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OTTAWA -- The cost of ending Canada's war in Kandahar, bringing home all the military's equipment and reconditioning it, is expected to top $651 million, according to figures and projections compiled by National Defence.

The Harper government has yet to deliver a final tally for the mission close-out costs, but a complete set of numbers could come with the release of a National Defence report to Parliament within weeks.

Packing up thousands of weapons, ammunition and hundreds of vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, was the biggest logistics operation for the military since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s.

And the eye-popping estimate is only an incremental figure, the cost the federal government says it has paid over and above the routine expense of soldiers' salaries and support.

The full cost, when so-called routine expenses are considered, is roughly $924 million.

The numbers are being spread out over three budget years, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information.

Approximately $21 million of the total was carved out of the 2010-11 federal budget, says a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay. The rest was split up between last year's budget and projected for the current year.

What remains unclear from the internal documents and from an email response by National Defence is how much of the price tag was driven by the diplomatic meltdown with the United Arab Emirates in late 2010. That disagreement saw Canada ejected from its main staging base in the Middle East as the withdrawal was kicking into gear.

The Harper government was forced to move the military out of Camp Mirage, near Dubai, but eventually signed an arrangement with Kuwait to establish a replacement logistics hub in that country.

The new base was not declared operational until Sept. 22, three months after the withdrawal was underway.

Both opposition defence critics say the Harper government paid a steep price for the spat with the Emirates and must own up to the cost.

"The cost was obviously significantly greater as a result of this failure to handle the diplomatic side of it properly, and getting our backs up and deciding we either weren't going to co-operate or compromise," said New Democrat MP Jack Harris.

Liberal MP John McKay said he's been asking for a detailed cost breakdown and projections for year, but the government has been stonewalling.

It's part of the larger issue of budget transparency, which the parliamentary budget officer has taken up with court action over the refusal of some departments to hand over information, he said.

"These guys do credit to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin," McKay said. "There is a scale of secrecy on budget matters that is unprecedented."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A7

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