News Highlights – 13 Dec 10

  • Canada is apparently continuing to use a controversial Afghan security company to help protect a big dam project in Afghanistan. “Canada is standing by a controversial Afghan security firm that’s controlled by Afghanistan’s ruling Karzai family despite a U.S. military decision to sever ties with it, The Star has learned.  The Watan Group, which safeguards Canada’s signature Dahla Dam restoration project in Kandahar, was blacklisted this week as part of a U.S. effort to stop aid dollars slipping into the hands of corrupt officials and Taliban commanders.  But Watan Risk Management, the specific subsidiary facing intense American scrutiny, will remain Canada’s security partner on the ground, according to Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, the lead partner in the project.  “For the moment, we have no plans to replace Watan. Until or unless we have evidence that these contractors have done something illegal we will continue to employ them,” SNC-Lavalin spokesman Leslie Quintan confirmed in an email to The Star.  “Our primary concern is, as always, the safety and security of our people and we will do nothing to put them in jeopardy.” ….” Meanwhile, the U.S. military is apparently blacklisting said security firm “to clean up a contracting process in Afghanistan that has been riddled with corruption and allowed U.S. funds to pass to insurgents.” A bit of the rocky history of the company protecting Canada’s signature dam project here at
  • The past (Canadian) chair of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission says some progress is being made, and Canada can still help make the voting process there better. “…. Now is the precisely the time for Canada to renew and redouble our efforts in this area by working with Afghans as they continue to build their nascent democracy. Let’s use the momentum that the IEC has created so that the next elections are less fraudulent, more inclusive, credible and transparent than has been the case to date.”
  • Meanwhile, John Manley (of the 2008 Manley team report on Canada’s mission in Afghanistan) also says Canada can still help out there. “…. Afghanistan has surely taught us that there are limits to what can be achieved through traditional military/ civilian approaches to state-building. Canadians who have grown weary of the war in Afghanistan will welcome the shift to a new, less dangerous role for Canadian troops in that country — a role that will mean fewer ramp ceremonies and solemn processions along the Highway of Heroes in southern Ontario. So Afghanistan will fade from the daily news. But the chilling era of terror that we entered unexpectedly in 2001 will still be with us. We must be intelligent about how we deal with these risks. And we must not allow our will to weaken, nor our determination to flag.”
  • A number of authors and analysts have signed this open letter to U.S. President Obama, calling for the United States to “sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan”. From the letter:  “The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate”.  Who put up the letter?  Good question, considering shows no stats or information to track for the address, and the URL is registered with a company that hosts addresses.  While I understand that public statements only show part of the picture, the public statements I’ve read all seem to say “no talks until foreign soldiers leave” (check here, here, here and here for some of the latest variations on the “you go, we talk” theme).  I’ve asked signers of the open letter for open source information showing the willingness mentioned in the letter – I’ll share that information as soon as I get it.  Meanwhile, a tidbit from a Taliban statement just posted this morning (links to  “(The Taliban) is determined that it would never show its readiness for negotiation in conditions that the foreign forces are stationing in the country.”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Taliban claims to have destroyed a new U.S. base in Kandahar.
  • More “Question the F-35 Purchase” copy from the Ottawa Citizen here, here and here.  Some supporting commentary here, and more partisan “Attack the F-35 Purchase” copy here.
  • More on Canada’s JTF-2:  they’re more likely to nab bad guys than nail them. “Canadian special forces in Afghanistan capture more insurgents than they kill.  Surprised?  Well it’s true.  Like most issues surrounding the secretive Canadian special operations community, the truth is more nuanced and complex than the myth.  Contrary to popular belief, Joint Task Force Two (JTF2) is not Canada’s only special operations unit, nor does it spend most of its time shooting.  “You can’t kill your way to victory,” says Brig.-Gen. Michael Day, commander of Canadian Special Operations Command (CANSOFCOM).  Day shatters the shoot-’em-up, cowboy special forces image of popular culture.  Apparently, Canada’s elite commandos don’t go around kicking down doors and shooting up insurgent compounds.  Canadian special operations forces (known as SOF) “pull the trigger less than a quarter of the time,” Day explains ….” The information seems to come from a conference in Kingston last week (information on conference here and here, both via Google’s web cache, or here at of those links no longer work), where the author, Mercedes Stephenson, participated in a media panel.  An interesting message at the end of the column:  “…. This column isn’t long enough to smash every special operations myth, but there’s one more worth mentioning: SOF are expensive. The entire budget for Canadian special operations this year is $205 million. A number that small is peanuts in the defence budget. Now that’s value for money.” Out of a total budget of about $22 billion (according to Treasury Board budget documents), that’s just under 1%.
  • The Toronto Star uses the story of one Canadian military officer to seque into lamenting the loss of Canada’s “peacekeepers” “Unlike most other Canadian soldiers, Lt.-Col. Dalton Cote doesn’t carry a gun. He is a peacekeeper, one of 27 left in a military that used to be defined by that role.  For the past six months, while his comrades in arms were patrolling through Kandahar and sidestepping IEDs, Cote left his guns at home, donned a blue beret, climbed into a UN truck and negotiated his way through checkpoints in an effort to observe troop movements, monitor weapon stashes and investigate violent attacks on both sides of the makeshift border that could next month become the official partition between north and south Sudan.  As the leader of 20 Canadian peacekeepers sprinkled across the Sudanese countryside, Cote, a 45-year-old father of two, was, until five weeks ago, leading the largest Canadian peacekeeping contingent currently deployed ….” More on Canada’s mission in Sudan here, and how the CF’s helping out in Darfur here.
  • Oopsie at Veterans Affairs Canada or the Canadian Forces. ” The Department of Defence has launched an investigation after a former member of the Canadian Forces found sensitive health and personal information about other military personnel in his medical file. Wayne Finn said he was stunned to discover everything from other service members’ social insurance numbers, blood test results, X-ray reports to dates of birth mixed in with his military medical file. The 49-year-old Nova Scotia man said he still has information referring to about 20 people in his file, even after returning the files of eight others to the base in Halifax where he was serving ….”
  • Canada willing to help Haiti (but nobody’s asked for more troops at this point)“Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says Canada is ready to do whatever it is asked to help maintain order in Haiti, but doubts that will mean sending more troops to the troubled Caribbean nation. Cannon told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that Canadian soldiers and police officers are already part of a UN-led security force in Haiti, and Canada has not been asked to send more …” More on Canada’s military presence still in Haiti working under a U.N. mandate, and more on the current unpleasantness there here.
  • What’s Canada Buying? A review of a big plane contract review, and starches in pouches

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