Saturday, December 29, 2007

400 more Polish troops for Afstan

Further to this post, the Poles certainly will be pulling their weight:
Poland's government is expected to send 400 additional troops to its mission in Afghanistan, a move of increased importance amid destabilization in neighboring Pakistan, the nation's defense minister said Friday.

Some 1,200 Polish troops already serve as part of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Earlier this month the country pledged to strengthen that force with more troops and eight helicopters.

Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Friday that President Lech Kaczynski — the supreme commander of the armed forces — has proposed that 400 troops be sent at the end of April.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Donald Tusk is expected approve the plan.

Klich said the need to strengthen the force was highlighted by the assassination on Thursday of Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"The situation in Pakistan and the danger of the destabilization spreading in the region, also into Afghanistan, is forcing us to strengthen the mission," Klich said...
Update: Just to be clear, these are the same 400 troops mentioned in the earlier post. More from an informed Polish source:
The 400 number is confirmed. That will include 180 pilots and ground crews for the eight helicopters Poland is sending with the 3rd rotation. What are the remaining 220 people is everybody's guess. My guess is: 120 for PRT in the making and 100 battle troops.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Prime minister grumpy about Afstan

Mr Harper speaks to Maclean's. Not a very spirited approach and ignores the fact that the Germans were educated, and had a lot of experience in running an effective state and a modern economy--hardly a realistic or fair comparison. Plus the Marshall aid that dwarfs the assistance to Afstan. Moreover Germany was not "fully restored within four years". Bosnia or Somalia would be better comparisons.
On Afghanistan, the dominant defence and foreign policy file, Harper again looks ahead to tough choices. Rather than talking up the military mission in Kandahar as an inspiring undertaking, he used the year-end sit-down to vent frustration at slow progress in building a self-sufficient Afghan government. “You know, the United Nations and our allies will have been in Afghanistan 10 years in 2011. For God’s sakes, Germany was basically fully restored within four years; Germany joined NATO ten years after it was conquered.”

He does not seem to be willing to accept anything like an open-ended commitment in central Asia. “To say that Afghanistan would need decades and decades just to do the basic security work, I think is pushing credibility,” Harper said. “Not just pushing the patience of the Canadian public and the military, pushing the credibility of the effort. A sovereign government must, at some point, say, ‘We can actually deal with this on a day-to-day basis. We can be responsible.’”

Still, he signalled he doesn’t expect the panel he set up to advise him on Afghanistan, chaired by former Liberal Cabinet heavyweight John Manley, to suggest Canada try to withdraw anytime very soon. (Manley’s panel is expected to deliver its advice early in 2008.) The whole point of the panel, he said, was to avoid “some very wrong decision here that would hurt our security, hurt our international standing with our allies, and that could, I think, do permanent damage to the Canadian Forces.” What Harper seems to be hoping for is a plan for remaining an active military player in Afghanistan, while demanding the Afghan government somehow move toward standing on its own...
I would agree that if the Afghans can't take on much of the security load within two/three years then it will be hard for many countries to stay seriously committed.

It seems to me however that Mr Harper is losing his own commitment to the Afghan mission; maybe he never really was that serious about it, imagining rather along the lines of Paul Martin that it wouldn't be that big a deal and would provide domestic political (remember that first visit to Kandahar in March 2006?) and international diplomatic rewards. The reality has proved rather different and difficult. Perhaps that's why the prime minister is so ineffective at "selling" the mission.

Taliban defections, casualties and strength

Accurate body counts and force estimation are hard to do in an insurgency (talks of this sort are important for arranging defections):
More than 4500 Taliban insurgents have defected since 2005 and up to 4000 others have been killed in action against British and Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan, according to military intelligence sources.

Many are believed to have deserted the militant side as a result of a combination of persuasion by British and Afghan government agents and the realisation that they could never counter Nato airpower, the single biggest cause of their losses in battle.

The latest intelligence briefing available to alliance military commanders says that the Taliban can field up to 10,000 fighters at any given time in the south and east of the country, but that only 2000 to 3000 of these are highly motivated, full-time jihadis.

The rest are locals paid up to £25 a day - the equivalent of about a month's wages for rural Afghan farmers - to pick up a gun and attack Nato troops.

A British officer with wide experience in Helmand told The Herald yesterday: "We reckon that the Taliban has lost perhaps two-thirds of its field commanders in Helmand and Kandahar in the last year or so. That has weakened its tactical structure, although it is unlikely to stem the flow of paid or religiously motivated recruits.

"Where the Nato countries represent an alliance of the willing, the Taliban is essentially an alliance of vested interests. There are religious warriors, drug lords who fear an erosion of their trade, simple poppy-farmers who take up arms to protect their livelihood and men sent by warlords to keep the pot boiling and deny Kabul control.

"It's been a central plank of Nato alliance strategy to try to divide and rule. There are British and other agents who speak the local languages and are versed in the labyrinthine tribal politics of the region working covertly to split support away from the hard-liners.

"It's hardly a new phenomenon. We were doing the same thing as an imperial power in the 1800s, only then the objective of The Great Game was to thwart Russian territorial ambitions and deny the czars the means of threat- ening our control of India."

A CIA source added: "Our best estimate is that 10% of the hardliners Nato faces are foreign jihadis, mainly Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs. They have stepped in to fill the gaps left by the combat attrition of local Taliban midlevel leaders."

The core Taliban operations in the south are run by Mullah Omar, the movement's spiritual head, from a headquarters in Quetta on the Pakistani side of the Afghan frontier.

A second front is operated by the Haqqani clan in Paktia and Khost provinces to the north and east and a third in the north and west is controlled by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord who has worked for the anti-Soviet mujahideen, the CIA and Pakistan in his time.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What British "negotiating" with the Taliban is all about

Just good sense--no reason for all the ruckus (and certainly not Jack Layton's "plan" to negotiate a ceasefire with the Taliban):
It is common practice in the business of counter-insurgency to fight the enemy and at the same time to put out feelers to see whether deals or compromises might be possible to bring the violence to an end.

In Northern Ireland, 3,000 people died in the Troubles but the conflict ended not through military defeat of the IRA but after years of often covert negotiations with its leadership, initially through a senior officer of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

In Iraq, the violent attacks on British troops in Basra were brought to an abrupt halt not just because the last remaining unit of 500 soldiers at the Basra Palace moved out to the relative safety of the airbase outside the city, but also because of a deal with the local Shia militia leaders who pledged to hold fire in return for the release of detained extremists and a general agreement to find a political way forward.

It is now being claimed that MI6 is carrying out a clandestine role in Afghanistan, negotiating with the Taleban leadership to effect a peaceful end to the insurgency – a move that, if true, would fly in the face of the Government’s declared position of not negotiating with the former Islamic rulers who are ruthlessly slaughtering civilians and killing British and other Nato troops. However, in a country such as Afghanistan, with its long history of warfare and the widespread hatred for foreign interventionists, whether British, American or Russian, such a concept would be bound to fail, partly because the real Taleban leadership – only about a dozen senior commanders – resides in Pakistan, notably in the city of Quetta, but mostly because the top of its hierarchy has no interest or reason to do deals.

They are, as senior intelligence sources acknowledged, unreconcilable. There are no characters like Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness in the Taleban high command. The Taleban commanders want to be back in power in Kabul and would have no truck with well-meaning MI6 officers dropping in on them.

What is really happening is that the Government of President Hamid Karzai, supported by Britain and other members of the 40-nation international security force in Afghanistan, is attempting to “peel off” lower-ranking members of the Taleban who are less committed to the insurgency and might be persuaded to drop their weapons and join the political process.

MI6 is playing its part in meeting likely candidates, but its role, according to senior British government officials, is strictly in line with Kabul’s strategy of reconciliation.

The Taleban is judged to have three tiers: the hard-core leadership that rejects any kind of reconciliation and has strong links with al-Qaeda; a middle layer that is committed to the cause but is not necessarily beyond redemption; and the massed ranks of young, out-of-work Afghans or hard-up farmers who fight for the Taleban for $10 to $18 (£5-£9) a day to boost their income. Within the middle and lowest tiers there is scope for persuasion.

“Given the character of a country like Afghanistan, it would be inconceivable not to come across people who at some point will have had links to the Taleban, but that does not mean that we are following a policy of engagement with the Taleban. That is entirely wrong,” an official at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.
Update: What the American ambassador at Kabul says:
Washington has remained wary of directly endorsing talks with a terrorist group that provided sanctuary to al-Qa'eda, the organisation responsible for the Sept 11 attacks.

However, Mr Woods said that America supported a "serious reconciliation programme with those elements of the Taliban who are prepared to accept the constitution and the authority of the elected government" of President Hamid Karzai.

"The only place where we have concern would be the members of the Taliban with close connection to al-Qa'eda, the reason being that al-Qa'eda is an international threat," he said...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The crazed and the ignorant

Read this comment thread at the Globe and Mail if you have the stomach; this is the story:
Harper wonders if Canadians really get Afghanistan
Three hundred and sixty comments (including one by me ) in just under six and a half hours before the hateful spew was shut down; there are a lot of deranged people out there.

Brits appreciate Canadians in Afstan

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen draws attention at his blog to a recent British book:

A book on my Christmas reading list is “3 Para: Afghanistan, Summer 2006” by Patrick Bishop. As the title describes, the book is about the British 3 Para Battle Group operating in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan in 2006. The troops, like their Canadian counterparts, saw almost near continuous combat for the six months they were there. The battle group, which worked closely with Canadian troops at times, had 14 soldiers and one interpreter killed and 46 others wounded during their tour.

“3 Para” is rich in details about combat and mentions soldiers from the Canadian Forces on a number of occasions. It becomes clear in the book that the Paras really appreciated the Canadian LAVs and the firepower they provided...

Afstan: Dealing with the Pakistan "sanctuary"

Looks like the US will do something serious:
U.S. Troops to Head to Pakistan

Beginning early next year, U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units, according to defense officials involved with the planning.

These Pakistan-centric operations will mark a shift for the U.S. military and for U.S. Pakistan relations. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the U.S. used Pakistani bases to stage movements into Afghanistan. Yet once the U.S. deposed the Taliban government and established its main operating base at Bagram, north of Kabul, U.S. forces left Pakistan almost entirely. Since then, Pakistan has restricted U.S. involvement in cross-border military operations as well as paramilitary operations on its soil.

But the Pentagon has been frustrated by the inability of Pakistani national forces to control the borders or the frontier area. And Pakistan's political instability has heightened U.S. concern about Islamic extremists there.

According to Pentagon sources, reaching a different agreement with Pakistan became a priority for the new head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric T. Olson. Olson visited Pakistan in August, November and again this month, meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen. Tariq Majid and Lt. Gen. Muhammad Masood Aslam, commander of the military and paramilitary troops in northwest Pakistan. Olson also visited the headquarters of the Frontier Corps, a separate paramilitary force recruited from Pakistan's border tribes.

Now, a new agreement, reported when it was still being negotiated last month, has been finalized. And the first U.S. personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan by early in the new year, according to Pentagon sources.

U.S. Central Command Commander Adm. William Fallon alluded to the agreement and spoke approvingly of Pakistan's recent counterterrorism efforts in an interview with Voice of America last week.

"What we've seen in the last several months is more of a willingness to use their regular army units," along the Afghan border, Fallon said. "And this is where, I think, we can help a lot from the U.S. in providing the kind of training and assistance and mentoring based on our experience with insurgencies recently and with the terrorist problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we share a lot with them, and we'll look forward to doing that."

If Pakistan actually follows through, perhaps 2008 will be a better year.

By William M. Arkin | December 26, 2007
An earlier story:
U.S. Hopes to Use Pakistani Tribes Against Al Qaeda
Update: It'll be interesting to see what effect the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has--on the US military involvement in Pakistan and on the sanctuary more broadly:
Fresh from a trip to Afghanistan, Laurie Hawn said Thursday the assassination of Benazir Bhutto only reinforces the need for Canadian troops to stay in the troubled region.

Hawn, MP for Edmonton Centre [now Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, and a former Air Force fighter pilot], said that the death of the former Pakistani prime minister goes to show the presence of the Canadian forces is necessary for bringing stability to the area.

“There are elements out there that just flat-out do not want stability to come to that part of the world, which again is all the more reason why Canada needs to stay involved,” said Hawn adding that what happens in Pakistan is bound to affect neighbouring Afghanistan.

Hawn arrived at the Edmonton International Airport Thursday afternoon after spending Christmas in Afghanistan, visiting the troops and assessing the country’s progress.

“We’re giving them their lives back,” he said...
Upperdate: Another reason for prime minister Harper to be grumpy:
U.S. Fears Greater Turmoil In Region
Pakistan's Crisis Could Affect War In Afghanistan

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

God rest ye...

May the joy and peace of Christmas fill each and every man and woman who stands guard in a Canadian Forces uniform.

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, to you from all of us at The Torch.

Monday, December 24, 2007

C7s for Afghan National Army

Seems a good thing--I just hope the ANA doesn't end up with bunch of disparate weapons from various countries:
Canadian military donates old C7 rifles to Afghan National Army

23 hours ago [i.e. Dec. 23]

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Canadian military has agreed to donate 2,500 surplus C7 rifles to the Afghan National Army along with ammunition and training.

The decision, made quietly last week, is expected to bring the fledgling Afghan force in line with other NATO countries.

Building capacity among the ANA is the key to Canada's exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Last month a senior Afghan commander told The Canadian Press that better weaponry was crucial to the buildup of the ANA.

Lt.-Col. Shirin Shah Kowbandi said the army's old Soviet-era AK-47s frequently misfire.

At the time he said Canadians had promised to provide the ANA with "good weapons" but that they had not yet delivered.

Warning orders

LGen Santa Claus is coming to town...prepare for inspection!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cormorant problems

I wonder what M. Dion thinks...

1)...of the French president's Afghanistan policy:
The international community cannot afford to lose the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday on a quick visit to the insurgency-hit country.

The various nations with troops here must be united and committed in their efforts to build Afghanistan so it can withstand insurgents linked with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Sarkozy told reporters travelling with him...

"Here there is a war against terrorism, against fanaticism, that we cannot and must not lose," Sarkozy said...
Apparently the French are considering sending a combat battalion to southern Afghanistan.

2)...of the policy of Australia's new Labour prime minister:
Australian PM Kevin Rudd has told Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to Kabul he is committed to the "long haul" in Afghanistan...

He added: "Over the next several months, I would also be encouraging other friends and partners and allies in Nato to continue their commitments and where possible extend them."..
Somehow I doubt the Liberal leader will listen to Mr Rudd; this M. Dion's view:
Canada's Afghanistan mission must dramatically scale back troop size and shift to training and other non-aggressive roles if it's to win Liberal support for an extension, says Opposition Leader Stephane Dion...

But Dion stood firm on any extension that involved continued combat, and insisted the Conservative government should have been "transparent and candid" with NATO allies by advising them the current mission will end as scheduled in February 2009...
The policy of NDP leader Jack Layton can be found here, should you be interested. Strange that he has so little in common with his Australian counterpart, whom he professes to admire.

I also wonder if the two visits to Afghanistan will get any serious media coverage in Canada. The Globe and Mail runs this AP story online Dec. 22; let's see what shows up in print Dec. 24.

Update: The answer from Norman's Spectator, "ON MY MIND":

--What the Globe reports on Afstan (in a sidebar)


Prof. Byers' self-psychotherapy

That's how Ezra Levant assesses the puerile professor's book, Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? (Note who the blurbs are from.)
Byers is not against all military missions, though. He is positively giddy about a Canadian invasion of Sudan to liberate Darfur. “Neither the Janjaweed [militia] nor the Sudanese military constitute a serious fighting force,” he claims. “One or two thousand highly trained infantry, a few CF-18 fighter aircraft and the Canadian Forces’ fleet of Griffin helicopters” should do the trick, writes Byers, enjoying the frisson of naughtiness that any peacenik would feel when daydreaming about being a military commander. Proposing a unilateral invasion, unsanctioned by the UN, must be twice as exciting.

Byers doesn’t get his hands dirty with any operational questions, of course, for this is fantasy. Sending “one or two thousand” troops (which is it?) would require several times that number of support personnel, from engineers to cooks. In Afghanistan, our troops are there at the invitation of the Afghan government, with NATO cooperation on everything from airlifts to communications to laying landmines for us; the Sudanese government specifically rejected Canadian troops offered by Paul Martin. How would General Byers even get the troops there? He scoffs at the primitive technology used to attack Darfur civilians, but he ignores Sudan’s increasingly modern army, replete with Russian MiG-29 fighter jets, Mi-24 attack helicopters and Chinese maintenance crews.

Darfur is like Afghanistan before September 11: a conflict with no Canadian national interest at stake, where leftists can talk about their fantasy wars. Canada taking on Darfur unilaterally is not only militarily unfeasible; it is also a complete contradiction of Byers’s angry reasons, outlined a few pages earlier, for opposing the Afghan mission. He rails against the Afghanistan war for being expensive, for taking away from other potential missions (he suggests an adventure in Lebanon, as well as Darfur), for straying from peacekeeping into real fighting, for potentially provoking terrorist attacks back in Canada, for violating “rules” of international law and, amazingly, for using rough language (he is upset that General Rick Hillier, Canada’s top soldier, called the Taliban “detestable murderers and scumbags”). Those are weak reasons for opposing any war; the Second World War violated each one, for example. But Byers’s Darfur fantasy fails his own checklist even more miserably than he claims Afghanistan does, because Canada is in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghanistan government.

Intent for a Nation is a litany of leftist myths and conventional wisdom that is factually inaccurate but reassuring to the left...
Ooh-rah for Ezra.

Further fantasies about Canada and Darfur are expressed here. Just for starters the Sudanese government is most unlikely to allow any Canadian helicopters into the country; besides which the UN wants fairly large transport machines plus gunships--our Griffons are neither. The article is Norman Spector's "Today’s idiocy".

Update: More on the current Darfur reality:
Failure looms in Darfur

Peacekeeping effort in Sudan has no strategic plan: critics

Top Gear in Afghanistan

For those of you in North America not in the know, Top Gear is the BBC2 channel's most popular program. And last week its presenters -- Jeremy "Poowerrrrrr!" Clarkson, James "Oh Cock" May and Richard "I have NOT had my teeth whitened!" Hammond -- went to Afghanistan for a USO-type Christmas visit. Hammond writes about it in his column in the Daily Mirror this week.

Hammond makes some important observations about the Brits stationed in the region:

Yes, I met helicopter gunship pilots, convoy guards, flying paramedics and operatives with jobs so secret that learning the truth would cause all my hair to fall out with terror.

But I also met chefs, doctors, mechanics, computer specialists and military postmen.

I spoke to a bloke whose days consist of waking up in his tent, walking to the communal showers, then to the breakfast tent, and then to his office. He works for hours, breaks for lunch, back in the same tent, then back to his desk for more hours before he eventually collapses into his bunk late at night.

It's like any other desk job, except he could, at any time, be killed by a rocket grenade landing in his in-tray. And he's probably paid less than a junior clerk in a City firm.

You're not likely to see any details of this visit on BBC2, save maybe for a few photos and banters in Top Gear's news section should the series resume next summer. But it is reassuring to know that people from all walks of life -- even selfish petrolheads -- care about what's happening over there.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Chief of the Air Staff on Auroras

I wonder what the two "candidates" (final paragraph) were:
The general in charge of Canada’s air force says there will be just as much surveillance of the country’s coast lines, even with fewer Aurora patrol planes on the tarmac in the coming years.

The comment from Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt follows criticism of the decision this week to proceed with upgrades on only 10 of the country’s 18 Auroras, also known as CP-140s.

He called the notion that fewer aircraft will mean less surveillance "a myth."

In the short-term, by juggling flying schedules between upgraded and soon-to-be-retired planes, the air force will be able to increase patrol time, he said.

The nearly 30-year-old Auroras, based in Greenwood and Comox, B.C., fly a total average of 6,500 hours a year.

"We are not going to go below that," Watt insisted in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Watt, who took over the air force’s top job last summer, also took issue with reports that Arctic overflights have been discontinued because of budget restraint.

He said Aurora flights to the Arctic, which rely partly on line-of-sight observation, are routinely scaled back in the winter because it is dark most of the day and there is little activity to begin with.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May and Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre both slammed the decision not to upgrade all 18 planes, as had originally been planned by the Chretien government in the late 1990s. Defence Minister Peter MacKay made the choice after weighing whether it was worth proceeding with the refurbishment or buying a new aircraft.

May said she wonders whether cutting the upgrade nearly in half would mean a "50 per cent reduction in the (Aurora’s) capacity" to patrol the coastlines.

The air force has a variety of new fixed-wing planes and helicopters on order — or about to arrive — and has been painted as eagerly searching aircraft catalogues, looking to dump the Aurora.

Nothing could be further from the truth, said Watt, who has kept a low-profile throughout the controversy.

"We don’t thumb through catalogues," he said. "That trivializes a very important matter." [emphasis added--meanwhile some of us do our own dreaming, with Google rather than thumb]..

When it became clear the airframe would need millions of dollars worth of repairs and reinforcements beyond the existing upgrades, staff began tossing around the idea of buying a replacement aircraft.

Two possible candidates were examined [emphasis added] and Watt said aircraft were available but they did not have all of the required electronic features needed, particularly for maritime surveillance.

Poles to increase troops in Afstan?

That would be encouraging news (via GAP at
WARSAW, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich arrived in Afghanistan Thursday to inspect Polish forces in the country, local media reported.

About 1,200 Polish troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan. Next year, the Polish Afghanistan force may be enlarged by 300-400 men, according to Polish news agency PAP.

Home criticism of the Afghanistan mission mounted recently after the media revealed that Polish soldiers were responsible for civilian deaths in the Afghan village Nanger Khel last August. Seven soldiers have been charged in connection with the event.

Klich told the PAP that he planned to meet with colonel Martin Schuitzer, commander of the 4th combat group, to discuss the August events.

The defense minister also met with ISAF commander, General Dan Mc Neil, the PAP reported.
Update: From a contact well-informed about Polish events:
Poland is sending eight helicopters with the third rotation, in February/March 2008. These will be the four M-17 transport helicopters and four M-24 attack ones. They are not the newest ones, most likely after complete overhaul, but serviceable. There will be obvious need for the ground crews.

Notwithstanding the fact the 83% Poles do not support the Afghanistan mission I do not expect any opposition to this project. Anyone in their sound mind must agree that Polish soldiers need their own transport in Afghanistan - rather than solely relying on American one. But they will be in ISAF pool so they will be helping Canadians as well.

Secondly, Poland is planning to take over one of the 20 American PRTs in Regional Command East, very likely the one in FOB Sharan, Paktika. Motivation range from accentuating Polish presence to the real desire in helping the Afghans. Remote bases, such as the one in Wazi-Khwa are in desperate needs for financial and manpower aid. CIMIC can only do so much, and the Polish doctor in that base cannot cope alone with influx of patients, lack of drugs and basic equipment and the Pashtu taboos. Locals shy away from sending their women there, so female doctors and nurses are obviously needed.

The other pet project of the good doctor is a mobile ambulatory for reaching remote villages in the mountains. Not just the CIMIC escapades that he has been participating in but long term medical patrols. One or two especially designed vehicles will be ready on Spring, protection soldiers are available but what is missing are trained doctors and nurses. This can only be done with the PRT help because cooperation between military and civilian humanitarian organization are not likely to happen as yet.
Two Polish Christmas songs here and here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bugging out on allies

Not what we did in the Netherlands in 1944-45. Are we going to leave close allies in the lurch?
AUSTRALIA'S long-term military commitment in Afghanistan is under threat after a decision by the Dutch Government to withdraw all of its troops by 2010.

The decision follows a grim warning this week by new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, who told a NATO conference in Scotland that the increasingly bloody war being waged against resurgent Taliban extremists would be lost unless NATO and its allies agreed to dramatically rethink their tactics.

Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian yesterday he remained hopeful The Netherlands parliament would reconsider...

The Dutch parliament decided on Tuesday night to withdraw the troops, after announcing last month that the deployment would be extended by two years to December 2010 [emphasis added]...
Now, if Canada pulls out of combat at Kandahar in Feb. 2009, where will that--for almost two years--leave the Dutch and Aussies to the north in Uruzgan with their southern flank largely unprotected? Will any Canadian politicians, and I include the Conservatives, even note this issue which has a moral, er, perspective?

Say it ain't so Stéphane, Gilles, and Jack. And Steven.

But maybe the Americans or Brits will do their duty when we choose not to. Retch.

Afstan: Strange stuff from the CBC's person in D.C.

Henry Champ today on Newsworld was saying odd things (can't find a video link) about Canada's being critical of the US for slacking off on ground combat in Afstan out of fear of casualties. He never mentioned that the US are doing the great majority of fighting in the east, he just said we are not happy with their "boots on the ground" effort in the south. Especially odd thing to say since this is the final paragraph of the CBC News story on Foreign Minister Bernier's visit to Washington today:
An analysis done by ABC News in November showed the death rate for U.S. troops in Afghanistan is now nearly twice the rate for those in Iraq.
What Canadian was Mr Champ talking to and what was Mr Champ smoking?

Note the kind words from the secretary of state and the president:
Rice called Canada an "extraordinary partner" in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

While there has been concern about some NATO countries not taking on their fair share of responsibilities in Afghanistan, Rice said this is not the case with Canada.

"Canada is sharing in that responsibility. Canada is pulling its weight," the secretary of state said in Washington, D.C. "The contribution of Canada is both invaluable and effective."..

A few hours before Rice spoke, Bush held a news conference, during which he called Canadians and other allies in Afghanistan "brave souls.

"I would like to praise the Brits, the Canadians, the Dutch, the Danes and other countries for their contribution," Bush said in Washington.

"These are brave souls. They're working side by side with the Afghan forces and the U.S. forces to deal the Taliban a blow, and I've only got praise for them [he also mentioned the Aussies]."..
Pity he didn't mention the Poles, Romanians and Estonians.

M. Bernier was to my mind hopeless. He didn't answer questions, just regurgitated talking points of dubious relevance.

Update: Mr Champ was just on Newsworld's "Politics" and repeated (17:40 Eastern) the claim that Canada thinks the US is not fighting hard enough on the ground. He said he had it from both Canadian and American sources. Weird. The video should be available here fairly soon.

"Excellence With Vigour"

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to speak at length with LCdr Angus Topshee, XO (Executive Officer, for you non-naval types) of HMCS Toronto. For those who don't recall, Toronto was the first Canadian naval vessel to circumnavigate the African continent. It was a "ground-breaking" trip (yes, I did have to go there) in a good number of ways beyond that. Earlier this week, the ship arrived back in Halifax after five months at sea.

My problem, and the reason I've not written about this sooner, is that my writing ability is entirely inadequate for describing the voyage, as related to me by Angus in a conversation that lasted over an hour. As I told the story to my wife that evening, she said to me "All they need is a love-story, and they could make a mini-series out of it!" How do you tie NATO interoperability, anti-piracy, illegal immigration, exercises with non-NATO navies, confrontations with other non-NATO navies, nail-biting boardings, monumental charitable activities, and a life-and-death SAR operation around an erupting volcano into one narrative? The short answer is that you can't, not really. I'm going to try anyhow.

Angus joined Toronto only five days before sailing. It turns out that the previous XO was unable to deploy with the ship. As Topshee tells it, he was given no more than five minutes to make a decision, but that wasn't the hard part: "I decided to go in the first thirty seconds. I spent the next four and a half minutes trying to figure out how to tell my wife." Luckily, Audrey's also a CF officer, which would make the explanation a little easier to make, I suppose.

Taking over as the second in command of a deploying vessel with five days prep is no cake-walk, and while he figures it took him close to a month to really settle in, Angus told me he had it relatively easy for a couple of reasons. The first is that the XO's toughest job is actually preparing the ship for deployment - Topshee credits his predecessor for getting both equipment and crew to a high standard before he even stepped on board. The second is that according to Angus, "HMCS Toronto has the best morale of any ship I've sailed on." That's pretty high praise from a man who has been XO on four separate ships already in his career.

After leaving Halifax on July 20th and crossing the Atlantic, Toronto met up with the other five ships of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1). They hailed from Portugal, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Personnel were also drawn from other NATO nations. They began their 12,500 nautical mile (23,150 km) circumnavigation of Africa, counterclockwise.

The CBC did a decent report for The National that covered off a number of the high-points of the voyage, and if you have thirteen minutes, it's worth watching. Although many of us thought that anti-piracy would be a primary function of this sort of mission, it turns out that wasn't the case:

As part of SNMG1, HMCS Toronto will conduct two principle missions: Operation SEXTANT and Operation SIRIUS. The first will involve a first-time event for SNMG1: the circumnavigation of Africa. The task group, composed of ships from six different nations and under the control of a United States Navy task group commander embarked in USS Normandy, will sail around South Africa at the end of August, conducting exercises with the South African Navy and paying a four-day visit to Cape Town at the beginning of September. Toronto will also conduct presence operations off of both West and East Africa.

After OP SEXTANT, Toronto will conduct OP SIRIUS in the Mediterranean. This will be part of Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOR, NATO’s operation to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against maritime terrorist activities.

Interestingly enough, circumnavigating Africa will also put a ship in situations that fall outside such a sparse mission statement. Chasing suspected smugglers back into national waters was one such episode.

Another was engaging in spontaneous diplomacy in the Gulf of Guinea: for Angus, defusing tensions with both the Ghanian and Nigerian navies was a personal highlight of the trip. In both instances, as the task force was passing by their territorial waters, ships from those nations came out to make their presence felt by the NATO forces. LCdr Topshee donned a clean and pressed set of 3B's, toodled over to the African ships, and climbed aboard by himself to discuss matters with the African captains. I asked him if he was nervous being sent aboard a potentially hostile ship twice armed only with his wits, and after making a joke about it - "The thing that kept going through my mind was HMS Cornwall..." - he replied that he tried to put himself in their shoes: "The nations that border the Gulf of Guinea have so many security challenges to deal with...I explained we're not trying to challenge their sovereignty, just trying to find out what's going on in the region." By the time he was finished his visits, the Africans were asking "When is NATO going to come back?" and loading crates of fresh milk onto his RHIB to replenish Toronto's dwindling stocks.

Engaging in this sort of diplomacy on the waves is one of the most under-appreciated benefits of having a navy. No other service so regularly interacts with other nations during times of war and peace alike.

I deliberately didn't ask Angus whether this was the first time he'd crossed the equator, and he didn't volunteer the information. Enough said about that, eh?

Transiting down the west coast of Africa, the SNMG1 made contact at the end of August with four ships from the South African navy for joint exercises. This was the first time a Canadian ship had trained with the South Africans, and the first time a NATO task force had trained that way as well, as I understand it. The ships exchanged personnel to get to know each other and jointly develop a training scenario that would test both sides. Angus said that the South Africans were undermanned, but quite capable - which must have sounded quite familiar to Canadian ears.

Sailing north along the east coast of the continent was an experience as well: the area is notorious for piracy. While the task force had no specific mandate for anti-piracy operations, they were certainly ready to help any ships in distress and investigate any suspicious activity.

And then they ran into a situation that got their ship on newscasts around the world: a Yemeni volcano erupted, and HMCS Toronto was called into urgent Search and Rescue mode. (Note who provided the dramatic video footage for all this: CF video crews, doing their job and informing the public about men and women of the Canadian Forces.)

Every member of the ship's company took part in the rescue, with over twenty lookouts on deck at all times for over forty-eight hours straight. Some sailors had to be ordered to sleep. Angus himself was in a RHIB trolling back and forth fifteen metres away from an erupting volcano, looking for survivors. The task force recovered four bodies (of which Toronto found two), and two survivors. Following is video of the one survivor found by Toronto, as he is brought aboard:

And here's the Yemeni soldier being returned to his people with an HMCS Toronto ballcap on his head, and a Newfoundland t-shirt on his back:

Back in the eastern Mediterranean after that, the boarding party engaged in what Angus called the most high-risk and difficult boarding the Canadian Navy has done in decades. For two days, boarding party personnel investigated a vessel that was so filthy that their uniforms and boots had to be written off when they returned to Toronto. It was not seaworthy, yet four crew and forty-seven passengers were crammed into it. Unfortunately, our sailors were never able to determine exactly what it was up to, and had to let it proceed on its way:

"One of the things that we’re most proud of is a boarding we did in the Eastern Mediterranean of a very suspicious vessel," said Lt.-Cmdr. Angus Topshee, the frigate’s executive officer.

"It was probably the most challenging boarding the Canadian navy has ever done."

In October, the Toronto’s boarding team spent 48 hours on the small, dilapidated bulk carrier Abdullah 1, looking for its registration, and grilling passengers and crew. It was flagless and did not have an apparent owner.

"There were 47 people who really didn’t know why they were on board," Lt.-Cmdr. Topshee said. "Their stories were conflicting with the master and the other three crew members."

The passengers claimed to be Iraqi. The ship had left Libya and the crew initially claimed to be heading for Europe. But the ship actually went to Syria, he said.

"Clearly there was something odd, and we never really figured out what the origin of the people was," he said.

The Canadians suspected the people operating the ship of having links to terrorism.

But without a legal reason to hold the vessel, they eventually had to let it go.

"It was in extremely poor condition, so we fitted it out with lifesaving equipment sufficient to make it safe to carry on its journey," Lt.-Cmdr. Topshee said.

I spoke with Angus prior to the ship coming back across the Atlantic and home, and asked him what gave him the most pride from this trip, and what gave him the most frustration as well. Apart from the boardings - both his, and the boarding party's - he said he was most proud of the charitable work the ship had done during the deployment. When he laid it out for me, I couldn't help being impressed as well:
  • $6,000 raised for the Terry Fox run, which the ship's company completed in the Seychelles. Half that amount came from the other ships in the task force sponsoring our sailors.

  • $11,000 raised for the Children's Wish Foundation to send an ailing child to Toronto to go to a Leafs game and meet Mats Sundin.

  • $14,000 for the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign, which is funded largely through voluntary payroll deductions.

  • A visit by fifteen sailors to an orphanage in Cape Town, South Africa, to provide free labour in a place it was most needed.

That's not even all of it:

The ship raised more than $40,000 for charities during the trip.

"We had everything from head shaving to pie throwing," said Cmdr. Stephen Virgin, the Toronto’s captain. "We took our deck officer and strapped him into a goalie net and fired pucks at him for charity."

LCdr Topshee also bragged on a good half-dozen of his sailors off the top of his head. He would have told me about even more of the fantastic sailors working for him if I hadn't interrupted and moved the conversation along. Such is the face of true leadership.

When it came to frustrations, Angus said he really wishes Toronto could have stayed longer in places where their help was needed - especially in the equatorial waters on both the east and west African coasts.

While he was also careful to state that, given the scarcity of maritime helo resources currently, it was the right decision, he mentioned that the lack of an air det on the mission made a number of tasks more challenging than they would have been with a Sea King on board.

My jaw dropped: "You mean you didn't have an air det at all? For a trip through some of the most dangerous waters in the world?" Nope. Turns out other ships required a helo more than Toronto did. There are only three Sea King detachments on the east coast, and there's a personnel shortage as crews train up for the introduction of the Cyclone.

But the lack of eyes and ears in the air meant the task force got beaten soundly in an ASW scenario by a South African sub. It meant they had to rely on the Portugese helo more than they'd want to in a perfect world.

Angus didn't say it, but it meant they went out without an essential capability. Jean Chretien, I lay this at your door. *gritting teeth*

I also asked Angus if he could let me know what lessons-learned the Navy will take away from this deployment. Without getting into matters of operational security, he cited a few broad areas:
  • Boarding Party: Other navies deploy their boarding parties with much less trouble than we do, and we need to refine the way that we launch our RHIB's. We've also tended in the past to train for searching large vessels like container ships with twenty sailors on the boarding team, whereas this voyage showed a need for smaller teams and a heightened focus on security.

  • Logistics: Every logistic problem a naval deployment normally encounters is exacerbated on a mission like this with no sophisticated port services. Running out of milk in the Gulf of Guinea is one minor example. Making sure every sailor deploys with five sets of uniforms instead of the standard three is another. These may seem like small issues, but they're important nevertheless. And you know if supply of small things is a concern, supply of larger mission-critical elements might also be an issue.

  • Systems & Procedures: The use of shipboard systems always needs to be tweaked on a mission that makes such a dramatic departure from historical Canadian naval cruises. And the procedures followed - the military has a procedure for just about every possible eventuality - also need to be tweaked a bit. Apparently proposals will be made to both the Canadian naval brass and to NATO regarding the processing of asymmetric threats. I didn't get any more information from Angus on this front, and I wouldn't tell you if I had anyhow.

  • CEFCOM: I was surprised to learn Angus had never used the TO&E concept before, but because the deployment fell under the aegis of the army-centric CEFCOM organization, he was forced to use it for the first time in his career. He's a convert. Changing a ship's complement is normally an administrative challenge, and it can't be done for just one ship - it affects the whole navy. Using TO&E meant that the ship could customize its crew to meet the operational needs, period. Not having an air det, they had twenty-four more bunks they could fill with other trades under this system, where those bunks would have gone empty otherwise. Replacements for medical or compassionate repatriations were relatively easy. LCdr Topshee told me: "I love working for these guys because they're so operationally-minded...they were turning around approvals in the middle of the night." So a big BZ to the folks at CEFCOM.

LCdr Topshee also paused for a moment after telling me all this, and then added one more lesson-learned to the list. He told me there were no instances of piracy off Nigeria or Somalia while the task force was there, although there were incidents immediately prior and subsequent to their visits to those areas. While he can't prove causality, there's a pretty plain and commonsense correlation between the two. And so he told me one of the things that made this trip so very worthwhile to him was this: "I learned that we can make a difference."

Those barren souls who accuse our military of being made up of disadvantaged peons who only serve because they had no prospects beyond signing up with the CF should have heard his voice when he said that. Because it was as clear to me as ever that our Forces are made up of some of the most idealistic, dedicated, and professional men and women this country has to offer.

After scrapping an overly ambitious plan to cross the North Atlantic at speed in winter - a plan that was to have seen them home by December 2nd instead of the 18th, assuming they made it back in one piece trying to sprint through such rough waters - they finally arrived home before Christmas. They were greeted by exuberant family members, and by the CDS, bearing a special distinction:

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier boarded Toronto yesterday while it was docked at Shearwater, before its homecoming at HMC Dockyard.

He presented the captain and crew with a Canadian Forces Unit Commendation for boarding operations and a search-and-rescue mission in the Red Sea (see next page).

Along with the commendation, the ship will fly a purple-and-blue flag with a Canadian Forces crest for the next year.

The commendation is rarely awarded to a vessel by the Canadian Forces, said executive officer Lt.-Cmdr. Angus Topshee.

"We're quite proud of that," he said. "This ship achieved a lot in the last five months."

You should be proud, Angus. We're sure as hell proud of you and all the fine men and women of HMCS Toronto. Bravo Zulu, Merry Christmas, and welcome home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

C-130J: "Controversial military cargo planes get Treasury Board approval"

It appears the government has finally given the go-ahead. About blinking time:
The Defence Department's long-awaited and controversial purchase of the newest version of the Hercules transport plane has been approved by the federal Treasury Board, defence sources say.

A replacement for the air force's aging C-130E and C-130H fleets was first proposed in the summer of 2006 by former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

Sources said the $4.6-billion purchase of 17 C-130Js received funding approval last Thursday, but a contract has yet to be signed with U.S. aircraft giant Lockheed Martin.

The in-service support portion of the deal will be the subject of further discussions [check the "oink" at the end of the post], said one source familiar with the agreement.

Officials at National Defence declined comment, and it's unclear whether the federal cabinet needs to review the package again.

But in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last week, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said he understood the cargo plane was in the final stages of approval...

The Defence Department refused to explain why in-service support for the C-130Js has been left open for discussion, but it is clear a storm is brewing among Canadian defence contractors, who increasingly feel left out.

As military aircraft become more sophisticated and fewer are being purchased, many Canadian aerospace firms have downsized and discontinued separate production lines. Instead they now rely on the Defence Department to buy maintenance data, such as technical drawings, up front from the aircraft-maker, most of which are foreign-owned.

The system has had problems, notably the purchase of the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from AgustaWestland. Federal bureaucrats negotiated technology licences on a piece-by-piece basis, resulting in a part and maintenance nightmare for Halifax-based IMP Aerospace, which has the support contract.

Since the Conservatives announced sole-source deals with both Lockheed Martin and Boeing, there has been a change in practice. The government intends to contract in-service support directly with the aircraft-maker, but require them to spend money in Canada on industrial offsets - something that will generate work, but not to the same degree as the old system.

The Public Works Department has been working feverishly to persuade the skeptical aerospace industry of the merits of the new approach, but companies have demanded to see the terms in writing.

The purchase of new C-130s has also prompted a repeated storm of criticism over the way it was handled and the choice of aircraft itself.

The Conservative government decided early in its tenure that it was going to deal exclusively with Lockheed Martin for the air force's medium-lift transport planes.

Rival European aircraft-maker Airbus Military complained publicly and took the unusual step of putting its case before the House of Commons defence committee, saying its yet-to-be-tested cargo jet [It's a turboprop, Mr Brewster and it's not been tested--it's not even flown yet] was being unfairly excluded from competition...
What's really "controversial"? What justified the "repeated storm of criticism"? Hardly the full story. Why does CP reporter Murray Brewster not mention some relevant facts about the Airbus A400M?

The problems with the A400M were well covered in the aviation press as this example from late July 2006 illustrates (Canadian journalists do not seem to use these sources for balance whilst writing their stories about "controversy"):
EADS reports problems with A400M and NH90
The management of Airbus Military and the A400M programme head within Airbus have been overhauled. The programme contains material risks on the overall time schedule, and system providers continue to face challenges that may infer late design implications. Final assembly of the A400M military transport aircraft is expected to start at the end of August 2007; first flight is expected to occur in the summer of 2008, and the consequence on deliveries and cost is under assessment by the new programme management...
And along the same lines:
Last year, Airbus Military officials also raised concerns about a program to buy new tactical transport aircraft, appealing directly to Parliament to allow it to compete against the Lockheed Martin C-130J.

Parliament did not comment on the government’s decision to allow only the C-130J to compete for the tactical transport contract...
This is the current situation as CTV's David Akin blogged on Nov. 4, quoting Aviation Week & Space Technology:
...the A400M airlifter...also being driven largely by EADS, will be at least six months late and the company warns a further six-month delay is possible ..
Some things just seem to be ignored in much of our media's reporting on defence matters. The political focus of their stories--rather than an informed presentation that includes other relevant aspects of the issue at hand--seems to me to be one major factor.

Now this aspect of the eventual contract may in fact be worthy of controversy (oink? oink?):
Update: More interesting facts about the C-130J worldwide that are largely unknown in Canada (the pieces note the problems the Jerc program has faced):
The C-130J program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy – and recently, of a full program restructuring. As a number of the C-130J's faster-moving foreign customers band together to create a common upgrade set for their serving fleets, the plane officially reached "initial operating capability" for the US military late in 2006. Australia, Britain, Denmark, and Italy were all ahead of that curve, and have been operating the privately-developed C-130J for several years now.

India and Norway recently moved to join [emphasis added] the global C-130J customer base, and with the US tactical transport fleet flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs, C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding. A number of variants are currently flying in transport (C-130J), stretched transport (C-130J-30), aerial broadcaster (EC-130J), coast guard patrol (HC-130J), aerial tanker (KC-130J), and even hurricane hunter weather aircraft (WC-130J). The privately-developed C-130J has demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that represents a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors – but does it break the key limitations that have hobbled a number of US Army programs?..

Afstan: Let's hope President Sarkozy goes for the first option

That would be very encouraging and provide one of the three battalions ISAF says are needed in the south (via Norman's Spectator):

...A l’Élysée et la Défense, on planche sur deux options. La première consisterait en l’envoi du bataillon français dans une région du Sud, peut-être en appui des Néerlandais. D’autant que le mandat français dans la région «Centre» expire à l’été 2008. La deuxième option, pas forcément exclusive, serait de renvoyer 200 hommes des Forces spéciales dans le Sud. Ils en avaient été retirés début 2007...

What to read about Canada and Afghanistan?

Prof. Barry Cooper prefers, I think, Christie Blatchford to Eugene Lang and Janice Stein:
...Where Stein and Lang tell the rather abstract story of a policy process as deeply flawed by hypocrisy as by ignorance, Blatchford tells of the personal side of war fighting...

If anyone on your Christmas list wonders what is going on in Afghanistan, get them Blatchford's Fifteen Days.

Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary

Message board for CF members

Conference of Defence Associations' web forum


Apparently the first STOVL variant of the F-35 has been rolled out:

The heart of the F-35B is a STOVL propulsion system comprising the most powerful engine ever flown in a jet fighter, a shaft-driven counter-rotating lift fan situated behind the cockpit, a roll duct under each wing for lateral stability, and a rear 3-bearing swivel nozzle that vectors engine exhaust in the desired direction.

During vertical or short takeoffs, or vertical landings, doors above and below the lift fan open, and a clutch connecting the lift fan to the engine drive shaft engages. A dorsal auxiliary engine inlet opens to increase airflow to the engine. At the same time, doors beneath the 3-bearing swivel nozzle open and the rear nozzle pivots downward, deflecting engine thrust toward the ground. Roll ducts under each wing also are engaged, keeping the aircraft laterally stable. In this configuration, the F-35B can hover, land vertically, take off in a few hundred feet fully loaded, or take off vertically with a light load. When the aircraft transitions from jet-borne to conventional wing-borne flight, the doors close and the pilot can then accelerate to supersonic speeds. The system is completely automatic.

The Lockheed Martin X-35B successfully demonstrated the shaft-driven lift fan propulsion system in 2001, becoming the only aircraft in history to execute a short takeoff, level supersonic dash and vertical landing in a single flight.

Here was my question for the PR guy who sent me the release, and his answer:

from Damian Brooks
to Keelan Green ,
date Dec 19, 2007 10:46 AM
subject Re: Lockheed Martin News Release: First Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing Stealth Fighter Unveiled At Lockheed Martin

Yeah, but the real question is whether or not they've figured out a way to defend the aircraft from a beat-up Bruce Willis jumping on its back and taking it down.



from Keelan Green
to Damian Brooks ,
date Dec 19, 2007 10:57 AM
subject RE: Lockheed Martin News Release: First Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing Stealth Fighter Unveiled At Lockheed Martin

Its called the BWDHDS-101 (Bruce Willis Die Hard Defensive System). It ejects fuel at the cigarette being smoked by a person on the back of the plane causing him to burst into flames.

Gotta love people who aren't so buttoned-down that they can't crack the odd joke. Especially in the defence industry.

Look, I don't know if the F-35 is going to be the jet we need when the time comes to replace the CF-18. I'm not happy about not being able to acquire the same plane the U.S. forces will get. But at the end of the day, if the scaled-back version still meets our needs better than any other aircraft available, I'd swallow my pride and recommend it.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Another point of public contact hobbled

David Pugliese has a timely piece up in the CanWest papers today about Combat Camera. For those who aren't aware of what Combat Camera is, or what it does, you can read more than you probably wanted to know in a post I did in February of this year.

The long and short of it is that the site has been taken down:

The Defence Department has shut down its website featuring photos of Canadian military personnel after receiving a complaint that on-screen commands used to download the pictures were not in both official languages and information regarding the images was poorly translated into French.

The Combat Camera website, which contains thousands of images of Canadian soldiers, sailors and air force personnel is one of the most popular sites for the Defence Department. It receives between 3.6 million and 5.6 million page views a month from the public, according to figures supplied by the department.

But the site was shut down last Friday after a complaint from NDP MP Yvon Godin that the commands on how to download photos were in English only. He also complained that there was poor use of the French language in the photo captions, which are in French and English.

I was told about this days ago, and simply haven't had time to post about it. I normally browse through the newer photos once a week or so, and noticed awhile back that the captions had all disappeared, so you didn't know what exactly you were looking at. At that time, the site indicated that captions would be back up when they could be made fully bilingual.

But instead of putting some resources towards doing that, the direction from the MND's office was to shut it down. And so we have yet another point of contact between the CF and the Canadian public taken away. Just before Christmas, too, so neither the families of the deployed soldiers, nor ordinary Canadians who wanted to see images of their military men and women can do that.

I obviously know people who have worked on the Combat Camera team, and they're understandably upset about this. Especially since the problem was apparently identified several years ago internally, requests went in for extra personnel in the translation department, but those requests were never filled.

So much for informing the public.

Update: As of 20DEC, it looks like the site is back online, sans captions. Which is how it should have been handled in the first place, pending improved translation efforts. I wonder now if they'll have the good sense to load the captions as they're completed, rather than wait until the entire backlog is cleared before uploading the text.

It shouldn't be this tough, folks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Auroras to be upgraded after all

But, if I read this right, only ten aircraft will be fully modernized. Meanwhile preliminary work on a replacement will continue:
News Release
The Future of the CP-140 Aurora

NR–07.105 - December 18, 2007

OTTAWA - The Department of National Defence today confirmed its commitment to the Aurora fleet through continued modernization and structural upgrades, keeping the aircraft flying until 2020 [emphasis added]. As part of the Government of Canada’s pledge to ensure the Canadian Forces have the equipment they need and provide value for taxpayers’ dollars, the Aurora modernization will ensure that the CF continues to protect Canada’s maritime and northern sovereignty.

“The Department will capitalize on these investments by upgrading the structure on the majority of the fleet,” said the Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. “The investment will keep the aircraft safe and operationally viable until 2020.”

“I am pleased to let our Aurora communities know that this valuable information gathering aircraft will continue its proud legacy,” said Lieutenant-General Angus Watt, the Chief of the Air Staff. “The Aurora will provide the Air Force with a significant surveillance capability until such time as a future replacement capability is acquired.”

As part of its reexamination of long-term projects, the Department has rescinded a work suspension and moved forward with the next phase of Aurora modernization which will incorporate radar, computer and other systems on Aurora aircraft. Core structural upgrades will also be carried out to ensure the longevity and safe operation of these 10 aircraft.

Three aircraft have been delivered under phase two of the fleet modernization program and three are undergoing these communication and navigation upgrades. The prototype aircraft for the third phase is in for a two-year modification and testing period, and is expected to fly in early 2009.

The Air Force and Navy are assessing and defining their needs for a long-range maritime surveillance aircraft to succeed the Aurora. Technology upgrades already made in the fleet may be transferred and reinvested in the replacement aircraft.
More here and here. And note this (the Aurora is our version of the P-3C Orion):
US Navy Grounds One-Quarter Of P-3C Fleet Over Structural Concerns
Update: The future of the Aurora fleet is still rather murky:
The news that only 10 of the 18 planes would be refitted was buried in the news release. That, and the late afternoon timing, suggests the government is trying to play down the announcement.

Neither IMP nor the union that represents the workers at the plant was available for comment on Tuesday. And the Defence Department could not answer basic questions such as how much the work will cost, whether the reduction in the number of planes will reduce the number of patrols, when the military will buy replacement planes or where the planes that won’t be refitted are based.

Fourteen of the 18 Auroras are based at 14 Wing Greenwood.

"The 10, the majority of the fleet, keep us flying until 2020 and allow us to plan for a replacement of the Aurora," Mr. MacKay’s spokesman, Dan Dugas, said in an e-mail. "There will be a savings of a couple of hundred million because we aren’t going to put money into extending them beyond their best-before date like the Sea Kings. Money should be used to equip the forces with modern aircraft." ..

Mr. Coderre [Liberal National Defence critic] said Tuesday that he’s glad that some of the work will go ahead, but he doesn’t understand why only 10 planes are being refitted.

"If it’s good for 10, it should be good for 18, so what’s the rationale here?" he said. "It will have an impact on the job loss. If we accept to modernize these planes, that means . . . what we’ve been saying is accurate."

Mr. Coderre predicts the reduction in the number of planes will affect operations.

"It will have an impact on the multi-mission factor, which is surveillance, which is intelligence gathering, which is antisubmarine warfare, and it will have an impact also on the smugglers. If we want to fulfil our job, we need those 18 planes."
Another noted expert on things military, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, is also critical of the government's decision; note her mission priority.

Here's a comment thread at

Upperdate: More at this blog:
If you have any other questions, tips or thoughts about Canadian defence matters, please send them along to David Pugliese at
And more on the Global Express (aka the ASTOR) at the end of this post.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Afstan: How the Aussies talk about certain NATO members

The Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese, in his new blog, is bluntly critical of how the government has been dealing with NATO allies:

Mr. MacKay has told reporters the Canadian government accepts that it may be “prohibitive for some in the alliance to contribute troops” so Canada is going to ask for other types of contributions instead.

His comments signal an abrupt change of course. For more than a year Mr. MacKay and other government officials have been pushing NATO allies to cough up more combat troops to help ease the load in Kandahar province.

The real question, however, is why has Canada now changed that position?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the ‘Shame Game’ Mr. MacKay and others in government have been playing with Canada’s NATO allies has backfired?

Here are the behind-the-scenes details as they were explained to me by NATO officers. This year and last year the Harper government went into overtime crapping on its NATO allies for not providing additional soldiers to the Afghan mission. Gordon O’Connor, Mr. MacKay and Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier were high profile in the media dumping on various countries for not pulling their weight.

It is true that some in the alliance were shunning combat, but publicly slamming your allies is not how diplomacy works.

You don’t label contributing nations to the Afghanistan mission as ‘cowards’ and then expect they’ll help you by sending their soldiers into your sector. Canada’s allies were, and are, still mighty pissed off. (It’s interesting to note that retired navy officer and Dalhousie University defence analyst Eric Lerhe warned about this very thing in December 2006 and faced a few barbs from other military analysts for raising the issue).

The Dutch decided to take a different approach than the Canadians. They complimented their allies and then asked them to fill a few specific jobs such as providing force protection and training teams. The approach was smooth and diplomatic enough that they are going to get what they asked for. The Hungarians, Slovaks, French and Czechs have all committed to sending soldiers (300 to 400) to help the Dutch.

Now the Dutch will be able to stay the course in Afghanistan and are expected to reduce the size of their own forces in Afghanistan by about 500 personnel, taking some of the pressure off the politicians at home. Smart move.
Now I may be wrong, but I don't think any senior Canadian official ever "crapped" on any specific ally by name. Nor used the word "cowards". Moreover, for the record, this is what the Dutch Defence Minister is reported on Oct. 24 as saying:
With public fury growing in the Netherlands, Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop opened the meeting [of NATO defense ministers in Noordwijk, Netherlands] with an appeal for ``fair risk- and burden-sharing'' to relieve overstretched Dutch forces in the south.
Sounds rather like what Canadian ministers have been saying, pace Mr Pugliese. He also writes that the Dutch will be reducing their strength "by about 500 personnel". This is what AFP reported (note the source):
A government statement said that the mission would however be slimmed down as NATO partners Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Slovakia had agreed to contribute troops.

Currently the Dutch have some 1,650 soldiers in Uruzgan: that number will be brought to between 1,450 and 1,350, said the statement.
That's a maximum reduction of 300. Oh well...

And I wonder what Mr Pugliese thinks of the public approach the new Australian Labour government is taking:
AUSTRALIA'S NATO partners must lift their game in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says...

"The defence minister [Mr Fitzgibbon] was also underlining the point, which is necessary to make publicly, and that is to encourage our NATO partners to do more when it comes to Afghanistan...

Mr Fitzgibbon has ruled out lifting Australia's military commitment in the absence of a greater contribution from NATO member countries to the International Security Force in Afghanistan.

But he also signalled that Australia would be prepared to consider a larger military commitment if NATO members bolstered their own forces...

"We are just so frustrated that so many other NATO countries are not making a contribution," Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian last night...
And now for the real substance of what the Aussies are saying, similar to US concerns (and note next month's NATO meeting in Canada, which our media seem to have missed):
"Unless we stabilise Afghanistan we have got problems beyond those that we experience at the moment," Mr Rudd said during a break in his first cabinet meeting today.

Mr Rudd's comments follow remarks by new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon yesterday sayiing the war in Afghanistan would be lost unless NATO and its close allies changed tactics, overhauling military and civil programs designed to bring stability to the country.

Mr Fitzgibbon's blunt warning was delivered to a closed-door meeting in Scotland of eight defence ministers, from the US, Australia and six other NATO nations with military forces in Afghanistan.

"We're there for the long haul [emphasis added]. And we made that very plain to our American ally and to our NATO partners," Mr Rudd said...

The defence minister's comments reflect the classified intelligence assessments presented to the former Howard government in recent months, which have painted a bleak picture of the military situation facing NATO and its allies as they battle Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

"The previous government would have us believe that good progress is being made in Afghanistan. The reality is quite a different one," Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian last night soon after returning from the meeting in Edinburgh.

"We are winning the battles and not the war, in my view. We have been very successful in clearing areas of the Taliban but it's having no real strategic effect."..

Mr Fitzgibbon has ruled out lifting Australia's military commitment in the absence of a greater contribution from NATO member countries to the International Security Force in Afghanistan.

But he also signalled that Australia would be prepared to consider a larger military commitment if NATO members bolstered their own forces [emphasis added].

At Friday's talks with defence ministers representing countries with military forces in southern Afghanistan, Mr Fitzgibbon also expressed frustration at the lack of a coherent strategy that could underpin the successful rehabilitation of Afghanistan as a nation state.

"You will struggle to get unanimity on what the objectives are in Afghanistan at the present time," he told The Australian.

At Mr Fitzgibbon's urging, NATO, led by the US with input from Australia, will now draw up a new military blueprint for the next 12 months of the campaign. It will have a sharp focus on southern Afghanistan, where the hardest fighting is taking place.

The US will also take the lead in devising a broader strategy for co-ordination of foreign military and civil aid agencies in Afghanistan over the next three to five years. This will include the appointment of a civilian special envoy to co-ordinate the work of the UN, the European Union and other civil agencies.

Defence ministers representing the eight nations with military forces stationed in the south will meet in Canada late next month [emphasis added] to review progress on the new military strategy.

"We are lacking in Afghanistan a coherent plan for the country," a senior defence source told The Australian. "The command chain is confused. We (ISAF) don't have enough troops on the ground. We don't have proper co-ordination between our military and civilian goals and actions."

He said Australian and NATO troops had been doing good work in clearing out insurgents but did not have the overall capacity to hold ground in key areas of southern Afghanistan [emphasis added]...

Mr Fitzgibbon told his colleagues that the Australian Defence Force had half of its infantry and cavalry committed to overseas deployments, including Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. Australia's 1000 troops in Afghanistan makes it the biggest non-NATO contributor to the military campaign in the country, and the 10th-biggest contributor overall...

"We need much more than a military response," he said. "This is largely about winning the hearts and minds of the more moderate of the Taliban and other sections of the Afghan community.

"We need more political advisers in the civil service. There is no administrative infrastructure.

"We need more training for the Afghan army and the Afghan police. We need someone there as a senior envoy co-ordinating this overall strategy."

Mr Fitzgibbon said until now, NATO and its allies had been providing a military and reconstruction response but had failed to successfully deal with the "big picture" in Afghanistan.

He said nations with military forces in southern Afghanistan had to deal with significant domestic political pressures.

"We have to hold the will of our constituencies. If we don't do that we will all be packing up and leaving,"
[emphasis added] he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon stressed a new military plan for ISAF operations in southern Afghanistan would endeavour to measure just how much larger the ISAF force should be to hold the ground they were gaining in recent military operations.
How refreshing is the frankness and clarity of the Aussies.

US reviews Afstan policy

Looks like the country is starting to get the high-level (and US media) attention it needs:
With violence on the decline in Iraq but on the upswing in Afghanistan, President Bush is facing new pressure from the U.S. military to accelerate a troop drawdown in Iraq and bulk up force levels in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials.

Administration officials said the White House could start to debate the future of the American military commitment in both Iraq and Afghanistan as early as next month. Some Pentagon officials are urging a further drawdown of forces in Iraq beyond that envisioned by the White House, which is set to reduce the number of combat brigades from 20 to 15 by the end of next summer. At the same time, commanders in Afghanistan are looking for several additional battalions, helicopters and other resources to confront a resurgent Taliban movement.

Bush's decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan could heavily influence his ability to pass on to his successor stable situations in both countries, an objective his advisers describe as one of the president's paramount goals for his final year in office. They say Bush will listen closely to his military commanders on the ground before making any decisions on troops but is unlikely to do anything he believes could jeopardize recent, hard-won security improvements in Iraq.

Administration officials say the White House has become more concerned in recent months about the situation in Afghanistan, where grinding poverty, rampant corruption, poor infrastructure and the growing challenge from the Taliban are hindering U.S. stabilization efforts. Senior administration officials now believe Afghanistan may pose a greater longer-term challenge than Iraq [!?!]...

Administration officials said the White House is considering a range of steps to stem the erosion, including the appointment of a leading international political figure to try to better coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. European newspapers have focused on Paddy Ashdown, a British politician and envoy, but a former senior military officer said his appointment would be considered controversial and seems unlikely.

Bush also plans to step up his personal diplomacy with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and will soon start regular videoconferences with him aimed at more closely monitoring and influencing the situation there, officials said. Bush has long held such videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki...

U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, is asking for an additional three battalions of troops from NATO countries -- the equivalent of another brigade combat team -- but colleagues believe that would not be enough. U.S. officials are doubtful that allies will provide all the requested troops, and predict Bush will be faced with a request for even more U.S. troops, possibly after attending a NATO summit in April in Bucharest, Romania.

The United States has about 26,000 troops in Afghanistan. NATO provides most of the additional 28,000 foreign troops in the country. Among NATO-led forces, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia have assumed the heaviest part of the combat burden alongside U.S. troops...

U.S. officials said Bush may also consider revamping the current military structure in Afghanistan, which has McNeill serving alongside a four-star NATO commander. Restrictions by NATO members on how their troops can be used -- Germany, for instance, limits where its forces can be deployed -- have made it difficult to mount a coherent response to the Taliban resurgence. U.S. forces, which have been largely confined to a small part of the country in the east, have little presence in the south, where much of the insurgency has taken hold...
Meanwhile William Arkin has another provocative piece on the role of air power in Afstan, with lots of statistics and this interesting paragraph:
As A-10 and F-15E air strikes have increased, U.S. forces have undertaken a variety of innovative efforts to reduce collateral damage and civilian casualties. Three less destructive weapons are now regularly being employed by U.S. forces: a new 250-lb. "small diameter bomb," the smallest bomb in the U.S. arsenal in the last three decades; a cleverly designed 500-lb. precision bomb; and a concrete-filled bomb -- called a 500-lb. "rock" -- that does not explode but can destroy structures. Pilots have also learned a variety of techniques for attacks around villages and urban areas, including ways to "fuse" the bombs to detonate inside structures to reduce the radius of blast.
Though I don't think I can agree with his conclusion; someone (the Afghans themselves) has to provide local security once territory is cleared:
In short, the war in Afghanistan has largely returned to its 2001 origins, when a combination of special operations forces on the ground calling in air power quickly defeated the Taliban armies. This doesn't mean ground forces are less important; the most effective combination is to have "eyes on the ground" making U.S. air power more effective. Yet despite the strategic review and the call for more troops, nothing dramatic is likely to happen "on the ground" in Afghanistan before the Bush administration leaves office. That is because the drama is not on the ground. To understand the war in Afghanistan, look up in skies.