MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 28 Nov 10

  • Cliché team, UP! The new commander of Canada’s battle group in Kandahar will have an iron fist, but hopes to use a velvet touch with the war-weary population of this embattled province. Lt.-Col. Michel-Henri St-Louis, who is in charge of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment combat team, officially took charge Saturday and will carry the baton through to the end of the country’s combat mission in July ….” More from United Press International here.
  • Uh, thanks mom – NOT! The mother of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan picketed outside Liberal MP Bob Rae’s office on Saturday to urge the federal Conservative government to bring the troops home next year. Josie Forcadilla is upset about the extension of a Canadian military presence in Afghanistan until 2014. The government announced this month that a contingent of troops will remain to train Afghan troops after the combat mission ends in July 2011.  “Whether the mission is combat or non-combat, the soldiers will still be at risk,” she said, noting some of the 153 Canadian soldiers who have died in support of the Afghan mission were trainers.  Forcadilla, 54, was among roughly a dozen people protesting outside Rae’s constituency office Saturday afternoon ….” Not the first time she’s been at it, either.
  • Postmedia’s Matthew Fisher shares this story about an Afghan-Canadian going back to the old country to make a difference: “An Afghan-Canadian doctor has taken a drastic cut in pay to return to his homeland and open Afghanistan’s first heart clinic. “I feel that the nicest people in the world are Canadians, but I felt a duty to return to my homeland,” said Asmat Naebkhill, the director of the Alli Abad Cardiac Research Centre in Kabul. “I was not comfortable in Canada knowing how my people were suffering.” Naebkhill was living in Windsor, Ont., before relocating to Kabul ….”
  • Anti-war British MP George Galloway brings his message to Canada (note to George:  “Afghani” is the currency, “Afghans” is what you call the people):  “Canada’s mission in Afghanistan has been “doomed from the start,” controversial British politician George Galloway told an Ottawa crowd Saturday.  “Does no one in Canada ever ask why the Afghanis need so much training? We have been training them for 10 years. No one is training the Taliban and they’re doing quite well,” said Galloway, a former British MP, who was refused entry by the Canada Border Services Agency in 2009 because he reportedly donated money to the Hamas-led Palestinian government …. The decision to refuse Galloway entry was recently overturned in a Federal Court decision critical of the government.   “Until this matter is resolved, I will be coming back again and again and again,” Galloway told his 900 listeners.  As he had in other stops on the 10-city Canadian tour, Galloway blasted Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying he is initiating legal proceeding against Kenney and would give any compensation awarded to the Canadian antiwar movement ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Attacks alleged in Kandahar, Uruzgan.
  • New Veterans Ombudsman Not Your Old Veterans Ombudsman?
  • Former newspaper magnate Conrad Black is throwing out his ideas on what the Canadian military should be looking like now, and down the road, via Postmedia News“…. The appropriate defence policy for Canada now would be to increase the forces by at least 75,000 (the Canadian Forces’ current strength is 67,000, plus 26,000 reservists) — a doubling of its size. Such a plan sounds radical, but in fact it would merely bring our per-capita spending up to the level of more militarily capable NATO countries. This increase in personnel could be deducted, directly or indirectly, from the ranks of the unemployed. Sensible use of these forces would confer greater stature on Canada than our recent failure to win a Security Council seat suggests we now enjoy. The most effective economic stimulus is advanced military-based research, and this should be pursued, especially in aerospace and shipbuilding. Stephen Harper is defence-friendly, and Peter Mackay is an excellent defence minister. They could sell such a program on economic grounds, as well as it being an indication of Canada assuming its rightful place in the world. I understand budgetary restraint, but constructive nationalism and economic largesse are not hard political, or in this case, policy, sells.”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 27 Nov 10

  • A Canadian military briefing note for the Minister has come to light saying If war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, Canada could become embroiled due to a half-century-old United Nations military alliance …. The note by the Defence Department’s policy branch, which was obtained by The Canadian Press, says the UN alliance could be used to generate an international fighting force if war erupts …. Because Canada was one of the combatants in the Korean War, it became part of an organization known as the United Nations Command — or UNC — following the 1953 armistice that ended three years of war between North and South Korea ….” No word from the CF or politicians, but at least one political scientist says it’s not bloody likely” “It’s a technical legal question, rather than a political question, not an automatic reprise of 1950-53,” said Paul Evans, the director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. “The technical legal side is that Canada is a part of the commission. But it does not commit Canada or the UN — we’re not locked into any role in the event that hostilities resume.” “
  • An officer, while on leave in Canada from a deployment to Afghanistan, died of natural causes.  He was awarded the Sacrifice Medal.  His name was added to the Book of Remembrance. His family was presented with the Memorial Cross.  Now, Captain Francis (Frank) Cecil Paul is on the official list of those fallen“Following a review of the Canadian Forces’ casualty policy, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk, today announced his decision to add the name of Captain Francis (Frank) Cecil Paul to the official list of Canadian Forces (CF) casualties sustained in support of the mission in Afghanistan. Capt Paul died in Canada last February while on leave from Kandahar.  “Although his death came suddenly while on leave from his deployment in Afghanistan, he was still on duty and considered part of the mission, and therefore his death is no less important than any other CF member who served and died while in Afghanistan,” said Gen Natynczyk. “It is important that his name be added to the list of fallen.”  …. Capt Paul’s photo has been placed on the CF’s Fallen Canadians web site and a minute of silence will be observed throughout Department of National Defence and CF facilities in the National Capital Region on Monday, November 29 ….”
  • If quoted correctly, the outgoing boss of Canada’s mentor-trainers in Afghanistan sounds optimistic“The outgoing commander of Canada’s mentoring team in Kandahar says the Taliban have been routed and won’t present a significant threat in the future.  Col. Ian Creighton, who was in charge of the operational mentor liaison team _ or OMLT _ says the lull in violence across southern Afghanistan over the last few weeks has nothing to do with onset of colder weather, as in previous years.  “This is not just a winter thing where some guys have gone back to Pakistan. They have been defeated on the battlefield,” he said Friday shortly after handing command to his replacement, Col. Hercule Gosselin …. Still, Creighton wasn’t reluctant to use an unambiguous word not often spoken here: “Victory” ….” I really, really hope he’s right – such certainty can always return to haunt one.
  • If you’re an Afghan working for Canada on contract in the “sandbox”, and you’ve been on contact for almost 3 years, it appears you’re about to lose your job. This from Postmedia News:  “The lives of Canadian soldiers could be put at greater risk because of Treasury Board regulations that prevent Task Force Kandahar from continuing to employ its best cultural advisers.  About half a dozen of Canada’s top advisers, who are ethnic Afghans with Canadian citizenship, have been told that they cannot be rehired when their current contracts expire. They are being let go because of government rules that state that if they work for more than three years for any federal department they must be offered permanent employment in the public service ….”
  • A reminder to journalists who want to talk about how “hard” they are for their embedded work in Afghanistan compared to politicians who had it softer:  the politician may have had it softer, but keep in mind men and women stayed there and get shot at after you left too. There’s ALWAYS someone harder than you.  Not being hard myself, I’m guessing those that really are don’t complain much, especially in public.
  • No, this hasn’t gone away. The inquiry by the Military Police Complaints Commission into whether military police failed to investigate if commanders illegally ordered the transfer of detainees to a known risk of torture in Afghanistan will hear the final witnesses next week. The hearings are based on complaints that were filed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Amnesty International Canada in 2007 and 2008. Since the filing of the complaints, startling information about the conditions prisoners faced and the Canadian Forces’ failure to investigate the legality of the transfers has been made public ….”
  • Blog Watch: More kudos for Liberal Bob Rae for his nuanced and intelligent debate on the Afghanistan mission. More on that here, too.
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Attacks alleged in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul.  Also, a writer-analyst living in Kandahar has spotted a statement made by a former Taliban envoy to Pakistan saying Osama Bin Laden lied to the Taliban when asked directly if he was responsible for 9/11.  A way for the Afghan Taliban to distance themselves from OBL and become less nasty looking?  Time will tell, but an interesting thing to say out loud, nonetheless.
  • Agent Orange compensation for those exposed while spraying at CF bases?  One dollar out of every three earmarked for compensation is going back to general revenue“The Harper government has returned more than $33 million set aside to compensate veterans exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange to government coffers after many veterans failed to meet its strict qualifications for payments.  Liberal Senator Percy Downe said the veterans didn’t qualify because compensation was narrowly limited to those affected by the chemical spraying at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown between 1966 and 1967.  As a result, about one-third of the $96 million earmarked by the government for compensation was never paid out and has been returned to the Consolidated Revenue Fund ….”
  • Column:  Killer-rapist Russell Williams kit burning as “excorcism”
  • Canada’s (No Longer Nameless) Navy Mascot Update:  First was the tender process for the costume/character (with caveats in the Statement of Work like “His personality will be that of an average young boy of no particular age. He will be clean living, fun loving, bashful around girls, polite, brave and clever. He will not be a clown, nor silly or dumb.”)  Then, the contest to find the mascot, a Labrador poochie, a name.  Now, at long last, the Navy mascot has a name.  Welcome to the CF family, SONAR!
  • Watching the Grey Cup? Watch for these guys flying by.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 25 Nov 10

  • In Afghanistan, the transition of outgoing-troops-handing-over-to-incoming has begun: “…. The Petawawa, Ont.,-based (Royal Canadian Regiment) is being replaced with troops that will close out Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan, the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment.  The …. Van Doos took over existing desert outposts and conducted their first patrols of the winter-scorched fields west of Kandahar this week.  They also took part in their first operation, a push with fellow Canadian and Afghan forces through a troublesome farming region where a team of Taliban bombers was on the loose.  The official handover between the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group and the incoming Van Doos has yet to take place …. ” Bonne chance to the newest troops downrange (again), and to those preparing to leave..
  • The “Scumbags on Phones” story appears to be gaining a bit of traction, being picked up by the BBC and Agence France-Presse as well as some American military blog coverage.  Meanwhile, here’s my take how an incident where someone phones somebody in the middle of the night to say their loved one is dead is NOT a “prank”
  • A warning to the Bloc as it tries to get a motion condemning Ottawa’s extension of the mission in AfghanistanA Bloc Quebecois motion denouncing the government’s decision to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan appears doomed to fail with the Liberals saying Wednesday they will side with the Conservatives and vote against it …. The Bloc and the NDP are united in blasting the government for not putting the new mission to a vote in the House of Commons, but the Liberals support the Tories, both in extending the mission without asking Parliament and in having troops stay for a training mission….”
  • In defending their position supporting the mission extension, at least the Liberals are letting one of the smart ones talk“Federal Liberals are invoking the name of peacekeeping icon Lester Pearson in a bid to justify their support for a three-year extension of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan …. In an apparent bid to mollify internal party critics, a trio of senior MPs fanned out across the country Wednesday to explain Ignatieff’s decision. They cast it as consistent with the Canadian tradition established by Pearson, a former prime minister and one-time Nobel Peace Prize winner who is revered in Liberal circles. “You can’t promote peace unless you put force behind the law and behind the collective will of the international community,” foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said in the text of a speech delivered in Toronto …”
  • From the “Opposition for the Sake of Opposition” files, we hear from Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe former Liberal leader Stephane Dion on why the Afghan army even NEEDS training: “After all we are speaking about people that have been able to win against the Soviet Union …. If they were willing to win against the Taliban they would not need so much training . . . How come those people who won against the Soviet Union need training?” ….” Uh, a little reminder:  it wasn’t the Afghan army that “won” against the Soviets, it was a whole swack of armed groups (including those that formed the nucleus of the present-day Taliban) that defeated the Soviets.  What NATO’s trying to do is build a single, NATIONAL Afghan army (the success of which can certainly be debated), so while a few oldsters may still be around with scars from the Soviets, NATO’s not just training the folks who beat the Soviets anymore. (Thanks to Ian for this correction – must have been pre-coffee!)
  • Note to Jim Maloway, NDP MP for Elmwood-Transcona: although your petition to the House of Commons says Canada was supposed to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011, the actual wording of the March 2008 motion says out of Kandahar by that time.  Thanks for playing, though.
  • QMI’s David Akin takes the PM to task over his (pick one) flip-flop/change of heart/co-opting of the Liberal opposition on the Afghanistan mission“…. Where did Harper tell us about his change of heart? He announced this expensive, ambitious change to our Afghanistan mission in the basement of a hotel in Seoul, South Korea, in front of me and a dozen or so other journalists at the tail end of a G20 meeting. He ought to have announced it in Parliament in front of MPs. And here is the second wrong. Harper leads a party that has long promised to introduce more parliamentary oversight to overseas troop deployments. Yet MPs had to read about this expensive, ambitious mission in the papers ….”
  • Elephant Polo to Help the Afghans (with a Canadian connection)“Two Kingstonians living in Kabul are taking on an elephantine job next week as they raise money to continue the work of a British surgeon brutally murdered in Afghanistan in August.  Megan Minnion and Ryan Scott, who both grew up in Kingston and still have family here, are members of the Afghaniphants elephant polo team that will raise money at the world championship in Nepal next week.  Not only is there a world elephant polo championship, but the barriers to entry are surprisingly low: even a group of enthusiastic foreigners who have never played the sport and who trained for it perched on armoured vehicles skidding around a Kabul helipad can challenge for it ….” Want to know more?  Check out this site for the story behind the game, and the person being memorialized.
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Attacks alleged in Kandahar, Uruzgan.
  • In the immortal words of Maverick in Top Gun, “I’m going to need a beer to put these flames out” for the Liberals  when it comes to this week’s House of Commons vote on the proposed F-35 fighter purchaseA majority of MPs doesn’t constitute the will of Parliament, according to the Liberals. At least not when it comes to the government buying 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets for an estimated $16 billion including maintenance costs.  Following the defeat of an earlier Liberal motion calling on the government to cancel the contract, opposition House leader David McGuinty sloughed off the idea that Parliament had spoken on the issue.  The Liberal motion lost 170 to 100, with the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois voting it down.  “It’s not exactly the will of parliament to go ahead with the F-35,” McGuinty said. “What the Bloc Quebecois did yesterday was enter into a coalition agreement with the Conservatives in order to be able to, again, act irresponsibly on an extremely important military purchase for our future.” ….” Here’s November 18 debate on the motion (wording from the Liberal party’s news release), and here’s the result of Tuesday’s vote.
  • Meanwhile, Defence Minister Peter MacKay sounds convinced that Canada will get something like $12 billion worth of work out of any future contract for the new high tech fighter not yet in production. In 2003, the Pentagon guessed it was something less than $4 billion:  “Considering RFPs currently in competition, future bidding or second sourcing opportunities, and unit production total through FRP, JSF Canada estimates a potential for $4.4 billion to 6.3 billion of revenues for Canadian industry over the life of the JSF program; our estimate is $3.9 billion.” (as of this PDF document dated June 2003).  More in French in Le Devoir.
  • What’s Canada Buying? Cleaning up radar bases in Nunavut, and running a base in Alert.
  • The investigation into the crimes of murder-rapist Russell Williams may not be over (more here), but according to the OPP, media contact with the investigating team sure is. Meanwhile, one of the victims is remembered.
  • The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno, in this column, suggests Brigadier Daniel Menard is being treated too harshly having to face a court martial over an affair with someone in his command: “…. Although the no-nookie directive is not mentioned in the Defence Act, what exists is a policy forbidding romance or sex between deployed soldiers — even married personnel — when posted overseas.  From my own nocturnal meanderings around KAF, the huge military base outside Kandahar city, I can emphatically report that this is not a policy directive being followed to the letter — at least not judging from the amorous sounds filtering out of tents and Quonset huts.  Let’s get realistic here: Far from home, living in close quarters, physically fit men and women coping with boredom punctuated by the occasional sharp up-tick of adrenalin and the very real threat of danger, it is entirely human nature to seek out comforts of the flesh.  Proscriptions against physical intimacy may be intended to safeguard morale — or so the tall forehead brass claim — but the opposite is true in practice; a good fraternizing snog can do wonders for esprit de corps ….” Hmm, can’t say I agree – more on that in a separate post shortly.
  • How do you say “oopsie” in Russian? “A former Russian special forces officer has claimed that the 1996 murders of six medical workers in Chechnya — including Canadian Red Cross nurse Nancy Malloy — was the result of a botched nighttime raid by Russian agents and not an attack by Chechen rebels as generally believed. In an interview published Wednesday in the Times of London, former Russian major Aleksi Potyomkin — described by the British newspaper as a “defecting” ex-agent of Russia’s Federal Security Service, now hiding in Germany — was part of a secret death squad that killed the medical workers in a tragic mistake on Dec. 17, 1996 ….” More from the Times of London here (PDF) – I guess we know now, eh?

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 23 Nov 10

  • No Canadian reaction yet, but this is scary enough to include:  North Korea has shelled a South Korean island, killing and wounding people living there.  More here – something to keep one’s eye on.
  • Postmedia News is starting to share some details about what Canadian trainers could end up doing in the newly-announced-but-not-publicly-fleshed-out training mission in Afghanistan“Canada’s war-hardened soldiers are going back to the basics for a three-year Afghan training mission. Up to 950 soldiers who would normally have been facing combat in Kandahar will now be dispatched to walled-off bases around Kabul to lead Afghan soldiers in basic training exercises between 2011 and 2014. Jogging, marching, push-ups and firing weapons will replace Taliban hunting in the Canadian playbook, under a plan rolled out Tuesday by the ministers of foreign affairs, defence and international development ….” So, what type of troops does Canada send to train the Afghans? How do you prepare those troops being sent to train? Where previous rotations prepared by training to fight and work with Afghan forces in battle, should future trainers be taught how to set up schools and training systems before being unleashed on the Afghans? Who trains the Afghan troops?  Their junior leaders?  Their officers? Outstanding discussion under way on this, including commentary from them that’s been there, at Army.ca – well worth the read.
  • One tool Canada appears to be unleashing to help train Afghan cops, who are notorious for their less-than-stellar reliability and integrity:  a TV show. More from the Toronto Star“Canada is underwriting a propaganda campaign to transform the image of the notorious Afghan national police in the hearts and minds of the country’s television viewers. The half-million dollar initiative casts Lt. Humayun as a dedicated, incorruptible Afghan National Police officer trolling the streets of Kabul to settle tribal disputes and put drug traffickers and warlords out of business. The popular Saturday evening television series, Separ, is sort of an Afghan version of Paul Gross’s Mountie in the popular Due South series. The two dozen planned episodes of the show are intended to educate the country on the roles and duties of the Afghan National Police (ANP), a force that is hardly better trusted than thugs and terrorists it is meant to be targetting ….” Canada’s development agency CIDA Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is pumping more than $400,000 into this one. (Correction based on Toronto Star correction of original version of story)
  • United Press International says we will be hearing more details (eventually) about Canada’s mystery purchase of Russian Mi-17 helicopters for use in Afghanistan“…. A Canadian Forces officer says the Department of Defense might release more information about the helicopters at a later date. The Defense Department acquired the MI-17 helicopters for combat use in Afghanistan but has refused to provide details about how much the deal cost taxpayers or how many aircraft are operating, Postmedia News reported ….” Kinda harkens back to summer 2006, when Russia tried selling some helicopters to Canada, which was then in a bit of a rush to buy helicopters for the troops.
  • One senior Canadian officer says the victory he’s seeing in southern Afghanistan is not the fleeting kind“Some people say it is only because the Taliban have gone back to Pakistan because it is the winter,” said Col. Ian Creighton, in charge of the operational mentor liaison team (OMLT) that has gone to war alongside the Afghan army as advisers. “And, you know, it is the truth. Some have. But others have died or given up” ….”
  • Back here in Canada, the Bloc Quebecois is pushing for a vote in Parliament on the new Canadian mission in Afghanistan (more from Postmedia News here).  And the Liberals? Well, shortly after the 16 Nov 10 announcement, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was OK with the plans for a training mission “We could conceive of a training mission …. What are we there for, anyway? …. We’re not there to run the country. We’re not there to take it over. We’re there to enable them to defend themselves.”.  His foreign affairs critic, Bob Rae, even went as far as saying, “We obviously want to see what the detailed mandate for the mission is, but a non-combat mission would not normally require a parliamentary vote.” And now?  This, from the Globe & Mail“…. “We’ve never ducked a democratic debate on Afghanistan,” (Ignatieff) told reporters in Montreal on Monday after addressing college students. The Liberal Leader said he would not propose a vote himself but that, if there is one, “we have no problem with that.”….”  I’ll say he’s being squeezed from all sides, including from within his own caucus – more on Ignatieff as wishbone from the Canadian Press here.
  • The Ottawa Citizen points out how a Conservative cabinet minister speaking in the House of Commons this week doesn’t seem to consider Afghanistan to be at war.  Reminds me of a bit of debate in the House in October 2009, where then-parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Deepak Obhrai expressed a similar sentiment (Hansard here, more here):  “This is not a war. We are providing a secure environment in a country in which there was a complete loss of security. Let us get it very clear so the NDP can understand what a secure environment is and what a war is. A war is between two nations; a war is between two parties. There are not two parties there. This is a different kind of war. We are facing a terrorist organization that does not respect any rules of engagement.”
  • One American soldier’s memories of his colleagues seeing Canadian tanks in Afghanistan, via a New York Times blog“One of the most memorable moments during our 12 month tour was arriving on FOB Wilson in Zhari, Kandahar, for the weekly district security shura and watching the tanker half of my platoon swoon over the troop of Canadian Leopard 2A6Ms parked in the motor-pool. Memories of past I.E.D.s and firefights flowed through our heads. And of course, we couldn’t help but wonder, “What if…” ….” They won’t have to wonder for much longer.
  • Blog Watch: Gotta love the “Compare and Contrast” dare Terry Glavin puts out, asking folks to compare the Taliban’s latest statements and those from people and groups opposed to Canada’s continued presence in Afghanistan.
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Almost 30 claimed killed, wounded in alleged attacks across Kandahar.
  • In case you haven’t heard, there’s a significant outbreak of cholera in Haiti.  Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says Canada should go check things out and see how we can help: “…. “We just think the Canadian government cannot stand by while cholera ravages Haiti,” the Liberal leader told reporters in Montreal on Monday.  “This is a country that has been in the inner circle of the damned for the past year.” …. Ignatieff says Ottawa should send “a strategic evaluation mission right away” to take a closer look at the situation in the Caribbean country.  “Once we’ve done an evaluation around what’s needed, it may be necessary to send the DART team or maybe even some element of a military mission to basically help these cholera hospitals get this thing under control,” he said ….”
  • Finally, this, buried in an American tender award announcement“The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., is being awarded a $7,625,501 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0010) to exercise an option for in-service support for F/A-18 aircraft of the governments of Switzerland, Australia, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Malaysia and Spain. Services to be provided include program management, logistics, engineering support, and incidental materials and technical data. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Mo., and is expected to be completed in December 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract combines purchases for the governments of Switzerland ($2,461,884; 32 percent); Finland ($1,702,014; 22 percent); Canada ($872,514; 12 percent); Kuwait ($874,264; 12 percent); Malaysia ($864,264; 11 percent); Australia ($464,714; 6 percent); and Spain ($385,847; 5 percent), under the Foreign Military Sales program. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 19 Nov 10

  • Short and sweet on the plane that crashed near Cold Lake, from the CF news release“At approximately 11:45 p.m. MST on November 17, a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed in a field approximately 13 kilometers northwest of 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.  The pilot, Captain Darren Blakie of 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron, successfully ejected from the aircraft and was taken to hospital upon being recovered. He is in good condition and is being released from hospital.  The exact cause of the crash is unknown at this time. The Directorate of Flight Safety has begun an investigation into the crash.” A bit more from the Canadian Press here, CBC.ca here, as well as a “how many of these things have crashed lately?” round-up here.
  • Guess what NATO leaders are going to be talking about in Lisbon this weekend? Got it in one.  Now that the PM has said out loud that we’re keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2014, one of the regulars at the Army.ca forums raises a good point for NATO to remember when Canada offers its help (again)“…. My guess is that this week, in Portugal, Minister MacKay will tell NATO/ISAF what to tell us to do. If we decide that we are going to train computer engineering officers and kosher cooks then, Presto!, computer engineering and kosher cooking will, suddenly, be top of ISAF’s list of priorities for training. We have earned, and had bloody well better use, our right to a caveat or two. We will teach the Afghans whatever in hell we want to teach and NATO/ISAF will be suitably grateful for our efforts ….”
  • Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae sums it up best when it comes to the debate (or lack thereof) on Canada’s Afghanistan mission: “…. We went into Afghanistan with our NATO partners, with the full approval of the United Nations.  It is one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by 30 years of civil war.  Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have found a haven in the south of the country and the north of Pakistan.  Of course all issues are about politics.  But some issues can transcend partisanship.  In every other country in the NATO alliance there is multipartisan support for efforts in Afghanistan, a willingness to discuss options, in a climate of public candour.  Why should Canada be any different ? Our political culture is now all about trench warfare.  Everything is supposed to seen through a partisan lens, and everything played to short term advantage.  Anyone who asks “what’s best for Afghanistan ?”, or “what’s best for Canada, our role as a reliable member of NATO and the UN ?” is portrayed as some kind of poor sap who doesn’t “get” politics.  It’s called doing what you think is right, talking to the public about it, and worrying less about who gets credit. There’s something almost pathological about the state of our politics, to say nothing of political commentary, if we can’t have that kind of conversation ….” Check out his detailed and nuanced discussion of the issue during debate in the House of Commons more than a year ago here.
  • Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, said something interesting in the House of Commons yesterday during Question Period:   If we were sending troops into a war situation again, we would put the matter before Parliament. However, the assignment post-2011 for Canadian Forces troops will be to train behind the wire.” Really? We’ll see, then, 1)  next time and 2)  if a Conservative government is still in power.  More on the “why?” of such a vote here and here, and the “why not?”  here and here.
  • Blog Watch: QMI/Sun Media’s Ottawa bureau boss David Akin reminds us that the latest decision on the mission in Afghanistan fits into the guidelines of the March 2008 motion of the House of Commons.  In the comments section, Mark Collins of Unambiguously Ambidextrous fame reminds us who’s been saying something different.  Hmmm, where else have I read this?  Meanwhile, former OMLT-eer Bruce Ralston points out where ELSE in Afghanistan Canadian trainers could be deployed (as well as what’s needed vs. what Canada is offering).
  • Remember the Leopard tanks we borrowed from the Germans for Afghanistan while we bought some from the Dutch? They’re on their way home now: “…. the Canadian army is taking the opportunity to return some of the tanks it hastily borrowed from Germany more than three years ago as the war was exploding in the withered farmland west of Kandahar city.  The heavily armoured Leopard 2 A6Ms were rushed into Kandahar in the summer of 2007 to help defend troops against bigger and more powerful roadside bombs.  Fewer than half a dozen of the 20 borrowed machines are being replaced with upgraded Leopard 2 A4M tanks, which the Defence Department purchased from the Dutch and modified for use in Afghanistan’s arid desert, said Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the head of the army.  All of the borrowed vehicles will be returned after the combat mission ends next spring, and will have to be refurbished before they are returned, Devlin said in a recent interview.  “The ones going now are part of the normal replacement, based on hours and mileage.” ….”
  • The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman Annual Report 2009-2010 is now available here.
  • The Kingston-Whig Standard tells us more work may be forthcoming to look into the health of serving and former CF members“A national centre to study the health of veterans and serving military members is on its way to being established and Senator Pamela Wallin said Thursday morning that an institute to co-ordinate research is all but certain to be placed in Kingston. “This is going to happen,” said Wallin, who was interviewed in the wake of a two-day international conference in Kingston this week that brought together scientists, military brass and veterans advocates. “We have the right people in the right places and I am behind this, 1,000%.” The conference was organized by Queen’s University and Royal Military College to bring together researchers from different universities and countries to share their data and experiences in the field, which range from combat injuries to long-term problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of chemical exposure ….” More on that conference from the CF here.
  • Speaking of research – Available:  Software developed by Canadian military researchers that can scan loads o’ documents, pick out target words, and analyze patterns with those words.  Wanted:  some help to make some money selling that software.
  • Who’s causing civilian casualties in Afghanistan? If all you read this story by Postmedia News, the aid groups spoken to talk only about NATO forces.  The news release, announcing a new report calling for more protection of civilians during the fight, isn’t much better, although it does admit, “Anti-government groups cause most Afghan civilian casualties.” The report (22 page PDF here) spends most time talking about what NATO/ISAF should do, but a closer reading shows it doesn’t let the bad guys completely off the hook:  “…. (Armed Opposition Groups, or) AOG continue to be responsible for the great majority of casualties, and are increasingly utilizing tactics that violate the principles of distinction and proportionality. While a recently issued Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) Code of Conduct states that “the utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties” and “the Taliban must treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality,” this appears to have had little impact on the ground …. Another major tactic of concern is assassinations and executions of civilians by AOG, which account for 14% of all civilian deaths. Assassinations reached a record average high of 18 per week in May and June 2010, representing a “systematic and sustained campaign of targeting tribal elders, community leaders and others working for, or perceived to be supportive of the Government and IMF,” according to the UN ….” Pretty consistent reporting from the UN and other sources (check here, here and here) indicate more than 2 out of 3 civilian casualties are caused by the bad guys.  Should we be less careful?  No way.  Should the bad guys be maybe nagged a bit?  Oh yeah.
  • Here’s one way to keep a multiple murder-rapist’s paraphenalia off ebayThe Canadian Forces have searched convicted serial killer Russell Williams’ Tweed cottage to retrieve his military kit — and burnt his military clothing. Four military officials, including two police officers, entered the Tweed cottage on Tuesday with the former air force colonel’s permission. They emerged after 90 minutes with enough military equipment, including books and manuals, to almost fill a van. “All his military clothes — boots, headdress, shirts and everything — as soon it was taken it was also disposed of, it was actually burned the same day,” Cmdr. Hubert Genest, a Canadian Forces spokesperson, said in an interview. He added that while the retrieving of military equipment is standard procedure for anyone who leaves the army, the burning of uniforms is not. Normally, the military tries to recycle and reuse clothing. “In this case,” Genest said, “all of his clothing had his name on it, and we felt it was actually more appropriate to actually dispose of it by burning the equipment.” Asked why it was burned, he said: “I could speculate about what could happen to the clothing, but by disposing of it like this, we’re sure it’s not going to be used again.” ….”

Canada’s Post-2011 Mission in AFG: A Senator Speaks

After Liberal Bob Rae says, out loud, it might be worth keeping more than just a CF military attache in Afghanistan post-2011, we hear from one of his senatorial colleagues, Hugh Segal – this via Hansard, following the visit of the Special Committee to Afghanistan:

Members of Parliament Kevin Sorenson, Byron Wilfert, Jim Abbott, Claude Bachand, Bob Dechert, Jack Harris, Laurie Hawn, Deepak Obhrai, Bob Rae and Pascal-Pierre Paillé, who made the trip, deserve our appreciation and gratitude, as do those who facilitated their movements on both the military and civilian sides.

When I rose in this place on March 30 to express hope that there would be a full parliamentary debate on next steps in Afghanistan after 2011 and my strong view that, whatever the configuration of the post-2011 Canadian contingent, Canadian Armed Forces be part of that presence, I was hopeful that our colleagues in the other place would have a chance to see the context for themselves.

There is now an opportunity for a full parliamentary debate in both chambers — not a narrow partisan debate, but a broad, multi-partisan, national interest debate — where proposals for the mix of forces and civilians deployed to Afghanistan can be openly and frankly discussed ….

Well, it could be openly and frankly discussed if it wasn’t for one thingthis via CanWest/National Post:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may represent the biggest stumbling block to such a deal. He has repeatedly stated that all Canadian soldiers would leave Afghanistan next year.

Still we wait for an end to the hints, innuendo and rumours.

Canada’s Post-2011 Mission in AFG: The Official Message Still Stands, and On Training “Inside the Wire”

Item: The latest expression of the “official” position of the government on what we’re doing in Afghanistan post-2011, notwithstanding some message teasing from the PM, from Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) during Question Period Friday:

There is absolutely no confusion on this side of the House about our position in Afghanistan. We have made it eminently clear that this government will respect the parliamentary resolution of 2008 and cease our military mission to Afghanistan in 2011. It will become a civilian and a development mission …. For the past several months, despite foot dragging by members of the Afghan committee, we have been putting forward motions to consider the post-2011 mission in Afghanistan. We urge opposition members of the committee to participate and to forward their suggestions to Parliament.

On that bit in red:  have I missed something?  What “motions” have the government put forward to consider re:  the post-2011 mission in Afghanistan?  Have I been in a cave?  Or did things come up that were drowned out/swamped by that other thing the Committee was doing instead of considering the future mission?  If you’re reading this, and can share a link or any proof of any such offer via the comments, go for it.

Item: The CF’s mission at this point remains clear:  keep packing – this from the Chief of Defence Staff via CBC.ca:

“We have got very clear instructions from the government of Canada to move out on the withdrawal and that is what we’re going to continue to plan on.”

What this story doesn’t include is an interesting point in the CDS’s description of his task.  CTV.ca’s story on the same issue quotes General Natynczyk talking about the March 2008 Parliamentary motion:

“From the Government of Canada through to the minister to me, it’s clearly a focus on enabling the motion as it stands today and that is the withdrawal from Kandahar in 2011 and the end of the military mission,” Natynczyk told reporters in Ottawa.

Compare and contrast this to Peter Kent’s statement in the House of Commons:

This government will respect the parliamentary resolution of 2008 and cease our military mission to Afghanistan in 2011.

General Natynczyk also mentioned who’s going to be staying (via CanWest/National Post):

He noted the institutions that will continue a non-military mission for Canada in Afghanistan include Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, the RCMP and the correctional services.

Item: I’m all for keeping a Canadian military element behind to keep helping out, even with training.  That said, former OMLT-eer Bruce R at the Flit blog reminds us that training “inside the wire” may not be easy, and has its hazards:

Afghan police and soldiers are trained on their own bases, obviously, but those are not “inside” coalition military facilities in any real sense. Afghans of any kind aren’t normally allowed free run of ISAF military facilities, so the two have to remain physically distinct. So really what you’re talking about is “inside the Afghan wire,” at least part of the time: in other words, either cohabiting with Afghans, or failing that, “commuting” from a nearby ISAF base.

Which can be fine, of course, given some sensible precautions: I always felt quite safe in those sorts of situations. But in this context it might be worth noting today’s news from Afghanistan.

…an American contractor died in a suicide attack against the police training center in Kandahar city, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said… The American contractor, who was not identified, and another person were killed when a team of three suicide bombers attacked the gates of the police training center….

I guess this still means we’re going, yes?

Earlier rants:

Is Canada Leaving “Kandahar” or “Afghanistan” in 2011?

Exactly WHAT is a “Non-Combat” Mission?

Canada’s Mission in AFG: The Epiphany, the Tease and the Lie

What a difference seeing what’s happening at the business end of a war can make.  This from Liberal members of the committee that’s supposed to be looking into Canada’s future mission in Afghanistan, following a visit to Afghanistan:

“We have an obligation to see this thing through,” opposition Liberal MP Bob Rae said at the end of a five-day fact-finding mission to Kandahar and Kabul by the Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan.  “The door is open to serious discussion in Canada and between Canada and NATO about what the future looks like,” he said.

And what does the PM have to say about this?  This from the Canadian Press:

“I note those words with some interest,” Harper told a news conference, in English. He later added, in French: “I took note of the statement. It’s interesting.”

Still, he said, Canada’s position hasn’t changed.

”I think we’ve been very clear,” Harper said.

“We’re working according to the parliamentary resolution that was adopted in 2008, by which Canada’s military mission will end and will transition to a civilian and development mission at the end of 2011.”

Mark over at The Torch hits the nail on the head about the last bit:

He’s not telling the truth

Remember the 2008 Parliamentary motion?  It says we’re leaving KANDAHAR, not AFGHANISTAN.

If we’re going to go, why throw in tidbits like?

“I note those words with some interest,” Harper told a news conference, in English. He later added, in French: “I took note of the statement. It’s interesting.”

If we’re staying, someone please say out loud that we’re staying.

If we’re going, someone please say out loud that we’re going.

If we’re still sorting out exactly what to do, someone please say that we’re sorting out exactly what to do.

CAN Foreign Affairs Minister Double-Messaging on Afghanistan

I know the details of Canada’s post-2011 mission are still being sorted  out.

Mixed messaging by Ministers of the Crown during Question Period (QP), the most public (and probably least representative) portion of House of Commons business, doesn’t help, though.

This from Hansard during QP 8 Oct 09 (highlights mine):

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  There is some confusion on the government’s position with respect to the military mission in Afghanistan post-2011. For the second time in as many weeks the Minister of National Defence has talked about this. I would like to get the minister again on record. I tried to get him last week on this question.  Could the minister confirm that the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan will be over in 2011, yes or no?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, it seems the only person who is confused is the hon. member on the other side of the House.  Let me be perfectly clear. Canada will end its military mission in 2011. Do I have to repeat it to him in French?

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, I am not the one he needs to repeat it to. He needs to repeat it to his colleague, the Minister of National Defence. The problem is that when he speaks in committee or elsewhere, he says the exact opposite, and that is important.  I will ask the minister the question again. How will the government ensure that the House of Commons is consulted before any changes are made to the military mission in Afghanistan?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, let me quote the hon. member who said, this week, in the House:

I do not believe that Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan can, in any way, shape or form, end in 2011. I do not believe our commitment to the region can end in 2011.

Then he went on to talk about development.

Our position is clear. The military combat mission will end in 2011.

Funny what a difference that one word “combat” can make…

Foreign Affairs Mininster: We’re Sticking by the Motion on the Mission

This exchange, from yesterday’s Question Period in the House of Commons, further feeds the “what happens post-2011 in Afghanistan?” sausage machine – highlights in red mine:

“Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs about Afghanistan.  The motion that we passed in the House was very unambiguous and very clear with respect to Canadian troops being redeployed out of Kandahar by December 2011. Certain comments have been made by other ministers and by other candidates for the Conservative Party with respect to the intentions of the Conservative Party post-2011.

My question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs is about Canada’s presence in Afghanistan. Is he sticking to the motion that was passed by the House in March 2008?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I will say this clearly and succinctly so that the member will understand. Yes, we are sticking to that motion. Yes, the Minister of National Defence answered that question previously with the same response that we always give. We are putting an end to our military combat mission by 2011, and that is clear.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, the problem is that yesterday outside the House the minister said something else. The other problem is—

An hon. member: No, he didn’t.

Hon. Bob Rae: The record will stand. The record will stand.

Mr. Speaker, what I would like to ask the minister is very clearly it states that Canadian forces will be redeployed out of Kandahar by December 2011. It is unambiguous and clear.

I would like to ask the minister, how is that compatible with the statements by the minister, as well as the statements of the candidate who is running in Ajax? The two statements are incompatible.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, the answer to his question is yes. I would strongly recommend that the hon. colleague read the transcript so that it will be clear. He might not understand what is written, but we all understand that is what it means.”

OK, so now we’re back to “no Canadian troops at all in Kandahar by end of 2011”.

Mark at The Torch hits the nail squarely on the head:

The government is dancing madly to avoid the clear meaning of the resolution. Any ongoing CF mission at Kandahar will require a new Commons’ vote. The last thing the government wants before an election. So the dancing will continue, regardless of the facts.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.