NAD-E-ALI, Afghanistan — At the exact moment their countrymen were watching the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Canadian aviators were among the nearly 20,000 NATO and Afghan troops launching NATO's biggest offensive yet against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
"There are helicopters everywhere. It's awesome," said Capt. Mathieu Bergeron of Edmonton who piloted the first Chinook to land during the largest ever helicopter assault involving the Canadian air force.
Seven Chinook and Griffon helicopters from Edmonton's 408 Squadron inserted a recce platoon from the Royal Welsh Regiment, infantry from Estonia and an almost equal number of Afghan troops into a complicated piece of Taliban-held terrain in Helmand Province where as many as 200 insurgents were believed to have placed hundreds of homemade landmines around a warren of canals and in several river beds.
On a cold night, under a canopy of dazzling stars and black illumination flares fired by high-flying aircraft, the Canadians flew in to landing zones lit up by lasers as part of a carefully choreographed aerial ballet of as many as 90 transport and attack helicopters. In two separate but mostly simultaneous operations that also involved British and American helicopters, they swarmed in as many as five waves, each on to several dozen landing zones close to suspected Taliban positions....
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