Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Afstan: Mission shifting towards development

One hopes this is based on realistic prospects and is not mainly for PR purposes:
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Canada's mission in Afghanistan is expected to shift focus from security to development, the incoming commander of troops said upon arrival in Afghanistan Wednesday.

"Frankly, the mission has been evolving since it started and really that's all that's going to go on," said Brig.-Gen. Dennis Thompson. "The mission will continue to evolve while we're here. I don't think it's any surprise that it will take on more of a civilian flavour."

Thompson landed at the Kandahar Airfield Wednesday morning for the start of a tour as the top Canadian soldier in the country. He will officially replace Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche sometime in the near future.

The shift to the reconstruction and development side of Canada's mission does not mean that Canada's military is moving from the offensive to the defensive, he said.

Thompson was previously commander of the 2nd Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont. He said his time there makes this assignment to Afghanistan a personal one...

Thompson also said he will be a part of discussions to set new benchmarks in Afghanistan that will determine levels of success for the mission that the Canadian government is currently mapping out.
And sadly:
Thompson's arrival also comes one day after the latest Canadian casualty in Afghanistan. Cpl. Michael Starker, a reservist and medic from Calgary, was killed during a shootout in the Zhari district while on foot patrol with a civil-military co-operation team Tuesday morning.

He was the 83rd Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. One Canadian diplomat has also been killed.

The body of Cpl. Starker was sent home Wednesday.

As bagpipes played and the sun went down, Starker's flag-draped coffin was carried by his fellow medics across the Kandahar Airfield and into a military aircraft. Thousands of NATO soldiers stood at attention.

"We give thanks for his warrior spirit, that enabled him on and off the field to be at the centre of the storm, practising the professional skills of saving lives," said Maj. Jim Short, the deputy chaplain for Joint Task Force Afghanistan. "For his compassion and his charisma -- for the gift of humour -- and his ability to hang in there until he had made you smile or laugh."

Short read lines from "In Flander's Fields," noting the similarity between Starker's service and that of the author, Canadian surgeon Lt. Col. John McRae.

"He was a reservist who could have stayed in Canada and continued working as a paramedic, but rather, he made a choice," Short said of Starker. "He chose to come to Afghanistan and serve, and do something to make this world a better place."

Edmonton Journal


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