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New drones allow Canadians to check up on contractors

Canada's unmanned military aircraft are helping keep tabs on school-building projects.

The new drones, purchased last year, are proving their worth on the battlefield and off of it, officials say.

One unconventional application for the aerial surveillance has been to allow Canadian aid officials to check up on Afghan contractors to ensure they are living up to their promises.

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The fact that unmanned aerial vehicles are being used in such a way indicates how much control the insurgents are exerting.

Military convoys are often asked to keep away from some school projects for fear they'll draw unwanted attention and, possibly, attacks. This can leave civilian teams completely cut off from areas and projects they are to monitor.

Enter the drones. Used primarily for spotting roadside bombs and other reconnaissance missions, they've turned out to have myriad other jobs.

"We can use it for amazing things, working with whole-of-government partners, police efforts and other things," said Colonel Christopher Coates, the outgoing Canadian air commander in Kandahar.

"The effort here in Afghanistan is multidimensional, it's not just military."

Ottawa bought new drone planes last summer, the Israeli-made Herons costing about $2.5-million each. They can fly at high altitude for more than a day without refuelling, and have special cameras that allow them to lock in on targets.

While similar to U.S. Predators, the Canadian drones are not equipped with missiles. It's not uncommon for militaries to put their eyes in the sky to non-military use.

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A NATO bomber, for example, was recently used here to map out a water-engineering issue for the army base.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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