Saturday, March 31, 2007

Afstan: Romania one of the six doing combat

Nice to see this AP story. I wonder if any of the major newspapers will actually publish it in print.
HIGHWAY 1, Afghanistan (AP) - The Romanian soldier quietly makes the sign of the cross, then thrusts his rifle through the narrow slit of an armored vehicle as it rolls toward one of the most vital - and dangerous - highways in Afghanistan.

As night falls, machine gunners constantly rotate their turrets and searchlights on the four patrol vehicles and rake the passing countryside for possible ambush sites amid rocky outcrops, mud-brick farm houses and orchards of blossoming almond trees.

The Romanian presence, analyst say, is an example of what must be done to win the war in Afghanistan: convince NATO countries unwilling to put their soldiers in fighting situations that engaging in combat will pave the way for progress.

One of only six NATO nations willing to take on combat operations in the country, the Romanians are tasked with securing a stretch of Highway 1, the strategic and economic lifeline between the capital, Kabul, and the key southern city of Kandahar.

The Taliban were preparing to cut off the highway, isolate and then recapture their one-time stronghold of Kandahar before major NATO pushes blunted their advances late last year. Whether they can regain their momentum this spring is still uncertain.

``Cutting off Highway 1 would be a major information campaign victory for the Taliban. But it is almost impossible,'' says Maj. Ovidiu Liviu Uifaleanu, commander of the 500-member Romanian unit. ``If they attack us, they have a problem.''

Taliban insurgents, he says, now largely confine themselves to quick, shoot-and-retreat attacks against the 20 checkpoints manned by Afghan military and police in Zabul province. The Romanians bolster the Afghans with their mobility and firepower, rushing to threatened outposts and otherwise trying to reassure the local population that they can provide security...

``Our last unit in Zabul fell into two or three ambushes. But the Taliban learned. The machine guns we carry can demolish a mud building and anyone standing behind it,'' says the major, who commands the 812th Infantry Battalion. The unit, known as the ``Carpathian Hawks,'' has seen service in Angola, Iraq and on an earlier Afghanistan tour.

The greater problem now faced by the Romanians appears to be Zabul's inadequate and poorly equipped Afghan National Police...

Romania, which joined NATO in 2004, joined the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands as one of the member nations willing to engage in combat [emphasis added--that does not take into account special forces such as the Aussies and earlier the French]. The notable ``stand asides'' among the 37-nation coalition are Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and France...
At least the Italian Senate has now voted to keep their troops in Afstan. But the government gave in in the face of a hostage taking.

Via Afghanistan Watch.

Update: When the Poles arrive they'll be fighting too.

Upperdate: Romanians on YouTube (h/t to Emil-Nicolaie)

"Forces' terror manual lists natives with Hezbollah"

That is today's most prominent front page headline at the Globe and Mail. The editorial staff are stepping up their relentless campaign to vilify the Canadian Forces.
Radical natives are listed in the Canadian army's counterinsurgency manual as a potential military opponent, lumping aboriginals in with the Tamil Tigers, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad.

The military is putting the finishing touches on the manual, but a draft version of the document obtained by The Globe and Mail outlines a host of measures the military might use to fight insurgents at home and abroad. The measures include ambushes, deception and killing.

The draft manual was produced in September, 2005, and recently released through an access-to-information request. A final edited version of the army manual is expected to be complete within months, but a cover letter states that the draft version was immediately circulated in 2005 to army units for military training.

Its inclusion of "radical Native American Organizations" as a potential target of military action surfaces at a time of heightened tensions between aboriginals and the federal government.

"The rise of radical Native American organizations, such as the Mohawk Warrior Society, can be viewed as insurgencies with specific and limited aims," the manual states. "Although they do not seek complete control of the federal government, they do seek particular political concessions in their relationship with national governments and control (either overt or covert) of political affairs at a local/reserve ('First Nation') level, through the threat of, or use of, violence," the manual states...

Stewart Phillip, the Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs who recently predicted "a summer of aboriginal protest" in response to the perceived lack of action on native poverty in the federal budget, said he is "absolutely outraged" by the manual.

"It's a complete attack on our political rights," he said...

The most recent protest by natives led to arrests and charges yesterday for three men connected to the blockade of Quebec's Highway 117 on March 12 and 13.

The highway is the Abitibi region's main link to the south, and the blockade caused major concern for the residents of Val-d'Or and Rouyn-Noranda.

Among those arrested was Guillaume Carle, the controversial leader of the recently formed Confederation of Aboriginal People of Canada. Mr. Carle led the protest of about 50 people, many of whom were carrying rifles [emphasis added].
The headline is purposely misleading. It's a (draft) counterinsurgency manual, not a counterterrorism manual. It does not "list natives with Hezbollah"--nor, contrary to the first paragraph, is there any "lumping" with the Tamil Tigers or the (Palestinian?) Islamic Jihad. The draft makes very clear the limited nature of native aims and that any possible violence is almost certain to be much different in scale and nature from those of the terrorist groups the Globe highlights. The mere fact that all are mentioned in the same manual is no reason for saying it equates them, which is what the Globe, shamefully, has done.

The story also does not mention a rather important fact; the CF are only used in "Aid to the Civil Power" under the National Defence Act (as in the case of the natives at Oka in 1990), at the request of the civilian authorities. Should the CF not develop doctrine for that contingency?

What malicious, gutter, yellow "journalism". Hurl.

Topic thread at on this is here.

Update: I omitted to mention this classic Globe front pager:
'The Canadians try to kill everybody'
The Canadian Forces certainly are a scary bunch, in immediate need of being reined in before they go totally berserk. That's what the Globe's Editor-in-Chief would seem to wish us to think.

Upperdate: The Globe reports the facts--but at the bottom of p.4, and the headline calls the counterinsurgency manual a "terror report". Good grief.
References to radical natives in the Canadian army's counterinsurgency manual will not appear in the final version of the document, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has announced...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Afstan: Less fight in Taliban

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant thinks this year will be quite different from the last:
The commander of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan says his troops aren't likely to face another summer of pitched battle against hundreds of Taliban.

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant suggested yesterday that NATO troops will have to fight smarter -- using both intelligence and development assistance -- as insurgents may well turn to tactics such as kidnapping...

"The Taliban have learned that they cannot take NATO and (the International Security and Assistance Force) on head-to-head," he said...

Without large military buildups to fight, NATO will focus on Taliban leadership, Grant said.

"We're trying to focus on the decision-makers and either capture them or kill them."

That means a greater use of intelligence, both in Kandahar and along the porous border with Pakistan.

Local Afghans, tired of constant fighting, are opening up.

"The local people are becoming part of the security solution," Grant said. "They'll come up to patrols that we have on the ground, saying, 'There's a weapons cache over there,' or 'They've placed a roadside bomb over in this location.'..
This picture seems well reflected in this operation:
Complete success is being claimed for the largest Afghan-led operation yet against the Taliban.

Afghan army forces and police have now purged the Nad Ali district of Helmand of 400 Taliban fighters, following a series of chaotic battles...

The operation, which began last week during the Persian new year celebrations of Nawruz, involved 400 Afghan security personnel, the biggest Afghan-led sweep yet in the Nato offensive in Helmand.

Crucially, it was also backed by local militias, whose commanders had sworn to remove the Taliban from their land...

The Afghan army soldiers patrolling through the fields of Nad Ali also boast new helmets, flak jackets and weapons - the first signs of a $2 billion US aid package designed to turn a ragtag force with an acute desertion problem into an army that would allow Western troops to begin pulling out. Another $6.2 billion is promised to the corrupt and widely mistrusted Afghan police force...
The CF are also doing their bit helping the Afghan National Army.

The forgotten missions

The Canadian Forces currently has just under 2,700 personnel deployed on missions outside our own borders. Almost 2,600 of them are in Afghanistan. Like it or not, that means if you're one of the soldiers working on a mission anywhere else in the world, you're the ignored middle-child of the country's military.

This came into sharp focus with the Op Augural pay fiasco that came to light this past Christmas season - a fiasco that has yet to be resolved, as promised by the MND's office, by the way. How'd you like to be barrelling headlong towards the tax filing deadline with the potential of $9,000 in back taxes hanging over your head?

The idea that 'if it's not happening in Afghanistan, it's not news' isn't just whining, either. How else would you explain the fact that Canadian soldiers were caught in some fairly hairy firefights last week and only one news organization reported on it, other than to point to the fact that the battles happened in Kinshasa instead of Kandahar? Good on Bruce Campion-Smith at The Toronto Star for reporting on this incident:

A group of Canadian soldiers came under fire as they helped evacuate schoolchildren and civilians to safety during recent bitter clashes in Congo.

Six Canadians deployed in the country's capital of Kinshasa as part of a United Nations mission, found themselves facing a barrage of bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades when tensions boiled over last Thursday.

"When the shooting started, we were right in the middle," Lt.-Col. Paul Langlais said in a telephone interview from the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital yesterday.

The violence sparked a dramatic change in duties for the Canadians serving as staff officers in the UN headquarters for a force of 18,000 peacekeepers in the central African country.

"Bullets were flying everywhere, people were shooting mortars and (rocket-propelled grenades) at the vehicles on the streets around us," said Langlais. "It was tense."

Further evidence of this tendency to ignore all but the Afghan mission comes in the all-but-invisible announcement yesterday that Op Boreas is coming to a close, leaving only the eight CF personnel assigned to Op Bronze as a Canadian military presence in the Balkans.

Since December 2004, the Canadian contribution to EUFOR has comprised a CF Liaison and Observation Team (LOT). The primary task of the LOT has been to provide information and situational awareness to EUFOR by maintaining close contact with local authorities, including mayors, police forces, border patrols, community leaders and Bosnian Army Units. The LOT has also assisted in supporting the rule of law in general, most notably, preventing smuggling and the collecting of illegal weapons for destruction.

“Canadians can be proud of the role Canadian Forces personnel have played in helping bring peace and stability in the Balkan region,” said Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, Commander, Canadian Expeditionary Force Command. “The presence of Canadians and the tangible contribution they have made on this mission over the last three years has undoubtedly helped the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina focus on rebuilding their communities shattered by over a decade of war,” he added.

As with all international operations, the Government of Canada reviews its commitments abroad on a regular basis. The decision to terminate Operation BOREAS, which most recently has consisted of 11 CF members, coincides with an overall draw down of EUFOR personnel that is taking place due to the relative stability in the Balkan region.

A couple of generations of CF leadership cut their teeth on the Balkans missions: over the past fifteen years, more than 40,000 Canadians have served in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Twenty three of them died there.

And the reduction of forces in the area to a single-digit number doesn't even merit a single story in the mainstream press.

Don't get me wrong: I don't object to the CF's focus on Afghanistan from a mission-oriented perspective. General Hillier's rationale for concentration rather than diffusion of effort makes very good sense:

"Parcelling out small parts of the Canadian Forces in many missions worldwide achieved little, beside making us feel good that we were contributing in many places," he said in response to readers' questions about possible Canadian involvement with an international force proposed for the Darfur conflict in Sudan.


When this happened in the past, he said, "we did not have any significant effect; the resource cost is always far more for many geographically separate missions than it is for one or two large ones. The stress on people and families increase as deployments are more frequent. We did not have the opportunity to truly influence the missions in accordance with Canadian interests."


"If we only have a hundred troops in a mission where others have thousands, we are not invited to the table where long-term decisions are made," Gen. Hiller said. It's far better "to go bigger, and get real effect on the ground and a seat at the table."

But that doesn't mean the lack of attention is fair to the soldiers working on projects other than the Afghan one.

For the record, Canadian Forces members are serving in the following overseas missions not connected to Afghanistan:
  • Op Iolaus: United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) - Iraq - 1 pers

  • Op Hamlet: United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti Headquarters (MINUSTAH HQ) - Haiti - 4 pers

  • Op Gladius: United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) - Golan Heights - 2 pers

  • Op Calumet: Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) - Sinai - 28 pers

  • Op Jade: UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) - Jerusalem - 7 pers

  • Op Proteus: Office of the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) - Jerusalem - 3 pers

  • Op Snowgoose: UN Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) - Cyprus - 1 pers

  • Op Crocodile: UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) - Democratic Republic of the Congo - 9 pers

  • Op Safari: United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) - Sudan - 33 pers

  • Op Augural: Darfur: Western Sudan (African Union) - Sudan - 12 pers

  • Op Sculpture: International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT) - Sierra Leone - 11 pers

And of course, Op Bronze, with eight soldiers in the Balkans.

Let's not forget them.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Afstan: "We are Canadian"

Crikey, what a good film. Interesting to see navy-looking types in land-locked desert terrain. And how good to live in a country from which such volunteers choose to serve.

It was, near the end, I think important to see an Afghan National Army officer telling the Canadians what his troops were going to do with the clear implication that he was in charge of that aspect. It's their country; we are only there to do what we can in an effort to ensure that it does not threaten us in some way.

The Globe and Mail's not-John Doyle liked it too. How refreshing.

Keeping one eye open

I've often wondered how formalized the online information management efforts are at DND. It seems I'm not the only one.

"Etched in light..."

What a touching, classy effort:

The National War Memorial will be the scene of a unique and emotional nighttime vigil starting at sunset on Easter Sunday.

As tens of thousands of Canadians journey to France on the Easter weekend to witness the Queen re-dedicate the restored Vimy Memorial, the federal government is hoping thousands more will gather in downtown Ottawa for a ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the Canadian victory in France.

At 7:30 p.m. on April 8, the lights in the area surrounding the National War Memorial will be turned off, and an overnight vigil will be held in honour of the Canadians who fought in the four-day battle that began on Easter Monday, 1917.

The names of the 3,598 Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge will be "etched in light," projected on to the walls of the memorial until sunrise the next morning.

The photographs of at least 80 Vimy veterans who survived the battle, but are now deceased, will also be projected on the memorial's walls.

A hearty Bravo Zulu to R.H. Thomson and those who have helped him turn this moment of inspiration into a reality. I just wish I was in Ottawa to join in.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What JTF 2 does in Afstan

CDS Hillier provides rather more detail than has been customary:
Canada's ultra secretive JTF2 special forces commandos are becoming "tools of choice" in targeting top Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, the country's top soldier said yesterday.

Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, spoke briefly on the operations of the Canadian Forces elite commando unit during an address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa.

"Our special forces are the tools of choice. They are in incredible demand. Our special forces are world class," Gen. Hillier told a luncheon gathering of several hundred.

In the past two years, Gen. Hillier said, JTF2 has been "growing their capacity" to conduct operations on Canadian soil "when needed" and also abroad, specifically Afghanistan.

"They have had significant impact in Afghanistan helping Afghans rebuild their country," Gen. Hillier said in a 45-minute speech in which he quickly singled out the unit for the work it is doing in Afghanistan before he moved on to other topics.

Asked after the speech to expand on the role of JTF2, Gen. Hillier indicated that the unit has taken the fight against the Taliban and anti-western insurgency in southern Afghanistan directly to its top leaders.

Gen. Hillier said the unit is offering "direct support to the Afghan government, and of course trying to mitigate the Taliban threat and particularly their leaders who intimidate, who coerce people into doing things for them. At the soldier level, trying to help neutralize those leaders is a key part of their role and that's what they will continue to do."..

On his trip to Kandahar last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent a night with JTF2 at its main forward operating base west of Kandahar Air Field.

The ability of journalists embedded with the Forces in Kandahar to report on the operations of JTF2 are severely limited through an agreement that forbids them from reporting on the unit in return for being granted access to the base.

Canada's elite forces are generally assumed to be operating with similar commandos from the United States and Britain in southern Afghanistan, and many pundits have suggested they have been particularly active along the border with Pakistan, where anti-western insurgents are based...

The PRT's Public Affairs Officer

Lt(N) Desmond James blogs about his job:
This image is of the Van Doos a soccer game they organized for local kids. The Van Doos, on their spare time, built a soccer pitch for the local kids. The photo was taken by a Van Doo.

I guess I have never explained what I actually do here in Kandahar.

I am a Public Affairs Officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar. I work both inside and outside Camp Nathan Smith, also known as "outside the wire."

I spend some amount of my time in convoys going from place to place, taking reporters to events they want to see, and myself learning about Afghanistan. I am also a soldier. I watch the back of reporters as they go about their work because they can't do that as well as their job.

My job is to try and get factual reporting on the PRT. As I work in the PRT, that means showing journalists (local, Canadian, and international) PRT operations and work. Journalists speak to Afghans along the way to get their views. I don't edit, screen, or approve any work they do unless it concerns operational security. If it does, I screen things to ensure we aren't endangering our soldiers or Afghans.

Some days are more difficult than others depending on the amount of journalists on a convoy or at an event. Trying to get 3 media outlets the stories they want within a time limit for them is challenging. I have to be quick on my feet and know who is the best person to answer a question they may have.

That also means I have to know a lot about the PRT and as much as possible about Kandahar and how things work out here. I must know who the players are and how they fit into the picture.

If I don't do my job effectively, reporters cannot get accurate and factual stories about reconstruction efforts here, and there are many. Saying that, if there is a casualty on a given day, that will take priority in the news. I don't like it but that is life.

So that is what I do.

For the guy who asked me about working with ISAF and other PRT's, I don't really see that much in the PRT. It is a Canadian run camp with mostly Canadian people here. There is a representative from the U.S. Department of State here as this PRT used to be run by Americans before we took it over. I can say that the U.S. approach is different than ours. I can't comment on good or bad because that would be unfair to other countries. I really know best about our operations.

Vimy realities

Jack Granatstein assesses the importance of the battle in the development of both the Canadian Corps and Canadian national identity. Note its effect on the troops born in the UK--more than half the Canadian strength.
Vimy Ridge was the Corps's first great victory, a perfect set-piece battle that seized the ridge that looked out over a large swath of German-occupied northern France. The four divisions of the Corps, fighting together for the first time, drove the Germans down the ridge and back to their new lines to the east.

The victory was hailed in Allied capitals, and in Canada the population saw it as an indication that a great new nation had been born in battle. It may even have been true, though French Canada, unhappy with the war and fearful of conscription, tended not to share in the celebratory mood.

To the soldiers at the front, the victory was hugely important. Letters home make this very clear -- everyone understood that they had participated in a major event. The planning had been well-nigh perfect, each infantryman and sapper seeing the maps and hearing the briefings, and the rolling artillery barrage had led the advancing infantry in measured bounds.

The enemy guns had been pounded into submission by a counter-battery campaign, and the German trenches had been flattened by a long pounding from massed artillery. It was a grand achievement, a triumph of Canadian arms, the stuff of myth.

And myths there were and are. The first is that Vimy was an all-Canadian show. It wasn't -- the attack was part, a small part, of a bigger, less successful British battle of Arras. Then, the Canadian Corps itself was not an independent and all-Canadian formation. British heavy artillery played a major part in the Vimy operation, the Canadian Corps's leader was Lt.-Gen. Sir Julian Byng, a British officer and Canada's governor general from 1921-1926, and almost all the senior general staff officers who planned the battle were British regulars.

Canada had almost no staff-trained officers in August 1914 when war began, and it took time to bring civilians and militiamen to the requisite standard.

Even more striking, a substantial majority of the soldiers of the Canadian Corps on that April 9, 1917 had been born in Britain, and those proportions would not finally be altered until the very end of the war when the Military Service Act put conscripts into uniform.

The British-born had personal ties to home, to Britain and its cause, and those others whose families had been in Canada for generations required persuasion to enlist. Francophones were hardest to persuade, but then neither did the English-speaking automatically have the impulse to serve. Nor, though many were recent immigrants, did Germans, Jews and Ukrainians. Many had fled Europe to escape autocracy, conscription and war and had no desire to return.

Nonetheless, the Vimy victory had a huge nationalizing impact at the front. The British-born soldiers, just as the Canadian-born, shared in the sense of accomplishment. They had captured the ridge that had defeated the French and British armies; they had done it, Canada had done it, the Canadian Corps had triumphed. There was no great breakthrough, however, no cavalry squadrons surging through the hole torn in the enemy lines, and the more than 10,000 killed and wounded made it a costly victory.

Certainly, Vimy did not mean that the war was won, and the struggle went on for 19 months more. But the Canadian Corps had become something special in its own soldiers' minds and in the minds of senior Allied commanders. It was now a corps d'elite of shock troops, and when the enemy saw the Canadians coming into the line, it prepared for the worst. Soon under command of Sir Arthur Currie, this nation's greatest soldier, the Corps won its battles at Hill 70 and Passchendaele.

In August 1918 and in the great campaigns of "The Hundred Days" that brought the First World War to its end, Currie's men established an imperishable record, even if it is one that most Canadians have forgotten. The victory at Vimy must be remembered because it began the Canadian Corps's months of unending triumphs...
More on Vimy here and here.

A bad day on the job

I've said previously that "when you're a cashier at Loblaws, [messing up] means a customer walks away with too much change in his pocket. When you're a soldier, it often means someone who shouldn't dies."

That goes for bomb-sniffing dogs, as well:

He focused his eyes once more on the suspicious area. He watched the dog approach the spot, and prepared for it to react. If it barked, he'd clear the site and call for the bomb-disposal unit, whose robots and heavily protected personnel are scarce assets in war.

He waited. The dog stepped closer, snuffling its way along the ground. Maybe it's a bluff, he thought. Maybe it's the innocent remains of a day's work for a local farmer. The dog took another step. It was right on top of it.

And then it blew.

The dog died. It had a bad day at the office, a bad day like all the rest of us do, except unlike us, the dog paid for an error at work with its life.

The explosion also seriously wounded the dog's handler, a private contractor working with the CF in Kandahar, and the Canadian sapper who was directing the team.

Despite having decent-sized chunks of his flesh removed in the blast, undergoing two separate operations to patch him up, and walking with a severe limp as he begins his recovery, Sgt Herritt wants to stay in Afghanistan while he recuperates. Like all good leaders - and our military is full of them from the CDS down to the MCpl leading a four-man stack - his first thought is to take care of his team.

Also, like all good leaders, when things go wrong he wonders what he could have done differently:

He said he still can't quite believe the bomb went off. Sniffing dogs are normally very reliable. But in this case, the dog triggered the explosive.

At first he lay awake at night, wondering if everything was done correctly. He's convinced he did everything he could, and his superiors have reassured him that he did. It came down to the dog, and the dog made a mistake, he said.

"The dog was doing his job, and for whatever reason he was having an off day. I don't know why he missed it but he did. It happened."

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Sgt Herritt and the unnamed dog-handler wounded by the IED. And bless the dog who died doing a dangerous and vital job in the service of a cause it knew nothing about.

Update: Here are some photos of bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan, and a link to the British Imperial War Museum's The Animals' War exhibit.

Upsy-Daisy-date: In a story about another bomb-sniffing dog named Daisy, Rosie DiManno gives us a different perspective on what happened to the ill-fated dog noted above:

The dog did its job and found the other bomb planted nearby. She had indicated the spot to her handler. But sniffer dogs are trained to detect the scent of the explosive, not the plate, which in this case was a few feet distant. The dog stepped on the plate just as a Canadian trooper was handing its leash to the handler. The handler was seriously injured but is expected to recover.

Juno Beach - a review

Andrew at Bound By Gravity has reviewed Mark Zuehlke's book entitled Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory: June 6, 1944. His thoughts on Zuehlke's work are interesting:

The veterans themselves are truly the stars of Juno Beach. Their memories are most often not of high level plans, but of the minutiae of the chaos that engulfed them as they stormed off their landing craft, manned their mine sweepers in front of the invasion fleet, bombed enemy strong points, flushed snipers from hiding, or parachuted into hostile territory. The memories of their friends' final acts are almost heartbreaking to read at times; who else but a friend would remember the name of an unsung private who died before breaching the seawall? Yet the names pile up as you turn the pages - buddies who never returned, comrades who had to be left behind.

Another book for my Sisyphean reading list.

Op Achilles, the Kajaki Dam, and the next milestone

Canadian troops are engaged in interdiction operations in the border area between Kandahar and Helmand provinces, keeping Taliban insurgents from escaping the kinetic ops directed at them in Helmand, while also preventing resupply from Kandahar. Our role in Operation Achilles, to date, has been as a "hard shoulder" that figuratively knocks down enemy fighters when they run into it.

Of course, our participation is just one aspect of Op Achilles, as this article indicates:

"[Some] 4,500 NATO troops with 1,000 Afghan national security forces are active there and they focus on Helmand Province in the southern part of Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said. "The aim of the operation is to create security -- more security -- in the south, and in particular, to allow [for] the installation of a turbine in the Kajaki dam."

There are more than 14,000 reconstruction projects under way in Afghanistan. But Hoop de Scheffer says the Kajaki dam has the most strategic and psychological significance. That's because of the economic benefits residents of the area are expected to reap once reconstruction is finished.

"When the turbine in that dam is [installed] it will give power to 2 million people and their businesses. It will provide irrigation for hundreds of farmers. And it will create jobs for 2,000 people," de Hoop Scheffer said. "The Taliban, the spoilers, are attacking this project every day to [try to] stop it from going forward."

While the article quotes those who believe the operation isn't achieving its stated goals, I'm encouraged to note that the ANSF are operating with less and less NATO support - only communications and CAS in the most recent case.

At the end of the day, having Afghans secure their own nation while important, multi-faceted development projects like the Kajaki Dam are completed will be a measure of the mission's overall progress.

From securing Kabul, to the hard-won tactical victories of Operation Medusa, to the less violent and correspondingly less obvious progress made with Op Baaz Tsuka, to the near-completion of Route Summit, to the overwhelmingly development- and governance-focused objectives of Op Achilles, there is a steady strategic progression at work here.

It will be interesting to see what NATO and Afghan initiative comes next. I'm certain I'm not alone in predicting this will be a pivotal spring season in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Save the Sackville

It would be a tremendous loss of our history if she goes to the wreckers. There is an excellent site about the corvette.
The little ship rides quietly alongside the jetties of Canada's East Coast naval dockyard in Halifax, her box-like, blue-and-white form in quaint contrast to the sleek greyhound lines of the modern destroyers and frigates that surround her. The last of its kind, HMCS Sackville is the only remaining example of the more than 120 corvettes that were built in Canada during the Second World War...

With the tribal class destroyer HMCS Haida now a museum ship in Hamilton, Sackville is one of the few remaining icons of Canada's naval coming-of-age during the grim North Atlantic battles of the Second World War, and likely more than any other vessel can be considered the navy's, and Canada's, emotional flagship.

Now, the survival of this gallant little ship and all that she means to Canada is in peril.

HMCS Sackville was built at Saint John in 1941, and from 1942 to 1944 served in the Atlantic convoy battles as part of the famous Barber Pole Group of ocean escorts, that were distinguished by the red-and-white striped funnel marking that is perpetuated on the ships of Canada's Maritime Command to this day...

Damaged itself in action at sea in September, 1943, Sackville was assigned to training duties, and then was selected for conversion to a Canadian Naval Auxiliary Vessel, an action that saved it from the scrapyard fate of Canada's other corvettes at the war's end.

Sackville sailed for many years as a research vessel until it was again saved from demolition by the remarkable volunteer efforts of a group of dedicated Canadians who took over the ship and led its painstaking restoration to its wartime 1944 appearance. Now the ship is supported by a non-profit organization, the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust.

During the summer months, Sackville is alongside at Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where it is one of the most popular attractions on the waterfront. But even with this popularity and the dedicated work of the trust, the survival of the little ship is increasingly in question.

The cost of maintaining the half-century-old hull afloat, the ravages of a winter climate, and the many other expenses of maintaining what is in effect both a ship afloat and a working museum, are rapidly outdistancing the capacity of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust and other partners to provide for it.

Canada's navy, beset with its own budgetary and operational demands, quietly helps out where it can, but even this vital support is threatened by the navy's need to use every dollar and pair of hands in keeping our modern fleet at sea and capable.

It is likely that, to the great anguish of the men and women of the Memorial Trust, the navy, and every Canadian who understands what the little ship means, it will soon be impossible to keep this central symbol of Canada's naval heritage from the wrecker's hammer...

There is a new initiative in Halifax...that might be the saving of the little ship, and her preservation for all Canadians to experience in a setting of dignity and honour, and one that provides for a much wider learning experience.

A consortium of committed Haligonians has proposed a major waterfront redevelopment that would incorporate the existing Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and create a dramatic heritage and marine-based activity complex to be known as the Queen's Landing. A central concept in the Queen's Landing project is to place Sackville in an indoor setting, out of water, in a glass-fronted "grand hall" that would be surrounded by a state-of-the-art naval history museum gallery that will incorporate the collections of the Maritime Museum and the navy's own small museum at Halifax.

In this site, Sackville, as Canada's Naval Memorial, would be preserved, animated and displayed for generations of Canadians to experience and treasure. Should this Queen's Landing project find the support it needs, the little ship will have won through its last battle for survival, one that began against the U-boats of Nazi Germany so long ago. For all Canadians' sake, this is a battle she should and must win.

Twin Otters support Canadian Rangers' operation

There are some great photos--airman, with gun, on our ice--in the article.
The efforts of a Canadian Forces sovereignty patrol traveling in the Arctic are receiving high praise from the Government of Canada.

The 24-member patrol includes members of 440 Transport Squadron based in Yellowknife and members of the Regular Forces and Canadian Rangers -- as well as a representative of the RCMP.

The patrol will travel close to 8,000 kilometres, across some of the most challenging terrain in the world, to confirm Canada's sovereignty in the High Arctic as part of Operation Nunalivut 2007. Nunalivut translates as "land that is ours." The operation starts on March 24th and will carry on to April 14, 2007 in the Northern Arctic Archipelago...

In addition to establishing a military presence, the patrols are helping to evaluate the terrain and infrastructure that exist in the High Arctic. They are also checking old wartime airfields, abandoned weather stations and other civilian and military structures...
More here.

The Crazy Eights

Earlier this month, I posted about The Crazy Eights, a documentary by Gordon Henderson of 90th Parallel Film and Television Productions Ltd. Henderson and his cameramen Jerry Vienneau spent a solid month with the men of 8 Platoon, C Coy, 1RCR as they were recovering and reconstituting after a deadly fratricide incident last fall.

Now that I've had a chance to watch a preview of the piece, I have a couple of things to say.

Heather Mallick, John Doyle, and Noreen Golfman aren't going to pick this show for a movie-night brie-and-Chardonnay get-together. You see, active dislike of soldiers and their stories will preclude an appreciation of this piece of documentary film-making.

People looking for a true-life version of Hamburger Hill won't like it either, since there's very little fighting in the documentary.

On the other hand, soldiers and those who know soldiers will be captivated. Last week, I watched The Crazy Eights in the Junior Ranks mess of The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada in Cambridge with a soldier who fought as a member of 8 Platoon, but whose deployment with them was cut short by the urgent need to remove shrapnel from his legs. You see, he got tagged in the A-10 fratricide incident that sets the stage for director Gordon Henderson's film.

The privates and corporals in the JR mess that day enjoyed the show, because it stays true to the life of a soldier: "hurry up and wait." The dark humour, the compassion, the unconscious profanity, the matter-of-fact courage of Canadian soldiers all come through in The Crazy Eights.

Which brings me to a small beef. It seems at least one reviewer of the film needs to give his head a shake. Barrett Hooper, writing for NOW Magazine, calls the piece "passive-aggressive propaganda." Why? Because viewers will end up liking the soldiers they're watching. I'm not making this up:

Call it passive-aggressive propaganda.

A new CBC documentary presents a sympathetic look at Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan. Too sympathetic, perhaps.


While the film is certainly well-executed – Henderson spent a month embedded with the Crazy Eights in October – and noble in its intentions, it's also a little unsettling, and not because of its depiction of roadside explosions and mortar attacks. The unnerving part is the way the film allows us to relate to these soldiers and admire them. As a result, we want to support them – and by extension, the war effort – while the film never calls into question the reasons they're in Afghanistan.

Not the filmmaker's intention, I'm sure, but something to be aware of when you're watching.

I find it profoundly disappointing that Hooper can admit on the one hand that Henderson "does a remarkable job of allowing the soldiers to tell their own stories with little editorializing," but remains unsettled by the fact that an honest portrait of these uniformed Canadians elicits feelings of admiration.

Christie Blatchford addressed this phenomenon short months ago:

In my bones, I suspect that when some people criticize the Afghanistan mission, what they are actually uneasy about is the military, and soldiers, and particularly, given the combat focus of the Canadian efforts here, soldiers who actually are shot at and shoot.

There's no crime or shame in saying that. People should shout it from the rooftops, but be honest about it.

It is even understandable, since many Canadians (under years of mostly Liberal rule, it should be noted) have grown almost entirely disconnected from their military. Bases closed and disappeared as a presence in cities and towns; there was the nasty business in Somalia; aging Sea Kings fell out of the sky at regular intervals; and in Canadian schools, teachers dutifully helped generations of children address their letters to “Dear Canadian Peacekeeper.”

The cumulative effect was that soldiers were rendered strangers, and that in what passes for the intellectual salons of central Canada, “soldier” came to be synonymous with “joke” or “guy who can't get a real job,” which is pretty rich from those who dwell in university ivory towers, editorial boardrooms and on Parliament Hill.

It is no accident that the single most common observation I have heard first-time reporters, arriving to Kandahar, make after a few days is how bright and articulate the young troops are. It is usually said with considerable surprise. I think it mirrors some of the preconceived notions influential Canadians in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal pointy-head corridor hold about their soldiers.

I think Hooper's review in NOW is even more disappointing given the fact that Henderson himself has said that his objective was simply to introduce the soldiers to the Canadian public:

"I wanted to experience the soldier's everyday life," says Henderson in a release. "The Crazy Eights is not an analysis of the war. Its purpose is to give Canadians a sense of what our soldiers are going through."

It's a sense desperately needed by both the soldiers and the public. As Canadians, we're responsible for hiring, equipping, preparing, and deploying those who wear the uniforms of the CF on our behalf. We owe it to them to have at least a rough understanding of who they are and what they do, so that at the end of the day we can make informed decisions about the politics that determine so much of their fate.

This documentary deliberately avoids the political discussion, and simply gives us a taste of the life of a soldier in Kandahar province, a snapshot of what they were going through during the intense operations of last fall. Henderson leaves it up to us to take whatever lessons we will from the piece.

The Crazy Eights will air on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. on CBC television, repeating Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBC Newsworld. Make some time to watch it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Four months; Canadian/Australian reserves agreement

Two posts from Bruce Rolston at Flit:

1) Afstan casualties: knocking on wood

2) Australian-Canadian reserve force agreement signed

The greening of war games

Different types of wars demand a different sort of game--and player.
Strategic war games used to be simple. Soldiers, defense consultants and others divvied up into Blue (allied) and Red (enemy) teams and then faced off in a series of moves roughly resembling chess. The point wasn't to predict the outcomes of future battles — though that sometimes happened — but to sort out how policies, tactics and weapons might perform in combat. A roll of the dice set a team's odds. Complicated mathematical formulas determined the outcome. And that worked pretty well up through the Cold War.

Today, dice seldom get rolled. In the wake of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, war games have had to evolve to remain relevant. Instead of a monolithic enemy, there are often several Red teams, fighting against each other as well as the Blue team. This complicates things for Red team players like me, but frankly, it's a fascinating way to make a living.

It's not just the Red teams that are changing; so is the definition of victory.

The outcome of many games is determined by a new addition, the Green team. Green represents the civilian population, the media and the international community — once bystanders, now the ultimate arbitrators. If Red or Blue kills civilians in a manner considered unnecessary in the process of winning a battle, for instance, it may lose Green team support, thus losing the war or at least the campaign.

Green team civilians might be divided into religious or ethnic segments that mirror the nation in the scenario. They might ally with Red or Blue as the game progresses. If one or more Green factions and the media (American public opinion) turn against Red or Blue, it does not matter how well their military forces do in combat...

...In the old days, a Red player needed only a reasonable knowledge of stodgy Soviet, North Korean or Iraqi tactics. Spontaneous action and adaptability were discouraged. Today, knowledge of conventional tactics is less important than understanding the enemies' cultures and predicting how they will react and adapt. Many of our current real-world opponents, for instance, behave more like street gangs than conventional armies.

The ideal Red player is a young, culturally aware former member of the group being portrayed....

...most [US] Defense Department war games are secret, and the talent pool is limited. Organizers have to fall back on retired military guys like me and academics who can get security clearances. What our future Red teams need are dedicated young expatriates or second-generation emigres from the Middle East, Latin America and Central and Southeast Asia...
I would think the above relevant to the implementation of Canada's own counter-insurgency doctrine (now under development).

Afstan: Hot poop from the Globe and Mail

Definitely a front page story--Canada's "national newspaper" breaks new wind in its relentless zeal to expose Canadian complicity in human rights violations (this time by the American imperialists) in Afghanistan:
Under a bizarre policy that echoes the days of segregation in the United States, Afghans who work at the NATO base at Kandahar Airfield must use separate toilets marked "local nationals only."

Several Afghans told The Globe and Mail the practice is insulting, but they are dependent on NATO for their livelihoods and reluctant to speak out.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Blevins, the U.S. officer in charge of administrative contracts, said the segregated toilet policy exists because the bathroom habits of the Afghans are different from those of the North Americans and Europeans who work at the base.

"We've always had this policy," Lt.-Col. Blevins said. "It's not based on a racial thing; it's just how they use the toilets. They're not used to toilets. They use squats, or holes in the ground."..

"When they [the Afghans] use our port-a-potties, they stand on the seats and it causes quite a mess," he said. "I think it's just a cultural thing."..
And maybe the Americans are just trying to protect NATO and other personnel against suicide bummers.

Vimy Ridge: Heaven to Hell

I'm eager to see tonight's documentary Vimy Ridge: Heaven to Hell, airing on the History Channel tonight at 8:00 p.m.

After screenings at war museums in both Canada and the U.K., Halpern’s 90-minute documentary is now considered an authoritative look at how Canadian soldiers wrested France’s pivotal Vimy Ridge from the Germans during the First World War — a stunning military triumph that’s considered a seminal moment in the birth of Canadian nationalism.


“We’ve been told two things: that the Queen is going to the recommemoration of the Vimy Monument and for the 90th anniversary in France on April 9, and that Buckingham Palace has requested a copy of the film before she goes,” Halpern said in a recent interview.

“And actually, so has the PMO (in Ottawa) and so has the Governor General. So that’s pretty neat and very gratifying — they’re all going, so I guess they want to see it to help them prepare for the day.”

Whether our modern sensibilities are willing to acknowledge it or not, the truth is that a significant portion of Canada's national identity was forged in war. Hopefully that narrative, as well as the stories of individual soldiers, will be told by this documentary.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Afstan: Why NATO members have to show commitment for the long haul

Afghans is the south are taking, with good reason, a pragmatic attitude:
The vast majority of people in Kandahar province remain sitting on the fence as coalition forces and the Taliban slug it out, Canada’s battle group commander in Afghanistan says.

Lt.-Col. Rob Walker said Friday the Afghan people are waiting to see if the coalition can get rid of the insurgents and whether the international community can deliver promised aid before they will openly support the Afghan government.

“They can’t put themselves at risk because if you overtly support the government you could be killed,” said Walker of the Gagetown, N.B.-based 2 Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

“Eighty per cent of the people are just sitting there and want to get on with their daily lives.”

Walker said the high number of uncommitted Afghans doesn’t mean there is growing support for the Taliban. In fact, there is evidence to suggest the insurgency is starting to lose steam, he said.

Since Operation Achilles began almost three weeks ago to clear Taliban out of northern Helmand province, insurgents have only fought a few stand-up battles with coalition forces – including some minor skirmishes with Canadian troops in the Kandahar region.

Instead, the Taliban have resorted to what the military calls “asymmetrical attacks” – suicide bombers [see this nice bit of imagination at Celestial Junk], roadside bombs and shoot-and-skoot tactics...

In Kandahar province, there has been little insurgent activity in the Panjwaii district where Canadian and Afghan troops defeated Taliban forces in hard fighting last summer and fall.

The Canadians and Afghan are pushing into neighbouring Zharey district, establishing police checkpoints and roadblocks to bring order to the area.

Canadian and Afghan troops have also been patrolling and holding meetings with village leaders in the Maywand district along the Helmand border in support of Operation Achilles. The aim is to cut Taliban supply lines and infiltration routes and to deny the insurgents any community support...

In Helmand province, Afghan National Army units have been attacking Taliban strongholds north of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, supported by NATO air strikes, coalition officials said.

British, Dutch and American ground forces are supporting the offensive.

The goal of Operation Achilles is to create a secure environment that will enable the Afghan government to develop northern Helmand. The area’s economy is now heavily dependent on the opium poppy trade.

The key project is a plan to fix and upgrade the Kajaki Dam to provide more electricity to the region and improve the water supply and irrigation...

Operation Achilles is to eventually involve more than 4,500 NATO troops and nearly 1,000 Afghan soldiers, the coalition says.

The outcome of such operations and the economic development they are supposed to bring will be closely watched by ordinary Afghans, Walker said.

“They are in a wait-and-see mode. Will the government of Afghanistan come through for them on the promises they made?” he said.

“The jury is still out on that. Will the international community have the perseverance to stay the course? And in Canada, we’ve only committed ourselves to February 2009 [emphasis added].
So, security first, start the development and (one must hope) establish the good governance. It ain't going to be easy.

Afstan: What you won't see in the Canadian media...

...except, oddly enough, on the CBC website: the UN Security Council has passed unanimously a resolution that, amongst other things, endorses the work of NATO ISAF and the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition (almost no coverage in US or UK press either):
“The Security Council,


Noting, in the context of a comprehensive approach, the synergies in the objectives of UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] and of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and stressing the need for continued cooperation and coordination, taking due account of their respective designated responsibilities,


“25. Calls upon the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, including the International Security Assistance Force and Operation Enduring Freedom coalition, in accordance with their respective designated responsibilities as they evolve, to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida, other extremist groups and criminal activities, welcomes the completion of ISAF’s expansion throughout Afghanistan and calls upon all parties to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and to ensure the protection of civilian life...
Update: What you do see from some Canadians.

And what you can see in a video by a US Army sergeant.

Upperdate: Other news you are most unlikely to see in the Canadian, quagmire-memed, media:
"Australian special forces likely to head to Afghanistan"

"First group of Polish troops leaves for mission in Afghanistan"
But then, I guess, Diggers and Polacks (irony alert) are just infra dig.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Submarine news that ain't

This was reported last August. Why can reporters not realize that "Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act" may not actually be worth a story?

I guess some covering the CF still don't read The Torch.

Afstan: More ministerial and bureaucratic economy with the truth

This sort of thing is ridiculous and must stop (I guess CIDA can contradict "Ottawa" since its HQ is in Gatineau).
Canada has not funded the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission for years, despite the government's insistence that it plays a vital role in safeguarding captives transferred by Canada to Afghanistan's notorious prisons...

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said Monday, that "the government of Canada has funded the Independent Human Rights Commission to the amount of $1-million."

Mr. Van Loan did not mention that the $1-million was given five years ago by the previous Liberal government...

Now doubts have emerged over another of Mr. O'Connor's assurances in light of a letter from senior Defence and Foreign Affairs officials.

Two assistant deputy ministers told MPs in December that Canada had been notifying the AIHRC of the names of transferred detainees for months. But in a March 15 letter revising their statement, they wrote that Canadian Forces didn't pass along any of the names of transferred detainees.

"No notifications, in fact, took place," until last month, the two assistant deputy ministers wrote.

Colleen Swords, assistant deputy minister of international security at Foreign Affairs, and Vincent Rigby, assistant deputy minister (policy) at National Defence jointly wrote the letter to "to clarify one portion of our testimony."..

Afstan: Governance is indeed the answer

But it will take quite some time for truly effective national government to come into being, and foreigners can only push so hard. Meanwhile, there must be security provided for that government's efforts to expand its sway--security that in the end will have to be provided by Afghan forces. But that too will take quite some time.
Canada and its allies in Afghanistan have "completely underestimated" the importance of building strong and effective local government institutions, and will not defeat the Taliban until they do so, said Tom Koenigs, the United Nations' most senior official in Afghanistan.

"We have made mistakes, and we shouldn't repeat them," Mr. Koenigs said this week in Washington. "We have completely underestimated the challenge of governance in the southern provinces. The resurgence of the Taliban there was only possible because there was a power vacuum."

Mr. Koenigs, a longtime UN official and former deputy mayor of Frankfurt, was speaking Wednesday during a symposium on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent think-tank founded by the U.S. Congress.

He has completed his first year in Afghanistan, where, he said, "the Taliban have not been defeated" despite more than 14 months of hard military action by Canada, the U.S., Britain and other allies.

More important, he added, "the victory over Afghans' hearts and minds, which at the moment is everybody's language, hasn't been seen."

Mr. Koenigs said at least "50 per cent" of the problems in Afghanistan are a result of inadequate, corrupt or non-existent government services, particularly in the rural parts of southern provinces, such as Kandahar, where the Taliban draws much of its power...

Mr. Koenigs said one of the great failures of the NATO coalition in southern Afghanistan has been to focus on a military, rather than a "governance" solution, to the insurgency.

Even more recent attempts to defeat the insurgency by winning the hearts and minds of civilian Afghans -- by building roads, holding health clinics in local villages, and focusing on economic aid -- won't solve the problem, he said.

"A focus on governance is even more necessary than on other kinds of development. Hearts and minds will not be won in Afghanistan by development aid, but by governance...

Mr. Koenigs said NATO must refocus its military campaign from one of fighting battles and manning distant garrisons to one of training and supporting Afghan government forces to do the fighting and patrolling instead.

He said a study of the 139 suicide bombings carried out in Afghanistan last year showed an interesting pattern: The only areas of the country where no attacks took place were those where the population felt it wasn't under occupation by foreign soldiers, or soldiers of a different religion...
As for development, an article that relates directly to Operation Achilles.

This is not encouraging in terms of the longer run:
A majority of people in Britain would like their country’s soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan to be brought home soon, according to a poll by YouGov released by the Sunday Times. 53 per cent of respondents believe the troops are serving no useful purpose and should be withdrawn.

Conversely, 30 per cent of respondents consider British soldiers should stay in Afghanistan until the job is done, and 16 per cent are undecided...

CDS on the CF's future

Don't spread yourself all over the globe.
The Canadian Forces have been stretched too thin in the past to have any significant impact in many overseas missions, General Rick Hillier said.

Canada's top military officer said the military has learned to pick and choose its missions, and to go in big when deployed rather than sprinkling a handful of troops over a larger number of different operations.

Thus the current Afghan mission, involving a sizable commitment of troops, precludes taking on any other mission in another world hot spot, Gen. Hillier said yesterday in an online chat with readers on

"Parcelling out small parts of the Canadian Forces in many missions worldwide achieved little, beside making us feel good that we were contributing in many places," he said in response to readers' questions about possible Canadian involvement with an international force [not likely to happen] proposed for the Darfur conflict in Sudan...

Gen. Hillier, who was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff by the former Liberal government, framed his comments in the context of "lessons learned" by the military. He did not directly criticize politicians who ultimately made the decisions to send Canadian military units on dozens of missions in the past decade from the Balkans to the South Pacific.

His remarks come as opposition critics suggest Canada may get bogged down in Afghanistan and will not be able to respond to the Darfur crisis if asked to join a coalition [we're not likely to be asked for any substantial numbers should a UN force ever go]...

"If we only have a hundred troops in a mission where others have thousands, we are not invited to the table where long-term decisions are made," Gen. Hiller said. It's far better "to go bigger, and get real effect on the ground and a seat at the table."
Let's just remember that the CF do not choose their missions; the elected government does after taking (or not) the military's advice. For example, PM Chrétien's 2003 decision to send the CF back to Afstan.

Update: The CDS' online session at the CBC is here.

CF-18 ugprades, phase two

Moving along:
Most of the crew is heading home as the testing for phase two of upgrades to Canada's CF-18 Hornet jets nears completion. Phase one of the modernization project was completed in August of last year.

For the last three months, a group of people from the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) at 409 Squadron and 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, have been in China Lake, California, testing out new hardware and software for the CF-18s.

"We had people from all across the fighter force," says Major Mike Michaud, the Combined Test Force Commander for the project. "At any given time there were roughly about 30 technicians there and probably about three to four aircrew. The aircrew mostly came from AETE but the technicians came from everywhere-AETE, 410 Squadron and 409 Squadron in Cold Lake, and 425 Squadron in Bagotville. It was a huge team effort."

Maj Michaud says the test team has been very busy over the past few months. Phase two of the CF-18 upgrades includes the installation of four main systems.

Boeing engineers and technicians as well as the project officer, lead test pilot, and Combined Test Force Commander, Major Mike Michaud, stand in front of the first modified aircraft after completion of the Acceptance Test Flight.
"First, there's the joint helmet-mounted cueing system. That's where key flight and mission parameters are projected inside the visor of the pilot's helmet," says Maj Michaud. "Wherever the pilot looks, this information is projected in front of him. This means he doesn't have to look down at the instruments or through the Heads Up Display; he can be looking down at the ground or at another aircraft, and can still put weapons on target. It's a huge capability upgrade."

The test team flew the first upgraded airplane December 5, 2006, and ever since, have flown two test airplanes almost non-stop.

Now, upgrades to the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) a new networking capability that will allow Canadians to interoperate with Americans and other allies, is in the works.

"There's also the ALE-47, a new counter measures system going in the aircraft, which includes a chaff-flare dispensing capability that is a lot more sophisticated than what was in there previously," says Maj Michaud.

The CF-18s are also getting new colour displays and digital maps.

"The three main displays in the airplane right now are monochromatic - they're basically black with green writing," says Maj Michaud. "Now, they'll have LCD colour displays - they can display images and the contacts will be in different colours. In terms of what's presented to the pilot, it's a huge upgrade."

On top of these four big hardware upgrades, there's a new software suite going into the aircraft as well. Maj Michaud says AETE's role in the entire upgrade process is about 80 per cent complete.

"We're hoping to bring the two prototype aircraft back here at the end of March. Once it's back here, AETE probably has another two to three weeks of initial work to do. Then the project gets turned over to Operational Test and Evaluation Flight, over at 410 Sqaudon. Their Operational Test and Evaluation experts will begin to determine how these powerful new capabilities will be effectively employed."

Maj Michaud says everyone is anxious to get the new systems up and running.

"Once we give our thumbs up, the next stage will be to start the process of modifying all of our CF-18s."

The assembling will happen in Mirabel, Quebec.

Notable performance

Further to this post about senior promotions and appointments, it seems MGen Gosselin has been noticed by the chain of command for the right reasons, and by the national media for the wrong ones.

From yesterday's Globe & Mail:

Beleaguered Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor wasn't the only person at National Defence who was off base regarding detainee follow-up in Afghanistan. A gaggle of senior military officers and top civilian departmental officials also seem to have had it wrong, and they repeatedly drafted responses for Mr. O'Connor to deliver to Parliament, documents show.
Other DND officials signing off on the advice included Brigadier-General Daniel Gosselin, head of the international security policy division, Colonel Neil Anderson, head of the NATO policy directorate and Colonel Bernard Cathcart from the international law directorate.

Gosselin has since been promoted MGen and appointed Commander Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston. After this, one wonders if he'll be appointed to any further positions within the CF...ever.

I hear that giving embarrassing advice to the Minister can be career-limiting. We'll see if it's true.

Of course, I've also heard that misleading parliament can be similarly career-limiting for a politician, but the jury's still out on that notion.

Courage under a different kind of fire

The Governor General announced thirteen Medal of Bravery awards yesterday. I'd like to bring your attention to one of them in particular:

Second Lieutenant John Robert Walsh, M.B., Brampton, Ontario
Medal of Bravery

On October 7, 2004, Second Lieutenant John Walsh, a teacher at an elementary school in Brampton, Ontario, single-handedly broke up a vicious assault on a 17-year old boy by five armed teenagers. Informed by a colleague that a fight had broken out in the schoolyard, Mr. Walsh rushed to intervene. As he reached the scene, two of the attackers ran off while another continued beating the victim on the head with a metal bar. Without hesitation, Mr. Walsh tackled the armed assailant and struggled with him until he dropped the weapon. With complete disregard for his own safety, he then attempted to fight off the remaining aggressors who were continuing their assault on the downed victim. The gang finally fled when another teacher arrived on the scene and called the police.

Congrats to 2Lt Walsh for showing once again that character and training are useful beyond just the battlefield.

Sears steps up

Sure, they're getting some good marketing and some sales opportunities out of this. And yes, they'll undoubtedly make their money on the deal.

But I say any effort to push awareness of our men and women in uniform out into the Canadian public consciousness, and to raise funds for them on top of that, deserves a pat on the back:

CANEX, a division of the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency (CFPSA), has coordinated with Sears Canada to provide official “Support Our Troops” (SOT) merchandise in Sears Canada retail stores across the country.

Official CFPSA SOT merchandise includes ball caps, t-shirts, car and fridge magnets, cling vinyl window decals, bracelets, lapel pins, and more. Canadians can now purchase official SOT t-shirts and ball caps at Sears Canada, with two dollars from each purchase going back to morale and welfare programs for CF members and their families.To purchase other SOT items, order online through CANEX at [Babbler: or just click on the yellow ribbon link in our sidebar]

BZ to both the CFPSA and Sears for cooperating to the benefit of the troops. Best of luck with the new endeavour.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Afstan: New British approach

The switch in Taliban tactics (see this nice bit of imagination at Celestial Junk) has resulted in this switch in response (one just hopes there isn't too much "collateral damage"):
British forces in Afghanistan have switched tactics to counter a new wave of Taliban bombings and suicide attacks, a senior commander has said.

The Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton, said that they were now deliberately targeting key Taliban leaders in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and ordinary Afghans.

Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, he acknowledged that attempts at the wholesale "eradication" of the Taliban and their supporters would simply alienate the local population.

At the same time, Defence Secretary Des Browne indicated that he was preparing to send more helicopters in support of military operations in Helmand province where British forces are concentrated.

Lt Gen Houghton said the Taliban appeared to have abandoned their tactics of last summer when they suffered heavy casualties mounting mass attacks on heavily-defended British positions.

"Increasingly, the switch this year has been towards the Taliban not taking on this tactic of mass attack but adopting a more asymmetric approach - the utilisation of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), suicide bombers, that sort of thing," he said.

"What we are attempting to do is use a far more intelligence-focused approach to the elimination of key Taliban leaders.

"We recognise that the (wholesale) eradication of the Taliban is not a sensible option. That alienates the public, locally and internationally.

"Therefore to attempt to dislocate the key Taliban leadership and attempt to drive a wedge between the irreconcilable, tier one Taliban leadership and the local potential Taliban fighters - that is the nature of the tactic we are following."..

Government neglects Coast Guard

If only the federal government would put its money where its constitutional mouth is. In her recent report the Auditor General pointed out that many of the major vessels of the Canadian Coast Guard, including icebreakers, are getting very old indeed. She went on to say that "The existing schedule indicates most vessels will be replaced long after they have exceeded their estimated useful lives."

In March, 2005, the Liberal fisheries minister announced that the government would be spending $276 million over five years to acquire two fisheries research vessels and four mid-shore fisheries patrol boats. No contract for these ships has ever been signed.

The finance minister, in his budget, March 19, said the Conservative government would provide $324 million over 10 years to purchase six vessels for fisheries science and enforcement.

These are the same vessels that the Liberals pledged to buy two years ago. So now the Conservatives will buy them over ten years rather than the Liberals' five, and at greater cost. At this appalling rate of renewal there will be very little Coast Guard fleet for the Auditor General to look at before too long. For shame--especially as new icebreakers would be just the thing to assert Canadian sovereignty in Arctic waters.

OK, now I'm really confused

Remember how I didn't understand why DND lawyers would challenge the jurisdiction of the MPCC on the detainee transfer investigation, even if the MPCC was overstepping the spirit of its mandate? Well, now it looks like Gordon O'Connor is trying to un-ring that bell:

Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the role of the Red Cross is not the only issue on which the minister is misleading Canadians.

Last week we learned that the Minister of National Defence was challenging the jurisdiction of the Military Police Complaints Commission to investigate alleged abuse of detainees in Afghanistan. The minister's action contradicts the commitment made in the House, “there are three investigations going on. We are not going to interfere with those investigations”.

Why did the minister mislead the House saying he would not interfere when he is interfering?

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I am not interfering in any of the ongoing investigations. There are four ongoing investigations and they will continue.

Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, when the minister was questioned in this House about the investigation by the Military Police Complaints Commission, he stated, “—I do not interfere with, nor will ever interfere with, any investigative process”.

Now his department is contesting the commission's jurisdiction.

Why did the minister mislead this House by stating that he would support this investigation when he knew very well that his department was plotting to derail it?

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, currently four investigations are ongoing and four investigations will carry on to their conclusion, at which point we will learn whether there has been any wrongdoing or improper following of procedures. We will wait for the outcome of the four investigations.

So, has the department decided not to challenge the MPCC's jurisdiction? And if so, why not? I mean, if you thought you had a case a week ago, a good enough case to send letters that you had to know would be made public, then what's changed since then?

This seems amateurish to me. If you're going to take the PR hit by pushing back against a watchdog, then you'd better be prepared to see it through. Instead, it looks like DND has decided to fritter away some of their stock of public goodwill by sending the letter, and subsequently to reverse position at the first sign of trouble.

Way to find two ways to lose this battle, folks.

Update: A friend has reminded me that the "conclusion" the MND speaks of might well be shutting the investigation down due to judicial injunction. He's left himself some wiggle room in his words. Of course, if he now chooses to use that wiggle room, he'll get trashed in the court of public opinion. Semantics don't play well in politics these days.

Defence Budget 2007

Well, I've now completed my review of the 2007 Federal Budget presented by the CF-friendly Conservative government. Here's a rough summary of the new money available:


*more awkward silence*

Would a graphic help?

Okeedokee then.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Red Ensign has no a place at Vimy Ridge

A thread at I also think it's true that during WW II the Union Jack flew over our Parliament Buildings. More here.

The Ensign however would be very right for Juno Beach--where it does not appear to fly (though I could be wrong).

Update: Title changed thanks to a very helpful comment by Chris Taylor.

Senior promotions and appointments...

...aka gossiping about the brass.

The latest list came out two weeks ago, but I've been busy with other stuff. The life of a part-timer, you get what you pay for, etc.

Anyhow, I thought I'd run through what I think are the highlights - if you want to add to the list of those you want noted for one reason or another, feel free to do it in comments:
  • MGen Watt is being promoted LGen, and is the new CAS. Interesting to me is that he's just come off a tour as Deputy Commander (Air) for ISAF RotoIX. Makes you wonder how heavily Afghanistan experience is weighted in the promotion and appointment calculations.

  • MGen Lessard is spooling up for an appointment as Commander Regional Command (South) Afghanistan. This is the ISAF job BGen Fraser held this past fall. Note that they're replacing a BGen with a MGen - which tells you something about the way the mission is being treated by the brass. Note also that he's coming over from the ACLS slot, so he's used to working with LGen Leslie, not just the CEFCOM folks.

  • RAdm Pile is moving from a thankless support slot (Chief of Military Personnel) to Commander Joint Task Force Pacific, a serious pointy-end command. That particular position is going to be an extremely public one in the months to come as the CF spools up for the 2010 Olympics on the west coast. On a related note, I've heard scuttlebut that Col Barr is going to be prominent within a JTF Games organization being stood up specifically to meet the CF's responsibilities for this event - but I could be wrong on that.

  • BGen Grant is coming home from Afghanistan and being promoted MGen and appointed Deputy Commander CEFCOM HQ. The guy he's replacing is a BGen, so again you can gauge the inflating importance of the Afghan mission.

  • BGen Fraser, who was Commander Regional Command (South) during Op Medusa, will be appointed Commandant Canadian Forces College in Toronto. In other words, his leadership is going to be shaping the next generation of senior officers.

  • Col Laroche is being promoted BGen and appointed Commander JTF Afghanistan, replacing BGen Grant. Some numpty screwed up his initials somewhere along the line: he's G.J.R.M. Laroche in the promotion list, and J.R.M.G. Laroche on his bio - who knows which one is correct? I've heard he's a real mover: J-3 at CEFCOM is not a cushy slot, and if he's being promoted out of it, that says those senior to him in the chain of command really like his work.

  • Col Matern will be appointed BGen (acting while so employed) and appointed Deputy Commanding General XVIII Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, NC. This comes after spending less than a year as Deputy Commander of CANSOFCOM. The senior exchange slots with U.S. units seem to be more and more important these days. Gen Hillier was the first Canadian Deputy Commander of III Corps in Fort Hood, TX, an appointment that the current VCDS, LGen Natynczyk, also subsequently held. With a history like that, I figure it's worth watching those who are given such coveted exchanges.

  • Col Whitecross will be appointed BGen (acting while so employed) in the same slot she's currently holding as Commander JTF North in Yellowknife. This reflects the fact that the arctic is becoming increasingly important to the Canadian government, and to the CF in turn.

Like I said, feel free to add your own two cents in the comments.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Afstan: MCPL Paul Franklin on CBC TV, Tuesday, March 27

Note change of time from original post:"The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos", 2100, prime time special.

Crow, always best eaten fresh

The MND just made the following statement in the House of Commons. It's pretty self-explanatory:

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a Point of Order to correct answers to questions previously given to the House.

While I issued a public statement on March 8th to correct the record, this is my first opportunity to address the House.

In statements to the House and in two replies to Order Paper Questions, I inadvertently provided inaccurate information relating to the role, relationship and responsibilities of the International Committee of the Red Cross with regard to Canada and detainees turned over by Canada to Afghan authorities.

I fully and without reservation apologize to the House for providing inaccurate information to Members. I regret any confusion that may have resulted from these statements. The answers I gave were provided in good faith. I take full responsibility and do so without hesitation.

These statements were based on briefings I received from my department. The error was based on a misunderstanding of the reporting role of the International Committee of the Red Cross as it pertains to the treatment of Afghan detainees turned over by Canadian Forces in theater. The information we had was that the International Committee of the Red Cross would openly share information with Canada - and - that the International Committee of the Red Cross was responsible for supervision and monitoring of detainees.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be clear. The International Committee of the Red Cross is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities.

The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this information to the country that has the detainees in its custody, in this case - Afghanistan.

The Arrangement between the Canadian Forces and Afghanistan recognizes the right of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detainees at any time they are in custody, whether held by the Canadian Forces or by Afghanistan.

Mr. Speaker, flowing from that correction I am also tabling revised responses to Order Paper Questions 13 and 33 which had stated: "the ICRC would advise us if they had any concerns about detainees whom we transferred to Afghan authorities" and that "the International Committee of the Red Cross would advise Afghan and Canadian authorities if they had any concerns about detainees." These revised responses will ensure the House has accurate information.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, today, I will be tabling a letter from two senior officials to the Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence correcting information they provided to the Committee on December 11th 2006 regarding Canada's notification to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission of detainee transfers.

Mr. Speaker, these officials and I have appeared regularly before the Standing Committee on National Defence to provide parliamentarians with information and will continue to do so.

The letters establishing Canada's subsequent arrangement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission - which will be tabled today - are posted on my Department's website.

To be clear, this arrangement which has taken over nine months to negotiate provides that Canada will notify the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (the AIHRC) of any detainees transferred to Afghan authorities and the AIHRC will inform Canada should it learn that a transferred detainee has been mistreated. Our government is committed to the goal of ensuring that each Afghan detainee is treated in accordance with international law. The protection of human rights is a central value to all Canadians and our government's commitment is to ensure that these values are upheld no matter where our Forces serve.

To reinforce that, I personally met with the Kandahar representative, the national representative, the Afghan Minister of Defence and President Karzai in which I received their personal commitments to ensure that the agreements will be honoured. The United Kingdom, Netherlands and Norway have similar agreements and depend on the Commission to provide information of suspected abuse.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that my statement this morning clarifies our important relationships with the Government of Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the opportunity to clarify these matters.

It will be interesting to see how the opposition responds.

And for those who are interested, here are the letters between the Commander of JTF Afghanistan and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that lay out the agreement for monitoring between the two organizations.

Update: Well, the opposition responded, all right.

Denis Coderre is a complete and utter disgrace to his position:

I look the former arms' dealer straight in the eyes. Why will he not tell us what is really going on in Afghanistan?

Coderre isn't fit to carry O'Connor's kit bag, let alone demean his decades of public service with such a cheap smear in the House of Commons. What an ass.

Claude Bachand seems out of his element:

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence not only misled the House regarding the issue with the Red Cross, but he also said that he was capable of locating all the prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities. However, we now know that four have disappeared and one has died.

How could the Minister of National Defence appear so sure of himself, even though he definitely knew at the time that he could not locate all the prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities?

Claude, the man who died had horrible head trauma sustained in the TIC in which he was captured. If it wasn't for Canadian medical assistance and the professionalism of our troops, he would have died much more quickly in the field. As it stands, he at least had a shot at survival by the good graces of Canadian soldiers.

Do try to keep up.

As usual, the only parliamentary defence critic to land a blow was Dawn Black:

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative defence minister finally admitted he misled the House regarding the role of the Red Cross and the handling of prisoners taken by Canadians. We thank him for his apology. We are still waiting, however, for an apology from the Liberal defence minister who actually was the one who got us into this mess in the first place.

Ouch. Bill Graham, enjoy your retirement.