Monday, March 09, 2009

First-ever CF airborne assault with a Canadian helicopter/Sad news

Another reason why getting Chinooks is a good idea (as well as sending the Griffons):
Chopper assault a first for Canada

Canadian soldiers soared into western Zhari District Saturday to disrupt suspected Taliban compounds, the first air-assault mission done with Canadian helicopters in the country’s military history.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, of November Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, based out of Petawawa, Ont. “Landing combat with the Chinooks was pretty good; pretty cool. It’s for sure something we can tell our friends and family back home.”

The mission netted a small cache of weapons and bomb-making materials, but Canadians say the ability to quickly drop dozens of soldiers deep into Taliban territory is an important new tool here.

The 11-hour day began at dawn, with a Canadian Chinook helicopter joining two British CH-47s [emphasis added] on the ramp to pick more than 200 soldiers. After a roughly 20-minute flight, the soldiers stood in unison when the helicopter’s wheels touched down on the spongy ground. They disembarked and less than two minutes later the helicopter was back in the air.

The area was thought to be a hub for bomb-making supplies and other materials shipped across the Registan Desert from Pakistan. Canadians spent the day methodically searching compounds and grape huts in the area. Afghan men of fighting age watched the soldiers from the hills nearby, but never engaged the troops. Canadians took the lack of fighting as a sign they startled the insurgents.

The flight’s pilot, Maj. Jonathan Knaul, said it was pretty special seeing Canadian soldiers in the back of the helicopter.

“We made a major Canadian milestone for our troops here and for Canadian aviation in general,” Knaul said. “I felt a great deal of pride to have been a part of that, so have been the one commanding the Canadian Chinook.”

Canada has been flying six Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and eight Griffon helicopters in Afghanistan for more than two months now, but this is the first time they have been used to ferry troops on a combat mission. Canada had done similar assaults in the past, but relied on NATO helicopters.

A Canadian soldier in western Zhari District, Afghanistan after getting dropped off by a Chinook helicopter. The mission, which sought to disrupt suspected Taliban bomb-making and storage compounds, was the first time in the country's military history that Canadian helicopters ferried Canadian soldiers in combat.
A Canadian soldier in western Zhari District, Afghanistan after getting dropped off by a Chinook helicopter. The mission, which sought to disrupt suspected Taliban bomb-making and storage compounds, was the first time in the country's military history that Canadian helicopters ferried Canadian soldiers in combat.
Photograph by: Canwest News Service, Canwest News Service
Another photo:
Gallery Image
help from above: Canadian troops, belonging to November Company of the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, make their way across a field as a Canadian CH-47D Chinook lifts off after dropping them off during an assault Saturday on a Taliban command centre. It was the first time Canadian soldiers had conducted a combat assault with their own aircraft, rather than relying on other countries.
More from CP:

Over 200 Canadian and American soldiers [emphasis added] took part in the nearly 11 hour operation Saturday...

With air transport previously scarce, Canadian soldiers in the past have been forced to conduct these kinds of lightning raids by driving their noisy, lumbering armoured vehicles up the target - a manoeuvre that gave the Taliban plenty of time to know they were coming and prepare defensive positions.

Not so this time.

"We came in hard, we came in fast and we got on to the objective immediately," Lt. Aaron Corey, a platoon commander, with November Company, said as he sat, feet dangling over a dried up irrigation ditch.

"We had total surprise, which no matter how hard we work at night; no matter how hard we try to be sneaky-peeky type guys, we just can't do it; especially in that size. You can move 10 or 12 guys around quietly, you can't move 120 guys around quietly at night."

The raid began shortly after sunrise with three Chinooks - two British and one Canadian - thundering in low and dropping the troops in poppy field where the plants had just started poking through the ground.

As he guided the helicopter to touch down in the spongy ground, the mission commander, Maj. Jonathan Knaul, couldn't help but be struck by the milestone moment.

"This is cool," he thought to himself at the time and told reporters afterward. "This is cool. It is. I'm taking onboard Canadian soldiers and driving them where they have to go."

The soldiers spilled out of the ramp and formed a defensive perimeter and within 90 seconds the three Chinooks of the initial wave were back in the air and pounding out over a field. They banked steeply over a dry riverbed and disappeared.

It wasn't long after a second wave of helicopters came in that Afghan men - individually and sometimes in groups - began to appear on small hillsides and outside compounds. They stood for hours and watched, all-the-while staying well outside of rifle range.

Helicopter gunships, in the form of two modified Canadian CH-146 Griffons, orbited protectively above the area [they also do independent patrolling], their door-mounted gatling guns clearly visible from the ground [the Griffons have been adapted for the escort role and are not true, purpose-designed, gunships--such as the AH-64D Apaches flown in Afstan by the US, UK and Netherlands--see video of last].

At one point, a Griffon pilot spotted two men with plastic jugs digging in a dirt roadway, apparently trying to bury a booby trap ahead of a Canadian platoon. The helicopter dove on the men, apparently scaring them away.

The commanding officer of November Company said the gunships made a "huge difference" and potentially forced the Taliban to keep their heads down [emphasis added].

"So them being above, I really think that kept the insurgents at bay and (the helicopters) were able to paint a very good picture outside of the periphery where we couldn't see," said Maj. Rob McBride.

Earlier our Chinooks helped out the Americans.

And sad news:
Attack suggests Taliban spreading reach

In a region where insurgent strikes were once infrequent, roadside bomb kills Trooper Marc Diab, a solider who joined the Canadian Forces less than a decade after fleeing war-torn Lebanon


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