Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Australia committed long term to Afghanistan"

That's the Aussie position, not Canada's, sad to say.
Australia is committed to remaining part of an international military force in Afghanistan for as long as necessary, Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, said during an unannounced visit on Saturday.

Australia currently has nearly 1,000 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan after doubling the contingent last month.

"The relationship with Afghanistan... for us is a strong one," Downer told a news conference in Kabul.

"We very strongly support not just the military efforts made against the Taliban but (also) the efforts being made for reconstruction and development cooperation."

A sizeable portion of the Australian contingent is made up of special forces and most operate in southern Uruzgan province, where a resurgent Taliban and soaring opium production have made security very fragile...

"There was quite a lot of discussion about civilian casualties," Downer said, adding: "I was very happy with my conversation with President Karzai about this.

"It is very, very foolish for any person of goodwill to try to create some sort of moral equivalence [emphasis added] between NATO and what the Taliban does...
Update: A column by Father Raymond J. De Souza compares Australians' familiarity with, and pride in, their military history to Canadians' generally dismal ignorance of our own military history.

"They're focused on the negative stories, the easy headlines."

A description of how the Canadian media cover Afghanistan. You can read it in, gasp, the Toronto Star. The pity is the story is the the "Living" section.
If all Canadians ever hear or see about Afghanistan are stories of suicide bombings and despair, journalists Jane McElhone and Khorshied Samad say it's time to look through a different lens.

At the June opening of "Voices on the Rise: Afghan Women Making the News" at Alliance Française de Toronto on Spadina Rd., co-curators McElhone and Samad unveiled 44 photographs of Afghan women journalists, politicians and human rights activists.

These are the women playing leading roles in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but their efforts are hidden from the glare of the media spotlight, the co-curators say...
The exhibit is sponsored by the French and Afghan embassies in Canada.

Friday, June 29, 2007


David Pugliese has an interesting article in today's Citizen about undergarments:

The U.S. air force's special operations command is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar research program to come up with high-tech T-shirts, socks and undergarments that are not only fire-resistant, but can be worn for weeks at a time without retaining odours.

A little more than $2 million U.S. has been set aside for the development and testing of the clothes, better known as Austere Environment Undergarments. Another $2.8 million has been requested for next year.

The air force's commando teams, whose job is to call in airstrikes and rescue downed pilots, are working in countries such as Afghanistan, operating in enemy territory for lengthy periods. "Our airmen need clothing they are capable of wearing for long durations in austere environments," said Aaron Schoenfeld, a spokesman for the air force's special operations command.

Not only is odour-resistance a key attribute for the new underwear, but durability is also seen as a plus. One of the project's test T-shirts has been machine-washed almost 1,800 times.

While it's amusing to think of high tech gitches, there's one element of this that neither Pugliese or his sources touched upon: special forces need to stay covert, and it's hard to do that if your stink is detectable at a distance.

Laugh all you want about that, but read the first seven entries of this thread about Airborne Rangers in Vietnam before you get too carried away.


CANSOFCOM soldiers were decorated yesterday by the Governor General. That's about all we know:

During a private ceremony today at Rideau Hall, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, presented some of Canada’s highest honours to members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). The decorations included two Medals of Military Valour, two Meritorious Service Crosses and seven Meritorious Service Medals, presented in recognition of bravery and commitment to service by personnel serving within CANSOFCOM during recent deployments. For security and operational reasons, recipients' names and citations are not released.

Facta Non Verba!

Update: I've been able to track down some additional detail on this.

The decorations were awarded to soldiers from the rank of Master Corporal to Major, and one of them was female. The two valour decorations were awarded to Sergeants for actions that took place sometime in 2005-2006.

While the soldiers involved are entitled to wear their decorations, the citations will remain officially sealed for at least twenty years. At that point they will be reviewed for three things: TTP, PERSEC, and details of operations. TTP stands for Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, and it's pretty obvious why you wouldn't want the other team knowing your playbook. PERSEC includes names, faces, et cetera, and while twenty years might seem a long time to keep such information secret, if you're decorated as a 23 year old Corporal, you might be a 43 year old MWO with the same Command in twenty years time - hence the need for review. As far as reviewing to see if the details of the operations concerned should be released, that comes down to how much information you want your enemy to have about which operations you undertake, and how you go about them. If one of the bad guys gets away, or spots your team hitting a target from a distance and observes (a "squirter" in the SOF parlance), you don't want him to even know it was you that did the job. Otherwise he and his cronies can gain intelligence on your TTP. If they can't connect the unit involved with the tactics they observed, you've maintained an advantage - which is why the details get reviewed before a decision is made to release them.

Even after twenty years.

Recruiting is only part of the story

DND put up a press release a couple of weeks ago that brags about their success at recruiting new members of both the regular force and reserves:

The Canadian Forces’ expansion efforts continue to succeed, as demonstrated by a net increase of 1,000 personnel in the CF’s Regular Force during fiscal year 2006-2007. This growth is in addition to a net increase of 1,300 personnel in the Reserve Force during the same period.

"As part of our Canada First approach, this Government has made it a priority to increase the size of the Canadian Forces to 75,000 Regular Force and 35,000 Reserve Force members over the long term," Minister O’Connor said. "To meet our policy goals, the Canadian Forces will need to grow at a rate of about 1,000 Regular Force and 500 Reserve personnel per year. Active recruitment efforts are vital to ensure the long-term effectiveness and relevance of our military. I commend the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group on its success."

This is an important and much-needed step in the right direction. But it's not as big a step as they seem to be suggesting.

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote a post over at my other blog that touched upon some of the training difficulties the CF would face if it was able to meet the aggressive recruiting targets set by the new Conservative government while also maintaining a high operational tempo at home and abroad:

I find Hillier's 'can-do' attitude towards the prospect of training a significant cohort of new recruits bracing, but he's glossed over the key trade off here: operational tempo will have to slow down in order to accomodate the intense training demands. According to Christopher Ankersen in chapter three of "Canada Without Armed Forces?", personnel issues are among the most serious facing our military today, and unlike equipment - where if you throw enough money at the problem, you can buy your way out - there are no quick fixes to people shortages.

"Since 1998, the number of non-effective personnel on full pay and allowances has increased from 4,000 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2003...The growing imbalance between the total number of CF members (Total Authorized Strength, or TAS) and the number of trained and available members (Trained Effective Establishment, or TEE) is an institutional reality...One cannot, for instance, simply hire unit commanding officers or even junior leaders because they must be developed in-house and matured through experience." (Babbler's highlight)

[aside: Anyone with an interest in the Canadian Forces should read this collection of monographs put together by Douglas Bland. Ankersen's chapter on The Personnel Crisis is worth the price alone. In fact, one of these days I hope to get around to delving into the issues he raises in greater detail.]

I don't know if the TAS/TEE gap has been brought back to normal levels since 2003, and would welcome up-to-date information on that front if any reader can point the way. From a training and recruiting perspective, the only positive aspect of such a brutal op-tempo over the past decade is that there are plenty of CF members who have now 'been-there-done-that', and can pass along their experience to the next generation - if they're allowed to come off deployment once in awhile. I'm not so sure "give us the money, and we'll get the job done" works as well for training and personnel issues as it does for capital and operations issues, but we shall see.

Op tempo hasn't eased off at all. I know that the CF has been actively trying to lure back former members of specific trades who got out for one reason or another, which may have somewhat eased the demographic hole moving through the ranks for the past decade, although I can't imagine such efforts would have made much of a dent in the problem. I know that DND is throwing every solution it can think of at the most potentially productive line of attack: retention.

With all that in mind, I was curious to see if the TAS-TEE gap has widened or narrowed in the past three years, and I asked the department to provide that information to me. Of course, the terminology has changed, so it took awhile for them to clarify with me exactly what I wanted. But here's what they said about FY05-06 and FY06-07:

As of 31 Mar 06:
Trained Strength + Advanced Training List: 53 633
Basic Training List: 8177
Non Effective Strength (Supplementray Holding List, those releasing from CF, sick leave): 891
Total Reg Force: 62 701
Class C Reservists:1 304
Grand Total: 64005

As of 31 Mar 07:
Trained Strength + Advanced Training List: 53 753
Basic Training List: 9 051
Non Effective Strength (Supplementray Holding List, those releasing from CF, sick leave): 912
Total Reg Force: 63 716
Class C Reservists:1 405
Grand Total: 65 121

What do those numbers mean? Well, first of all, you have to realize they're nothing more than two snapshots taken a year apart. Many Canadians have both joined and left the CF in that time, and the increases or decreases you see are net numbers.

But as I read them, the figures above mean we have about 200 more trained personnel working full-time for the CF than last year, and 100 of those are Class C reservists. In other words, the CF has only managed to increase its effective regular force strength by 100 bodies, out of 1,000 they've put on the roll. Or, seen another way, of the 1,000 they've recruited, 90% are still in training - not ready to do their job just yet.

That tells me the training issues I was worried about are still a big issue for the CF.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun highlighted the strain the CF training system is under:

The Canadian Forces, squeezed by the Afghanistan conflict, may be forced to cancel half the training courses for regular and reserve soldiers scheduled for this summer in Western Canada.

The training squeeze, caused by the unavailability of qualified officers to teach troops, could cause a shortage of reservists in 2009 if Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides to extend the mission past February of that year, according to one reserve officer.

"We're still struggling to find trainers, there's no question about that," said Lt.-Col. Tom Manley, commanding officer of the Calgary Highlanders reserve unit, which has generated a disproportionate number of volunteers for the Afghanistan mission.

"And there's a chance we simply may not get everyone trained that could potentially deploy, so we may have to leave some behind (in 2009) because they didn't get the training they needed," he said this week.

While this comment comes from a reservist and may not translate entirely to the regular force situation, it's still symptomatic of a system under pressure.

Note to Dawn Black: pressure to juggle priorities isn't always a bad thing. Operational tempo concerns can help motivate a drive to greater efficiency, a focus on "keeping the main thing the main thing," as Stephen Covey would say.

But it also means that important long-term aspects of force generation might be getting pushed aside to deal with short-term urgencies of meeting current obligations. Not having time to sharpen your saw because you're too busy sawing isn't a viable plan for very long. Someone needs to keep an eye on the future force, not just the present force.

Knowing DND, someone's paying attention to exactly that. I just wonder if they have a workable plan to deal with what they're seeing.

Bricks and mortar

It ain't sexy, but it's important:

The need to ensure safe air operations, upgrade Trenton’s aging infrastructure, and support the upcoming arrival of the C-17 Globemaster IIIs has necessitated a significant number of infrastructure improvements and additions to be implemented at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton.

Construct Air Traffic Control Tower:

The air traffic control tower is aging, and no longer meets current and future operational requirements. A new tower will be built in accordance with NAV Canada standards and the existing tower will be demolished. [BB: at a projected cost of $14.4 million}

Reconstruction of Taxiways, and Recapitalization and Expansion of the Northeast Ramp:

Two existing Taxiways will be reconstructed and an expansion of a ramp space will take place to provide four parking areas in preparation for the arrival of the C-17s. The existing parking area is sufficient for short term parking; however, would not accommodate the four C-17s that will be permanently based out of 8 Wing/CFB Trenton. The recapitalization of the ramps will include features such as sloped surfaces for drainage, open ditches, and underground storm water piping.

The reconstruction of the taxiway, and recapitalization and expansion of the northeast ramp is the first of three phases of runway reconstruction. Preliminary designs are currently underway to upgrade the southeast and western taxiways and aprons as well. [BB: at a projected cost of $19.4 million]

It's worth noting that this is just the beginning of the infrastructure improvements at CFB Trenton:

A number of other multi-million dollar projects are currently in the preliminary design phase as a result of wing requirements and the Airlift Capability Project, for example:
  • The construction contract for a temporary hangar to support initial C-17 operations is currently being tendered and is expected to be awarded this fall.

  • preliminary designs are underway for the construction of at least three hangars to support existing aircraft as well as the new fleet of C-17s

  • an Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron Refinishing Facility is being designed, and will replace the existing facility that is aging an no longer meets operational requirements.

  • a project is currently being developed, which must be closely coordinated with the ramp reconstruction project, to improve and expand the aviation fuel distribution system.

More information on these projects will become available as they evolve and details are finalized.

I have no doubt that the usual suspects will not only complain about the costs, but scream about them being "hidden costs" for the C-17's. The truth is that the military has been eating its seed wheat for so long that there's a pile of infrastructure work all around the country that just plain needs doing, and now.

And given the importance of CFB Trenton to our ability to deploy and support operations in both Canada and abroad, this represents a welcome investment in the CF's capacity to do the jobs we've assigned.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Aussies buying Big Honking Ships

As if Canada ever will (text subscriber only--more on Canada here):
Australia has chosen the larger of two helicopter-carrying assault ships it was considering ordering for an A$3- billion (U.S.$2.5-billion) project. The design by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia displaces 27,000 metric tons and can carry 1,200 soldiers, eight helicopters and up to 150 vehicles...
More here and here. It would seem that the Aussies are not going spare over the regional development aspect.

It's also worth noting that, in addition to planning to buy 100 F-35s, Australia is buying 24 F/A-18Es. And they have 2/3 Canada's population (though living in a more problematic neighbourhood).

Red Friday rally in Niagara region, June 29

Good on them:
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Niagara residents are expected to sport red this Friday to support Canadian troops overseas during Niagara's first Red Friday Rally.

With Canada Day approaching, Mishelle Chaloner of St. Catharines said she decided to organize the rally so Canadians can show their patriotism and pride for the soldiers fighting for their country.

"I am 100 per cent patriotic and this goes hand in hand," she said in an interview Tuesday.

The event will also serve as a morale boost for troops in the Niagara region getting ready for their tour in Afghanistan, including Chaloner's husband, Dennis Brown, who put his name in to leave February...

The money raised will go toward the Canadian Forces Hospital Comforts Program, which gives injured soldiers who are hospitalized for more than 48 hours access to telephone, Internet and television. Chaloner set her goal at $10,000 and expects almost 3,000 people, plus a few hundred local troops, to show up.

Chaloner is prepared to deal with possible antiwar protesters who may show up, as long as they remain peaceful...

In planning the event, Chaloner said she spoke with many people who had no idea what Red Friday was.

"It's every Friday," said Chaloner, who sends her four kids to school on Fridays wearing something red.

Cpl. Mike Opatovsky, who returned from a rotation in Afghanistan in February, will speak at the rally.

"This is something I can do to help the cause and the guys over there," he said.

During his time in Afghanistan, Opatovsky said, he remembers getting gifts at Christmas from complete strangers, a sign of support that reminds the troops what they're fighting for.

"It's important that everyone comes out to support their troops out there," he said.

There will also be military recruitment officers at the event taking applications, Chaloner said.

Those who can't attend the rally can donate by calling Mishelle Chaloner at 905-937-2229.

If you go

What: Red Friday Rally, Niagara, fundraiser for the Canadian Forces Hospital Comforts Program. There will be a barbecue, a raffle and live music.

When: Friday, June 29, 2 to 6 p.m.

Where: Lake Street Armoury, 81 Lake St.
[emphasis added]

No military problem with extending Kandahar mission/MND stands firm

So says the CDS about the mission(treading on some fine political ground, I'd say):
Canada’s top soldier says the country’s military is more than capable of handling an extension of its mission in Afghanistan.

Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier says that critics and observers who say the Canadian military will be out of breath when the mission is scheduled to end in 2009 are wrong.

In an interview with Montreal Le Devoir, Hillier recalled that Canada has had at least 2,500 of its soldiers overseas for the past 15 years and he says there is no reason to believe that can’t continue.

Canada currently has 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan...
The full, and very good, le Devoir story is here. Gen. Hillier does a very good job explaining the mission and the importance of training Afghan government forces. Pity the English media have ignored it except for the brief CP report. A key point, for which I blame the government and then our media:
Les Québécois, comme beaucoup de Canadiens, sont mal informés à propos du conflit en Afghanistan, croit Rick Hillier. «Il y a un travail d’éducation à faire, c’est certain.»
Meanwhile, MND O'Connor bravely stands his ground (he is brave but really is terrible political liability):
A defiant Gordon O'Connor said yesterday [June 27] he has no intention of quitting as Defence Minister, and warned his critics not to assume he is about to turfed from the portfolio in a widely expected cabinet shuffle.

"I can assure you of one thing: I'm not retiring and I'm not resigning," Mr. O'Connor told reporters at a military conference in Kingston. "And if you want to run a pool, go ahead. You're going to lose."

The minister told the conference he expects to deliver the government's long-awaited policy paper, which will include elements of the government's current policy in support of the Afghanistan mission, by the end of the summer...

Mr. O'Connor came to the defence of the Afghan mission in his speech yesterday to the conference on "stability operations," insisting the Afghan army was making such great strides that he could foresee the day when it could take over much [emphasis added] of the combat mission now being handled by Canada's 2,500 troops based in Kandahar.

Yet at the same time, Mr. O'Connor was blunt in his assessment of the long-term prospects for Afghanistan, using the kind of unsubtle language that has got him into political hot water before. "Afghanistan has always been a land of instability," he said in response to a conference questioner, adding later, that "I think the area is always going to be unstable."

He said the security situation along the border with Pakistan remains difficult to police, in part because there are millions of ethnic Pashtuns in both countries. "There is a steady stream of insurgents coming across the border," he said.

Later, he tried to temper those comments when asked about them by reporters. "What I'm saying is that Afghanistan is in an unstable region and there will always be challenges to Afghanistan. Our job and NATO's job is to try and create a state that is stable enough to handle its own affairs [emphasis added] so it can govern efficiently."..
I do not understand why ministers generally do not hammer home much more forcefully the real "exit strategy" in the bolded bits. Certainly the media do not seem to understand or analyze it.

Opinions are like assholes...

...and sometimes, so are opinion columnists.

Where to begin with Joey Slinger, expert on Southwest Asia and counterinsurgency operations?

How about this assertion?

While it is too early to say about their hearts and minds, we are definitely taking a lot more civilian lives – men, women and children – than the Taliban.

The latest totals for 2007, according to the Associated Press, are 210-plus killed by NATO and U.S. troops, while the Taliban have accounted for something under 180. [Babbler's bold]

So the AP report makes it "definite" does it? I guess the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, which puts the totals of Afghan civilians killed by NATO and the Taliban so far in 2007 at even is demonstrably wrong. Not to mention the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which is obviously way, WAY out in left field when they count slightly more Afghans killed by insurgents than by the NATO forces. I wonder why AP themselves quote the dissenting figures since Mr. Joey Slinger is so damned sure about their numbers?

Cherrypick much, Joey?

What about his vaunted "Human Value Index" and the url he quotes?

For a while I thought it was clever of our leaders to arrange to fight their wars in other people's countries. I assumed it was nothing more than their desire to keep their own civilians out of the line of fire. That it was good politics.

Now I discover that what they actually base their decisions on is the Human Worth Index (discover this for yourself at

So I type in the url - nothing. I type it into Google - and get Slinger's column as the only result. I type in "Human Worth Index" in quotes - and get Slinger again, along with eight other results that shed no light on the supposed source of his story.

Which makes me suspect that either Slinger is making this entire thing up out of his fevered imagination, or that he found some questionable source scurrying out from under a rock on the internet, but isn't worried enough about his own credibility to properly reference it so that others can examine his claims too.

Either way, that's some fine journalism!

But really, the slur against our serving soldiers has got to be the classiest and most professional part of Slinger's entire piece:

Now I hate to be the one to break it to Hamid Karzai, but the current value of an Afghan life is 22 cents, although this is likely inflated because none of the troops fighting there, including Canada's 2,500, have any idea why they're fighting there, and prefer to give the Afghans the benefit of the doubt. [Babbler's emphasis again]

I guess it just passes for accepted wisdom among the urbanista journalistic elite of Toronto that Canadian soldiers are too stupid to understand the strategic underpinnings of the Afghan mission.

Well, except for Blatchford, who's been there. Or DiManno, who has also, y'know, spent time with soldiers in the field. Or Campion-Smith, or Brewster, or Perreaux, or Wattie, or Graeme Smith, or any one of the myriad of reporters who have actually met and spoken with Canadian soldiers at some point in their lives, not to mention covered them in Afghanistan.

Because it stands to reason that a guy like Slinger would know far, FAR more about the geopolitical factors driving the international effort in Southwest Asia than the guys and gals who are risking their lives over there. I mean, what possible motivation would they have to educate themselves about the history, culture, and importance of Afghanistan - other than the fact that they're going to be living and working there for six to twelve months, of course. No, no, it stands to reason that a guy whose entire universe stretches from Bloor Street to Lake Ontario would know far more about that little corner of the world than the poor, stupid sods the generals and politicians push around as mindless pawns in Afghanistan.

Opinions are like assholes, all right. And anyone who swallows this irredeemably uninformed and pathetically mean-spirited tripe qualifies as one too.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie - Eh, Eh, Eh!

When it comes to training and resolve, it seems the Canadian Navy might have more in common with its Australian counterpart than with its British one:

Vice-Admiral Robertson said Canada's "conduct-after-capture training" has been stepped up to reinforce one simple message -- one that's standard in western navies -- if they are ever taken prisoner by a hostile force: "No media interviews. No written correspondence. Nothing."


Vice-Admiral Robertson refused to criticize the behaviour of the British sailors and stopped short of saying Canadian sailors would have fought any foreign attempt to capture them on the high seas, but he dropped sharp hints that they would have put up more of a fight than their British counterparts.

Vice-Admiral Robertson said Australian sailors faced a similar threat from Iranian forces in December 2004 on the sea border between Iraq and Iran. The incident was disclosed last week by the BBC.

He described how the Australian sailors were able to remain on the ship they had boarded. He said they mounted "a display of weapons for deterrence to keep the Revolutionary Guards away and then were extracted by helicopter later."

Vice-Admiral Robertson appeared to back away from a suggestion that a Canadian boarding party might behave similarly in a similar situation.

"It's got more to do with avoiding the situation to begin with and making sure one is never in a position where a boarding party can be isolated in the manner that Cornwall's boarding party was," he explained. "In the face of warships, with the firepower they have, I would not expect groups in small boats would challenge a boarding party." [Babbler's emphasis]

It is wonderfully reassuring to see evidence that the Canadian Navy have a better understanding of their own relative abilities and strengths than that shown by the Royal Navy recently. Nelson would have been rolling in his grave.

What kind of Canadian do you prefer?

Differing views on Afghanistan and the Canadian Forces:

1) A retired member, in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen, decries the government's apparent change of course on Afghanistan:
Re: Parliamentary consensus required to extend mission, Harper says, June 23.

With one incomprehensible and unconscionable action, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has achieved three things: surrendered to the Taliban; increased the threat to our troops serving in Afghanistan; and forfeited management of national foreign and defence policy to Stephane Dion.

By giving the opposition the authority to determine when and under what conditions we will withdraw our troops, he has given them control of the agenda. By so doing, the day after three more of our soldiers were killed, he has advised the Taliban to kill as many more of our troops as possible to make sure Canadians don't forget Mr. Harper's folly, and to speed up our departure. He has invited the Taliban to target Canadians.

Thirdly, Mr. Harper has told them that all they have to do is wait another 19 months and Canada will withdraw from the field of battle, white flag raised, leaving NATO solidarity shattered. The only possibly positive thing he has achieved is to ensure that the Taliban won't attack Canadians on our own soil -- until February 2009.

Finally, with what possible logic did he do this on the last day of the current Parliamentary session?

I am a retired member of the Canadian Forces, having served slightly more than 39 years. Frankly, I now am left to wonder if it wasn't all wasted. This is the message the prime minister may well have sent to all of us retired and still serving.

Denis R. Boyle,

2) Arch peacenik Steve Staples, at the end of an opinion piece, reveals his true agenda: a Canadian military that does not fight:
In a broader context, Prime Minister Harper's remarks last week may signal that the current military buildup and transformation of the Canadian Forces from peacekeepers to war fighters has reached its zenith.

The war has been used to justify an increase of billions in military sending, a reorganization of the forces to better fight the U.S.-led War on Terror, and more than $20-billion in planned equipment purchases.

The Liberals and NDP have already called for a freeze on new major military contracts until the federal auditor general reports on the government's non-competitive procurement process in the fall. With the war all but over, what support will there be for billions of dollars worth of tanks and helicopters [we had Chinook helicopters in the past but sold them to the Dutch as the CF were downsized by the Mulroney government] intended for Afghanistan?

The Canadian public has never been comfortable with the U.S.-friendly shifts in Canadian foreign policy that Afghanistan has been used to defend, and now they will want our government to be doing what Canadians have always supported -- participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions and paying more attention to diplomacy and aid. That's probably the best news of all.

Steven Staples is director of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs and a board member of the Canadian Pugwash Group.
I certainly know which kind of Canadian I prefer.

Update: Here's a post very much to the point at
Lead, Please, Prime Minister

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kudos to Labatt

I say it's time to buy a case of Blue, no matter what you think of the beer itself.

From the Labatt website, where the company is letting you send a message to the troops:

Labatt has a long-standing tradition of sending beer to troops abroad as a small gesture to show appreciation of the Canadian military's important contribution.

We like to bring a taste of home to those men and women representing Canada overseas, and on July 1st we will be making a special Canada Day delivery to our troops in Afghanistan.

I know this is a marketing ploy on the part of the company, but I don't particularly care about the motivation in this case, seeing as the result is so supportive of the troops. Good marketing should be grounded in positive corporate behaviour, and I will remember this project the next time I'm at the Beer Store.

Toronto Star sowing dissension within the (top of) the ranks

Canada and the F-35: A non-story

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen writes a pretty decent story about our plans to buy F-35s. But he already wrote the story last September, with rather an edge to it (full text subscriber only):
Critics doubt value of high-tech jets
More spending expected despite analysts' criticism of proposed fighters
Anyway, in today's story Mr Pugliese, for some reason, only mentions Australia amongst the eleven countries involved in the F-35 program:
* Tier 1 Partners: The USA (majority commitment), Britain ($2 billion)
* Tier 2 Partners: Italy ($1 billion); The Netherlands ($800 million)
* Tier 3 Partners: Australia ($150M), Canada ($150M), Denmark ($125M), Norway ($125M), Turkey ($175M)
* Observer status: Israel ($35M), Singapore.
At least he has some information from Aviation Week and Space Technology, even if it is from last year:
Australia has tentatively budgeted $9 billion to buy 100 JSFs, but could cut that in half if costs rise, according to Australian defence officials quoted last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology, a major U.S. industry publication. Canadian Defence Department documents obtained by the Citizen estimate the cost to replace the existing fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft will be $10.5 billion.
However, current Australian plans still are for 100 F-35s; the final decision will not be made until 2008:
Defence said by the time the Australian government decides in 2008 whether to purchase JSF, the aircraft and its systems will have been subject to more detailed technical analysis than any other defence project in Australia's history...

Australia is planning to acquire up to 100 JSF aircraft to replace ageing Hornet and F-111 fleets. The first JSF will enter Australian service around 2014-15.
And for some reason Mr Pugliese's story closes with an anti-American bleat from a noted military aviation "analyst" (and NDP adviser, something not mentioned here):
But some analysts have challenged the wisdom of purchasing the JSF. In his new book, Intent for a Nation, Michael Byers argues that not only are none of the future contracts guaranteed for Canadian industry, but it is not certain that the JSF is the best equipment for the country's needs.

"What is certain is that the Canadian taxpayer will, once again, end up supporting the U.S. defence industry," writes Mr. Byers, a University of British Columbia international law professor.
Update: After going over the story several times, I think this is the main new information:
The Canadian Forces is creating a new office in Ottawa in August to deal with its future fighter needs and plan how it will proceed with replacing the existing CF-18 jets.

Babbler's Uppderdate: Lockheed Martin commissioned a number of paintings of the F-35 Lightning II for the Paris Airshow earlier this month. Here's the Canadian concept, as depicted by artist Robert Lundquist of British Columbia:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My own son is six...

...and so I hope you'll forgive my fervour in saying I hope ISAF and the ASF track down the sick mother****ers who pulled this stunt and make sure they're not alive enough to try it again.

I'm not picky: any kind of dead will do.


The "useful idiots" who brought you the Quebec anti-Afghan protests a few days ago have decided to drop by and engage the community there.

Needless to say, Valcartier2007 is getting spanked.

The thread is now 34 pages long and growing, but if you're not up to reading each and every comment, might I suggest two in particular? Mortar Guy and I both separately go through the anti-Afghan "alternatives" to our current strategy point by point.

And - surprise, surprise! - there's not much left of their argument by the end of it.

Kuwaiti medals: Ceremony at Esquimalt

A ceremony will be held a CFB Esquimault, June 28:
Kuwait Honours Canadian Service In The Gulf War

The Government of Kuwait will honour approximately 150 members of the Canadian Forces at 11 a.m. on Thursday (June 28) for their service during the Gulf War 1990 to 1991 at a ceremony at the Chief and Petty Officers’ Mess at CFB Esquimalt. CF members who were awarded the Canadian Gulf and Kuwait Medal will be presented the Kuwait Liberation of Kuwait Medal as a memento of their service by His Excellency Musaed Rashed Al-Haroun, Ambassador of the State of Kuwait.

Similar presentations have been made across the country. “This presentation ceremony is a public gesture of profound gratitude and appreciation to the men and women of the Canadian Forces on behalf of the people and Government of Kuwait,” said Rear Admiral Roger Girouard who was Executive Officer in HMCS Athabaskan during the Gulf War.

Canada sent three ships, CF-18 fighter aircraft, and a support element as part of the coalition force that was organized when conflict erupted in Kuwait in 1990. In all about 4,500 men and women were deployed over the course of Operation FRICTION.

To serve others: the highest calling

Sometimes "groundbreaking" isn't an adjective you'd want applied to you:

Now, however, there is a group of nine people from across the country, including Naismith, whose contact information can be given out so those who have lost a loved one serving in the military can talk to someone who can truly empathize. All nine of the people in the group have lost a loved one who was serving in the military.


The bereavement group became one of the services offered by Veterans Affairs Canada under the Operational Stress Injury Social Support Program (OSISS).

The program was initiated by Marley Leger, who lost her husband Sgt. Mark Leger in a friendly fire incident Afghanistan in April 2002. She wanted to see a peer support service put in place for bereaved family members of those who lost their lives while on duty, according to information from the OSISS program.

Naismith said the peer support group is called and given the contact information of a person who has lost a family member and has authorized OSISS to pass on their information to someone in the group.

Then it is up to the person from the support group to make contact. Naismith said the first call can be awkward but it is mainly to introduce herself and set up a time when it would be better to talk.

“This is not counsel. It’s just to reach out your hand and say, ‘I know how dark that tunnel is and I’m standing here on the other side,” said Naismith, who would have welcomed such a call when her husband died.

It takes extraordinary courage and compassion to reach out to help others while you are hurt and need help yourself. I commend those in the bereavement group, and hope they are called upon as rarely as possible.

What selfless service.

[Thanks to SDA for pointing this important story out]

Afstan: Globe and Mail is very economical with the truth

Or maybe their editorial writers don't read their own paper. This appears today in a piece decrying the limited scope of a military inquiry into allegations of abuse of some persons originally detained by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan: one has accused Canadian soldiers of abusing prisoners...
Here are excerpts from a February 6 Globe story this year (full text only available by regular Google search):
At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees “taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them,” alleges Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, in a letter sent to the commission.

The allegations are based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.

The Globe and Mail has examined the military documents obtained by Mr. Attaran that refer to injuries sustained by detainees while in Canadian custody last April...
This viewspaper has no shame.

Update: Here's the (unpublished) letter I sent the Globe yesterday:
One must wonder if those who write the Globe's editorials actually read their own newspaper. In the editorial, "The hollow inquiry" (June 26), one finds this sentence: "But no one has accused Canadian soldiers of abusing prisoners." Yet in your February 6 news story, "Military investigates claim detainees abused", one reads this:

'At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees “taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them,” alleges Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor...'

It would seem that indeed someone has accused the Canadian Forces of abusing prisoners--in the Globe itself.
And here's their very grudging "Correction" today (via Norman's Spectator):
A board of inquiry on detainee handling policies and procedures in Afghanistan was ordered by Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier after news reports [that you guys printed first! - MC] of three prisoners alleged to have been abused by Canadian soldiers. Incorrect information appeared in an editorial yesterday.

Preserving our history

The Lanc's New Home

So after the long trip from Jackson Park to the Mall at the end of April, the Lanc has made its way to the airport where she’ll under go restoration to be able to taxi around, but sadly not fly. There are only two Lancs in the world that still fly. (Also, note that the proper tires are back on, they were removed to give the movers a lower clearance height during the move. See the link above to see the Lanc with the temporary tires.)

Still wingless, there is a small hangar being built that will house the Lanc during the restoration process. You can see the steel frame rising in the rear of the aircraft...

For the complete story and pictures, visit International Metropolis.

H/T to the members of the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association, their tireless work and dedication continues to turn a dream into reality.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Canadian media doing what the Taliban wants

Scott Taylor makes a good observation about our media (I just wouldn't say the Taliban have been slow doing it):
LAST TUESDAY, the Taliban made public a videotape of what was reportedly a graduation ceremony for a new class of suicide bombers. The footage showed a couple of dozen masked "graduates" wearing black turbans and waving little white flags.

Addressing the graduating class of ’07 was Mansoor Dadullah, the brother of recently slain Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah. Brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Principal Mansoor urged the would-be suicide bombers to spread terror outside of Afghanistan and to target western countries, including Canada...

...What made this year’s annual graduation ceremony more newsworthy was that the Taliban seemed to have discovered the magical magnetic power of video to the western media...

It seems that someone in the Taliban organization, perhaps with the assistance of their worldlier al-Qaida allies, has twigged to the importance of television images in spreading fear via the western media. It doesn’t have to be a logical threat; it just has to look menacing, and mentioning countries by name as specific targets guarantees coverage...

Another message conveyed by Principal Mansoor in his graduation address was that some of these "pupils" were in fact foreign students who had come from western countries (like Canada) to take this training in Afghanistan...

...if Canadians were left with the impression that dozens of masked suicide bombers are heading our way in droves, they can be forgiven. That was the Taliban’s intention, and our media obligingly helped them achieve their goal [emphasis added].

We didn't quit then

And the UN forces (mainly American as in Afstan) faced hundreds of thousands of Chicoms and North Koreans; Canada sent a brigade, larger than our troop deployment in Afstan, from a population well less than half that of Canada today. The brigade became part of the 1st Commonwealth Division.
The Korean War is often considered the forgotten war because it was sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War.

There have been continuing efforts to keep the Korean War in Canadians' thoughts. Veteran Affairs Canada chose the Korean War to be the subject of Veterans Week in 2003.

Some veterans pointed out parallels between the Korean War and today's "war on terror" when it comes to Canada's military involvement.

Les Peate, 78, of Ottawa noted the United Nations asked Canada to help in Korea, much like NATO asked for Canada's assistance in Afghanistan [which is also a UN Security Council authorized mission - MC].


In both cases, Canada was called on "to stand up to the bad guys," he said.

Peate scoffed at past ideas to call the battle in Korea a "conflict" rather than a war.

"When you're shooting at people and they're shooting at you, it's war," he said.

There were 516 Canadian soldiers killed during the Korean War [emphasis added], which is seen as the country's arrival to the global peacekeeping stage [yo, reporter, what planet are you on?].

Afstan: What our lack of stomach means

If, as I think, the mission has important purposes (preventing a return of the Taliban, with all that would mean for Afghan society and in terms of al Qaeda's again having a haven with full state support) it is distressing that most Canadians appear to have given up so easily.

I know the government has done a very poor job of explaining the mission. I know the Liberal Party is simply and irresponsibly playing politics with the mission (the NDP are sincere in their pacificism but fools; who cares about the Bloc?). I know that our media have: 1) an Oprah-like fixation on the death of troops; 2) a pattern of highlighting things that help discredit the mission (detainee abuse, civilian deaths); and, 3) a strong tendency to ignore either success in battle or in reconstruction.

It still is illuminating about Canada that the 52 fatalities we have suffered in sixteen months of the Kandahar deployment seem to have proven sufficient to prevent the extension of that combat mission past February, 2009. In other words those deaths are what it has taken for the Taliban to defeat Canada. Not militarily, but psychologically and politically. We are indeed a weak horse, to use bin Laden's image.

No doubt the Taliban will trumpet our cravenness to the Afghan people, thus weakening their stomach to resist the Islamic extremists and to have patience with the struggle in the hope that effective Afghan government military and security forces can be created over the next few years. We Canadians certainly have no patience.

Assuming we do withdraw from combat in 2009--and effectively from the Anglosphere--I'm pretty certain other members (US, UK, Australia) will take our place, especially as they will have much smaller commitments in Iraq. Maybe with an enlarged central and eastern European contribution. While Canada will lose a considerable part of the credit we have gained with our closest allies.

Two columnists in the Toronto Sun well demonstrate the attitudes that have led to our apparently giving up:

1) Lorrie Goldstein:
The reality Harper faces is that while Canadians are deeply divided on the Kandahar mission and most want us out of Afghanistan by 2009, military experts have repeatedly warned NATO's mission there will have to continue long after 2009 -- maybe for decades -- to be successful.

There is, understandably, no enthusiasm among Canadians for seeing increasing numbers of our soldiers coming home from Afghanistan in coffins indefinitely [so let's just fly away in 2009, regardless of the situation, Mr Goldstein].

Nor should there be. If NATO wants Canada to recommit to the Afghanistan mission beyond 2009, it must first do so itself.
2) Greg Weston:
...once again, public opinion has been shaken by the deaths of native sons in a war already bleeding support among Canadians of all ages and in all regions.

While the degree of progress being made by the Canadian forces and their NATO allies in Kandahar remains a matter of contention, there seems little question the Conservative government is losing ground on the public relations front here at home...

How public opinion turned south on Afghanistan is obviously a complex matrix of factors, not the least of which has been an abysmal failure of government communications. Think about it: What are the most enduring images of Afghanistan that come to mind? A picture of humanitarian aid? Of reconstruction projects? Of social development? Of happy Afghans going about their daily business in peace?

More likely, it is something like the well-worn loop of network tape that routinely punctuates nightly newscasts, a clip showing a handful of Canadian soldiers firing their guns over a dirt wall at an unseen enemy [we hardly ever see that these days, Mr Weston]...

...Rather than aggressively using the media to help frame the Afghan mission as a difficult humanitarian effort in a dangerous environment [what do you think the embed program is all about, Mr Weston?], Harper's failed spin machine has allowed the conflict to be framed by deaths, official snafus and other negative events [that's what the media have chosen to emphasize, Mr Weston].

Public relations disasters simply don't get much worse than the cock-up over Afghan detainees, or a fallen soldier's parents publicly begging the government for money to bury their son...

In a chilling interview with the BBC this week, Taliban spokesman Zabiyullah Mujahed said his forces have one main objective: Killing NATO soldiers [emphasis added].

"We are certain we will win, because for us independence is important. For the NATO forces, the lives of their soldiers are important. There will be a big fuss in the Western parliaments, asking that their sons should not be killed in Afghanistan.

"This means we will defeat them [emphasis added]."
Well, they seem to have beaten us already. That will simply encourage more deadly violence by Islamic extremists everywhere, while adding to their belief that they can defeat a decadent, kafir, West. And smug, peace-loving Canadians will bear a degree of responsibility for those deaths.

Update: Former external affairs minister, Flora MacDonald (now 81), spends some time in Afghanistan and illustrates why we should be there. Good on the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson for writing this column. Andrew Coyne, for his part, disagrees with the interpretation in this post but I think his argument is rather thin.

An excellent letter in the Globe from a CF member just returned from Afghanistan.

Mad Max will be in the Sandbox

Varoom! Kablam! Budda budda budda! "Supa", but what about those IEDs (via daftandbarmy at

Clarifying the role of the CDS

Further to this post, a letter of mine in the Hill Times, June 25:
Hillier is Canada's top soldier

Re: "Political heat eventually 'eats up' Canada's defence ministers," (The Hill Times, June 18, p. 1). Simon Doyle writes that Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier is "one of the most powerful and influential bureaucrats" in Ottawa. He also describes Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Hillier as being at the "helm" of the DND bureaucracy. Funny, I thought Gen. Hillier was the top solder in the Canadian Forces and that Deputy Minister Ward Elcock was at the bureaucratic helm. And I guess the reporter missed what Gen. Hillier said in 2005: "We're not the public service of Canada," he said. "We're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people."

Mark Collins
Ottawa, Ont.

A response to the québécois peaceniks

A superb piece at Please read it.

Replace them or shut it down

I'm obviously for the first option, but there's no way I want to see money poured into yet another life-extension project for the Tutor. Time to buy or lease the Hawks.


Ordinary Canadians doing what many Canadians would consider distinctly un-Canadian.

Bravo Zulu to all!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Civilian deaths in Afstan this year

This AP story indicates comparable figures from various sources:
U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan have killed at least 203 civilians so far this year - surpassing the 178 civilians killed in militant attacks, according to an Associated Press tally.

Insurgency attacks and military operations have surged in recent weeks, and in the past 10 days, more than 90 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents, said President Hamid Karzai.

On Sunday, another civilian may have been killed when British troops opened fire in a populated area after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, officials and witnesses said.

Separate figures from the U.N. and an umbrella organization of Afghan and international aid groups show that the numbers of civilians killed by international forces is approximately equal to those killed by insurgents.

After a seething speech by Karzai on Saturday - in which he accused NATO and U.S. forces of viewing Afghan lives as "cheap" - NATO conceded that it had to "do better." Coalition spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher suggested that some civilians reportedly killed by foreign forces may in fact have been killed by insurgents...

The AP count of civilian casualties is based on reports from Afghan and foreign officials and witnesses through Saturday. Of the 399 civilian deaths so far this year, 18 civilians were killed in crossfire between Taliban militants and foreign forces.

The U.S. and NATO did not have civilian casualty figures. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has counted 213 civilians killed by insurgents in the first five months of this year - compared to 207 killed by Afghan and international forces.

ACBAR - the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief - has counted 230 civilians killed in U.S. and NATO operations, basing their figure on reports from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghan NGO Security Office and the U.N.

The number of civilians killed in militant attacks was approximately the same as those killed by foreign forces according to ACBAR's latest figures from about a month ago, said Anja de Beer, director of ACBAR...
Keep in mind what Human Rights Watch says of the Taliban (for 2006 and early 2007):
Afghanistan: Civilians Bear Cost of Escalating Insurgent Attacks
Rising Civilian Death Toll Points to Taliban, Hezb-e Islami War Crimes
Especially when you see another of the Globe and Mail's screaming, agenda-driving, front page headlines:
Civilian casualties soaring

Dozens of villagers were reported dead in the latest air strike in southern Afghanistan yesterday, pushing estimates of civilians killed by foreign troops to a level that observers describe as "alarming."

Afghan police said overnight bombing in Helmand province left 25 villagers dead, which by one count would mean at least 250 civilians have died by accident this year under fire from international forces and their Afghan allies.

By one estimate, that suggests civilian casualties are running at twice the rate of last year. Human Rights Watch has estimated that NATO and U.S. military operations killed 230 civilians in 2006...
The Globe does have the good grace to print this paragraph, though well into the story:
The Taliban inflict far worse civilian casualties with their attacks [at least in 2006 - MC] - Human Rights Watch counted at least 669 people killed by insurgents last year [about three times the number killed the internationals] - but Afghans are increasingly expressing anger against the foreign troops, who are presumed to be more capable of aiming their attacks accurately.

From Tillsonburg to Kandahar

One small Canadian company, MIL-SIM-FX and their efforts to help train troops for deployment.

Clip courtesy of Army News. Displayed IAW National Defence/CF copyright policies.

YouTube version.

The beginning of the end? More truths about Afstan...

...and a Reuters' report on the prime minister's wobbling.

1) Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star gets to the political guts of the matter:
At least some clarity – truthfulness, transparency – is rising from the fug of duplicity.

All of this has devolved from a dirty little war on Parliament Hill, where the Canadian deployment to Afghanistan is less about what's best for this country – or that country – than what most behooves political camps.

Only the NDP has been constant, if misguided and often absurd, about its position on Canada's fighting involvement as a primary NATO component with Task Force Afghanistan. Yet that pacifist party managed to contort itself into voting against a non-binding and failed resolution that would have fixed a get-out date of early 2009, ostensibly because such unilateral withdrawal couldn't come soon enough.

In the realpolitik of Ottawa, it was actually about the NDP distinguishing itself from Liberal policy to avoid political redundancy – an utter betrayal of their principles.

The Liberals, who sent Canadian troops to Afghanistan in the first place, are now anxious to distance themselves from the obligations, or muddle, they fomented, again purely for reasons of domestic politics. They live by polls and lack the courage of their earlier convictions.

Soldiers have courage. Afghans have courage, on both sides of their insurrectionist divide.

Unlike Canadians, Afghans don't wallow in death, no doubt because they've had three decades of war from within and without. They've also had first-hand experience of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, only the most fanatical eager to resurrect that past, albeit a significant minority are thinking the devil they knew might be preferable to endless violence and siege.

But every time a Canadian soldier is killed, the doubts of a conflicted nation spasm and the same chorus of opportunists kick up their indignation, whipping that pale rider on a horse. Yet these are, to a large extent, the same people who don't really give a toss about soldiers or their families and view dimly the whole military ethos, as if service in uniform were an anachronism.

Canadian soldiers hate them.

At Kandahar airfield, when Layton's face appears on the TV screen, soldiers jeer. When anti-war rallies are broadcast, or reported in newspapers that arrive weeks late, they grow quiet and downcast, feel their willingness to sacrifice all is being undermined and exploited.

Of course, a society has the right to debate and ultimately determine, through elected representatives, whether to accept war. The military serves the government and the government serves the people. It's not for generals to decide whether Canada fights in Afghanistan or anywhere else.

But by the same token, a soldier's death doesn't belong to all of us collectively either, except in the abstract or voyeuristically. Ownership of that grief rests solely with loved ones and colleagues, families and mates. And opposition to the Afghan mission doesn't emanate from them.

The Afghan story isn't exclusively and proprietarily about Canadian soldiers who have died. It's about why the troops are there, what they're hoping to accomplish, their efforts to secure a benighted country and extend the rule of law, the urgency of denying Al Qaeda the strategic foothold they once enjoyed. It's about promises made at the very top of international leadership, by the United Nations and NATO, by custodians of redevelopment who said to Afghanistan: We won't abandon you again.

Nearly six years after 9/11 – plotted in Afghanistan – the country is far from achieving what donor nations and military custodians had hoped. Reconstruction has been laggardly, corruption flourishes.

But those who demand quantifiable benchmarks to justify continued intervention also ignore salient evidence, all that's been achieved by empowering traditional district councils, micro-credit funding of small businesses, schools built and reopened, vital thoroughfares constructed, irrigation systems repaired, national troops trained and mentored and Afghan currency stabilized. Those stories are under-reported because combat deaths and poppy production are so much more dramatic and easier to tell [emphasis added].

Afghanistan is far from guaranteed a stable future. The international mission to bring that country off its knees might very well fail.

But without Canadian troops there, providing such a large and integral fighting part of the NATO commitment, it's more likely that embryonic future will die in utero.

Who's the baby-killer now?
2) Reuters:
Canada might continue some sort of military involvement in Afghanistan after its current mission in the southern city of Kandahar ends in February 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday [June 22].

It looked increasingly clear that any major combat role would have to end in 2009, because of lack of support from opposition parties, though political leaders were not ruling out tamer roles in peacekeeping or in development.

Harper has pledged to put any military involvement after February 2009 to a vote in the House of Commons, where the Conservative government has only a minority of seats and must rely on at least some support from opposition parties if it want to continue the mission in Afghanistan.

"I would want to see some degree of consensus around that. I don't want to send people into a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work they're doing in the field," he told a news conference on Friday.

He said the two largest opposition parties -- the Liberal Party and the Bloc Quebecois -- seemed amenable to the military continuing to take some kind of a role in Afghanistan.

"My own sense, listening to ... the Liberal leader, the Bloc leader, is that I don't think they're suggesting -- based on recent comments -- that they would simply abandon Afghanistan in 2009," Harper said.

"So I hope that sometime in the next few months we would be able to get a meeting of the minds on what the appropriate next steps are."..

Liberal leader Stephane Dion repeated that Harper must make it clear to NATO and the allies that Canada's combat role in Kandahar will end in 2009, so replacements can be found.

The troops might be able to train Afghan soldiers after that date, Dion told reporters, and he did not rule out the soldiers acting as peacekeepers in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where they have served before.

"If it's outside the combat zone, it would not be a combat mission," [emphasis added] he said when asked about the possibility of peacekeeping in Kabul or elsewhere.
I wrote this on April 19:
My conclusion is that if and when the Taliban manage to kill a total of 100 Canadians the mission effectively will be over.
It looks now as if 61 dead may be the turning point. I do despair for my country. And I rage at the smugly ignorant self-satisfaction of those like the Star's Thomas Walkom:
Harper finally able to read the writing on the wall

Canada's Kandahar adventure is effectively finished...
Update: Read this impassioned and intelligent piece at as an antidote to the Walkoms of this country:
Ignorance, dishonesty and Canada’s mission in Afghanistan

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Some truths about Afstan...

...and two fanciful notions. Meantime Prime Minister Harper appears to be going wobbly; I fear the current mission cannot be extended if the Conservatives do not win a majority by Spring 2008.

The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente finds some good sense from a former British diplomat who now lives and works in Kabul:
...listen to Rory Stewart.

In the winter of 2001, a few weeks after the Taliban fell, Rory Stewart walked 1000 kilometres, alone, across Afghanistan. He slept on mud floors and survived on nan bread and tea. It was a crazy thing to do. But the book he wrote about his trip, The Places in Between, is the sanest thing you'll ever read about the place we're trying to save.

Mr. Stewart - who speaks Dari, as well as several other Asian languages - describes an immensely complicated land, where people have profoundly different values and assumptions from our own. It is a deeply religious, largely illiterate, almost feudal world, where tribal alliances are constantly shifting and central authority is nothing but a rumour. "These differences between groups were deep, elusive and difficult to overcome," he reflects. "Village democracy, gender issues, and centralization would be hard-to-sell concepts in some areas."

Most of his account is documentary and descriptive. But toward the end, he unloads some stinging judgments about the well-meaning Westerners who imagine they can fashion Afghanistan into a kinder, more enlightened place. His harshest words are not directed at the foreign troops. They're aimed at the UN officials, the policy-makers, the NGOs, and the would-be nation-builders.

"Most of the policy-makers knew next to nothing about the villages where 90 per cent of the Afghan population lived," he writes. "They came from postmodern, secular, globalized states with liberal traditions in law and government. It was natural for them to initiate projects on urban design, women's rights, and fibre-optic cable networks; to talk about transparent, clean, and accountable processes, tolerance, and civil society; and to speak of a people 'who desire peace at any cost and understand the need for a centralized multi-ethnic government.' ..

...We think that everyone, down deep, is just like us, and that once they have the chance they'll make the same choices we do...The truth is that in Afghanistan (note the official name of the country) - and in the Palestinian territories, and the entire Arab world today - there is no prospect for a secular, democratic state [emphasis added--at least not such a state as we recognize it]...
But Mr Stewart is not all good sense--from a piece by Don Martin of the Calgary Herald:
Take the view of Rory Stewart, the acclaimed author who published a bestselling story of his walk across a dangerously lawless Afghanistan in 2002, two months after the Taliban were driven from power.

Now heading a foundation in Kabul, he says Canada must abandon its doomed military folly in Kandahar and regroup in the north, where it has a reasonable chance of success [emphasis added--and in effect partition the country? And what about all the Pathans further west and north?].

"You can only do real development projects in areas where the local population supports you, consents to your presence, and wants to participate," Stewart told me in an interview.

"By and large in the Kandahar area, we don't have that kind of consent. A powerful and effective minority is trying to kill us while the majority is sitting on the fence, so it's extremely unlikely Canada's going to make much of an impact in southern Afghanistan."..
Especially not if we leave too soon. Moreover, how long will Canadians (and others) stomach taking casualties, after abandoning the south, when the Taliban start killing significant numbers of our troops elsewhere? And what confidence will Afghans in the rest of the country have that international help will continue if the south is let go? They will likely figure it's better to go with the strong horse.

The military itself situation is hardly gloom and doom--plus this headline June 23:
Dozens of militants killed in Afghan south
Jack Layton, for his part, wouldn't know a truth about Afstan if it hit him over the head; this is fanciful gone mad:
...NDP Leader Jack Layton said Canada should stop aggressive military action in the war-torn country and move towards political negotiations.

"It's a war that clearly has no end in sight. It's not improving the lives of the people of Afghanistan -- in fact, what it's doing is building support for the Taliban," Layton told CTV's Mike Duffy Live on Friday.

"A whole new approach should be underway here, and Canada should be in the forefront of that approach, leading to a cease-fire and a comprehensive peace process."..
What if the government of Afstan and our allies don't agree? Are we supposed to launch a unilateral diplomatic initiative?

"inside hockey"

A nice post at an American milblog:
Op-For North?

By Lt Col P

Great Canadian milblog--The Torch. Some inside baseball (inside hockey?) but lots and lots of good stuff on "Afstan" and related matters.


Dare I say that we've found Op-For North?

Friday, June 22, 2007


I wonder if any of any of our Air Force people in Afstan have discovered this:
Think you're good? Try Afghanistan
Weeds, rocks, hard mud and barbed wire make it one giant hazard
"Extreme Golf with an Attitude" indeed (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs). There's more golf with attitude up north.

Supporting our troops

Three headlines:

Toronto Sun:
Cops to join decal display
'It means a lot to us,' wounded vet says
Edmonton Journal:
City EMS vehicles may soon get yellow-ribbon decals
'Support Our Troops' motion will go to city council in two weeks
Toronto Star:
City's decal approval sparks counter campaign
Youth worker will wear only black on Fridays to protest "Support our Troops" stickers
I wonder why he didn't take the day off and head down to Quebec City. More on the Van Doos in Quebec City here and here.

Update: The parade and the protest in Quebec City went off without incident, thank goodness. This is encouraging:
Anti-war marchers far outnumbered by supporters, families of troops
Plus discussion at

On staying in your lane

I've mentioned previously that the media swirl on the Gator story is overblown. Turns out I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Update: And note just how enthusiastic they are about the decision to suspend use of the Gators outside the wire.

Upperdate: Bruce Rolston throws more fuel on the pyre of flaming journalistic credibility:

The M-Gator, used by the Canadian, U.S. and other militaries, has a ground pressure when fully loaded of 8 psi. Human-foot ground pressure is 9-12 psi. So assuming the IED that destroyed the Gator was detonated by a pressure plate or other independent trigger, it likely would have been tripped by personnel walking from point A to B as well. And if it was command-detonated (ie, someone pressed a button to blow it up) it would also have been equally effective against three dismounted troops.

The general in charge has said the vehicle in question was used in part because of the narrowness of the local laneways, which would seem to rule out the use of any larger, better protected vehicle, regardless of their availability. So there may not have been a lot of good choices here, and given those ground pressure figures it at least seems unlikely the personnel would have been any safer walking that day.

Bruce is far more polite than I am. I'm inclined to send these poseurs in the press a personalized, gift-wrapped box of SHUT THE HELL UP.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Comfort to the Enemy

One man's opinion (which I happen to agree with)...
The freedoms we believe in cannot be defended by goodwill alone, because the world is full of those who will perceive this as weakness and take advantage of it. Those of us who can see that must shout down those who cannot just as we did with Toronto’s opportunist, invertebrate mayor. We owe this to the men and women who defend us with their lives. Every accusation thrown at them wantonly is a new, fatal flaw in their armour. Such conditional support is comfort not to our troops, but to the enemy.

Canadians in action in Afstan/Taliban's terrorist tactics

Note in 2) the apparent success of NATO strategy:

1) As far as I can see the Toronto Sun was the only paper in a major city that carried this as a separate story ( and websites ran it; the Globe buried it in a report about the killing of the three soldiers):
MASUM GAR -- Canadian and Afghan soldiers killed 15 Taliban in a four-hour running battle yesterday in southern Kandahar province, military officials said.

Two Canadians and three members of the Afghan National Army suffered minor injuries in the clash. Details were not available.

Maj. Dave Quick, the officer commanding India Company, said troops raced over compounds and farmers' houses during the battle in the Zhari district. Eventually, aircraft were called in for support.


Quick said the goal of Operation Season was to disrupt the Taliban presence and thwart insurgent efforts to ambush Afghan police along the main highway in the region.

"It was pretty good today because we were working with the ANA," said Capt. Mark Sheppard of India Company.

"We're nice and tight working together," he said. "They're a great set of troops to fight with."

The operation was launched with the ANA after the Canadian command expressed a desire to uproot the Taliban along Hwy. 1 in an area of Zhari district called Sangsar. The area has seen a consolidation of Taliban troops in recent weeks.


Quick said yesterday's battle was the longest firefight his company has been in even though it was their 12th combat mission in the last month [emphasis added].

He called it a success for the ANA, which led the operation [emphasis added] with tank support from the Canadians and air support from two aircraft, as well as an attack helicopter.

Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, said last week that strengthening the Afghan National Army was Canada's priority leading up the February 2009 deadline for the end of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.
2) The BBC reports on a Taliban spokesman's explanation of a change of tactics:
The Taleban in Afghanistan are changing their tactics to mount more attacks on the capital, Kabul, a spokesman for the militant group has told the BBC.

The spokesman, Zabiyullah Mujahed, said Taleban were recovering after Nato had infiltrated the group and killed some of its leaders [emphasis added--so a new strategy of NATO's seems to be working, but the media are not connecting the dots].

But more people were volunteering to carry out suicide bombings, he said.

A police bus in Kabul was bombed on Sunday killing up to 35 people, in the deadliest attack there since 2001.

Mr Mujahed said the city was the next main target of the Taleban...

He added that the "independence and freedom of our country" was the goal of the Taleban and that they were repeating the same tactics used by insurgents in Iraq [emphasis added--with help from people and money from Iraq too? More dot connecting needed].

"A lot of people are coming to our suicide bombing centre to volunteer," he said.

'Tide turning'

On Wednesday Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said support for the Taleban was diminishing.

"At the moment you see the tides are turning in our favour, the Taleban have failed to materialise their so-called spring offensive, they have failed to isolate Kabul or to cut highways or to expand their area of influence," he told the BBC...
I suppose the key issue is whether the Taliban's resorting to close to pure terrorism will simply alienate them from possible Afghan support, or will succeed in convincing Afghans that it's better to give in to them.

Granting support

Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks Canada should stand by a guy like Bert Tatham. Glad to see a man like BGen Grant is willing to step forward on this issue:

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant says the 35-year-old Vancouver resident, sentenced Tuesday in Dubai to four years imprisonment for drug possession, gave Canadian Forces "critical information" during his year in the country.

Mr. Tatham worked, in the 12 months up to mid-April, as a member of the Afghan government's Poppy Elimination Program in the southern province of Kandahar, managing an Afghan team in such projects as helping farmers find alternative crops.

"While Canada does not conduct counter-narcotic operations in Afghan-istan, Mr. Tatham was our link to understanding poppy growth, harvesting, trade activities and the government of Afghanistan's eradication activities in Kandahar Province," Brig.-Gen. Grant, who took command of Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan last August, writes in a letter of reference.

"This assisted us in several areas, including where operations were being conducted so as not to interfere with our security, development or governance activities."

Most of Canada's offensive operations take place in Kandahar as Canadian troops and other international forces battle the Taliban.

Brig.-Gen. Grant says Mr. Tatham, an expert in satellite-imagery interpretation, even "detailed cartographical products," which Canadian Forces used in Afghanistan and Canada.

Brig.-Gen. Grant also described Mr. Tatham as a "liaison and adviser" who conducted "extensive co-ordination" with Canadian troops as he "worked alongside" them.

Here's hoping the reference letter helps.

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.