Thursday, June 21, 2007

Welcome to the feeding frenzy

Looks like the media herd have decided they're now experts on the perfect and immutable tactical uses of vehicles employed by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Paul Workman, CTV's meat-puppet beats awfully close to the proverbial bush:

"In spite of the fact that the military said it's reassessing the use of these 'soft' vehicles nothing has changed out in the field," Workman told CTV Newsnet on Thursday.

"I asked pointedly that question this morning and I was told that, yes, the vehicles are still being used today as they were yesterday." [Babbler's highlights]

No, Paul, nothing's changed in the field for the same reason that nothing changes for you when you're at the blackjack table and draw a face card to your thirteen. You played the odds, you lost, and you'll stick with the odds you know until you see compelling evidence that shows you're playing the wrong odds. JTF-Afg isn't going to shut down to do a vehicle review, they have a mission to get on with. If the review points to a better way, at that point procedure will change, but not before. Clear now?

And the Toronto Sun shows us how the journalistic version of a dog-pile works:

Canada's military is being questioned about the safety of Canadian troops in the field and the future of the Afghanistan mission after three Canadian soldiers were killed when their small all-terrain vehicle hit a roadside bomb that insurgents were able to plant without being detected. [Babbler's italics]

See that? If you use media questions as a springboard to report on the questioning, you can create a nice little self-sustaining vortex there. I'm amazed that a journalist can, with a straight face, use another journalist's questions as the lede of their story. Here's a more honest tack, provided gratis to the Sun: "Canada's military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan are reviewing their own vehicle protocols in the wake of an IED strike on an unarmoured vehicle destroyed on a routine resupply mission." Because with or without the media playing armchair quarterback on this one, the troops would have gone through their rigourous After Action Report process and tried to learn what they could from this sad incident.

And you know what? Sometimes the AAR concludes that the cure would be worse than the disease, and that the current course of action with all its risks is still the best course to take.

Rosie DiManno goes completely over the top writing for TorStar:

It's little more than the military version of a putt-putt buggy and no reason imaginable exists for the go-devil venturing off-base.

The open-top all-terrain vehicle – makes the thing sound far more sophisticated than it is – in which three Canadian soldiers were killed yesterday should never have been on the dangerous roads of Kandahar.

Rosie, I love your concern for the soldiers, and I applaud you for wanting to stick up for them, but do you know just how foolish your hyperbole sounds?

If "no reason imaginable exists" for using Gators outside of KAF or the relatively secure boundaries of the FOB's, then the soldiers who made the decision to use such a vehicle must have done it on a whim, a lark, as the first thing that popped into their mind. You know the soldiers: how plausible is that?

Maybe some good reasons exist. Maybe RG-31's and LAVIII's and other decently armoured vehicles weren't available for a three-man mini supply run. Maybe the threat assessment was that the roads a bigger vehicle could use were a more likely target for IED's than back lanes and grape fields. Maybe the supplies couldn't have been humped in by foot without exposing the troops doing it to even more danger. Maybe the decisions presented aren't between the right and wrong way to do things, but between the worst risk-reward balance and the next-worse risk-reward balance.

Graeme Smith redeems himself somewhat from yesterday's piece with this one:

Soldiers preparing for their guard shift at Sperwan Ghar were very unhappy one day last month when their Gator broke down. The small all-terrain vehicle, manufactured by John Deere in Welland, Ont., looked out of place among the hulking military equipment arrayed on the steep hillside where Canadians and their allies have carved out a strategic base in Panjwai district. One of the nearby Leopard tanks could probably have crushed the little six-wheeled ATV if it got in the way.

But for the young men who make the tiresome trips back and forth between their bunkers on the hill and the guard posts below, it was essential to keep the Gator chugging.

One soldier refused even to consider the idea of hiking out to his next watch shift on foot, saying it was too hot to carry supplies down the hill. He turned the starter over and over, producing a sickly moan from the dust-clogged engine, but no ignition. Cheers broke out among the troops when one of them coaxed the Gator back to life. The next shift of guards roared down the path and disappeared in the dust.

During a journalist's recent visit to the base, none of the soldiers mentioned feeling afraid when riding the open-topped Gators to their watch posts. The zone around Sperwan Ghar is monitored by powerful surveillance equipment, and 2007 has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of violent incidents around the forward operating base, about 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city. The trip between posts was viewed as an easy ride, safely in the shadow of the hill.

What a novel idea: asking the soldiers what they think, instead of pretending to know and climbing a soapbox with that assumption.

Of course, Smith's paper buried that story on page A14. And what was on Page One, above the fold? A headline reading "Bombing kills 3 unprotected Canadians" with pictures of the soldiers killed and a graphic of the open-topped Gator.

Y'know, most Monday-morning quarterbacks have at least studied the game, if not played it themselves. Too bad most of our journalists won't even bother to do that much before jumping in to criticize with both feet.


Blogger cliffhanger said...

I hope I am not misunderstanding the situation--but this is what I understand to be so:
The vehicles in question are used to travel short distances (under a kilometer) along a well travelled route, that would otherwise be walked. I'm not trying to sound callous here (my husband is "over there"), but if these fine soldiers were not killed while travelling the route in this vehicle, surely the same deadly effect may have been caused by stepping on the IED (depending on what kind it was).
--just my thoughts.

8:21 p.m., June 21, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

The implication seems to be that our soldiers shouldn't go anywhere outside the wire without having tons of steel wrapped around them - steel that doesn't always suffice to protect them from death if the charge is big enough.

I don't want to sound callous either, Cliffhanger, but at some point adults have to trust they've looked both ways and take their chances crossing the street. There are no guarantees, just trying to stack the odds in your favour.

8:49 p.m., June 21, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Of course, if Gators are inadequate, so are tanks. With great cynicism I await Steve Staples' further analysis (please excuse the bitter tone).


9:59 p.m., June 21, 2007  

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