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Canadian military holds a garage sale in Kandahar

An Afghan girl holding a baby asks for a pen from a Canadian army soldier from 5th platoon, bulldog company 1st Battalion, 22nd Royal Regiment as they patrol in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 15, 2011.

Baz Ratner/Reuters/Baz Ratner/Reuters

An army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon once observed. But the modern-day military needs more than just food. It needs everything from welding torches and duct tape to gun grease, computers, leaf blowers, inner tubes, generators, eye wash, sunscreen, fax machines, cellphones, video games and spare windshields.

Those items make up just a fraction of the non-combat materiel that the Canadian military has accumulated during its years in Afghanistan. Now that it is pulling out and heading home next month, it is selling a sprawl of surplus stuff that is too expensive or insignificant to ship home.

"It's like bringing back a small city," said, Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Doiron commanding officer of the Mission Disposal Unit, part of the transition task force that will remain at the Kandahar Air Field, packing up, until the end of the year.

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"This is the biggest theatre of operations," he added, "since the Second World War."

Canada's combat mission is in a countdown to its final days in Afghanistan, the beginning of the end of operations that began nearly 10 years ago and narrowed in the past five years to a hard battle for ground and a modicum of control of the Taliban heartland of southern Kandahar province.

The military is taking stock, not just figuratively but literally.

All substantial things military - tanks, weapons systems, sophisticated vehicles - are to be sent home. Some combat-related equipment has already been brought to the sprawling air base for cleaning, sorting and packing as troops in the field hand over their bases to the Americans taking over. A few such air shipments have already left for Canada.

But then there are also crate loads of prosaic items, the everyday ones that served to divert, feed, clean and clothe the soldiers. Add to that the office supplies that kept the headquarters humming, the spare parts that kept the machines running and the wide array of exercise machines and sports equipment that kept everyone in shape when they were not in the field.

All of that is being grouped into lots to be put up for sale to the highest cash bidder. The first lots from the 12,347 individual items already catalogued should be ready for sale this week, according to Lt.-Col. Doiron.

Potential buyers, he said, include other NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. Private individuals can bid on lots, but they will be vetted first since the sales will take place on the heavily guarded air base. And no one wants a front company for a drug trafficker or the Taliban to get their hands on anything from Canada's storehouse, whether it is a hockey puck or a sophisticated satellite communications system.

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Buyers can also choose between a fender and a fish scale, a popcorn machine and an assortment of padlocks, a bungee cord and wash bucket, camouflage face paint and, charmingly, a saxophone.

The items are listed by book, or purchase, price, although no one expects to see bidders offer full price. Yet there is something in most lots for every budget: a $3,600 television, for instance, or a 36-cent grommet, a $365 cordless drill, a $3 whistle and a $1,350 set of bagpipes.

As these are Canadian troops, a mixed bag of hockey gear is on offer. Although Kandahar is hot much of the year the surplus gear includes a pair of Mukluk boots. Also available is a coat and hat hook but, so far, just a single woman's coat ($204.45).

One of the oddest items is a single brassiere, size not given and listed with a book price of $35.

Even Lt.-Col. Doiron, who is an aircraft engineering officer on special assignment to run the disposal process, was a bit startled when he first saw that one on the spreadsheet.

"Yes, believe it or not, we supply bras," he said. "When the troops are out in the forward operating bases, they don't have access to the PX and stores to buy their hair spray, shampoo, underarm deodorant or, as you see, bras. So they are provided as a taxpayer-provided item."

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About the Author
Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More

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