Friday, May 09, 2008

CDS General Hillier in the Legion Magazine

Much to think about--more allied support (read American) seems crucial (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs):
While he believes there is slow and steady progress in Afghanistan, he says there is “not enough development visible” and that while the Taliban have been diminished, they are still a lethal fighting force.

Despite this, he is confident that the bulk of the fighting is over, and that in the near future, after February 2009, Canada will be able to devote a larger proportion of its forces to training Afghan soldiers and police, mainly using the Operational Mentor Liaison Teams (OMLTs) which are Canadian soldiers embedded inside Afghan army and police units.

Meanwhile, Hillier acknowledges that the task of stabilizing Kandahar province and routing the Taliban has been a difficult mission, particularly in what he calls the “iron triangle,” the area west-southwest of Kandahar city roughly centred on Zhari, Panjwai and Pashmul, birthplace of the Taliban, where the majority of fighting has occurred.

While for the past two years the CF had tried to tackle this ground largely alone—and consequently was engaged in a futile game of battling to drive insurgents off a piece of land only to have to withdraw and cede it back to them—in the next few months, according to Hillier, there will be a whole new reality on the ground. “The fact is we didn’t have the troops to be in places all the time. So we could surge in, but then we had to go elsewhere to conduct an operation and the Taliban therefore could come back in and felt free to do so, and in fact still do…right now it’s a whack-a-mole game as they say.”

But heading into this spring, a number of things have changed in favour of the NATO mission. The first and most obvious are the approximately 3,000 United States Marines streaming into Kandahar province to work alongside the CF, in “synchronized operations,” as Hillier calls it.

But beyond that, as Hillier points out, are a few more subtle but possibly equally decisive developments. Not only are the famed Nepalese Gurkhas now operating alongside the Canadian battalion in the south as a regional reserve battalion, there is an American theatre reserve battalion also slated for operations in the south. “The potential of four battalions or more working together in Kandahar for good parts of this next campaign season from March to November changes the dynamic completely,” says Hillier. “Because the Taliban can’t just withdraw to Maywand district or to Spin Boldak or to the northern Arghandab because there’s going to be a battalion there also. So all of a sudden they’re left without a place to go and we have a more sustainable presence over the next six to eight months in a huge way and that allows the police to get in and do something and it allows their confidence to grow and it allows us to make more progress with the Afghan army because we’ve got more training teams there.”..

Meanwhile, back in Canada, the CF is in a different struggle. After being repeatedly reduced in size and restricted in equipment purchases in the period following the end of the Cold War, it is now in the position of growing slightly faster than it can manage [more here]. “We went down so low in numbers; I actually think we went below critical mass,” explains Hillier. “In a country this big, with this number of bases and stations, with this number of tasks in Canada, this number of tasks in North America with Norad and this number of missions outside…we were below critical mass.”

And while the forces are growing rapidly, the main problem Hillier faces is training the recruits fast enough. In addition, he says there are so many procurement programs going on that they too are moving a little too fast to handle. “We’ve got more equipment programs ongoing right now than we can actually manage at one time,” he explains, “and as a result we are prioritizing and sliding some to the right. For example, we would have liked to have been at fixed wing Search and Rescue two years ago, but it just wasn’t possible with all that we’re doing, but now in the not distant future we’ll get back to that one and get that one moving….”..

“The part that’s negative is when you get the phone call in the middle of the morning, middle of the night—and I used to joke to my guys, but it wasn’t much of a joke, that nobody phones me at three in the morning to tell me I’ve won the lottery—when that phone rings at three in the morning I’m now to the point where I sit up, take my time, get ready, because I know what’s on the other end. That’s the only reason people are calling, because we’ve lost somebody. And that part is the part of it that I don’t wish on any chief of defence staff...

As the battle for Kandahar province moves away from conventional force-on-force confrontation, the fight is increasingly becoming the kind of thing special operations forces were designed to do. While Joint Task Force 2—Canada’s top-end counter-terrorist force—has been in Afghanistan since 2002, Hillier confirmed that the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) is now conducting operations in Afghanistan as well. While details of the operations are secret, Hillier makes it clear that Canada’s special operations forces are actively hunting Taliban leadership across Kandahar province...

“What we want to do is take out the commanders who are engaged in orchestrating, facilitating, paying, leading, planning and driving folks to attack us or attack the Afghans or attack the innocent. And our special forces are focused very much on that. And that sets conditions for success in Kandahar but equally important from our perspective it helps reduce hugely the threat to our men and women.

“I said (during a recent speech) that we had removed from the battlefield six commanders who were responsible for the deaths of 21 Canadian soldiers, well that’s changed. We’ve removed seven commanders who have been responsible for the deaths of 27 soldiers and that in itself means those commanders—who are capable people—are not out there planning and setting up and enabling attacks against us, let alone attacks against Afghans or aid agencies.”..

...“You don’t win a counter-insurgency campaign with the military operation. What you do is keep the insurgents, in this case the Taliban, you keep them from stopping the progress or slowing the progress, although sometimes they will slow it but you keep them from stopping it, until you can actually build that country around them. And the cross-over point is hard to see, but in my view it’s subjective. So, right now, if a big explosion occurs in Kabul, people still look around to see if the Afghan government is still standing, still there. Because, you know, the confidence is still fragile. At some point in time, Afghanistan will become like many other countries, it will still have violent problems, but when they occur, nobody will be concerned that this is going to cause a series of events and lead to the fall of the government, because they will have confidence that the government is going to be able to handle this. And that’s the part you’ve got to cross over...

...“From our perspective a counter-insurgency requires professional soldiers and sailors and airmen and airwomen of a degree that I don’t think history has ever demanded. It requires leadership at the very lowest level. Young men and women we rely upon to do things that are quite phenomenal, out on a dirty, dusty dangerous trail, way beyond any of the other units, with local Afghans…. The professional serviceman or servicewoman that’s required for that is absolutely incredible, and I think one of the things (Afghanistan) has re-validated for us, is that we’ve got… professionals in uniform.”


Blogger George said...

Of course, one of the things Hillier couldn't mention is the disastrous damage done by the careerists in the CF. One of the very positive outcomes will be the gradual promotion of battle hardened and experienced military personnel. Hopefully, the infantry, artillery, engineer and sigs types will be in the ascendant.

I do not mean to completely dismiss all naval and air force types, however. I do mean to state that overseas service and combat experience should become the absolute requirement for advanced promotion.

And please, can we do something about the current farcical situation with our so-called CIC?


5:00 p.m., May 10, 2008  

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