" -- then starts cleaning and registering everything to ensure all items which should have been returned have been.
"We would go through a process that you would do when you were buying a car or a house, making sure you got what you're supposed to get," the commanding officer said.
The team then decides what can be sold from the base. Tables, chairs and cabinets bought in the United Arab Emirates sat outside in the baking sun, their packaging covered in dust and grime, awaiting new owners.
They will probably sell for a fraction of what the Canadians paid for them, Tattershall acknowledged, but said that was better than simply leaving them behind.
Other items are simply destroyed, particularly if they could contain sensitive information.
Leading Seaman Stephane Lacroix was working to dismantle a photocopier as loud rock music blared out from a stereo nearby.
"We have to take it apart, all the wire, all the components, then put the plastic with the plastic and the metal with the metal," he said.
"Maybe you could go at it with a big sledgehammer but you have to take your time."
For the items going back to Canada, the process is even more complicated.
Each item has to be barcoded with full details before being put in shipping containers and sent back via one of three routes to 36 different locations in Canada.
Every shipping container has to be fumigated to ensure that no invasive species enter Canada from Afghanistan.
The cargo at the other end is expected to take several months to unload.
"But thankfully, that's someone else's responsibility," Tattershall added.