MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 1 Jul 11

First off, Happy Canada Day!

  • Afghanistan (1)  “Whazzup for Canada Day?” meme.  “Every day is grey at Kandahar Airfield. The sprawling military base, known as KAF, is always covered in layers of dust from the crushed stone roads, the concrete walls, concrete buildings and bomb shelters, and the constant traffic of tanks, trucks and military aircraft. On top of that, you’ve got 30,000 soldiers, dressed in desert khakis, who, by design, blend into the landscape. Colour is almost like a dangerous outlier here. But there is one splash of colour that lights up this dull place — the Maple Leaf ….”
  • Afghanistan (2)  The Treasure Hunter just knows where to search. As other Canadian soldiers are looking to get out of Afghanistan, he’s still combing every inch he can find. Combat Engineer Sgt. Stephane Mailloux has a particularly special knack for finding the weapons caches that insurgents try to hide here. On this day, he stands in front of the other members of Bulldog Company at this forward operating base, and accepts a special coin for finding an amazing number of weapons along with the ingredients for improvised explosive devices. At last count, the man they’ve dubbed the Treasure Hunter has sniffed out about 87 hidden stockpiles ….”
  • Afghanistan (3)  “Sometimes, you have to travel far from home to fall in love with Canada again. Sometimes, the best of our dominion shines brightest in distant, deranged reaches. Sometimes, the qualities that make us a fine and honourable nation — a country of virtue — reveal themselves in the most benighted of places, where the word “Canada’’ is uttered with such envy, like a prayer. I came late to the concept of patriotism, a downtown Toronto kid of immigrant parents, who for the longest time believed herself to be American, or maybe second-class British, because of the Queen’s portrait on a classroom wall and God Save the Queen as anthem. It appears children of later generations suffer from no such identity confusion, weaned at an early age to the distinctiveness of their nationality, their birthright, a message pounded into their brains by teachers, mass media, Can-cult and Olympic gold medal hockey games. It’s almost unseemly — un-Canadian, dare I say — to take so much pleasure in ourselves ….”
  • Afghanistan (4)  “Op OMID ATAL 09: Canada’s last partnered combat operation in Kandahar”  (Courtesy of the CF Info-Machine)
  • Afghanistan (5)  “Ribbon-cutting at Outpost Khyber: The Panjwa’i Road opens to traffic” (Courtesy of the CF Info-Machine)
  • Afghanistan (6)  The Canadian head of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, Grant Kippen, speaks out on recent electoral shenanigans. “…. President Karzai has the perfect opportunity to step back from the current precipice and provide the leadership that is required to decisively match actions with the words he delivered in a speech to the NATO Summit in Lisbon last November: “Our Constitution, a harmonious blend of our Islamic values of justice and the universal principles of human rights, is our most important achievement of the last nine years … we need to enhance the checks and balances among the three branches of the state. … We are also committed to strengthening Parliament as an institution. I will work with the future Parliament to strengthen their constitutional role.” ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch:  More than 20 claimed killed in alleged attacks in Kandahar, Zabul.
  • Joshua Caleb Baker, 1985-2010, R.I.P.  One of two soldiers charged with manslaughter in the death of a colleague is a Calgary-based firefighter and reservist with the King’s Own Calgary Regiment. Maj. Darryl Watts was the officer in charge on a training range near Kandahar city, Afghanistan, when an explosion killed Edmonton-based Cpl. Joshua Caleb Baker on Feb. 12, 2010. A longtime reservist, Watts has been a firefighter for more than 10 years and was on military leave from his job at that time. The fire department said Watts promptly informed his superiors of the charges and he remains on active duty. “As far as CFD is concerned, his performance has been exemplary with the Calgary Fire Department,” said acting fire Chief Ken Uzeloc. “His leadership amongst his crew, his professionalism, his competency as a firefighter, he’s very good and the department has never had an issue with Mr. Watts.” ….”
  • Libya Mission  HMCS Vancouver preparing to head out to replace HMCS Charlottetown.
  • The Conservative government is strengthening the symbolic power of the military in public life by having a member of the Canadian Forces play a prominent role in citizenship ceremonies. In an operational bulletin issued earlier this year, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration said highlighting the service of members of the armed forces is a way to underline to every new Canadian the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. The bulletin, which describes military service as one of the highest expressions of citizenship, states that members of the military should be seated on the main platform with the citizenship judge, that they can stand in the receiving line congratulating new citizens and that they may give a two- to three-minute speech. Where possible, the bulletin says the preference is for veterans of the war in Afghanistan …. Michael Fellman, a professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University, said it’s part of a gradual militarization of Canadian culture under the Conservatives. “The Tories are in a long-range campaign to change Canadian values and make them more conservative,” Prof. Fellman said. “This is a way to show that the military is at the core of the meaning of citizenship …. Major Pete Saunders, a member of the air force who served overseas in support of the war in Afghanistan, has participated in four citizenship ceremonies over the last year … “What we want to impress upon [the new citizens], much in the same way as the RCMP officer, is that we’re here to serve them. We’re not here to beat them down. We’re not here to cause them fear” ….”
  • Meanwhile, “Randy Crowell wouldn’t make much of a soldier. He is, by his own estimation, past his prime – “too fat and too old” to join the ranks. The 51-year-old Edmonton dentist does, nevertheless, have a soft spot for those doing what he does not. He’s the type to shake the hands of soldiers he passes in the street, to raise his voice eagerly while singing their praises, and he itches to make a lasting tribute. So began Dr. Crowell’s populist mission: to persuade Edmonton, a military town, to rename a major road “Heroes Boulevard” in honour of its troops. However, his grassroots campaign has run up against unlikely opponents – the city and the Canadian ForcesLocal military leaders cringed at the name, city staff say – specifically, they thought that referring to all members of the military as “heroes” would dilute the tribute of Ontario’s Highway of Heroes, the route travelled by processions carrying the bodies of soldiers who died overseas. Local base officials also thought that soldiers, who generally consider themselves to be people doing a job rather than heroes, would be uncomfortable with such a name. The city, meanwhile, balked at the cost of changing signs ….”
  • CF-Royals Link (1)  “For royal tours to Canada, equerries are chosen from the commissioned officers of the Canadian Forces — typically a major or lieutenant-colonel is appointed for the Queen while a captain is selected for the child of a monarch. Prince William wanted a search and rescue pilot for his equerry ….”
  • CF-Royals Link (2)  “Prince William has been cleared to fly a Sea King helicopter during a flight demonstration Monday in Prince Edward Island, the Canadian military has confirmed. The 29-year-old prince has flown Sea Kings before, having served in the Royal Air Force as a search and rescue pilot since September 2010. The prince and his wife Kate are to arrive in Ottawa on Thursday to begin a tour that will also take them to Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Alberta, before leaving July 8 for California. The couple is slated to arrive in Charlottetown on Sunday night before departing the next morning for Dalvay by-the-Sea, the waterfront resort where William is expected to board a CH124 Sea King with at least two Canadian military pilots and a navigator. Military spokesman Lt. Tyrone Grande said Wednesday the prince will be on board the aircraft during a so-called waterbirding demonstration, which will involve landing the amphibious helicopter on Dalvay Lake ….”
  • Remember this explosion at a Quebec recruiting centre, with this group claiming responsiblity, last summer?  Police are still working on the case.  “Authorities are confident they will lay charges “in the near future” in the bombing of a military recruitment centre almost one year ago. Canada’s elite counter-terrorism squad set up a command post at the Canadian Forces facility in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Thursday to encourage new witnesses to step forward. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” said Sgt. John Athanasiades, a spokesman for the elite Integrated National Security Enforcement team. “It’s advancing very well and I’m confident that in the near future we will lay charges in this investigation.” ….”  Lots of good information and discussion at Army.ca here.
  • Oooopsie.  “A Canadian sailor’s decision to sneak stun guns, switchblade knives and other prohibited weapons into the country aboard a warship was “an act of childish immaturity,” his lawyer says. Ordinary Seaman Andrew James Yakimak, 22, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Halifax provincial court to a Criminal Code charge of unauthorized possession of prohibited weapons and three Customs Act charges: attempting to smuggle prohibited items, failing to report imported goods and making false statements to border agents. Judge Brian Gibson accepted a joint recommendation from lawyers and gave Yakimak a 15-month conditional sentence. The young man was charged after customs officers searched the HMCS Athabaskan at the Halifax Dockyard on Dec. 2 and found two stun guns, two switchblades, a can of pepper spray and five brass knuckles. Yakimak purchased the weapons at a flea market while the ship was in Florida ….”
  • The U.N. extends its peacekeeping mission between Israel and Syria Canada has two officers involved in that one.

MILNEWS.ca 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 Army.ca.
  • 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 Alexa.com 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 Scribd.com):  “(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 Scribd.com 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