Thursday, March 30, 2006

Should there be a Commons debate on Afstan? Why do we have an Army?

An interesting comments thread at

And another thread based on a post in which a recently-retired soldier who served in Afstan writes:

All this squabbeling about pulling our troops out of Afghanistan because men are dieing is nonsense. IT'S A BLOODY FRIGGING WAR PEOPLE. THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS IN A WAR. We're there so now let's finish the job that we went there to do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Afstan update: Soldiers and combat

Scott Taylor, of Esprit de Corps magazine, spoke in an interview March 29 on TVO's Studio 2: Soldiers Killed first as a soldier and second as a political analyst.

He said as a soldier that our troops in Afstan would much rather engage in fire-fights--in which they kill many more of the enemy than they kill us--than travel in vehicles waiting for an IED to go off and perhaps kill them. In fact the successful fire-fight, even with fatal casualties, boosts morale.

I agree with what he said as a political analyst when he spoke of the difficulty of creating a unified, democratic Afstan. But that difficulty does not negate the effort to work for the creation of a non-Islamist Afstan (such a country existed in 1976; I was there) that does not harbour jihadis whose aim is to kill us.

The success of the current international mission is uncertain to a large extent as the will supporting the mission is weak. Most Afghans do not want the Taliban (or al Qaeda) back. It was Afghans--with air support--who deposed them in the first place.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Afstan: Putting Canadian casualties in perspective

This letter to the Ottawa Citizen outlines non-combat (Royal) Canadian Air Force fatalities during the Cold War (full text not online).

Re: The price we've paid, March 27.

While it is worth reporting that 10 soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, Canadians would be remiss to forget the exceedingly greater loss of Canadian pilots during the Cold War.

For instance, between 1951 and 1963, 92 pilots and navigators were killed while flying the CF-100s in Canada, France and Germany.

Between 1952 and 1967, 107 Canadian pilots were killed flying F-86 Sabres while stationed overseas in England, France or Germany or at home in Canada.

Between 1962 and 1983, 37 Canadian pilots were killed flying CF-104 Starfighters in Germany and Canada.

These 236 pilots gave their lives defending Canada and the free world during a time of real crisis. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten.

Stephen Lowry,

Update: A post at small dead animals that highlights the Canadian media's obsession with our casualties and their comparative neglect of the effect of our troops' operations. For that one needs CNN.

Cross-posted to Daimnation.

The UN's Congo mission is not superior to Canada's Afstan mission

The Canadian Defence Attaché in Israel takes on Prof. Walter Dorn in a letter to the Globe (full text not online).


COLONEL, Canadian defence attaché to Israel, Canadian embassy

Tel Aviv -- Walter Dorn is laudably clear in his article Canada Pulls Out Of Peacekeeping (March 27); he believes Canada should be involved in more United Nations peacekeeping operations with more troops. What are not so laudable are some of his assertions he uses to make his case. First, the Canadian Forces' peacekeeping record is second to none, and Canada has nothing to apologize for because our UN numbers are currently low. To imply that only the UN conducts peacekeeping missions is misleading. Second, Canada continues to contribute to no less than four peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, two of them UN missions.

Third, Prof. Dorn's wish to distance Canada from "search-and-destroy missions" overlooks the fact that some UN "peacekeeping" operations, such as the one in the Congo [see the linked post for the equal UN basis of both the Congo and Afstan missions], include searching out and destroying armed gangs. Given his evident horror of offensive operations, he should have argued against Canadian participation in UN missions that involve such aggressive operations, but he doesn't; nor does he condemn the UN for conducting them.

Fourth, he says "the Canadian Forces have decided on an almost exclusive focus on Afghanistan." The Canadian Forces "decided" no such thing. The decision to deploy to Afghanistan was one taken by the prime minister, defence minister and foreign affairs minister of the day.

Fifth, Prof. Dorn plays the well-worn anti-American card. Our troops are under the command of U.S. generals and U.S. senior officials, he says. No, they are not. They are under the command of the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff via the Canadian Forces chain of command. The degree of control that the Americans have over our troops there is limited to the extent that the Government of Canada decides, just as will be the degree of control exercised by the Canadian general in Kandahar over any American troops in the Canadian-led brigade.

If there is going to be a constructive debate on the merits of more Canadian involvement in UN peacekeeping operations, then we need more objective input than that of Prof. Dorn.

The Globe, in the typically light and objective fashion of its Letters section, gives Col. St. John's letter the title: Hear the cannon roar.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Bad News From Afghanistan

This is just in from CBC. Reports say that a Canadian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan during a fight with insurgents.

A Canadian soldier has been killed in a remote area outside of Kandahar, according to reports.

CBC's Keith Boag reported that Ottawa would only confirm there was an incident resulting in Canadian casualties in Kandahar.

He said officials will not elaborate until the next of kin have been notified.


Separately, the Pentagon is reporting that one U.S soldier and one coalition soldier were killed and three coalition soldiers injured in a firefight with insurgents.
More information will be available soon.

Update: This is the update from CBC 290507Z Mar 06.

One Canadian soldier has been killed and three others injured during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in a remote area outside of Kandahar.

Pte. Robert Costall was killed in a battle which took place in Helmand province about 110 kilometres northwest of Kandahar, Canadian Forces Brig.-Gen. David Fraser confirmed early Wednesday.


Canadians had been repositioned to the area in response to an earlier incident in which eight Afghan army soliders were killed.

Fraser said that around 10 p.m. local time, Taliban insurgents attacked coalition forces.A significant number of Taliban were killed during the battle, he said.

Earlier, the Pentagon confirmed that one U.S soldier was also killed in the attack. A U.S. soldier and an Afghan National Army soldier were also wounded.

The injured soldiers were taken to a coalition medical facility in Kandahar for treatment.
The Pentagon also reported two other incidents in the same area. Five private security contractors will killed on the highway between Helmand and Kandahar and another incident involving one US and three Afghan army soldiers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What to Wear, and How Much

Here is a brief discussion on the wearing of body armour, and why more may be too much.


(edited to add hotlink)

Afstan photo gallery

By Christie Blatchford's Globe photographer, Louie Palu.

H/t to Kirkhill at

Afstan: Layton's simple or willful ignorance; Hillier's economy with the truth

Blue Blogging Soapbox points out a number of facts that Mr Layton has seriously wrong about the timing of the change to the Canadian Forces' mission in Afstan (facts which have been repeatedly brought up at this site, along with the failure of our media adequately to cover them).

The incompetence and laziness of our media and of many politicians passeth understanding. It's almost as though they have yet to learn how to do research on the Internet.

The Liberal government, for its part, certainly tried to downplay the fact that our troops at Kandahar would initially be under US Operation Enduring Freedom. The Conservative government--and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Hillier--are still following this approach, which is simply disingenuous.

An obfuscating exchange (from video clip Question Period: Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier) March 12 between CTV's Craig Oliver and Gen. Hillier:

OLIVER: I think that there has been some confusion in the minds of many Canadians about exactly whose mission it is, so I'd like to know whether, and this is what the options are in the minds of people. First, is it part of the American Enduring Freedom anti-terrorism, is it part of a UN operation which is always more palatable to Canadians, or is it a NATO mission? Which is it exactly?

HILLIER: Well, Craig, I would say this. It's a Canadian mission. It's a Canadian mission in support and helping Afghans. Afghans who, as I mentioned earlier, have had their lives wrecked for 25 years, millions dead, millions dispossessed of their country and their home and their families. It's a Canadian mission helping Afghans. But we are part of a greater mission here. We're in support of a United Nations Security Council resolution in support of the United Nations mission here in Afghanistan, and I think in fact the Secretary-General Kofi Anan was very eloquent as he articulated the need and the value of international military forces coming here to help Afghans and to help that United Nations mission. We're part of an international cooperation here of about 35 countries under a NATO mandate to actually help Afghans. So this is a Canadian mission with multi-national partners, large numbers of them, supporting a UN mandate, helping Afghans.

H/t to David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen for the Question Period interview.

Update: More on Layton's distortions.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

First person

An e-mail from over there, with photos.

Congo vs Afstan

The Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese writes another story, in which he implies that our troops should be in the Congo under the UN rather than in Afstan.
The six-year war in the Congo claimed four million lives, according to the UN, while another 3.4 million people are refugees. Seventeen million don't have enough food, according to the world organization.

The Canadian commitment of just nine soldiers to the UN's Congo mission [MONUC] stands in stark contrast to the 2,300 personnel it has assigned to Afghanistan.

The thousands of troops in Afghanistan are under the Pentagon's Operation Enduring Freedom, the codename for the U.S. war on terror.

"We're abandoning the UN, we're abandoning UN soldiering," said Walter Dorn [his CV is revealing as to his leanings], an associate professor at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. "It's because missions like Afghanistan are sapping our capacity for other purposes."

With the withdrawal of its troops this week from the UN's Golan Heights peacekeeping operation, Canada drops to 50th among the nations contributing soldiers to missions overseen by the world body...

Other nations, however, are committing to the Congo. Germany has agreed to lead a European Union mission of as many as 1,500 troops in the coming months in preparation for the Congo's June elections... [That's not the whole story; see at "Daimnation!": Darfur: NATO willing to help UN; EU eyes Congo.]

"This whole view that peacekeeping is dead is certainly not true," said Mr. Dorn. "The UN has actually seen a surge in peacekeeping and in the Congo they're increasing to 18,000 troops. Yet Canada has trouble providing four or five soldiers there."

Mr. Stollery [Liberal Senator] agreed that there is a campaign in Canada to "denigrate" UN operations. "It's as if UN missions aren't where it's at these days," he adds...

The implication of the story is that with our current Afstan mission Canada has abandoned our so-called "traditional" peacekeeping role.

Mr Pugliese does not report that the Congo mission is authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1635 (2005) under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and is no traditional peacekeeping mission. Chapter VII authorizes the use of force. (Mr Pugliese does write that In early March, UN troops backed by helicopter gunships, killed a number of rebels in the Congo.) Peacekeeping missions are conducted under Chapter VI of the charter.

The US and NATO missions in Afghanistan (Canadian troops are now under the former and will shift to the latter this summer) are also authorized under Chapter VII of the Charter by Security Council Resolution 1623 (2005), passed unanimously. The UN Congo mission and the Afghanistan missions are not peacekeeping missions. The difference between them is that the UN has a very difficult time running its own missions effectively whereas the US and NATO do not.

Canadian Forces are much better off not being under UN command and are able to do a much better job when they are not. Compare what happened under UN command in Bosnia and Croatia (little HARMONY there) with what happened under NATO command in Bosnia.

This story was manufactured to make its point; it is not reporting. It is an effort, yet again, by our media to create an agenda.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Afstan update: about four months late

The Ottawa Citizen outlines (with a very loaded headline, From peacekeepers to Taliban hunters) the background to the Canadian Forces' Kandahar mission. The authour, David Pugliese, has been described to me by one who should know as

...basically the only military beat reporter in the daily press...

That is disgraceful and a a clear indication of our media's utter inadequacy.

It is also disgraceful that it took Mr Pugliese so long to pull the pieces together; and that our politicians and media generally paid so little attention to the issue.

See these guest-posts at Daimnation!:



Update: For an excellent report of what our soldiers are doing, see in the Globe, March 25, Christie Blatchford's: The bomb and the 'Belly Button': 'What they lack in skill,' a Canadian says of Afghan soldiers, 'they make up in heart -- balls out all the way' (full text not online).

Upperdate: Douglas Fisher gets to the heart of the matter.
...Canadians are growing uneasy about the extreme dangers to life and limb in this mission. Many believe that Canada’s particular national “gift” is that we are peaceable, with a distaste for muscular patriotism and warrior bombast. Yet this assignment is more than just war-like — it is war, and as General Sherman is alleged to have told graduating cadets, “I tell you, war is hell!”

After five years of a George-Bush-led America (three more to go), many of us are hung up on our aversion to his regime, on our recent military associations with the Americans, and on the fact that the U.S. is the most significant pillar of our prosperity...

Many of us want Canada to be an agent of good deeds and high ideals — a nation proud of its moral superiority, especially over the United States. For these folks, Canada ought to be a peacekeeper, not a warmaker. They detest the idea of militaristic “hard power.” Better, they think, to spend Canada’s money promoting social and economic progress in the world than on risky soldiering and hi-tech weapons...

As for our military’s needs, MPs should spell them out so that they are consistent with our aims. This is sure to mean more soldiers, sailors, and air crew — matched with the means to airlift them to hotspots of our government’s choosing...

Sadly, the tradition of the Commons on military matters is for woolly talk and unctuous piety, not for clarification. Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised — but don’t bet on it.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

The Laws Of The Navy

Most milblogs focus on soldiers, for good reason. A ground combatant has, perhaps, the most diffficult job in any armed forces. It's dirty, thankless and, in this 21st century, criticized by those who have never served. I am lucky enough to have served in a diverse capacity. Having led at sea, in ground combat and thankfully, as a passenger in aircraft which always made a successful landing, even if my troops and I departed well before that blessed event.

But it was these laws which guided me and my people, for we were sailors, always.

Written by then Captain Ronald A. Hopwood RN for his comrades, he went on to become a full Admiral in the Royal Navy. Little known outside naval circles of Ango-American society, they are the guidance from which sailors can find wisdom. It would do well that all others recognize these laws.

Now these are laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be;
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea;
As naught may outrun the destroyer,
Even so with the law and its grip,
For the strength of the ship is the Service,
And the strength of the Service, the ship.

Take heed what ye say of your Rulers,
Be your words spoken softly or plain,
Lest a bird of the air tell the matter,
And so ye shall hear it again.

If ye labor from morn until even,
And meet with reproof for your toil,
It is well – that the gun may be humbled,
The compressor must check the recoil.

On the strength of one link in the cable
Dependeth the might of the chain;
Who knows when thou mayest be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

When a ship that is tired returneth,
With the signs of the sea showing plain,
Men place her in dock for a season,
And her speed she reneweth again.
So shall thou, lest, perchance thou grow weary
In the uttermost parts of the sea,
Pray for leave, for the good of the Service
As much and as oft as may be.

Count not upon certain promotion,
But rather to gain it aspire;
Though the sight-line end on the target,
There cometh, perchance, a miss-fire.

Can'st follow the track of the dolphin
Or tell where the sea swallows roam?
Where Leviathan taketh his pastime?
What ocean he calleth his home?
Even so with the words of thy Rulers,
And the orders those words shall convey.
Every law is as naught beside this one—
"Thou shalt not criticise, but obey!"
Saith the wise, "How may I know their purpose?"
Then acts without wherefore or why.S
tays the fool but one moment to question,
And the chance of his life passeth by.

If ye win through an African jungle,
Unmentioned at home in the press,
Heed it not; no man seeth the piston,
But it driveth the ship none the less.

Do they growl? It is well: be thou silent,
So that work goeth forward amain;
Lo, the gun throw her shot to a hair's breath
And shouteth, yet none shall complain.

Do they growl and the work be retarded?
It is ill, speak, whatever their rank;
The half-loaded gun also shouteth,
But can she pierce armor with blanks?

Doth the paintwork make war with the funnels?
Do the decks to the cannon complain?
Nay, they know that some soap or a scraper
Unites them as brothers again.

So ye, being Heads of Departments,
Do your growl with a smile on your lip,
Lest ye strive and in anger be parted,
And lessen the might of your ship.

Dost deem that thy vessel needs gilding,
And the dockyard forbear to supply?
Place thy hand in thy pocket and gild her;
There be those who have risen thereby.

Dost think, in a moment of anger,'
Tis well with thy seniors to fight?
They prosper, who burn in the morning,
The letters they wrote over-night;
For some there be, shelved and forgotten,
With nothing to thank for their fate,Save That (on a half-sheet of foolscap),
Which a fool "had the honor to state—."

If the fairway be crowded with shipping,
Beating homeward the harbour to win,
It is meet that, that lest any should suffer,
The steamers pass cautiously in;
So thou, when thou nearest promotion,
And the peak that is gilded is nigh,
Give heed to thy words and thine actions,
Lest others be wearied thereby.

It is ill for the winners to worry,
Take thy fate as it comes with a smile,
And when thou art safe in the harbour
They will envy, but may not revile.

Uncharted the rocks that surround thee,
Take heed that the channels thou learn,
Lest thy name serve to buoy for another
That shoal, the Courts-martial Return.

Though Armoured the belt that protects her,
The ship bears the scar on her side;
It is well if the Court shall acquit thee;
It were best hadst thou never been tried.

As the sea rises clear to the hawse pipe,
Washes aft, and is lost in the wake,
So shall ye drop astern all unheeded,
Such time as the law ye forsake.

Take heed in your manner of speaking
That the language ye use may be sound,
In the list of the words of your choosing
"Impossible" may not be found.

Now these are the Laws of the Navy
And many and mighty are they,
But the hull and the deck and keel
And the truck of the law is - OBEY.

Live by these, and you will never go wrong.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why are we fighting this?

At my place of work, I use a solar-powered calculator with oversize buttons for my blunt fingertips. Others in my office use pocket-portable adding machines.

I schedule my appointments on Outlook. Most folks I work with still use daytimers.

I've arranged with our office manager to have remote access to my computer desktop from home, since I live a good distance away from the office, and there are times when it makes more sense to work from home than to battle in and out of mid-town Toronto. The majority of my contemporaries live within a twenty-five minute commuting radius of work, and so have no need for such an accomodation.

My employer gives me, within a broad framework, the tools I deem necessary to do my job. They'll make suggestions if I ask, and they reserve the right to refuse my choices if they're too expensive or incompatible or whatever. But by and large, I pick what I need.

Soldiers have been doing the same thing with personal kit since the first monkey hefted a big stick in his hand and thought: "Geez, that feels like the right weight to brain my neighbour with." Medieval soldiers had to balance the weight and protection of armour against the mobility and vulnerability of none. Today's soldiers (ht:MC) look at combat loads and realize there's no such thing as a perfect answer (ht:JofA).

That's why I'm amazed this story is even hitting the papers, let alone getting any legs at all (ht:ST):

"If the equipment the Armed Forces is providing for military operations is not adequate then it is up to us in the military to provide adequate equipment," O'Connor said during a tour of the Edmonton Garrison - the home base for most of the 2,200 troops serving in Afghanistan.

"There should be no case where any soldier pays out of his own pocket to buy equipment for military operations. It's unconscionable."

"No case," he says? That's rubbish:

So what's new about soldiers buying their own gear? Generally, it's not because the "army issue" is no good -- although in some instances this may certainly be the case. Canada's military history contains examples of such shoddy goods. Soldiers usually purchase a non-issue item for several reasons. The prime one is that the army, for whatever reasons, has not seen fit to buy it, but the individual nevertheless considers it to be necessary for his personal safety or comfort. I recall, for example, the days when I would gladly pay cash to a friendly Yank to purchase a sleeping bag, rather than rely on the makeshift bedrolls that we otherwise had to fashion from our regular issue of three grey wool blankets and two rubber groundsheets, which also served as our rain gear. The same went for U.S. pattern combat boots and rubber over-boots. In cold, wet weather, they were preferred over the regularly issued leather ankle boots. "Any damn fool can be uncomfortable in the field" is an adage acknowledged by all good commanders and most sergeant majors. In the interest of maintaining morale, they usually wink a blind eye to non-issue material.

That same letter by a retired Canadian Colonel points to a U.S. program that reimbursed American soldiers for up to $1,000 of personal kit purchased at their own expense. Of course, even that program isn't quite what it seems:

Army Protective Equipment Reimbursement
Between now and October 3, 2006, the Department of the Army will reimburse both current and former Soldiers who purchased body armor and certain other protective, health and safety equipment for use in Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom. Reimbursable equipment includes protective body armor, combat helmets, ballistic eye protection, hydration systems, summer weight gloves, and knee and elbow pads. To qualify for reimbursement, the equipment must have been purchased after September 10, 2001, and before August 1, 2004, and all equipment for which reimbursement is sought must be turned into the Army at the time a claim for reimbursement is filed. Claimants who no longer have the equipment must explain in writing why the equipment is unavailable for turn-in. Former Soldiers and survivors of deceased Soldiers may file a claim by mailing a completed DD Form 2902, along with the items noted above, directly to the U.S. Army Claims Service (USARCS) at the address provided in block 12 of the DD Form 2902. Although the claims process has been designed to ensure rapid settlement and payment of claims, potential claimants should not wait too long to file claims, as all claims must be filed by October 3, 2006. More information on the body armor and protective equipment reimbursement program - including a printable DD Form 2902 and a list of reimbursable items together with the pre-established compensation rates – can be found at

A program that pays soldiers to turn in their personal kit may relieve the conscience of politicians and taxpayers who think they've underequipped their military, but it doesn't go to the root of the problem. And in my mind, the root isn't that the military isn't giving soldiers the right stuff, it's that a one-size-fits-all approach is backward in today's professional fighting force.

Oh, don't get me wrong: some standards need to apply, and not all kit can be open to negotiation. If your weapon fires some exotic species of ammo, and you can't get resupplied by your unit, that's not on. But most soldiers wouldn't ever do something that ridiculously counter-productive when it's their own tender backside on the line.

No, I'm talking about stuff like boots. The CF issues leather lace-up combat boots. They're general-purpose. If you're fighting in the cold, they're too light. If you're fighting in the heat, they're too heavy. If you're fighting in snow, they're too black. And God help you if your feet are oddly-shaped. Again, don't get me wrong: the CF bends over backwards to customize footwear. But if soldiers are out there buying their own, all it tells me is that the CF is expending a lot of useless effort that simply isn't making the grade with your average line-unit guy or gal. Save the money and effort and let the soldier decide.

Today's professional, volunteer soldier is better able to make his or her own decisions about kit than at any other time in history. I say we facilitate that evolution by providing a reasonable amount of discretionary funding (say $1,000 per person) to deploying soldiers for personal kit. If they want to upgrade from the perfectly serviceable CF boots to something better, it's up to them. If they want to purchase the latest in ballistic eyewear, it's their call. If the issued long underwear which is perfectly acceptable to the vast majority happens to chafe their private parts, off to MEC they can go.

Standardization can only take a soldier so far. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it always will be as far as I can see. So don't fight it, work with it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

UNAMIC/UNTAC Law and Order on the Cambodian Border

It was bad enough that we were sent into Cambodia without so much as a sidearm. Considering that we were undertaking what the UN believed to be the most complex "chapter 6" peacekeeping mission ever attempted, one would have thought the Canadian government would have ensured our safety.

No such luck.

It didn't help that the Khmer Rouge had not complied with orders to disarm and anyway, they had business deals such as illegal land use, theft of resources and a hefty drug trade to keep alive.

There was trouble from the start. The armed service members found there was a wild variance in pay rates between countries with some troops receiving UN rates of pay while others received home rates. The police contingent was also multi-national and while rates of pay were an issue, wildly varying concepts of law enforcement created even more difficulties. In the end, the police contingent would prove a liability, particularly when confronted by members of the Khmer Rouge. All too often we would find a police checkpoint abandoned and some thug with an AK47 assault rifle instead.

Cambodia itself was a mess. Surrounded by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, the country had just endured 13 years of civil war, preceded by the bloody regime of Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge had killed around 1.7 million people through starvation, over-work and execution. When we arrived there were over 200,000 people under arms. It was our job to bring them in, disarm at least 70 percent of them, train the remainder to become the army and police force, provide protection for future elections and prevent the various factions from robbing the country blind. All with a Swiss Army knife.

Except the Khmer Rouge didn't like the game and they kept killing people, including UN troops.

The decision not to arm us was not a UN edict. It came from the Canadian cabinet room. And before anyone starts to mutter, "Damned Liberals," under their breath, keep in mind that the Prime Minister of Canada was the Right Honourable Martin Brian Mulroney. We had a tendency to believe all politicians were the same - stupid.

Good peacekeeping story:

An early morning coastal patrol saw a Canadian navy petty officer, a New Zealand navy petty officer and their Khmer speaking interpreter beach their boat and start a survey of the beach to the east. There had been reports of trees being cut and stolen by one of the armed factions and the three were to confirm and report back.

They had moved some distance down the beach when they noticed a sign. It was a skull and cross-bones with some Khmer writing on it; the traditional sign of a minefield. (Some minefields were marked with beer cans hanging from trees.)

They looked around and realized that they were surrounded by copies of the same sign. Things did not look good at all. They began to plan their route out.

The decision was taken to do everything possible to find their footsteps and extricate themselves, gently, by making foot fall on their inbound footprints. The interpreter shrugged and agreed to follow the lead of the two petty officers.

It took over an hour to get back to the boat. By the time the three had arrived the two petty officers were soaked with sweat and just controlling their fear. They noticed that their interpreter had not only maintained his composure, but he appeared quite cool.

The two petty officers asked their interpreter how it was, after having transited a minefield, he could not have broken out in the same nervous sweat.

"What minefield?" asked the interpreter.

"The minefield! You know. The one identified by those signs," said one of the petty officers.

"Oh! Signs," said the interpreter. "I wonder why you walk out so funny. That not a minefield."

The POs were a little stunned. "What? What was it then?"

"Oh yeah. Signs say, 'Man kill anyone who steal coconuts. Stay out.'"

* * *

Anyway, the Cambodians held their elections and the UN declared the mission a success. 62 UN military and police were killed along with 5 UN civilian staff. The Khmer Rouge never were disarmed. They rejected the election results and continued fighting for six more years. In the latest Cambodian election the results were so fragmented that it took a year to form a coalition government.

Wow. That worked.

Cross posted at The Galloping Beaver


A crusty old Sergeant Major found himself at a gala event, hosted by a local liberal arts college. There was no shortage of extremely young, idealistic ladies in attendance, one of whom approached the Sergeant Major for conversation.

She said, "Excuse me, Sergeant Major, but you seem to be a very serious man. Is something bothering you?"

"No, ma'am," the Sergeant Major said, "Just serious by nature."

"The young lady looked at his awards and decorations and said, "It looks like you have seen a lot of action."

The Sergeant Major's short reply was, "Yes, ma'am, a lot of action."

The young lady, tiring of trying to start up a conversation, said, "You know, you should lighten up a little. Relax and enjoy yourself."

The Sergeant Major just stared at her in his serious manner.

Finally the young lady said, "You know, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but when is the last time you had sex?"

The Sergeant Major looked at her and replied, "1955."

She said, "Well, there you are. You really need to chill out and quit taking everything so seriously! I mean, no sex since 1955! She took his hand and led him to a private room where she proceeded to "relax" him several times.

Afterwards, and panting for breath, she leaned against his bare chest and said, "Wow, you sure didn't forget much since 1955!"

The Sergeant Major, glancing at his watch, said in his matter-of-fact voice, "I hope not, it's only 2130 now."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Deeds, more than words... hearts and minds, people.

Update: From comments, we learn of the sad ending to this story:

An Afghan boy who received medical treatment through the generosity of Canadian soldiers and an Edmonton church, has passed away.

But my point about 'hearts and minds' remains unchanged, since it is the effort and not the results that have earned the Canadians some respect:

Namatullah's grandfather said their family, friends and townspeople were overwhelmed by the generosity and thankful to the Canadians who had adopted his cause.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

F1 plus: varoom!

Afstan: Is Army gear adequate?

A story in the Ottawa Citizen: Troops resort to buying their own gear: Military-issue boots, vests 'useless' in combat zone, soldiers say.

And the related Comments thread at

The response by Minister of National Defence O'Connor in an interview on CFRA, Ottawa.

And the related Comments thread at

Monday, March 20, 2006

Afstan: If we take serious casualties

Are the Canadian people ready for the body bags? Or will there be a Blackhawk Down reaction?
The PM's main problem is that the Taliban are the enemies of not just ordinary Afghans, but of America as well. And so Canada's Left, reflexively sympathetic to anyone warring against George W. Bush, is already singing the chorus of cut-and-run...

Humanitarian arguments...will fall to the wayside if the body count spikes. While democracies have a high tolerance for casualties in wars of self-interest, the same is not true of humanitarian interventions -- which explains why Kosovo was bombed from 15,000 feet, and why no Western nation is willing to sacrifice a single solider to save Darfur. If the Taliban are able to stage a particularly spectacular attack, Harper will feel the same heavy pressure to evacuate as Bill Clinton did when Somali gunmen killed 18 U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu 13 years ago...

Harper is of another breed. Good on him for visiting Afghanistan and saying the right things. But in the end, our deployment is an act of conscience aimed at fulfilling our moral obligation to the rest of the free world. This motivation may be laudable, but it is also highly abstract. And it is questionable whether it will survive if Canada is faced with the concrete violence produced by a Black Hawk Down moment...

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Officers but not gentlemen?

Unlike army and air force officers, who hitch their swords and scabbards to their belts, naval officers, in accordance with dress regulations, are required to carry or 'trail' their swords. Rather than being hitched at the waist, the scabbard is suspended from two long leashes requiring the wearer to carry the scabbard to prevent it dragging on the ground or deck.

The myth surrounding this unique naval custom is that naval officers are required to carry their swords as a mark of disgrace, allegedly for involvement in some mutiny. Standardized dress regulations for naval officers started to become firm around 1748 which had no specific regulation regarding the wearing of swords. It wasn't until Victoria came to the throne that details regarding the carrying of swords became uniform and Victoria's reign was well after the Spithead and Nore mutinies. In any case, the major mutinies of the Royal Navy involved ratings and RN officers had no involvement which might bring disgrace upon the whole. In any event, there is little likelihood that the Lords of the Admiralty would have permitted a uniform distinction which would have brought the navy into ridicule. There is some suggestion that Victoria had made a casual remark that naval officers were not gentlemen (and the wearing of a sword was the mark of a gentleman.) In one sense she was quite correct.

Naval officers in British society were unique. The navy had, by the late 1600s, made it clear that being a "gentleman" was not sufficient to enter or succeed as a naval officer. Skill, as opposed to social status, was the mark of a naval officer and the navy exercised equality of opportunity at the point of entry over a century before the army saw the merits of such a program. Army commissions, very much the preserve of the nobility, were generally purchased. Naval commissions were granted only after a young teenager had learned his trade, passed his examinations and was selected for promotion on the basis of merit. When wartime required the navy to expand its officer corps, most were drawn from the seaman pool where education and skill in handling ships carried weight; social status carried none. Those aristocrats who did enter the navy found themselves competing on an equal basis with the sons of merchants and labourers. Given that, naval officers were not considered less than an aristocratic army officer; just different, and the title "naval officer" carried with it a degree of social standing which indeed made one a gentleman. So, while they may not have been the sons of gentlemen, naval officers were certainly considered gentlemen in British society.

Some historians suggest that naval officers never wore swords at sea and when the sword was used, the scabbard was discarded as useless, particularly when boarding another vessel. That certainly makes practical sense except that for most naval officers, who were unlikely to be good fencers, an edged sabre was the weapon of choice for close quarters fighting. Swords and rapiers had little place in the hack and slash boarding fights of the days of sail.

What is more likely is that the army changed and the navy did not. Trailing a sword shows up as an act of pride among light horse regiments where both officers and troopers loosened their spurs and allowed their trailing sword scabbards to rattle over the cobblestones. Naval officers, who would have no reason to wear a sword except when ashore, copied what was then a military display. So, all officers, regimental and naval, actually trailed their swords, with slings as long as possible, as a means of attracting attention to the wearer. This is the origin of the term, "sabre rattling". On parade, all officers carried their swords whether they were army or navy. Soldiers eventually slung their swords from their belts, for practical purposes, particularly as field drill developed. Naval officers, having never used swords for practical reasons and rarely wearing them in any case, saw no need to change and continued to carry them when dress dictated.

Canadian naval officers continue to carry their swords on parade despite several attempts in the 1970s Canadian Forces drill manuals to eliminate the tradition.

Posted on The Galloping Beaver as Sunday History Blogging with a trivia question.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Diplomatic language has its place...

...and that place is most emphatically not Occam's Carbuncle. Heh.

And while we're getting all politically incorrect, here's a snapshot for you:

Somehow aircraft just don't get purchased

This from the federal Budget, March 23, 2004, The Importance of Canada's Relationship to the World:

Another major priority for Canada’s military is the purchase of modern Fixed Wing Search and Rescue aircraft (SAR) to replace older Hercules aircraft and Canada’s fleet of Buffalo aircraft. Under Defence’s current plan, deliveries of the new aircraft will begin much later in the decade. This budget sets aside non-budgetary resources to allow the Department of National Defence to move this acquisition forward in time without displacing other planned capital investments. By doing so, the Government will accelerate the process so that deliveries of the replacement SAR planes to Canada’s military can begin within 12 to 18 months.

Eighteen months would have meant deliveries beginning September 2005. Did not happen.

And then from the Department of National Defence 2005-2006 Report on Plans and Priorities (March 24, 2005):
Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Project

This project will replace six Buffalo and ten Hercules aircraft that currently provide search and rescue services. We anticipate initial delivery in fiscal year 2006–2007...

About a year's slippage here from the 2004 budget. And fixed-wing SAR aircraft were not part of the rapid procurement package then National Defence Minister Graham did manage to get through Cabinet last November.

The Air Force needs planes, not words. One hopes the Conservative government can contract for these planes soon, though I do not expect any to arrive in the forthcoming fiscal year as was promised by the Liberal government just one year ago--and reneged on.

And one hopes that lobbyists, especially for Bombardier, are not allowed to mess this purchase up any longer, as they may have done when Graham failed to get a $12.2 billion aircraft procurement package--including SAR aircraft--through Cabinet last year.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Boys of the Clouds

I was listening to CFRA a few nights ago when the host took some time to talk about book he was reading, a military history text entitled Boys of the Clouds: An Oral History of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion 1942-1945. The book was written by Ottawa native Gary Boegel, and is currently being sold privately. (Ordering information is available on Mr. Boegel's website for those interested in picking up a copy of their own.)

From the description on the book's website:

Boys of the Clouds tells the fascinating stories, in their own words, of over seventy veterans of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during the Second World War. The Battalion, part of the British 6th Airborne Division, was among the very first Allied soldiers to land on French soil on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Despite a widely scattered drop, they managed to take and hold all their objectives, and continued to hold off German counter attacks through that fateful summer.

After suffering heavy losses in Normandy, the unit returned to England in September 1944 to refit and train for the next airborne operation. This training was interrupted when they were hastily sent to defend against the German offensive in the Ardennes, commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. They were the only Canadian unit to take part in this action.

[... read the rest ...]

And here is an except from chapter 3 (D-Day and Normandy):

Major Richard Hilborn, MID
Company Commander, Headquarters Company

"Our trip was most pleasant across here thanks to you except for the last 5 minutes when the flak came at us and I was absolutely terrified. Especially the way the old kite rocketed and bucketed about the sky. No doubt your evasive action saved the day. I got out OK and the open shock tore the knee strap of my kit bag off. It hung away from me and I couldn't reach the quick release so I landed with my kit bag attached. I landed in the corner of a field somewhat shaken and no end surprised. I have never come down faster. After trying to reach my kit bag I didn't even have time to grab my left webbs but I just managed to get set for the landing. After wandering about a bit I picked up 3 others of my stick. It took us 3 hours and the assistance of a local French farmer to find where we were. Actually I landed a mile and a half northwest of the DZ. Because the country was full of hedges and orchards I didn't have the slightest idea where the DZ was. There was farming all around so that didn't help any.

It was the better part of the day before we got ourselves altogether. A couple of chaps in my stick had tough luck. One landed in a tree and the branch broke, following which he fell and broke an arm and a leg. Another chap was shot through the hand. He had an amazing escape. He was by himself when about 30 Gerries spotted him. They jumped him, took his equipment and when he was lying in the ditch shot at him twice from 6 foot range, one just missing him and the other hitting his hand. He lay absolutely still and they went away leaving him for dead."

[... read more excerpts ...]

Needless to say I have fast-tracked Boys of the Clouds to the top of my reading list, and will post a review as soon as I finish it up.

[cross-posted to bound by gravity]

Afstan: the debate has indeed been done for this commitment

What about subsequent ones? The Liberal government committed--to the US and to NATO--to provide two Canadian Army battle groups to Afstan, each for a six month rotation. The battle group now there will be replaced around August, and its successor will finish its tour around February, 2007.

The Liberals also agreed that Canada would command, and provide staff for, the Multi-National Brigade in Regional Command (South). This is to be made up from the Canadian battle group plus UK, Dutch, Romanian and some other troops. Canadian command is for nine months until around October this year. The brigade will be under US Operation Enduring Freedom until this summer when it is scheduled to transfer to the command of NATO ISAF.

There is absolutely no purpose in the House of Commons' debating these commitments when it meets. However the Conservative government seems to be indicating that further commitments of Canadian troops are likely.
Mr. Harper reiterated his party's election platform: that the Conservatives would not hold a vote on the current Afghanistan deployment, but "if we make new commitments these things will obviously be put to a vote in the future."

Mr. Harper's officials later stressed that even though the current commitment to Afghanistan comes up for review next February, simply extending it is not considered a new deployment and requires no further debate...

Here I think the Conservatives are being sophists. While a further troop commitment after February, 2007 would be to carry out the same mission, it would in fact be a new commitment. It seems to me only proper, from a democratic standpoint and in light of the significance and risks of the mission, to have a vote if a new commitment is to be made.

But, in reality, the debate in the House leading up to a vote would almost certainly be a farce--a sad reflection of how low our standards of public debate have fallen.
There was a time when the floor of the House of Commons would have provided the perfect backdrop for just such a discussion. When politicians came to the nation’s capital to debate important issues and present the facts to back up their arguments.

That period, unfortunately, came to an end years ago, a demise coinciding roughly with the decision to allow TV coverage of Parliament.

Since then the Commons has devolved into a raucous bearpit that serves up cheap theatrics in place of sober and reflective debate. Where winners and losers are decided not by reasoned argument but by clever retorts and snappy putdowns...

I doubt if a Canadian Minister of National Defence would speak to our House with such detail and cogency as the UK Defence Secretary did at Westminster this January. And, if Mr O'Connor did, that many MPs from any party would understand what he was talking about.

Update: Blue Blogging Soapbox gives selections from the take note debate, Nov. 15, 2005 that indicate the thin nature of consideration in our House.

Here is a useful summary of editorial opinion in Canadian newspapers.

Upperdate: A good analysis of Canada's involvement by David Rudd of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Words matter

Reading about Capt Trevor Greene this morning, and having heard anecdotally about Muslim standards of hospitality, I decided to do a bit of digging. I wanted to determine if the Afghanis who sat down with the Canadian officers broke any of their own rules. After all, according to Capt Kevin Schamuhn, the expedition commander that fateful day, the Canadians and Afghanis were engaging in a shura:

Capt. Kevin Schamuhn, the commander who was leading the expedition, told CBC News that the Canadian troops had already visited several villages during the day to attend shuras, or meetings with village elders.

He said all of them had been peaceful events where they shared lunch or tea and introduced themselves.

Schamuhn said the last shura of the day started off well as the troops sat down with about 30 villagers, including many children.

Once I started to look into codes of conduct appropriate for shuras though, the project spun into something entirely different than what I'd intended.

You see, while I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on Islamic tradition - far from it, in fact - I'm not sure that what the Canadians are conducting with Afghani village elders across the countryside actually qualify as shuras:

We now come to the fourth and central constitutional principle of shura. It is important to make two observations here. The first is that the etymological form of shura, derived from the root shawr, or advice, means mutual consultation in its widest scope — a collective deliberation in which all parties are exchanging counsel. The term shura, as such, is to be distinguished from the term istisharah, which means one side seeking counsel from another, and from the term tashawur, which means mutual consultation but on a lesser scale than that envisioned in shura as a nationwide participatory political exercise. For instance, in my country, Oman, the present assembly was first named al majlis al istishari, and only several years later renamed as majlis al shura, thereby claiming a more democratic posture.

The second point to observe is that, in the context in which the term has been used in the Quran, shura consultation is predicated on equality among those consulting in order to arrive at a collective decision. This clear Quranic depiction of the shura as essentially a decision-making process among equals has to be distinguished from the notion that depicts shura as merely an optional exercise in the seeking of non-binding counsel by the ruler, acting from a superior position, from those of his subjects with whom he may choose to consult. This rather disparate version of shura, claimed by the rulers and conceded by the clergy has historically co-opted real shura, thereby condemning Muslim and Arab political life to centuries of despotic rule. However, current Islamic scholarship is showing increasing inclination to restoring shura to its full-fledged legitimacy in the Muslim public life. (Babbler's bold)

Are these meetings really consultations among equals? And even if the Canadians behave as though they were, do the Afghanis consider them to be? How does this affect the dialogue, if the two sides come at the discussions with different assumptions?

Most importantly, is our limited understanding of the complexities of Afghan society hurting our ability to accomplish some real good over there?

Cross-posted to Babbling Brooks

War and Peacekeeping

Among the sharper points General Hillier made in his recent Globe & Mail interview was that in the context of Afghanistan, words such as "peacekeeping" and "war" are not particularly helpful. Canadians will be involved in a wide range of tasks, ranging from simple delivery of aid to combat operations against insurgents. "Peacekeeping" it ain't, for "peacekeeping" has a narrow definition. "War" is a more flexible word, but "war" it ain't, either. Not quite. It's something in between.

"War" is a loaded word. It carries all kinds of connotations and moral baggage, and because of those connotations, many want to call what our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan a "war."

One side calls it a war because they see it as self-evident that war is wrong. Therefore, whatever we are doing in Afghanistan must be wrong -- and as an added bonus, they get to call anyone who disagrees with them "pro-war," as if those people must agree with war in general. By calling it a war, they get to take the moral high ground.

The other side calls it a war because they see it as self-evident that we should be fighting a war, specifically, the War on Terror, the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, or whatever it happens to be called this week. Not only should we be in that war, in their minds, but we should be fighting it. None of this namby-pamby intelligence gathering and police work, in other words. The bad guys want to kill us and this is a struggle for survival. We can fight in "Afstan" or in the streets of Toronto. We are defending our way of life. Get off the moral high ground, you moonbats, it belongs to us.

"War," the word, is being enlisted here for purely rhetorical purposes. That is to say, the actual meaning of the word and how that meaning relates to what is actually going on in Afghanistan is much less important than how the connotations effect the argument. To put it more simply, the truth is less important than the emotional impact of "war" on the people you hope to convince.

The trampling of all those feet on the moral high ground are fast turning it into a swamp. And the truth left town long ago.

"War" may mean many things, ranging from an exchange of nuclear weapons that wipes out all life save cockroaches and politicians, down to "wars" on things like poverty, drugs, or the mess in the laundry room. But we normally understand "war" to mean an armed conflict between organized forces that occupy terrain, in which one defeats the enemy through battlefield maneuver and the application of fire. This was the case in WWI, the Spanish Civil War, WWII, and Korea. It was also the case, more often than not, in Vietnam.

This is not really the case in Afghanistan. The enemy Canadian soldiers face -- or do not face, in fact -- is not organized in any military sense, does not occupy terrain, and cannot be defeated through firepower alone. Calling this a "war" is an attempt to manipulate perception by emphasising combat operations.

Does it matter what we call it? Yes, it matters a great deal, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. Canadians seem happy to support "peacekeeping," but they aren't so keen on seeing Canadian troops deployed in a "combat role." But what does that really mean?

There was plenty of support for a "combat role" in the Balkans, where one side of the civil war had been demonized. Nobody seemed to notice at first that our operation in Somalia was not "peacekeeping," and Canadians initially supported that ill-fated deployment. There would have been little objection to sending troops into Rwanda to stop the genocide by force.

There would be, on the other hand, a strong objection to deploying Canadian troops in a "combat role" to overthrow a government -- in other words, to "war" as we usually understand it.

Some "combat roles" are okay, then, while others are not. It depends what is understood by "combat role." It's the specifics that matter, not the label we apply to them.

So what do I intend to call this thing, if I do not call it a "war?"

Well, nothing, really. There is no point in trying to apply some neutral label to this thing. That's just as manipulative as calling it a war.

Better to focus on specifics. Whether our role in Afghanistan is supportable depends not on whether it is a "war" or whether our troops have a "combat role," nor indeed on whether our intentions are noble. Even the delivery of aid can be done in counter-productive ways. It depends on the specific tasks they are performing, which tasks are taking priority, and how those tasks are performed.

It depends, in other words, not on how ideologues manipulate the argument, but on the truth of what is happening on the ground.

X-posted from The Amazing Wonderdog

Cuidich'n Righ

The gentleman perched on the rock is recently-promoted Capt Trevor Greene, a reservist with the Seaforth Highlanders. He's temporarily laid up in Landstuhl, Germany recovering from having an axe buried in his skull.

I prefer to think of him like this: with a rifle to his shoulder, leading his men.

The Friends of Fallen Heroes

Sad that we need it, but glad someone's stepping up.

"Long-term plan for Canadian Forces Remains in limbo"

An important study by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute:

March 13, 2006 – Calgary, Alberta – Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) released a report today, 'The Strategic Capability Investment Plan: Origins, Evolution, and Future Prospects'. This report is a critical assessment of one of the Department of National Defence’s central planning documents, the Strategic Capability Investment Plan (SCIP).

The report, by Dr. Elinor Sloan of Carleton University, suggests that unless and until the new minority Conservative government finalizes a broad Defence Capabilities Plan (DCP) and an accompanying more detailed SCIP, DND will continue on a path of reacting to crises in CF equipment and manpower requirements, instead of embarking on a more long-term, strategic route.

The SCIP will establish a mechanism by which all of the equipment, infrastructure, construction, human resources, technology and concept development of the Canadian Forces will work together in holistic fashion to create military capability.

Both the DCP and the SCIP must first overcome a number of hurdles including endorsement from the Minister of National Defence, the Treasury Board and the Cabinet itself. Only once in recent memory has a Minister of National Defence put his signature on a long-term planning document and sent it to Treasury Board for approval but that was a decade ago under a majority government.

“As it stands today, Defence could build a facility that is central to improving military capability, but once complete, lack the people needed to work there,” says Dr. Sloan.

Until the DCP and accompanying SCIP are approved there will be no effective long-term planning for the Canadian Forces. The result will be ineffective spending by the military, the use of equipment that is past its prime, and the distinct possibility of lives being lost.

The complete report 'The Strategic Capability Investment Plan: Origins, Evolution, and Future Prospects' is available online...

H/t to Norman's Spectator.

Canada's place in the world and the military's role

One hopes these two columnists have it right.

John Ibbitison in the Globe (full text not online):
Stephen Harper...seeks to promote the role of the federal government within its own areas of exclusive jurisdiction, the three most important of which are justice, defence and foreign affairs. His government will...rebuild the military and defend Canadian sovereignty in the North; and it will give this country a stronger voice in the global conversation.

For half a century, now, Canadians have seen themselves as a nation of peacekeepers. But the age of peacekeeping is past. Today's geopolitical hot spots are found in lawless lands and dysfunctional states that breed anarchy and harbour terrorists. Canada has a role to play in these places by helping to protect civilian populations while nurturing institutions that can enforce the social contract.

This is dangerous work that can lead to guerrilla warfare with higher casualties than Canadians are used to. Nonetheless, although a Liberal government authorized the Kandahar deployment, Mr. Harper has embraced it. He wants Canadians to be proud of what their troops are doing in Afghanistan, and willing to accept these necessary sacrifices as part of Canada's new and more aggressive role in the war on terror.

And he despises critics who say this is not Canada's fight, that we should quit the place.

Lorrie Goldstein in the Toronto Sun:
Harper's decision to make his first foreign trip as PM a surprise, morale-boosting visit to our troops in Kandahar is a bold statement of how he intends to redefine Canada's place in the world, post-9/11.

No longer will our military be viewed at home or abroad simply as "peacekeepers." Instead, they will be peacemakers, fighting and killing those who threaten Canadian security, values and interests abroad, while carrying out the tough job of "nation-building."

This is the difficult balancing act our soldiers are attempting in Kandahar -- meeting Taliban insurgents with deadly force while trying to win the trust of the civilian population by establishing the secure conditions under which humanitarian aid ("reconstruction") can begin.

Harper stated this vision in his speech to our soldiers when he told them Canada "can't lead from the bleachers." He believes Canada will not be taken seriously internationally, especially by the U.S., if it continues the practice of previous Liberal regimes of jeering at the Americans, mainly from the sidelines. He sees the way to gain international credibility as being able to put "boots on the ground" in the world's hotspots, backed by a Canadian public which understands and accepts that these soldiers will kill, if necessary, to defend Canadian security and values, and that some, sadly, will be killed.

Harper's view of our military is the one most Canadians had up to the end of World War II, when we thought of our soldiers primarily as warriors and liberators...

Harper's different. Not only does he want an expanded role for our military, he may be the first PM in decades who's serious about paying for it by pouring billions of dollars into the armed forces. Harper believes this will pay dividends domestically (we'll finally have a well-equipped military) and internationally, earning Canada bargaining chips when it comes to security issues and trade disputes, particularly with the U.S.

Harper's view enrages the left -- many of whom dismiss him as a George Bush clone. The Liberals, however, know they can't criticize Harper too strongly because it was their decision to send our troops to Kandahar...

One wonders if Messrs Ibbitson and Goldstein received the same PMO briefing.

Update: Mr Goldstein has said in an e-mail to the authour that the two columns were completely independent of each other.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The greener grass

Some of the soldiers serving in Afghanistan are - surprise, surprise - unimpressed with the training they've received to deal with such a difficult tactical situation.

"The teaching model is still based on the assumption that when we go to war, that war will be conventional, as in the Godless Russian hordes lined up in tanks coming at us from one direction," a veteran non-commissioned officer at Kandahar Airfield told the Toronto Star.

"It is not the fault of the instructors. That was the environment they came up in. But at the same time, that's not what war is anymore. The reality today is counter-insurgency. The top Canadian brass realize this and so do the front-of-line soldiers. But in between, there is a layer of the army locked in hidebound thinking, basically resistant to change.

"So a lot of us deployed in Afghanistan today have basically had to throw out the book and educate ourselves. It's really not that difficult, because so many armies around the world have been training in counter-insurgency techniques for so long now that there is a substantial library of knowledge available. And we're studying it on our own."

I spent three uninterrupted years in constant military training from the age of eighteen to the age of twenty-one. At the time, I thought much of it was a waste of time. This was antiquated, and that was useless, and this other thing could be done much better. I was right, too: there were flaws in the CF training system then, just as I'm sure there are flaws today.

But moving over to the civilian world fifteen years ago now, I've discovered that compared to anything else I've experienced, military training is unrivalled. Most soldiers don't come into the CF with a whole pile of civilian job experience, so they've no real point of reference.

If quality of training is like a roll of the dice, Canadian military personnel have tossed a ten or eleven, but all they can see is the gaping chasm between that and a perfect twelve. And because the margin for error soldiering over in places like Afghanistan is almost nonexistent, because people die if you get it wrong, they're understandably not content with a ten or eleven. But they have no idea that the rest of the world stumbles along with a four.

They also rarely appreciate how responsive their training system really is, compared to every other organization you can name. The CF, in common with the militaries of most developed nations, is constantly experimenting, refining, adjusting, learning, and evolving:

Multi-National Experiment 4 (MNE4), to be held from February 27 to March 17, 2006, is the latest in a series initiated in 2002 by U.S. Joint Forces Command to refine the conduct of multinational operations. Canada’s contribution to MNE4 is being conducted at the Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre (CFEC) at Shirley’s Bay, west of Ottawa.

MNE4 is designed to give diplomats, military personnel, and aid workers from both governmental and non-governmental agencies a clearer picture of the political structures, economy, military capabilities, infrastructure, culture, religions and information systems in a failed or failing state so the effects of military action in that state can be considered from a wholistic perspective. Full participants in the experiment are Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the US and NATO. Finland and Sweden are limited participants.

In addition to helping to develop new processes, organizations and technologies for use at the operational level of command, the participants will examine multinational and interagency co-ordination, logistics and medical support.

Experiments like the one above aren't 'grunt-level', though. The knowledge and skills important to front-line rifle-carriers is being developed right now, on the ground in Kandahar. It's being shared among the soldiers, each learning from each other. And it will be passed along in due course as these soldiers get rotated home and into training slots. The soldiers complaining now have simply had the bad luck to be first through the pipeline, and the irony is that they will be the ones who fix the deficiencies they're griping about.

It's not a perfect system, to be sure. But taken all together, it's a whole lot better than just about any professional development regimen you can name.

Loose lips

When I first read this piece at Castle Argghhh!!!, I wondered when the same problem would catch up with Canadian troops. Looks like that would be right about now:

The Canadian military has closed an Edmonton-based soldier's weblog, saying it gave away too much tactical information about the mission in Afghanistan.

Katie McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Land Force Western Area, said the soldier who was serving in Afghanistan with the Provincial Reconstruction Team was not disciplined over the incident.

The blog in question included postings on schedules for soldiers' watch shifts, and approximate travel times for Canadian personnel moving from village to village.

Not to be too much of dink about this, but I think the soldier should have been disciplined. Watch schedules and travel details, for crying out loud? In a place where rocket and mortar attacks and IED's are the biggest threats? Operational security is serious, and breaching it should be treated seriously. That means discipline.

Of course, there's formal sanctions and informal ones. I have a strong suspicion this fellow's mates will be letting him know in fairly unambiguous terms how they feel about his lapse in judgement.

Oh, and I was relieved to see this wasn't the blog in question.

Afstan: moonbat alert

Just to see how some of the opposition to the Canadian Forces' mission, and to Prime Minister Harper, express themselves (as well as supporters), look at this comment thread at a Globe and Mail story on the PM's visit.


167. Ian Budd from Ottawa, Canada writes:

Although PM Jean Chrétien visited our troops in Kabul on 18 October 2003, it was at the end of a European junket (fact finding of course) that was done near the end of his last term as PM. I still believe that the rumours circulating this town are hopefully true, that Harper is going to Afghanistan to review to situation and if he doesn't like what he sees, he will bring everyone home. There are a lot of more important things they can be doing back here. Although I am not usually a U.S. basher, we need to define and hold what are our northern boundaries and protect what is ours from our biggest adversary (the Americans)...

170. dominque kaminski from Ottawa, Canada writes:

responding to #2..."could this guy act or look more like GW Bush...???" NO NO NO just add the "chimp" in front of Harper and you have a CLONE! God help canada...

H/t to Nealenews.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Top Gun down

I wonder if any Iranian Tomcats are still combat-worthy?

There will be no more dogfights for the F-14 Tomcat.

The [US] Navy's last two F-14 squadrons came home on Friday, ending the final combat deployment of the cold war-era, two-seater fighter jet with moveable, swept-back wings that was glamorized in the 1986 movie "Top Gun."

All 22 Tomcats of Fighter Squadrons VF-213 and VF-31 soared together in a wedge formation over the Oceana Naval Air Station as a crowd of hundreds cheered...

The Navy is replacing the aging F-14's with the F/A-18 Super Hornets, in part because Super Hornets are easier to maintain, said Chief Petty Officer Blane Fike, a member of the crew that maintains the F-14's of Squadron VF-31. The Tomcat requires 50 to 60 maintenance hours for every hour it flies, while the Super Hornet needs 10 to 15 maintenance hours per flight hour, he said...(Canadian Sea Kings and Hercs?)

The pilots of VF-213, called Blacklions, will begin the transition to Super Hornets almost immediately. The Tomcatters of VF-31 will continue flying F-14's until September, then begin switching to Super Hornets in October. Until then, the F-14's of VF-31 will remain operational and could be recalled to duty if necessary...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"They've made the right decision..."

I can't believe not a one of us here at The Torch made note yet of the most important story of the Kandahar deployment:

After weeks of lobbying by the military, the chain agreed to set up a coffee shop to serve soldiers in Kandahar, said Ron Joyce, who co-founded the famous chain in Hamilton in 1964 with NHL player Tim Horton.
Joyce said Tim Hortons executives told him about the move last week, when he made inquiries after getting a call from Canada's top soldier Gen. Rick Hillier about the idea.

A good officer takes care of his troops. And notice Hillier didn't just call Timmy's Head Office, he called the founder of the company. Centres of influence, red tape be damned, just get it done, etc.

A few random questions come to mind:
  • I wonder if we'll see empty brown paper cups blowing along the side of highways in and out of Kandahar? My guess is that discipline will prevail, and that the answer will be no, but there's always one numpty...

  • I wonder if any of the other nations in camp will get hooked on double-doubles and Roll Up The Rim To Win contests?

  • I wonder how long it will be before we see a Tim Horton's tear-jerker patriotic TV commercial out of Afghanistan? What, you know it's going to happen eventually.

Good on Hillier, good on Timmy's. BZ all around.

Afstan: how does the Globe's Doug Saunders know this?

Like Canadians, citizens of the Netherlands have a deep antipathy toward foreign military adventures that involve active combat.

Sheer opinion in what purports to be a news story. More of what is wrong at the Globe.

Perhaps Mr Saunders simply believes that Jack Layton speaks for all Canadians: Jack Layton: 'We don't want to be in a war'

In which case Mr Saunders should have indentified his source.

Cross-posted to Daimnation

See also at Daimnation!:

Afstan: how soon the Globe's Marcus Gee forgets

That the US did not invade the country...

Whether you like it or not, our presence in Afghanistan is fully justified.

Recent articles suggesting Canada should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan are disingenuously false at worst and rudely uninformed at best. Coming from a variety of sources arguments range from It's not peacekeeping, to We shouldn't be in Bush's illegal war, to We are the aggressors.

It's not peacekeeping: That is absolutely correct. It was never intended to be peacekeeping and no one with the authority to speak to this or previous deployments ever called it that. This is a military mission under NATO command with UN approval. It's time Canadians drop the "peacekeeping" facade. That is not and never has been the primary role of the Canadian Forces. Despite what people may think, Lester B. Pearson never intended that peacekeeping would be conducted by anything less than a fully combat capable warfighting force.1 In this situation the troops in Afghanistan are deployed to provide armed security for Afghanistan; search for and capture or destroy members of the Taliban and al Qaeda; and provide force protection for reconstruction teams.

We shouldn't be in Bush's illegal war: Wrong. It is not Bush's war. In fact, it's not the United States' war. It is NATO's war and that makes it Canada's war. It should be clearly noted that the UN approved NATO's response in Security Council Resolution 1368. Too many people believe the US invasion of Iraq is the same action as Afghanistan, and that is simply not the case. Whatever George Bush or his administration say in attempts at linking the two in the Global War on Terrorism, the actions are distinct and separate in the eyes of every other participating country and NATO, and particularly the UN.

We are the aggressors: Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, the invasion of Afghanistan came about as a direct result of the 11 September 2001 attacks by al Qaeda on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. The evidence against the perpetrators of the attack was overwhelmingly clear particularly in light of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden taking direct credit. The Taliban government of Afghanistan was given ample opportunity to turn over Osama and his followers. They were also informed that failure to comply with orders to turn over al Qaeda would result in overwhelming military action and the removal of the Taliban regime. The Taliban refused to comply and continued to provide safe haven to Osama bin Laden resulting in a combined force of nations taking military action. Despite what some people choose to believe, there was nothing pre-emptory about the Afghanistan campaign. The attack on and the invasion of Afghanistan was an act of self-defence. To suggest that Canada is an aggressor in that campaign, which has not yet ended, is to suggest that Canada was an aggressor when in World War II we invaded Italy and later, Germany. Such a suggestion also insinuates, by blaming the victim, that the attack by al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was somehow justified.


Canada was the first country to respond to the US call for support in more ways than one. Aside from opening our airspace and airports to all incoming US air traffic on 11 Sept. 2001, the military response was immediate. The Canadian navy ordered all ships at sea to a heightened state of combat readiness and reassigned a ship preparing to join the Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) to "future employment" while maintaining a state of high readiness. A destroyer, a frigate and a supply ship were brought to immediate notice to sail to any US port from Halifax.

On 12 Sept. 2001, NATO, for the first time in history, invoked article 5 of the Washington Treaty stating that the attacks on the United States constituted an attack on all member nations. Alliance aircraft and ships were issued orders in response and SNFL, with its Canadian contingent, proceeded to a new operating area as a naval task group at war. On the same day the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 1368 which reaffirmed UN Charter article 51 providing the right of a nation attacked to collective and individual self-defence. On 4 Oct. 2001, NATO secretary general Lord Robertson re-stated Article 5 after having received unanimous support from the members of the North Atlantic Council, including Canada.

On 7 Oct. 2001, Prime Minister Jean Chretien committed the Canadian Armed Forces to an international force to combat terrorism, including the removal of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Warning orders were issued to several CAF units. HMCS Halifax was withdrawn from UN enforcement in the Persian Gulf and reassigned to Task Force 151, making it the first non-US combat unit assigned to the Afghan campaign. On 17 Oct. 2001, a destroyer, a frigate and an operational support ship sailed for Afghan operations. Two more ships were soon deployed. Canada was still the only active participant in multinational operations until other nations sent units near the end of October.

In Nov. 2001, Canada's JTF2 was operationally active on the ground in Afghanistan. Canada had agreed to send the 1000 member Immediate Reaction Force (Land) in response to a request for a stabilization force. That was adjusted to 750 members and in January the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group (with an armoured reconaissance squadron) was dispatched to Kandahar and within weeks of their arrival was engaged in full combat.

On 20 Dec. 2001, the United Nations Security Council agreed to the NATO constituted and British-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It should be fully understood that ISAF is not a peacekeeping operation. It is a stabilization force intended to provide protection for reconstruction teams and assist the new government of Afghanistan in defending against Taliban resistance. ISAF has full combat capability and has robust rules of engagement (ROE). Unlike the horrible ROE that come with UN Chapter 6 peacekeeping operations, one doesn't have to wait until one of his unit members is killed before shooting back. ISAF has full authority to gather intelligence, seek out the enemy and conduct combat patrols. Canada shifted from Kandahar to Kabul and ISAF in August 2003 and have had troop levels of up to 1,900 since then.

Where there has been a gap in Canadian troops committed to Afghanistan it has not been because Canada had changed its resolve. Troop reductions had more to do with the fact that our armed forces no longer have the ability to maintain sustained operations indefinitely. The committment to see the transformation of Afghanistan into a full member of the world community and not a haven for terrorists has never changed.

The latest deployment comes at the request of NATO to have Canada command a brigade of multinational troops. It is a part of the initial committment to rid Afghanistan of the terrorist cadre that has occupied it for so long and to reconstitute that country with a government which is able to survive and provide for its own self-defence. Until they are able to do that, and until the necessary reconstruction is completed, Canada is committed. Calls for a parliamentary debate on this particular deployment are little more than political posturing. Those demanding such a debate, Jack Layton in particular, knew full well what this operation involved because it was announced by the previous government and has been planned for over 6 months.

The media, with their sudden faux shock at the fact that Canadian troops are in a shooting war, is little more than sensationalizing at the expense of their readers. The horror they express from their desks at the fact that troops are being wounded and killed belies the fact that all the information about the type of mission and its inherent risks were laid before them long ago.

I would wish that no Canadian is hurt or killed on a mission like this. However, reality is somewhat different. The men and women deployed to Afghanistan are fully aware of the hazards associated with this mission and know they will be fighting. Some will possibly be wounded or killed. Each person only hopes it won't be him or her.

Conflating the Canadian Afghanistan mission with Bush's adventure in Iraq serves only to deflect attention from the facts. I will support anybody who is critical of the current Iraq situation. Afghanistan is a different campaign.

If Canada were to suddenly withdraw because Canadians at home are getting squeamish, those who would have us do that should be aware that Canada would be forever viewed as an unreliable ally; not by the US, but by NATO. Canada relies on collective defence treaties to keep defence affordable. Withdrawl would result in no treaties, no collective defence and a huge price to pay in going it alone.

No matter how comfortable people are inside our borders at the moment, they should realize that the world has become a much more dangerous place, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can stick your head in the sand and just not look at the problem, but you'll probably get your ass shot off.

1. The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson. Volume 2, 1949-1972. by John English

Cross posted to The Galloping Beaver