Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
The Canadian Army hauls down the flag in Afghanistan for the last time in Kabul on Wednesday March 12, 2014.
KABUL - The Canadian army has hauled down the flag in Afghanistan.
An understated ceremony, held under sunny skies and heavy guard, at NATO headquarters in Kabul brought to an end just over a dozen years of military involvement in the war-wasted nation.
Dignitaries — Canadian and allied alike — praised the country's involvement and sacrifices.
"Your strength has protected the weak; your bravery has brought hope to hopeless; and the helping hand you have extended to the Afghan people has given them faith that a better future is within their grasp," Deborah Lyons, the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan told an assembly of the last 100 soldiers who served on a three year training mission.
The war cost the lives of 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors.
"We can wish that the families of the fallen do not lament their fate, but we know that this is not the case. The only small comfort comes from the knowledge that the sacrifices of lost loved ones has been worthwhile, that they made a difference, and that their grief is shared by a grateful nation.
"It is said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. You actions and those of your fallen colleagues have stopped the triumph of evil."
Canadian commandos, hunting al-Qaida, were the first troops to hit the ground in late 2001 and they were followed by as many as 40,000 more rotating through different campaigns, including the five-year combat mission in Kandahar.
British Lt.-Gen. John Lorimer, the deputy commander of NATO in Afghanistan, said the Canadians "repeatedly proved their courage and capability" alongside coalition and Afghan troops, especially in Kandahar "where you not only fought hard, but you fought smart."
Calling it the end of a significant era, Lorimer said he viewed the departure of the Canadians with "mixed emotions" given the shared experiences of the last 12 years.
"I am sad to see you return home, yet grateful for opportunity to have served alongside such great Canadian leaders along the way," he said.
The last Canadian commander, Maj.-Gen. Dean Milner, said the training mission taking place over the last three years has been invaluable preparation for the Afghan army, but the progress made is not irreversible and the West needs to continue nurturing both military and civilian institutions.
Lyons said Canada will remain engaged in Afghanistan and the focus will be on helping build the ruined nation's economy, particularly in the resource sector.