Monday, April 30, 2007

Afstan: Good development news

Some things seem to be getting better:
Afghan Infant Mortality Declines, Signaling a Post-Taliban Recovery

Small loans, big dreams
A microfinance agency run by an expatriate is helping Afghan women achieve financial stability

I wonder why the Globe and Mail put the second story on A12 and not the front page.

Embedding with the CF in Afstan

A thoughtful piece by Graham Thomson of the Calgary Herald--this is the part I found most interesting:
In fact, there are days the military seems to merely tolerate the media, as opposed to welcoming them, particularly when reporters start asking difficult and potentially embarrassing questions -- as was the case a few weeks ago when bad news broke.

In this case, we had no idea bad news was on the way.

The Internet connection hadn't been cut when two public affairs officers walked in and told us a Canadian convoy driving through Kandahar City had been ambushed twice in little more than half an hour. It was astonishing news that soon confused reporters and made them suspect the military's version of events -- and ultimately underscored the journalistic problems facing embedded reporters.

The attack on the night of Feb. 18 was the first time Canadians had been ambushed inside the city limits. Not only that, they'd been hit twice in what appeared to be a well-planned, brazen attack by the Taliban -- even though NATO officials had been insisting for weeks that the Taliban was a spent force.

In the military's version of events, the Canadians had pushed through a gauntlet of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade in the first attack. When battle damage forced them to stop a few kilometres down the road, they were attacked again.

No Canadians were hurt -- that's why the Internet hadn't been shut off -- but the news for Canadians was bad, nonetheless. In the confusion of the firefights, they had mistakenly killed two innocent Afghans.

And the news was about to get worse.

Almost immediately, accounts from the city contradicted the Canadian version of events. These came from eyewitnesses interviewed by local Afghan journalists and "fixers" hired by Canadian journalists who can't simply head into a war-zone city in the middle of the night to see what was going on.

The eyewitnesses said the Canadian soldiers were never ambushed.

According to this second version of events, the convoy had inadvertently stumbled into an attack by insurgents targeting a police checkpoint. The unlucky Canadians, at the wrong place at the wrong time, were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

However, there was no second attack.

Instead, the soldiers, who were newly arrived in Afghanistan and still jittery from the first firefight, mistook an Afghan police officer for an insurgent and opened fire, killing him and a civilian on the street.

People in Kandahar City were dismayed with the shootings, the third and fourth civilian deaths inflicted by Canadian soldiers in a matter of days. The local police chief angrily asked how Canadians could mistake a uniformed police officer for an insurgent.

When informed of the contradictions in accounts, Canadian public affairs officers shrugged and would only say the incident was under investigation.

When we asked if the soldiers' inexperience in-country was a factor in the shootings, the officials again said they had no information that could help us.

For embedded reporters, the experience was frustrating. Pressing the military for more information just resulted in more sympathetic shrugs and the well-worn response that the matter was under investigation.

Even though we were embedded, we did have the option of temporarily "disembedding" by having a local journalist, or a fixer, drive us into Kandahar City so we could look around for ourselves...
And I like his ending:
In some ways, the embedding program is a testament to the Canadian military's confidence in the professionalism of its soldiers and the value of its mission in Afghanistan. The embedding program satisfies, to a large extent, the needs of both sides.

Reporters get to show Canadians what is going on in Canada's first war since Korea. The military hopes the soldiers' stories will help win public support back home even when soldiers die in the line of duty.

It's just a matter of time before an embedded Canadian journalist dies in the line of duty, as well. I say that not out of any sense of bravado or because I think reporters deserve anyone's sympathy.

We're all volunteers in Afghanistan, after all.

More on the fixed-wing SAR aircraft saga (and on UAVs)

You just can't shuffle off those Buffaloes (another recent post here). Would be nice to get some really capable UAVs too.
The head of Canada's air force denies reports there's not enough money to replace the country's aging search-and-rescue aircraft, but admits purchasing replacements has been delayed because the air force is acquiring other aircraft to be used, primarily, in Afghanistan.

Lt.-Gen. Steve Lucas, Air Force chief of staff, said the armed forces is spending considerable effort -- and billions of dollars -- in purchasing four C-17 Globemaster long-range heavy-lift aircraft and 17 new Hercules C-130J transport aircraft. The military is also purchasing Chinook helicopters, and leasing tanks for its mission in Afghanistan.

All of this is reportedly bad news for oft-discussed plans to replace the 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft. Six of the planes are stationed at CFB Comox and, along with Cormorant helicopters, are used to fly rescue missions across British Columbia...

"It is not a question of money so much as it is a question of the people resources we have to work on this," he told the Times Colonist in an interview Friday in Victoria.

"We cannot do all of these things at the same time. We have to spread them out a little bit."

Even with all the money it wanted, the air force would be hard-pressed to find the trained manpower to bring all the new aircraft into service, while also overhauling search and rescue, said Lucas.

The aging Buffalo should last until 2015 without major investments, he said. That means the military will have to decide on a replacement before 2010 to get the new planes on time, said Lucas.

Privately, search and rescue crews have grumbled about continued delayed promises...

A future focus will be intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), said Lucas.

The current fleet of remote-controlled Canadian Sperwer drones does not react well to the hot conditions of Afghanistan and will likely be replaced by new UAVs in the future, he said.

Depending on what the military purchases, CFB Comox could see a squadron of UAVs stationed on Vancouver Island, said Lucas.

"We haven't made up our minds yet as to where out West we are going to base these. But in the longer term, there's a possibility that certainly Comox might factor into that discussion."..
UAVs would also be excellent for surveillance off the east coast and in the Arctic. Two possibilities here and here.

Afstan: New ISAF offensive in Helmand province

Operation Silicon is part of the larger Operation Achilles. But is Achilles itself part of an even larger Operation Nawruz? Note the number NATO countries taking part in Silicon.
Hundreds of British troops swept into the lush opium fields of southern Afghanistan on Monday, drawing hostile fire at the start of a NATO operation to expel the Taliban from a valley stronghold.

Operation Silicon, which is to involve more than 3,000 NATO and Afghan troops, is the latest effort to bring insurgency-roiled Helmand province under the control of President Hamid Karzai's shaky government.

Before dawn Monday, a long column of armoured vehicles brought several hundred British soldiers to the Sangin Valley, near the town of Gereshk [see map near bottom of page at link] and Afghanistan's strategic ring road that links the cities of Kandahar and Herat.

"It is all part of a longer-term plan to restore the whole of Helmand to government control," said Lt. Col. Stuart Carver, a British commander. "You have to do it a piece at a time."

The lower valley is only about five kilometres long. But its 100 or so high-walled compounds and maze of deep irrigation channels offer good cover for determined defenders.

After fanning out to patrol on foot, the British soldiers soon came under attack, first from mortar rounds, then from regular bursts of machine-gun fire.

An Associated Press reporter travelling with the troops heard officers ordering British artillery units to respond. Three Apache helicopters [check link for differing US and UK Apache tactics - MC] flew overhead but didn't immediately open fire.

There were no reports of casualties.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force has carried out several operations in southern Afghanistan this year, hoping to pre-empt a feared Taliban onslaught, open the way for development aid, and persuade ordinary Afghans to side with the government.

Operation Achilles, begun last month, aims to oust the resurgent Taliban from around Helmand's Kajaki dam, so that multimillion dollar repairs can go ahead and the dam can supply electricity to some two million people in Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar province.

NATO officials say the operation in Sangin aims to kill die-hard Taliban fighters or push them from the area.

The effort is to involve some 1,100 British troops, 600 U.S. soldiers and more troops from the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia and Canada. Over 1,000 Afghan government troops [emphasis added] were also taking part, military officials said.

However, it will not touch Helmand's opium fields, which supply much of the world's opium and its more potent derivative, heroin...

Alliance aircraft have dropped leaflets and broadcast advertisements on local radio stations, calling on residents to eject "tier-one" Taliban — religiously driven, seasoned fighters — or risk attacks on their homes.

"Everyone there wanting to fight, will be a determined fighter, since the message that we are coming has gone out," said Maj. Mick Aston, one of the British officers involved in the operation.
Involved in the operation are about 1,100 British soldiers, 600 U.S. troops and a combined 400 troops from Canada, Netherlands, Denmark and Estonia. More than 1,000 Afghan government soldiers are also involved.

"The Canadians have been providing fire support with the big howitzers in Sangin," CTV's Lisa LaFlamme reported from Kandahar...

The mission is the latest in a series that fall under the umbrella of Operation Achilles.

"In early March ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) launched Operation Achilles to increase security conditions in the northern region of Helmand province. This will allow the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) to start the various short-, medium- and long-term Reconstruction and Development initiatives.", Maj. Gen. Ton van Loon, Regional Command South commander, said in the NATO press release.

"Today's actions will further reduce the insurgent's ability to de-stabilize the GOA. And by doing so, we are one step closer to creating a secure, stable and prosperous environment in which the planned reconstruction and development can take place."

Time to ask the question yet again

Every time I read something like this...

It is not our soldiers who should be blamed, but our government for not following the sensible, humane example of the Dutch and the British, who monitor those they hand over to Afghan authorities.

...I ask myself: has anyone seen any data at all that suggests the words written into the Dutch and British agreements actually prevent mistreatment at the hands of Afghan jailors?

I mean, paragraph three of our own detainee transfer agreement states that "The Participants will treat detainees in accordance with the standards set out in the Third Geneva Convention." Just because the Dutch or British have written something else into their versions doesn't mean their safeguards are working any better or worse than ours.

Isn't anyone other than me curious to know how the facts on the ground stack up against the rhetoric? Or are other nations' agreements nothing more than a convenient club with which to bludgeon our current government and the soldiers who serve it?

Globe & Mail, once more unto to the breach!

The principled left

Although this blog strives to be as apolitical as possible, we cannot escape the fact that politics drives defence and foreign policy and so bleeds into our mandate here at The Torch. In that context, I have been quite critical lately of the federal NDP for their simplistic, unprincipled, knee-jerk pronouncements and positions regarding the Afghan mission.

It is with great relief, then, that I note the NDP doesn't speak for all on the Canadian political left, especially when it comes to the question of our nation's Afghanistan policy (ht:MC):

It should be painfully obvious to observant grown-ups that the "anti-war" movement in Canada is playing a similar role on Canada's left: Intimidate, sow dissension, sow doubt, and turn the duty of solidarity we owe our Afghan comrades into a matter of "contentious political debate." That debate does not exist in Afghanistan, and it is disgraceful that the debate exists in Canada, especially on the Canadian left.

There is much debate to be had, alright, but our Afghan allies should be leading it, and we have anti-war, progressive, socialist Afghan counterparts to whom we might turn for guidance. And I don't mean RAWA, which by now almost certainly has a greater membership among the rich, white liberal ladies of Santa Barbara, California, than among the women of Afghanistan.

Most notably, among the Pashtun people of the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands who remain the Taliban's greatest victims, Canadian social-democrats have their counterparts - the young men and women of the Pakhtunkwa Milli Awami Party, who recognize the Taliban, not NATO, as the war-maker and the aggressor. You can bet that the NDP has not consulted with the Pakhtunkhwa, or sought their counsel in any way. You can bet that the NDP hasn't even heard of them.

You can betray our Afghan comrades if you like. Ignore the Pakhtunkhwa, ignore the Afghan Women's Network, ignore the United Nations, ignore W4WA. For your leadership and counsel on these thorny questions, go ahead and follow George Galloway and Zafar Bangash and Eric Walberg and all the rest. I ask only one thing. Spare me your pleadings.

Stop pretending you're a liberal, or a progressive, or a socialist, or a democrat, because you're none of these things. Just look at yourself. Spiffy new uniform you're wearing. Nice boots.

Those who have read my scribblings here and at my other blog for any length of time will undoubtedly have discerned that my politics slant further to the right than the left. But I have often despaired over the moral vacuum that seems to be sucking the life out of Canadian politics, with only blind partisanship to fill the empty space it leaves.

With his application of consistent principles, and his courage to speak them as truth to his own political tribe's most powerful, Terry Glavin gives me hope that we can reinvigorate political debate in this great country. Left, right, or centre, the Canadian Forces need strong, mature and far-sighted political leadership, and it seems to me that that renaissance can only start with people like Terry who put values ahead of blinkered, rabid, partisan groupthink.

A chance to tour an Lancaster bomber

Windsor's Lancaster bomber was on the move this weekend to Devoshire Mall, where it will remain for two weeks. The bomber will be open for public tours in exchange for a donation to the restoration fund.

FM211 has been on display outdoors in Jackson Park, Windsor for the last 41 years. Over the years the ravages of weather have not been kind. The bomber was in danger of being lost if something was not done. After the mall display the bomber will be towed to Windsor Airport where it will undergo a complete restoration to taxiing status (although it will not fly again) .

If you're in Windsor during the next two weeks, stop in and admire a piece of our heritage.

Tours: Daily from 9am to 8pm.
Donation requested.

Avro Lancaster Bomber FM212 Restoration Project

Photo's of Lancaster move

More photos

Windsor Star Story

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hillier at the Albany Club

Thanks to an invitation from my Irish Embassy Correspondent, I had the pleasure of listening to General Rick Hillier, CMM, MSC, CD speak at The Albany Club yesterday, as the inaugural guest of honour at the first annual Reverend John Weir Foote, VC, CD Memorial Luncheon. If you have never read the story of how the Reverend earned his Victoria Cross, you should - it is one of the most compelling acts of courage you could imagine.

I was joined by the resourceful Chris Taylor (it was his Blackberry that snapped the photo). Although quite a number of the many attendees were current or former politicians, they had the surprising good grace to keep their mouths shut and let Hillier do the talking. The one time they raised their voices was to cheer the soldier, the sailor, and the airman that the CDS brought with him, as well as Hillier himself. Of course, these were all impressive gentlemen.

Lt (N) William Garner was the officer chosen to take a motor vessel into Lebanon last summer to lead the evacuation of Canadians caught in the crossfire between Hezbollah and the IDF. He was the fellow responsible for negotiating safe passage through the IDF blockade. Commissioned from the ranks, Lt (N) Garner is a fine example of the men and women who serve our country on and under the waves.

I introduced myself to MCpl Daryl Presley at the reception prior to the luncheon, when I noticed a bronze oak leaf pinned to his SWASM. It turns out this soldier from 1PPCLI was Mentioned in Dispatches for actions he took in July of 2006 in Sangin District, Afghanistan. When dismounted elements of his company were targeted in an intense and sustained ambush, MCpl Presley maintained an exposed position on his LAV in order to control the fire of the main cannon while simultaneously engaging the enemy with the mounted machine gun. As Gen Hillier said: "Standing before you is a real Canadian hero."

I was also honoured to shake the hand of WO Bryan Pierce, CV, CD of 17 Wing in Winnipeg. The Warrant was wearing a red cross on a ribbon around his neck, the first time I had ever seen a Cross of Valour in person. For those who don't know, this is our nation's highest award for bravery. A SAR Tech by trade, he was awarded this decoration for a November 1996 night jump into three-metre Arctic waves to provide medical aid to a critically ill fisherman on a Danish trawler near Resolution Island, NWT. He and his partner were caught by heavy winds and spent fifteen minutes in the freezing waters before finally making it to the fishing boat and saving the ill sailor's life. Per Ardua indeed.

Although the remainder of General Hillier's remarks were to remain off the record, I will say that the man is a brilliant speaker. His passion for his country, for his Canadian Forces, and for his soldiers is a beacon. We are lucky to have such a man leading our military, especially at such a time as this. Chris put it so much better than I would have:

What I will say is that General R. J. Hillier, CMM, MSC, CD is the right man for a demanding job at a critical point in Canada's history. The general is an articulate and approachable proponent of the services and personnel under his command. His speeches are filled with anecdotes from individual soldiers and families; he cares deeply for the men and women under his command, and they can sense it. Hillier is not the hot-headed ranter certain publications delight in portraying; rather he gives every appearance of being an ordinary guy with ordinary enthusiasms, called upon to do extraordinary things in the course of his duty. Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen are fortunate to have an effective, indefatigable advocate in this Chief of the Defence Staff.

I couldn't agree more.

"Torture in Afghanistan: The Liberals knew"

A post by CTV's David Akin on his blog.

And a nice piece by CTV's Lisa LaFlamme:
Progress in Afghan prison promising: PRT member

A man of ours in Afstan

Two articles on the same Afghan collecting intelligence for us:

1) 'I am Movement Man'

2) Canada's eyes, ears against the Taliban

Update: Rose DiManno of the Toronto Star writes about the cultural gulf between our soldiers and many Afghan civilians:
Canadians are the aliens in this moonscape
This mission means playing with children but also invading the space of proud Afghan males

Outside the wire

I just received an e-mail from a gent by the name of Kevin Patterson. He's got a pretty interesting project on the go:

I was the RMO [Regimental Medical Officer] of the 3RCHA about a dozen years — or minutes — ago; since then I’ve left the military, specialized in internal medicine and started writing books. I just returned home from Kandahar a month ago, where I worked in the Role 3 facility in the ICU there. I’m editing a book for Random House Canada which will be an anthology of writing by soldiers who have served in-theatre. We’re open to writing of any length or subject so long as it concerns Afghanistan. Contributors will be paid and final editorial control over their pieces will rest with them. If anyone has ever thought that the media distorts the real picture of a soldier’s day on Afstan, then this is their chance to say it like it is in their own words.

Would you help me get the message out to soldiers about this project? As you know, the principle threat to the mission isn’t the Taliban right now — it’s public opinion.

How right he is.

If you're an Afghan vet interested in writing about your experience, check out the folks at

Friday, April 27, 2007

Afstan: French faltering?

This is really distressing; it will certainly encourage the anti-mission people here, especially in Quebec.
France has no intention of playing a long-term military role in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Friday, hours before a Taliban deadline for a pullout to save French hostages expired...

Douste-Blazy, who supports right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, told Europe 1 radio that Sarkozy was right to say he saw no long-term presence in Afghanistan for the roughly 1,100 French forces stationed there.

"I think he is totally right. It goes in the same direction as the policy of President Jacques Chirac," Douste-Blazy said, adding that France had already withdrawn 200 special forces troops before the hostage crisis.

"We have no vocation to stay, occupying a country in the long-term. Moreover it is against France's values of respecting sovereignty, national independence and territorial integrity," Douste-Blazy added.

The Taliban captured two French aid workers in southwestern Afghanistan at the start of April and has threatened to kill them unless France withdraws its troops from the country as one of the conditions for their release.

The Taliban gave France a week on April 20 to pull its forces out of the country...
Sure looks like a form of bargaining with terrorists to me. And if the French do withdraw fairly soon it will be a disaster for NATO as an alliance, as well as for the ISAF mission. One can just imagine the encouragement it would give those Germans either opposed to or unenthusiastic about Germany's (non-combat) participation in ISAF.

As for Ségolène Royal:
Earlier this month, in discussing the fate of two Frenchmen held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, she called for UN-imposed penalties for regimes like the Taliban, as if unaware that the Islamic extremists had been ousted from power militarily after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

When the interviewer pointed out that the Taliban were no longer in power, Royal ignored him and moved on...
Vache sacrée!

Update: The Taliban give the French more time:
The Taliban on Saturday freed a French aid worker who was kidnapped more than three weeks ago along with another French citizen and three Afghan colleagues...

"The French government has to stop giving military support to the Afghan government, and French forces should leave Afghanistan," he [purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi] said. "When the French government withdraws its forces from our country, then we will negotiate the release of this French man and three Afghans as well."..
It appears the Taliban have also set a new deadline:
Speaking to Reuters by satellite phone from a secret location, he [another Taliban spokesperson Qari Mohammad Yousuf, or is he the same person?] said a deadline for France to meet the Taliban's demands for the release of the remaining four hostages had been extended a week...

Military humour - the latest in an ongoing series

This particular bit was sent along by infamous serial-commenter JMH. Although obviously written by a Brit, uniformed Canadians will find much that is familiar in these definitions and directives.

A sampling:

1. This guidance is being issued to remedy a perceived difficulty experienced by Staff at all levels in understanding the rationale behind recent Defence re-structuring. In particular many Staff Officers seem not to understand how reducing the numbers of aircraft, ships, tanks, artillery and soldiers results in a more flexible, robust and effective fighting force.

2. In particular it seems that much of the confusion stems from a systemic misunderstanding of the correct use of military terminology. A list of common terms and actual meanings follows.

3. In addition there follows an explanation of the key assumptions embedded within the Defence Review. All Staff Officers are encouraged to seek clarification through their Chain of Command if they still have any questions.

4. Staff Terminology used in the new Defence Plan;

Flexible- a. Smaller. b. unable to operate unless under US protection

Robust- a. Smaller b. Lacking reserves or regeneration capability

Networked- Smaller, but still unable to talk to each other

Capable- Smaller

Agile- Really, really small

The further you read, the more your sides will hurt.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Afstan round-up

A useful update from Alain Pellerin, Executive Director of the Conference of Defence Associations (some overlap with posts here--excuse the messiness, copied from an e-mail):

Last week, Colonel (ret'd) Brian MacDonald, CDA Senior Analyst, and I had the opportunity to represent the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) in testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Our intervention focused on four key points:

* Criteria for assessing the ISAF mission's effectiveness
* The ISAF Concept of Operations
* Assessing the success of ISAF Operations
* Assessing the Consequences of a premature withdrawal of ISAF

We argued that significant progress has been and is continuing to be made in Afghanistan, but that we have a great deal further to go before we can consider the task of reconstructing Afghanistan to have been completed. We further argued that premature withdrawal of ISAF forces would disrupt the balance of power, to the extent that Afghanistan would likely return
to civil war.

The full brief submitted to the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee can be found on our website at:

The comments made by our fellow witness, Mr. Nigel Fisher, National President and CEO of UNICEF, Canada are worthy of note. Mr. Fisher worked in Afghanistan for a number of years and thus was able to provide his own first-hand experience. He is a supporter of the ISAF/CF presence in Afghanistan, and concurs that security must precede development and that there is no quick fix for the country.

A transcript of the entire Committee session of 17 April, including the question and answer session, can be found at:

NATO spokesman James Appathurai was recently interviewed by CBC Newsworld, where he indicated that Canada's allies are now doing much more in the southern provinces of Afghanistan where Canada is also operating, contributing some 13,000 troops or 13 times the number of troops that were in place 18 months ago. This number will soon be further increased by the arrival of some 6000 troops from the USA, UK, Poland and Australia in the Southern and Eastern provinces, bringing the overall total of troops under NATO command to some 42,000 troops in the near future. And by the way Denmark will also be deploying Leopard tanks in Southern Afghanistan.

On Tuesday's Parliamentary vote on whether or not to extend Canada's mission to Afghanistan beyond February 2009 fostered a great deal of discussion in the Canadian media.

Retired Major-General Lewis Mackenzie argues in yesterday's Globe & Mail (see link below) against the use of the term "exit strategy" to describe the conditions for leaving Afghanistan. He further decries those who attempt to put a deadline on when democracy and stability can be achieved. As I mentioned in front of the House Committee, the "Afghan people" fear what may
happen if our search for an early "Exit Strategy" places its emphasis upon "Exit" rather than "Strategy" and leads to the callous abandonment of a fragile but growing state which is still too weak to stand to its oppressors.

The editors of the Ottawa Citizen agree. In Wednesday's editorial (see link below), they argue that it would be irresponsible to bring Canadian troops home so long as Afghanistan remains unstable. They argue that the federal government should continue to aim for a February 2009 withdrawal, but only if it is a responsible one. If that is impossible, then Canadian troops
should remain. The CDA agrees with this logical approach.

Colonel (ret'd) Mike Capstick, former commander of Canada's Strategic Advisory Team in Afghanistan, writes in an op-ed for The Calgary Herald (see link below) that talks of withdrawal only encourages the Taliban to bid their time until ISAF has withdrawn and then launch new offensives.

For further reading on the current situation in Afghanistan, we also recommend the following articles:

In an interview with the International Herald Tribune (see link below), General Dan McNeill of the US Army and new Commander of ISAF reminds us that although the anticipated Taliban spring offensive has not materialized, we should not fall into complacency.

In an article for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (see link below), Greg Mills lays out the "Ten Counterinsurgency Commandments from Afghanistan". This well-crafted piece provides valuable insight into the lessons that have been learned by ISAF (as well as the lessons
that should be learned).

In "Afghanistan and Iraq: Two Sunni War Theaters Evolving into One", written for Terrorism Focus (see link below), Michael Scheuer addresses the ties that link insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, and notes that "the lack of reliable metrics that can be used to measure progress or the lack thereof in the war on terrorism is a continuing problem"...

Lewis MacKenzie. "There is no such thing as an "exit strategy". The Globe & Mail April 25, 2007. Available online at:

Lewis MacKenzie. “There is no such thing as an “exit strategy”. The Globe & Mail April 25, 2007. Available online at:

“Staying the Course (Editorial)”. The Ottawa Citizen April 25, 2007. Available online at:

Colonel (ret’d) Mike Capstick. “Canada must honour pledge”. The Calgary Herald April 24, 2007. Available online at:

C.J. Chivers. “Major Taliban offensive hasn’t materialized, NATO general says”. International Herald Tribune, April 18, 2007. Available online at:

Greg Mills. “Ten Counterinsurgency Commandments from Afghanistan”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 2007. Available online at:

Michael Scheuer. “Afghanistan and Iraq: Two Sunni War Theaters Evolving Into One?”, Global Terrorism Analysis, Volume 4, Issue 10 (April 17, 2007) . Available online at:

The fixed-wing SAR aircraft replacement saga drags on

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen blames the continuing delay on the Afghan mission. But the delay is not really hot news--see the Globe and Mail story of over two months ago at this link. And there are other factors in play besides Afstan.
The Canadian military's program to replace its 40-year-old search-and-rescue aircraft has been sidelined because money is being funnelled for more urgent equipment needed into the Afghanistan war, defence industry officials and sources say.

The $1.3-billion program to purchase a fleet of new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft was named as the No. 1 equipment priority in 2003 for the Canadian Forces.

But the project has since been derailed by the urgent purchases of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gear for Afghanistan, the $650-million order for Leopard tanks and the multibillion-dollar purchases of C-17 and C-130J transport aircraft [these are badly needed regardless of Afstan - MC] and Chinook helicopters.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, as well as Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, have pointed out that the C-17, C-130J, Chinook helicopters and tanks are needed for the military's ongoing overseas missions, particularly in Afghanistan.

A defence source confirmed the procurement budget has been stretched by the recent equipment purchases to the point that there is little money available for the search-and-rescue project...

Aerospace industry officials have been told the search-and-rescue aircraft program, while not dead, will be stalled for several years.

"What they're saying is that it's shelved," said Randy Price, a retired colonel and search-and-rescue pilot. "They don't have any money."

Mr. Price, the former wing commander at Canadian Forces Base Comox, B.C., from which search-and-rescue Buffalo aircraft operate, said the military is reluctant to spend money on equipment not seen as having a direct combat role.

Mr. Price now works as a consultant for EADS Canada [hardly disinterested, then], a company that hopes to sell the Canadian Forces the C-295 aircraft for search-and-rescue missions.

The message about lack of money has also reached Alenia North America, the aircraft firm offering Canada the C-27J Spartan for search and rescue.

"We understand the Afghanistan participation has in some way (prompted) the government to give some importance to other programs such as the C-17 or the C-130J or the Chinook, or the tanks," said Giuseppe Giordo, president of Alenia North America.

The purchase of the 15 search-and-rescue planes was supposed to replace the 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft on the west coast as well as the aging Hercules transport planes also being used for such missions...

In September 2003 then-chief of the defence staff Gen. Ray Henault announced the project was the top equipment priority for the military. In the spring of 2004 the Liberal government said it was fast-tracking the project. Military officials said they would approach industry in September 2004 to begin the competition. The first aircraft was supposed to be delivered sometime in 2006 [so why didn't the Liberal government just buy something?].

Military officials are still working on the statement of requirement for the aircraft, something they have been doing for more than three years now.
It's likely the government is very sensitive to political charges of sole-sourcing and is trying to ensure that somehow the statement of requirements for the plane be re-worked to ensure what is seen as a genuine competition. Babbling's views are here.

Another idea: Why not see if Viking Air can produce new manufacture Buffaloes at a reasonable cost (see final paragraph of the first article here)? More at

Afstan: More Leopards leaping in

The Danish Army is deploying five Leopard 2 tanks to join its troops (around 400) in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan. I await reaction from the usual suspects.

Update: I was rather premature--this from a news story May 18:
Soldiers who have served in Afghanistan have also called for the defence ministry and military high command to deploy four or five tanks as a means of improving security...

The Twotter flies again

A great plane that will not die (text subscriber only):
Viking Air Ltd. plans to restart production of the de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter this month with first deliveries scheduled in 2009. The Twin Otter was last produced in 1988 by de Havilland Canada.

The Victoria, British Columbia-based Viking Air reports having 30 orders for the turboprop-powered, 19-seat transport from small airlines around the world. Designated as the Series 400, the upgraded DHC-6 will feature more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 engines instead of PT6A-27s, and will be equipped with 19 seats and basic flight instrumentation and avionics. PT6A-35 engines and four-blade propellers will be optional, according to the company. Deicing capability, floats, and amphibious and ski landing gear will be offered as aftermarket kits.

Launch customers include Trans Maldavian Airlines (five aircraft), Loch Ard Otters (six plus six options), Air Seychelles (two), Air Moorea (two) and Zimex Aviation (one). These airlines already operate more than 25 of the aging Series 300 Twin Otters. Loch Ard Otters will act as Viking Air's leasing partner to provide operators with an alternative to purchasing.

Company officials say major subassemblies will be manufactured in Victoria with final assembly and delivery performed in Calgary, Alberta. Viking Air acquired the type certificate and production rights to the DHC-6 from Bombardier Aerospace in 2006. The company also owns rights to produce the DHC-1 Chipmunk trainer, DHC-2 and -2T Beaver, DHC-3 Otter, DHC-4 Caribou, DHC-5 Buffalo and DHC-7 transports. Viking Air has been supporting these aircraft since May 2005. Production of the Twin Otter began in 1965, and more than 800 were built. At least 600 remain in service worldwide, according to Viking Air.
I wonder if the Viking Air step will have any relevance to this:
* Utility Transport Aircraft. Bombardier is the favourite to win this contract, valued at about $380-million, with its Dash-8 contract [sic]. [Bombardier had to get something. These planes are supposed to replace the Twin Otters that operate out of Yellowknife. Q Series would be fine for most missions but don't have the STOL capability for some--how will this gap be filled?]


The Governor General has announced that two more Canadian soldiers will receive the Star of Military Valour, seven will receive Medals of Military Valour, four will receive Meritorious Service Decorations, and seven will receive a Mentioned In Dispatches:

Corporal Sean Teal, S.M.V.

Private Jess Randall Larochelle, S.M.V.


Corporal Chad Gerald Chevrefils, M.M.V.

Corporal Jason Funnell, M.M.V.

Master-Corporal Sean Hubert Niefer, M.M.V.

Private Michael Patrick O’Rourke, M.M.V.

Corporal Clinton John Orr, M.M.V.

Captain Michael John Reekie, M.M.V.

Corporal Joseph Jason Lee Ruffolo, M.M.V.


Brigadier-General Gary James Patrick O’Brien, M.S.C., C.D.

Major Cary Arthur Baker, M.S.M., C.D.

Master Warrant Officer Darcy Shawn Elder, M.S.M., C.D.

Honorary Colonel Bernardus Antonios (Ben) Van Ruiten, M.S.M., C.D.


Mentioned In Dispatches

Sergeant Brian Vincent Adams, C.D.

Corporal William Jonathan Elliott

Corporal Nigel Jason Gregg

Master-Corporal Richard James Alan Harris, C.D.

Sergeant Dan James Holley

Master-Corporal Dwayne Robert Alvin Orvis

Private Timmy Dean Wilkins

I'll post pictures and citations as they become available. I must say, I'm particularly glad to hear about Pte Larochelle's award, as I was already familiar with the circumstances and was hoping he had been nominated for a decoration.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A new weapon in the arsenal...

And these days, the one who wields it the most effectively gains a weapon that almost no amount of money or technology can match.
The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict
Marvin Kalb
John F. Kennedy School of Government - Harvard University
February 2007

Based on content analysis of global media and interviews with many diplomats and journalists, this paper describes the trajectory of the media from objective observer to fiery advocate, becoming in fact a weapon of modern warfare. The paper also shows how an open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness and how a closed sect, Hezbollah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda.
I don't consider this a "the media is our enemy" piece as much as an acknowledgment that we must always be aware of how the stories being presented to us are framed. The age of 24 hour news and instant worldwide communication continues to evolve how, when, where and even who we receive our news from.

H/T Jack's Newswatch

"Wars are over when victory has been achieved"

MGen (Ret) Lewis MacKenzie, telling it like it is, as he always does:

Victory will be ours when we can leave with a fair degree of confidence that the government of Afghanistan, its military and police force can look after their own security, which will include keeping the violence inflicted on the people of Afghanistan by the insurgents to a tolerable level. No one, and I mean no one, can pick the date that will be possible out of thin air. So stop trying.

Do I really need to tell you to read the whole thing?

Afstan: US and Canadian forces trying to save civilian lives

Wall St. Journal video, via Afghanistan Watch (if only the Porsche SUV in the ad came with appropriate armour):

Petition to reinstate the RCN and RCAF

Please note that the following draft petition (which has been changed here a number of times, and will continue to change until finalized) is a petition to resume usage of the Royal designation only, and is not intended to disrupt in any way the corporate unity of the Canadian Forces. Please also note that no signatures will be sought until the draft petition has been finalized and pre-certified.


We, the undersigned citizens and residents of Canada, and loyal subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, draw the attention of the House to the following:

WHEREAS the Naval Service Act received Royal Assent on May 4, 1910, and the Canadian navy will commemorate and celebrate its centennial in 2010;

AND WHEREAS the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was the navy of Canada until 1968 when the three Canadian armed services were unified to form the Canadian Forces, and the modern Canadian navy has been known as Canadian Forces Maritime Command since unification, but still refers to itself unofficially as the "navy" and maintains many RCN traditions;

AND WHEREAS Command-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces is vested in the Canadian Monarch and ships of the Canadian Forces continue to be called "Her/His Majesty's Canadian Ship";

AND WHEREAS it is currently improper to use the expression "Royal Canadian Navy" and its abbreviation "RCN" in references to the Canadian navy after February 1, 1968;

AND WHEREAS the Royal designation of the Canadian Navy was executed by a Royal Proclamation which has never been revoked, and that the Canadian Government and the Canadian Forces are required to resume usage of the expression “Royal Canadian Navy”, if the expression “Canadian Navy” is used in any official capacity;

AND WHEREAS the above also pertains to the "Royal Canadian Air Force" and its abbreviation "RCAF" in references to the Canadian air force after unification, which has been known as Canadian Forces Air Command since February 1, 1968, but still refers to itself unofficially as the "air force" and maintains many RCAF traditions;

AND WHEREAS notwithstanding the National Defence Act, which states that "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces", separate service uniforms were reintroduced in 1986, separate service chiefs were reinstated and returned to National Defence Headquarters in 1997, separate service websites were officially established and references to the separate services are now commonplace throughout the increasingly tri-service Canadian Forces, all of which have been accommodated without in any way compromising the unified command structure, integrated nature or corporate unity of the Canadian Forces;

AND WHEREAS resuming usage of the Royal designation as it pertains to the "Canadian Navy" and "Canadian Air Force" could be facilitated without in any way undermining the unity of the Canadian Forces acting as a single organization under a unified command structure, and without in any way compromising the integration of military operations, logistics support, personnel and administration of the separate services acting together under the current functional command system, which was the intent of Bill C-243, The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act, which we the petitioners strongly support;

AND WHEREAS resuming usage of such Royal designations could be facilitated without in any way replacing Canadian Forces Maritime Command and Canadian Forces Air Command, whose Chiefs of Staff would continue to exercise nominal command over the navy and air force respectively;

AND WHEREAS resuming usage of such Royal designations could be efficiently accomplished and executed without material cost to Canadian taxpayers;

AND WHEREAS resuming usage of such Royal designations would restore the traditional esprit de corps of the navy and air force, just as continued usage of the Royal designation of longstanding regular force and reserve regiments has preserved the traditional esprit de corps of the army, and just as continued usage of the Royal designation of the longstanding Royal Canadian Mounted Police has preserved the traditional esprit de corps of Canada's federal constabulary force;

NOW THEREFORE, your petitioners call upon Parliament to take whatever action is necessary to officially resume, restore and reinstate usage of such Royal designations in time for the 2010 centennial celebrations of the Canadian navy, such that the Canadian navy is reincorporated as the Royal Canadian Navy and its abbreviated expression RCN, and the Canadian air force is reincorporated as the Royal Canadian Air Force and its abbreviated expression RCAF, and such reincorporation is made retroactive to February 1, 1968.

Cross-posted to The Monarchist

Progress Updates:
- April 25: Interesting - even heated - debate over at the Navy, Army, Air Force Forum, where the "Yeas" have it by a two-thirds majority.
- April 26: The Monarchist League of Canada members are supportive
- April 27: Canvassed Laurie Hawn, M.P. to sponsor draft petition
- April 28: Sent draft petition to Captain(N) Pickingford, Project Manager, Canadian Navy Centennial Project, Peter Dawe, Executive Director of the RMC Club, Blaine Barker of the Royal Canadian Naval Association and Bob Nixon of the Naval Officer's Association of Canada
-April 29: Sent draft petition to the Dominion Institute to seek their sponsorship

One country where it's not all about oil

A letter of mine in the Ottawa Sun today:
In his letter of April 23, Albert Bertrand claims that the war in Afghanistan is about American "access to the petroleum from Central Asia." That is simply left-wing mythical nonsense.

Afghanistan has no relevance to access to central Asian oil. Most of that oil is in Kazakhstan, far to the west of Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan has no need for Afghanistan as a pipeline route.

Kazakh oil is exported via Russia and to China. It will now also be shipped, following an agreement with Azerbaijan last year, across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and onward by pipeline to a Turkish port on the eastern Mediterranean. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan equally have no need for any Afghan pipeline should they ever become major oil exporters.

Mark Collins

(The facts don't matter to some people [comment by paper's editors])

Ask a stupid question...get a couple of clear answers

Denis Coderre has done that which only he could do: he's made me actually miss Ujjal Dosanjh as Liberal defence critic. Not that there's a hair's breadth of difference between their respective levels of competency in the post.

Witness Dosanjh's braying in defeat last evening:

Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh said the motion simply confirms the Canadian military's commitment to February 2009, but no further.

"Why is the government refusing to provide clarity to Canadians about an end date?" Dosanjh asked in the House of Commons.

I was always told not to ask a question to which you don't really want to hear the answer. Obviously, Dosanjh missed that life lesson on his way to parliament.

Col (Ret) Mike Capstick offers one compelling reason to avoid a fixed end date - the effect it would have on both friends and enemies in Afghanistan:

There is an oft-stated Taliban contention that ". . . you Westerners have all of the watches, but we have all of the time."


The majority of Canadian parliamentarians either support a firm February 2009 withdrawal date or an immediate cessation of the mission. The effect of this political posturing on both the Taliban and the democratically elected Afghan government cannot be underestimated.

The Taliban now has a clear idea of Canada's tolerance level in Kandahar. The result -- they can now simply wait us out.

They can maintain a low level terror campaign against Afghan civilians involved in the reconstruction effort, Afghan security forces and our troops.

They know, with certainty, that within two years they will have succeeded in driving one of NATO's major troop contributors and its best equipped and strongest fighting force out of the region.

The recent Liberal motion also sends the Afghan government the clearest signal yet that the strength of Canada's commitment does not match its rhetoric.

Prime Minister Harper also provided a shorter answer to the question that touches upon our relations with NATO allies:

Harper has declined to say whether he plans to ask for an extension of the mission. On Monday, he said NATO is not demanding an answer from Canada on the issue right now.

So there's your answer in full, Ujjal. Neither the Afghan government, nor our NATO allies are looking for a firm withdrawal date from our military commitment in Kandahar. Only the Taliban and our own opposition parties seem to be seeking one.

Oh, and the majority of the Canadian populace, according to the most recent polls. Thank heaven for representative - as opposed to direct - democracy.

The clock is ticking on your opportunity to educate Canadians about this critical mission, Mr. Harper, and to convince them of its value. For the sake of both Afghanistan and Canada, your government needs to step up its efforts, and do so right away.

Lead, sir.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

First CF pilots certified on the C-17

Good news from the world of Canadian Forces air mobility -- Major Jean Maisonneuve and Major Jeremy Reynolds are the first CF pilots certified on the C-17 Globemaster III (CF designation CC-177).
"It's like a CC-130 [Hercules] on steroids," says pilot Major Jean Maisonneuve. It carries four times the payload, flies 40 percent faster and can fly twice as far. And Maj Maisonneuve and Maj Jeremy Reynolds are the first Canadian Air Force pilots certified on the C-17 Globemaster III. Maj Maisonneuve, chief check pilot at 429 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, says the aircraft offers much in the way of tactical and operational capabilities.

-- Kristina Davis, The Maple Leaf, Vol. 10 No. 10. 18 April 2007
Majors Maisonneuve and Reynolds have amassed 2,000 and 1,500 hours in-type, respectively. Both pilots flew the strategic airlifter as exchange pilots with the US Air Force between 2001 and 2004, taking part in operational missions. Certification took place at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, and included three weeks of computer-based training, four weeks in a simulator, and three weeks on the flight line.
Maj. Jeremy Reynolds is part of the Transport and Rescue Standards Evaluations Team at 8 Wing Trenton. With 1 500 hours on the Globemaster, he agrees it is a capable aircraft. In fact, he says the only time the capabilities of the CC-130 and the C-17 overlap is when landing on an austere airfield. "The C-17 represents a stark technological leap forward in terms of automation, avionics and capability," he explains.

He says the technology has necessitated a paradigm shift. Before, he explains, a pilot would simply turn around and ask questions from another human being. Now, computers will do many of those tasks. And what does that mean to the crew? "I'll be doing less talking," laughs Maj Reynolds.

-- Kristina Davis, The Maple Leaf, Vol. 10 No. 10. 18 April 2007
With the first CC-177 due to arrive in August, the CF is training six more pilots and has set a lofty goal for IOC (initial operational capability): one of Trenton's shiny new C-17's is to fly an operational mission five days after delivery.
In the end, though, Maj Reynolds says, the C-17 is all about one thing: fulfilling Canadian commitments and supporting other CF personnel.

-- Kristina Davis, The Maple Leaf, Vol. 10 No. 10. 18 April 2007
And I am sure you and your colleagues will do it admirably. Bravo Zulu, Majors. Per Ardua.

Prepare to move...

Apparently the long-awaited and much-delayed Ombudsman's report into the treatment of CF snipers from the spring of 2002 is going to be released to the public tomorrow morning, with a press conference tomorrow afternoon. Watch and shoot...

Update: The report can be accessed here. I've only had time to review the Summary of Findings, but for an investigation that lasted on the long side of forever, there doesn't seem to be much there.

A battle lost

Well, the Globe & Mail's "war-sized headline" detainee abuse story (a Globe employee's descriptor, not mine) is back on the front pages. I said months ago that this was all about the detainee transfer agreement, and while that wasn't a particularly bold prediction, it turned out to be a correct one:

Let me be perfectly clear: I believe that Attaran's entire motivation in pushing this story into the press was to get the CF on the ropes so he could hammer them over detainee transfer policy. That was the impetus for his initial Access to Information requests. I doubt that he particularly cares that the reputation of the CF is being unceremoniously dragged through the mud in order to facilitate his attack on a Government of Canada policy implemented by the CF. I don't know that it would even occur to him that he doesn't really want the military picking and choosing which government directives it will or will not follow.

What all this means is that even if the abuse by Canadian soldiers story is still-born after the investigations conclude there was no wrongdoing by CF members, he can still push the 'but you're turning prisoners over to known torturers' angle and keep the story above the fold on page one of the newspapers. It's a classic 'bait and switch': hook the public on the idea of soldiers abusing detainees, and even if that's proven false, feed them the completely separate issue of detainee transfers to the Afghan government.

Attaran is still indiscriminately smearing Canadian soldiers with little or no evidence, just to fuel the publicity storm around his pet issue:

Attaran told CTV that Canada is to blame for the situation.

He said Hillier essentially set up a "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" situation with the Afghan authorities.

"We knew the Afghans were torturing people but we wanted to hand the detainees to the Afghans so that they could be tortured and intelligence could be wrung out of them. ... we're outsourcing it."

It's comments like that, all too common from Attaran, that leave me with no respect for the man. He should take a lesson from Dr. Byers, who has pursued this issue far more honourably.

Margaret Wente, also in the Globe & Mail, has commented on the ongoing drama. With the exception of her overly pessimistic final two paragraphs, I find myself in broad agreement with her:

I have deep sympathy for our military leaders, who genuinely want to do the right thing. But they're trapped in a lose-lose situation. They can fight a war. Or they can babysit "our" detainees to ensure that our allies don't abuse their human rights. I don't think they have the resources to do both.

In fact, I addressed that same problem over a month ago in a post entitled "Choices." It reads better today than when I first put it up.

At this point, we can't fix everything. We need to focus our efforts on a limited spread of achievable goals. Protecting detainees better than we do is certainly achievable if we want it to be - but what other goals will be sacrificed to make it so?

Right now, this mission is about choices for Canada. It's about the difficult process of triage for an entire nation. Civilized countries are meticulous about human rights, even those of detainees. Has Afghanistan progressed to the point where this is the highest priority?

Dr. Byers hit the nail on the head when he said "the question is what value we put on our adherence to human rights." I'm just not sure he understands the opportunity cost of putting a higher value on it than we already do.

If you disagree with that conclusion, I'd encourage you to wade through the rest of the piece to see how I arrive at it. Let me know where my reasoning is wrong.

At this point, I think the Canadian government has bungled this issue to the extent that they have precisely one option left: to build a prison in Afghanistan for Canadian-captured detainees, and operate it in conjunction with the Afghan government. It's not my idea - Dr. Michael Byers came up with it, as far as I know.

It will be a monstrous headache. The Afghan government, struggling for credibility with its own people, will be embarrassed that Canada is encroaching on this aspect of their sovereignty, and furious that it will have no option other than to accept our diktat. We will need to pour money and effort, time and focus into the project. It will distract from the rest of the mission. It will remain under a human-rights microscope lit by a media spotlight.

And every dollar and man-hour spent on this prison will reduce the amount of aid we will deliver elsewhere, I have no doubt. Canada's mission is already forced every day to make difficult decisions about where to employ our scarce resources for maximum results.

I'm fairly certain the human-rights lawyers and activists have won this battle. I'm far less certain that the Afghan people will see it as much of a victory for anyone other than Canadian lawyers and activists.

'Somebody' should do something

Denis Coderre thinks Canada has done enough:

Denis Coderre, the Liberal defence critic, said his motion will call on the Conservative government to immediately serve notice of the withdrawal plans to NATO allies.

He said the Afghan people will likely want the Canadians to stay, but added the burden needs to be spread around.

"We feel for the Afghan people," he said. "We're spending billions for the Afghan people, but we need also to have an agenda that will see all the countries participate."

He said other NATO countries should be taking a more active combat role in the war-torn country.

Some European members of NATO - notably France and Germany - have refused to send their troops in Afghanistan to the volatile southern region to confront Taliban insurgents.

Coderre said by 2009 Canada will have done its bit in Afghanistan.

British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells doesn't seem to think much of that approach:

"My comment on it is entirely from a British point of view, which is that the Canadians and the Americans are amongst our strongest allies and it's very difficult to imagine who would move in behind the Canadians pulling out," Mr. Howells said in a wide-ranging interview at the British High Commission in Ottawa.

"Who has the skill to do it? Who has the courage and the will to do it?" [Babbler's emphasis]

Bailing out of Kandahar and hoping that another country steps up to fill the vacuum that Canada would leave is just about the most irresponsible course of action we could take.

We all know what would happen. The Yanks and Brits - and maybe the Aussies and Poles - would sigh and step up their own commitments. We wouldn't be encouraging other European NATO allies to participate in southern Afghanistan. We'd simply be shifting more of the burden to those nations who were already engaged there. The same workload, spread over fewer players.

It would be an embarrassment and a disgrace.

Update: Just once I'd love someone to challenge Canadians on the consequences of their largely uninformed opinions on this matter: "So you want to bring our soldiers home - what do you think happens to the Afghans then?"

And, by the way, both the Liberal and Conservative governments that initiated and embraced this mission should be taken to task for the lacklustre way they have communicated its importance to the voting public. This poll result is a damning indictment of their feeble and ineffective efforts.

On the road to reconstruction in Afstan

What is being done--nice to see the mentions of Foreign Affairs and CIDA:
Canadian money is helping put the finishing touches on one of the most important roadways in southern Afghanistan, an act officials hope will provide both symbolic and real progress.

Highway 4 is one of the most travelled roads in Afghanistan, linking Kandahar city to Spin Boldak, a border town and major port of entry to Pakistan -- Afghanistan's most important but least trusted trading partner...

The highway which links Spin Boldak with Kandahar City, has the site of numerous roadside bombings and suicide attacks which have killed Canadian soldiers and many Afghan civilians.

As a result, Canadian officials think Spin Boldak -- where Canadian troops had been operating last year before things heated up in the Panjwaii district west of Kandahar -- has become Canada's problem too.

"If people genuinely believe that the government is there to do the best it can for them, then they'll come to the government for security solutions rather than turning to a local Taliban commander," said Gavin Buchan of Foreign Affairs Canada.

They visited Spin Boldak recently to meet community leaders.

Spin Boldak, the city and surrounding district, are part of Kandahar province. Canada has responsibility for reconstruction and development in the province.

The road isn't the only Canadian-sponsored project. There are more than 30 projects underway in the area involving health, water, food business and rural development.

"The list of needs is huge and anywhere you go they always have a list. But the message that I send is sit down together again and prioritize, what do you want to do first," said Helen Kadi, a development director with the Canadian International Development Agency.

Local business leaders said the road was the priority. The road is also considered a "strategic transport link" in terms of connecting the ring road around Afghanistan with major border-crossing points.

Part of the $200 million in additional funding for reconstruction and development that the Conservative government announced in late February is going to towards completing the vital road linking the two countries.

In a recent red ribbon ceremony, Kandahar Governor Assadullah Khalid announced a $15-million contribution from Canada to help pave the final 42 kilometres to the Pakistan border.

"One local company has the contract this is very good for us, one local company from Kandahar," said Khalid.

He said it means a thousand workers drawing a paycheque -- and not from the Taliban...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lance-Corporal Frederick Fisher, VC

First Canadian-born soldier to win the Victoria Cross

13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, CEF.
b. 03 August 1895, St. Catharines, Ontario.
d. 23 April 1915, Ypres, Belgium.

From the London Gazette [as quoted by Mrs. Joanna Legg & LCol (ret) Graham Parker, OBE, of The Great War website]:
War Office, 23rd June, 1915

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty:-

No. 24066 Lance-Corporal Frederick Fisher, 13th Canadian Battalion.

On 23rd [sic 22nd] April 1915 in the neighbourhood of St. Julien, he went forward with the machine gun, of which he was in charge, under heavy fire, and most gallantly assisted in covering the retreat of a battery, losing four men of his gun team.

Later, after obtaining four more men, he went forward again to the firing line and was himself killed while bringing his machine gun into action under very heavy fire, in order to cover the advance of supports.
Lance Corporal Fisher, VC, was buried in his trench and the exact location of his grave is not known. Read more about his exploits here. He is memorialised, along with 54,896 other officers and men from overseas regiments of the British Commonwealth, in the Menin Gate war memorial at Ypres, Belgium.

Cross-posted to Taylor & Company.

Timmies in CADPAT

Always time for Tim Hortons...

Today was the launched date for Tim Horton's to bring out the newly designed Tim Horton's desert pattern cups for a special Roll Up The Rim in Kandahar, Afghanistan. There are 5 grand prizes of $1000.00 (US) along with digital cameras, gift certificates, Tim Horton's hats, coffee and donuts.

Thanks to RatCatcher at for pointing it out! And thanks to Timmies and CFPSA for thinking up such a great morale-booster!

Update: A good suggestion from one of the commenters over at Dust My Broom:

tim’s could make a fortune by selling a thermal plastic camo travel mug with a timmy’s kandahar logo.

Anyone from Tim Horton's marketing listening?

Up-the-flag-pole-and-see-who-salutes-date: I've sent an e-mail to both the CFPSA and Tim Hortons suggesting that Canex and Tim Hortons should sell a thermal Tim Hortons / CFPSA cup in CADPAT with the Kandahar 2007 yellow-ribbon logo on it to the the general public, with some proceeds benefitting the CFPSA or the CDS Military Families Fund or some other charitable vehicle for the extended CF family.

Let's see if anything comes of it.

Recruiting the likely suspects

This headline actually represents a reasonable approach to me:
Recruiters target tech-savvy teens
Sophisticated ads, polls target young risk takers as Tories seek to boost military enlistment

Humour and pain

These gems come from a Rosie DiManno article this weekend, one that, if you haven't already, you should take the time to read:

Everyone knows what the photos are for.

"Smile, you're dead," snorts one wag.


Some troopers, for a laugh, have replaced their nametags with tabs that read: INFIDEL. Joke over, these will come off.

Of course, it's not all humour. In fact, the funny stuff barely takes the edge off the parts that hurt. But you should read the whole thing, nonetheless.

Afstan: New Dutch approach

They're going to be rather more active than previously (via Afghanistan Watch).
The Dutch troops in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan will change its strategy this month, which could lead to more fighting with hostile groups, Dutch daily Trouw reported on Monday.

The battle group of the Dutch mission in Uruzgan will patrol around the clock to prevent movement by any gatherings of insurgents, including members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, lieutenant colonel Rob Querido, commander of the battle group, told Trouw.

The battle group is going to operate according to the "amoeba model," named after a single-cell organism, which constantly changes shape. Querido said the Dutch unit will suddenly turn up here and there, with the aim of harassing the insurgents and eventually driving them out.

"That is the key to counterinsurgency: taking the initiative from the hostile groups and removing their freedom of movement," he said.

"By being more mobile we are going to irritate those groups. I expect they will react and that we will have more fighting," he added.

With the amoeba model the main priority of the military mission in Uruzgan will change. Up to now it is the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which decides where patrols will go, but soon the PRT will follow the battle group and carry out reconstruction where patrols have been...

The Netherlands currently have about 1,400 troops in Uruzgan, and several hundred deployed elsewhere in the country.

Last Friday the Dutch mission suffered its first combat fatality when a soldier stepped on a landmine in the province of Helmand. The victim was a member of the Air Mobile Brigade, which has been deployed as part of a major offensive by NATO troops and Afghan security forces against Taliban fighters since February.

Before him, the Netherlands had lost four soldiers due to accidents and one who committed suicide.
This story makes the Chinese media; I bet you won't see it in our mainstream free press.

Update: A good report by Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star:
Early last Friday, the Netherlands suffered their first combat casualty in Afghanistan, a soldier killed when he stepped on a roadside bomb. It happened less than two kilometres from Forward Operating Base Robinson – where Canadians troops are deployed – in the Sangin River Valley, just over the border in Helmand province.

Last night, the remains of Cpl. Cor Strik were flown out of Kandahar Airfield following a ramp ceremony that was closed to the media, save for a Dutch TV crew – and they can only broadcast their footage after the 33-year-old victim's funeral is held back in Holland on Friday.

They do things differently, the Dutch.

That idiosyncrasy in approach – rightly or wrongly, defensible or questionable – also explains why this was their first combat fatality, compared with 54 deaths for Canadian troops in the same period, just over a year in the volatile southern provinces of Afghanistan.

The Dutch, with some notable and under-reported exceptions, do not fight. This is not meant as an indictment or slur against their character because it has nothing to do with courage or lack thereof.

It's all about orders, rules of engagement determined by The Hague, and caveats imposed on Holland's contribution, some 2,000 troops in all, to the NATO coalition.

These caveats – and most alliance nations have insisted on them – have been tremendously frustrating to NATO command and most especially Canada, whose soldiers are doing so much of the heavy combat lifting, with casualties to match.

"What are we doing here?" a young Dutch infantryman asked rhetorically yesterday when approached by the Toronto Star. "That's a good question. Who knows?

"Is this a war or is this nation-building? On the Dutch news, that's what everybody is asking. The Hague seems uncertain what they want from us. There are forces pulling in both directions. Our country is torn over this mission. But I am just a soldier and we do what we are told."

Sound familiar?

This young Dutch soldier – a driver with an infantry logistics crew – can't give his name because those are the media rules of engagement as ordained by Dutch military command. The hierarchy is in strict control of all information dissemination. The aforementioned TV crew was actually flown into Afghanistan by the military, although they were allowed unusual freedom of movement with Dutch troops deployed in Uruzgan, the increasingly tumultuous province north of Kandahar.

Video shot shows Dutch troops doing remarkably un-Dutch things, including kicking open doors in an aggressive village search for Taliban militants and then, by way of atonement for damage inflicted, handing out money to civilians to pay for the damages just caused...

The Dutch are a solid NATO ally in the Afghanistan coalition of 37 nations – though the brunt of security, patrol and combat assignments fall to the Canadians, Americans and British. Helicopter transportation – the lifting and delivering of troops – is also largely a Dutch responsibility, using mostly Chinooks purchased from Canada.

But there has been keen anxiety, and conflict, back in Holland about the nature of Dutch activity in Afghanistan.

The Hague's decision to deploy troops, last February, came only after intense parliamentary debate, a wrangling that had extended for six months...

The myth is that Dutch forces have essentially shunned combat, emphasizing make-nice reconstruction and redevelopment projects in Uruzgan, for which Holland has primary responsibility, concentrating their efforts in the less dangerous areas – earlier "pacified" by Americans, especially in the basin around Tarin Kowt, the provincial capital.

It's an approach that appeals to many Canadians, some of whom earnestly call for this country's troops to do ditto, as if any of these benign undertakings could be launched without somebody first assuming the perilous security duties which, yes, do involve raids and searches and sometimes disgruntled civilians.

In truth, Dutch troops have shown their mettle in Uruzgan – how much of this has been explained to folks back home is difficult to ascertain from here – and, while generally not provoking or firing first, they have certainly fired back.

So, they do fight, somewhat, sporadically.

Certainly, a tip of the sword component – Tiger Company, the Dutch airborne infantry unit operating out of FOB Robinson, and several hundred other troops attached to Operation Achilles in Helmand province – fight as required, according to interviews conducted by the Star.

They conduct patrols and secure zones in hostile environments. Yet other soldiers who've returned from those areas continue to grumble that their Dutch colleagues often prefer to withdraw from enemy range when things heat up.

The last time the Star was at FOB Robinson was a year ago so this reporter has been unable to independently confirm either version of events...

How to make the "Devil's Brigade"/JTF 2 link

A sensible compromise: keep the JTF 2 name while making the symbolic links to the First Special Service Force. And David Pulgiese did not recycle his "SS" slur.
Canada's special forces command wants to honour the famed Devil's Brigade by accepting the Second World War unit's battle honours and lineage, hopefully in time for a reunion of veterans this summer in Ottawa.

Col. David Barr, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said his group is keen to formally take on the lineage and battle honours from the Devil's Brigade.

The brigade, known as the First Special Service Force, was a joint U.S.-Canadian unit that fought with distinction during the Second World War, earning itself a reputation as a hardened and professional fighting formation.

Veterans of the service force also want to pass on the lineage and battle honours to Col. Barr's command and discussions have been ongoing for several years. Some inside the Defence Department, however, have questioned whether that can be done since the First Special Service Force was not entirely a Canadian unit.

But Col. Barr said he is hopeful that some kind of compromise can be reached.

"As we transform the Forces, surely we can transform our processes associated with battle honours and lineage," he said. "The First Special Service Force wants to pass it on. I believe the minister's office sees great value in that lineage being passed on and we want to receive the lineage. So surely there's got to be a way to do it."

Col. Barr said he doubts the process would be entirely completed when the First Special Service Force Association holds its reunion in August, but he would like to be in a position to confidently tell the veterans that the lineage would be passed to his command.

The command, known in the military by its acronym, CANSOFCOM, includes Joint Task Force 2, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron and the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Co.

The special operations command is also dealing with a proposal from the government to change the name of JTF2 and the other units.

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor is looking at renaming the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 and the special operations regiment in Petawawa as a way of honouring the Devil's Brigade. Mr. O'Connor's plan would see JTF2 and the special operations regiment referred to as the 1st and 2nd battalions of the First Special Service Regiment.

But the name change is widely opposed in JTF2 and among members of special operations command who argue that the existing unit names are well known among allies. JTF2 members also argue that they have worked hard over the last 14 years to establish the reputation of their unit and it doesn't make sense to change the name now...