Brig.-Gen. Dennis Thompson arrives in Kandahar to begin his mission as the next commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 7, 2008.



The next commander of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan is now on the ground in Kandahar.

Brig.-Gen. Dennis Thompson told reporters on Wednesday that he thinks the mission will take on a different flavour during his nine-month tour of duty.

Evolving conditions in Kandahar province mean there will be an increased emphasis on development and reconstruction -- although there will still be a military side.

Thompson is the former commander of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade at CFB Petawawa, a base that has lost many soldiers to the Afghan conflict.

He arrives one day after the latest Canadian death.

Cpl. Michael Starker, a 36-year-old medic and reservist from Calgary with the 15 Field Ambulance Regiment, died Tuesday following an attack by militants on a team conducting a rapport-building visit with Afghan village elders.

Another Canadian soldier was wounded, but not seriously hurt.

Starker is the 83rd Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2002. A Canadian diplomat has also died, and the Taliban have murdered a volunteer Canadian aid worker.

CTV's Paul Workman told Canada AM from Kandahar on Wednesday that reporters are still awaiting more information on what happened during the Tuesday incident in the Pashmul area of Zhari district about 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.

The Canadian team was on foot when the attack occurred, he said, adding that roadside bombs remain the biggest killer of Canadian troops.

There is also some fear that as Afghanistan's opium harvest starts wrapping up, more Afghans could join the Taliban as hired fighters and attacks could increase, Workman said.

"Gen. Thompson said this morning that he's quite prepared for that, and that's one reason he's coming in now," he said.

Thompson said Canada will try to counteract the Taliban by providing more employment for Afghans, he said.

Replacing LaRoche

Thompson will be replacing Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, the current commander of Task Force Afghanistan who began his term in August 2007.

When Thompson says the mission will evolve to more of a reconstruction and development emphasis, retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis McKenzie told CTV.ca: "That's the evolution everyone's be mouthing forever. Unfortunately, there's a factor they don't consider in public, and that's the opposition -- the Taliban."

If two more brigades arrive from the U.S. to help in Afghanistan's south, then that will give Thompson more flexibility. Right now, Canada's 2,500 troops are geographically extended as far as they can be, he said.

Thompson and other Canadian commanders "on the ground" generally have a fair degree of latitude to make operational decisions about things like combat operations, McKenzie said.

He's already been given broad terms as to what he can do, and if he goes beyond that, Thompson would have to seek permission from Ottawa, he said.

The commanders of many other NATO nations have to play "Mother, May I?" much more than their Canadian counterparts, McKenzie said.