MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 30 Sept 11

  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (1a)  PM Stephen Harper continues to back his man (the Minister, anyway) “…. Mr. Harper, however, said all Mr. MacKay’s flights were legitimate. “When he has used them, they’ve been for important government business,” the Prime Minister told the Commons. He invoked fallen soldiers in defending his minister, saying half of Mr. MacKay’s flights were to attend repatriation ceremonies where the remains of dead troopers were returned to Canada. “Half of those flights are for repatriation ceremonies so that he can meet the families of those who have lost their loved ones in the service of this country. He goes there to show that we understand their sacrifice, we share their pain and we care about them,” the Prime Minister said ….”  And this was so different from the CDS’s work before the much-maligned, and un-PM-supported, trip to rejoin his family how?  More from the guys who started the pile on here.
  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (1b)  Here’s Hansard’s version of what the PM said in the House of Commons yesterday“…. the Minister of National Defence has participated in some 55 repatriation ceremonies for over 80 lost Canadian service personnel …. This minister uses government aircraft 70% less than his predecessors. Half the time, he does so to attend repatriation ceremonies for soldiers who gave their lives for our country. That is why we have such great respect for the Minister of National Defence on this side of the House of Commons …. When this minister pays his respects to the families of our fallen soldiers I expect the official opposition to support us and the minister by showing respect for these families.”
  • On the CDS and plane trips.  “…. Tradition suggests Gen. Natynczyk is heading into the final months of his term as Chief of the Defence Staff. He led our Canadian Forces through the successful completion of our combat mission in Afghanistan — one that elevated Canada’s military reputation around the world. We should allow him to bask in the afterglow that follows a job well done.”
  • Afghanistan (1)  Columnist Joe O’Connor seems underwhelmed at how Canada handled fast-tracking Afghan translators to move to Canada.  “…. Interpreters, or ’terps, in the dusty lingo of life in the Afghan war theatre, were vital to our mission as translators, cultural guides — and as Afghans — who understood what Afghanistan was all about. One imagines that these Afghans thought they knew what Canada was all about after Mr. Kenney launched the program: a land of opportunity, of safety — and a just reward for a job well done. It is a pity that isn’t true.”  Not exactly – it was only true for 1 out of 3 who applied (glass half empty version), or it was true for more than 500 terps (glass half full version).
  • Afghanistan (2)  NDP MP Anne-Marie Day congratulates ROTO 10 in the House of Commons“I am deeply honoured today to draw attention to the difficult commitment undertaken by our Canadian troops on Afghan soil during Rotation 10 of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, which took place from October 2010 to July 2011. We ought to commend and applaud the sacrifices and efforts made during this mission. In 2001, when Canada became involved in this mission, Canadians already suspected that our involvement would be long and arduous. In total, 10 years went by before we considered our work to be done. Tomorrow there will be a ceremony at Valcartier to mark our soldiers’ return. They lived up to the Canadian promise. We can all celebrate their work, be proud of it and honoured by it as well.”
  • Afghanistan (3)  U.S. blogger Michael Yon continues to make no friends – this time, assessing Canada’s impact in Kandahar.  “…. the history of the Canadian troops is softly being rewritten as successful in Afghanistan. Reality differs. The Canadians troops have an excellent reputation and they served with distinction, but after nearly being swallowed whole, they were ordered to abandon their battlespace. There were many causes. The Canadian combat forces could have prevailed, but Ottawa is weak. The prime cause for the Canadian defeat was that tough men in mud homes without electricity defeated comfortable politicians in Ottawa, who seem to think that manufactured history will make them victorious ….”
  • Afghanistan (4)  Detainee probe by Military Police Complaints Commission plods on, slowly“The Federal Court has dismissed complaints from military police officers over hearings conducted by the Military Police Complaints Commission into issues relating to the treatment of Afghan detainees. Eight current and former officers with the Canadian military police had argued they were being denied the right to a fair hearing with regard to whether they were at fault in their transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities or for not investigating how they were treated once transferred, given accounts about abuse of such prisoners at the hands of Afghan authorities ….”  Federal Court decision here, decision summary here and more media coverage here and here.
  • Paeta Derek Hess-Von Kruedener, 1962-2006, R.I.P.  Remembering, five years later.  “…. On 25 July 2011, the fifth anniversary of the attack on Patrol Base KHIAM, the fourth annual memorial service was held in El Khiam, led this year by New Zealand Army Lieutenant-Colonel Helen Cooper, the current chief of Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) ….”
  • On how much veteran families get for funerals:  “Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, a Canadian Forces member receives $13,000 for funeral costs. A veteran receives $3,600. Nineteen months ago we raised this issue. The answer we received was that it was under review. Last year we asked the minister again to fix this problem. Even though his own officials raised it with him, he told a Senate hearing that it was not the time to talk about the matter. Yesterday we received another non-answer. Our veterans have done their job. They served and defended Canada. Why will the minister not do his and fix the situation now?  Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I am glad to say that on this side of the House we not only speak for veterans, but we act for veterans. As I told the member yesterday, this program is managed by the Last Post Fund. It is doing an outstanding job. We fund the Last Post Fund. We are making sure that every military member who is killed or injured during service, whatever his or her rank, is well-served and will be treated with respect until the last moment of his or her life.”
  • What’s Canada Buying?  Remember the “rent a UAV” bid request A new Statement of Work and Evaluation Criteria document is out (via Army.ca).
  • What’s the U.S. Buying?  A Canadian company is getting more work from additions to this big job“Canadian Commercial Corp., General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada, Ontario, Canada, is being awarded an $87,335,007 firm-fixed-priced modification under previously awarded contract (M67854-07-D-5028) for procurement of 425 of the following engineering change proposal upgrades: upgraded transfer case kit; hood/bonnet assembly kit; exhaust system kit; central tire inflation system upgrade kit; skydex flooring material kit; electrical harness kit; route clearance digirack kit; remote weapon station joystick kit; front door assist kit; wheel and tire upgrade kit; and independent suspension axel system kit. Work will be performed in Benoni, South Africa (70 percent); Trenton, N.J. (20 percent); Chandler, Ariz. (6 percent); and Halifax, Canada (4 percent) ….”
  • Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino chats up defence industry reps at the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries about buying stuff.
  • Whazzup with the General who wrote the transformation/reorganization report that all the reporters got“CGI Group Inc., a leading provider of information technology and business process services, today announced the opening of a new Canadian Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence business unit based in Ottawa with capabilities to serve the Canadian Armed Forces around the globe. In addition, the Company also announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie to lead the new Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence unit. The offering will build on the corporation’s global expertise to develop and implement innovative, world-class solutions tailored to specific knowledge and requirements of Canada’s modern-day defence and security challenges ….”  A bit more here.
  • An interesting idea from the Royal Canadian Legion as an alternative to recognizing Afghanistan’s war dead on the national cenotaph in Ottawa.  “…. some veterans argue that singling out those who died in Afghanistan for special recognition on the memorial does a disservice to the more than 100 Canadian peacekeepers who have lost their lives in various other conflicts. For that reason, the Royal Canadian Legion said Thursday that, instead of specifically acknowledging the toll in Afghanistan, the monument should be dedicated to all of those who died “In the Service of Canada.” That’s the same inscription that is found in the Seventh Book of Remembrance, which records the names of all of the Canadians who died in military action since the Korean War. “We think that an inscription that covers the sacrifice made in all wars or missions would be acceptable to most people instead of etching the individual wars or missions,” said Patricia Varga, the Legion’s dominion president ….”
  • The World Socialists’ take on “royalizing” the branches:  “…. Though the rose of the Canadian military will smell no sweeter under its new designation, the name change exemplifies the ideological shift pursued by the new Conservative majority government. As the Canadian capitalist class has ever more vigorously asserted its imperialist interests abroad, and employed increasingly anti-democratic methods of rule to enforce its agenda of austerity domestically, its servants in the Harper government have contemptuously discarded the “peaceful” and “liberal- social democratic” Canadian nationalism promoted by the Liberal governments of the 1960s and 1970s and sought to promote the military and the Crown as sacrosanct elements of “what it means to be Canadian.” ….”
  • They’re not “war resisters”, they’re volunteers who ran away and aren’t brave enough to face the music – this from the House of Commons yesterday“Mr. Speaker, decorated Iraq war veteran Rodney Watson has lived in limbo for two years in sanctuary at an East Vancouver church with his wife Natasha and young son Jordan, both Canadian citizens. I have come to know Rodney and know him to be strong in his conviction for peace and justice, and brave in his commitment to go up against an illegal war. It has been a tough two years, and the strong support from the war resisters support campaign has been enormously important. If Rodney were to return to the U.S., he would likely be charged, which would make his return to Canada inadmissible, tearing him apart from his family. As many as 40 other war resisters like Rodney are currently fighting to stay in Canada. This Parliament has passed two motions in support of war resisters, yet the government is still trying to deport them. I encourage Canadians to write to the immigration minister and their MPs about Rodney and all war resisters to support the call for their permanent residence in Canada.”
  • Fence along the Canada-U.S. border?  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?  “The United States has distanced itself from its own report that suggested it is considering beefing up its security at the Canadian border — possibly through the construction of “selective fencing” and trenches as well as enhanced electronic surveillance. The proposed options are contained in a detailed draft report released Aug. 31 in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The proposals will be aired at public meetings in American cities this fall, before the U.S. government considers how to further tighten the border to keep out terrorists and other criminals. But late Thursday afternoon, after reports about the possible fence hit the Canadian media, the U.S. agency released a carefully worded statement. “A border fence along the northern border is not being considered at this time,” it said ….”  A summary of the report (PDF) is available here, the news release linked to the report here, and more in the Globe & Mail here.
  • Meanwhile, the UAV’s drone on looking for bad guys and bad stuff going from Canada to the U.S.  “The unmanned planes look north toward the long, lightly defended and admittedly porous Canada-U.S. border – the best route many Americans believe for jihadists seeking to attack the United States to sneak across. Like their missile-carrying military cousins prowling Pakistan’s skies targeting al-Qaeda suspects, the unarmed Predator aircraft that have patrolled the 49th parallel since 2009 are high-tech, sophisticated and little understood. And they are part of the same diffuse and determined effort the Unites States is making to secure its borders and defend itself. “We’re here to protect the nation from bad people doing bad things,” says John Priddy, U.S. National Air Security Operations director for the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine. He heads the Predator operation guarding American’s northern airspace. “This is the equivalent of the Cold War in terms of a new type of vigilance,” says Mr. Priddy, who has flown everything from Boeing 747 cargo jets to Apache helicopters ….”
  • Former U.S. VP Dick Cheney’s in Canada, worried about a biological or nuclear terrorist attack.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 20 Sept 11

  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1)  Busy Monday for the CDS – he spoke to the Prime Minister and he spoke to the defence critics.  Here’s the newest story line:  Canada’s chief of defence staff says he takes full responsibility for the travel expenses he has incurred and will reimburse the government if he is found to have broken any rules ….”  Variations on that theme here, here, here and from the outlet that broke the story here.  My read of this:  if he says this after meeting the PM and the defence critics, I’m going to guess he’s pretty sure the rules have been followed.
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2)  And who decides if the rules have been followed?  This, from the CDS, quoted by the Globe & Mail“Canada’s top soldier now says he will cut a cheque to defray the cost of taking a government jet to a Caribbean vacation last year if the Prime Minister’s Office requests it. ….“If the government, as the Prime Minister indicated, his office looks at that trip … if the interpretation of the Treasury Board guidelines on this regard is incorrect, then I will reimburse as required,” he said ….”  Similar wording from CTV.ca here.  We’ll just have to see what the PM’s Office has to say about Treasury Board’s rules and if they apply here (which is different from hearing what the Treasury Board has to say).
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3a)  The CDS is appointed by the PM.  And how was the PM’s defence of his choice of CDS in the House of Commons during Question Period?  According to the Globe & Mail, “…. On the current controversy surrounding Gen. Natynczyk, NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked why the general had been allowed to take flights worth more than $1-million in the nearly four years he had headed the military – many of them on Challenger jets reserved for government VIPs. Mr. Harper, who met with Gen. Natynczyk on Monday, said the military chief understands the rules for taking government jets “and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. The Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives, we will look into that usage.” ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3b)  Here’s what a transcript of the exchange in the House of Commons says was said:  “Mr. Jack Harris (St. John’s East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the cost of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s recent taxpayer-funded trips to events such as football games, hockey games and the Calgary Stampede have shocked Canadians. The government is now planning significant cuts to the Canadian Forces. Will the Conservative austerity plan only apply to soldiers, sailors and airmen and women and not to the brass? Why did the Minister of National Defence approve over $1 million of flights to be taken by the Chief of the Defence Staff?  Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has outlined the rules under which ministers use government aircraft. I have spoken to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He understands what those expectations are and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. As members know, the Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives we will look into that usage.
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3c)  Here’s how Defence Minister Peter MacKay handled a similar question earlier “Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Conservative ministers are developing quite a passion for the use of high-flying government jets. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of National Defence make particular liberal use of the jets. The Prime Minister says that everything is fine because he pays the paltry equivalent of a commercial airline ticket. Why have the Conservatives abandoned their commitment to respect taxpayers dollars when it comes to jetting around the country? Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, just to throw a few facts into the mix, the policy for the Prime Minister and all ministers requires that commercial travel be utilized for public business, the government aircraft being used when commercial travel is not available. I would remind the member opposite that when it comes to the liberal use of this aircraft, the Conservative government has reduced the average annual spending of the ministers’ Challenger flights by approximately 80% over the previous Liberal government.”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (4)  I really have to give credit where it’s due – CBC.ca is offering more information (including an intriguing tidbit), and not just from those aching for a “gotcha” story.  Good show for not JUST following the pack.  “…. Last week’s news reports indicated that it costs about $10,000 an hour to fly a Challenger, including pilot salaries, training costs and the cost of the planes’ depreciation. The actual flying cost is $2,630 an hour, according to numbers provided by the Department of National Defence. “These aircraft — these Challengers — are not used very much,” CBC’s James Cudmore reported. Natynczyk said military Challengers are flown an additional 170 hours a year with no passengers on board so that pilots can maintain their proficiency. “So these hours are paid for, they’re all paid for — there’s no incremental cost to the Crown,” he said. “That’s why, especially when I travel and I have the team with me, it’s less expensive to the government of Canada to get into that Challenger than it is to put them into an aircraft, in a commercial aircraft.” Natynczyk travels with up to six or seven people, sometimes including a close protection team with automatic weapons. He also needs the secure communication lines provided on government aircraft that allow him to work while he’s in the air. Cudmore said sources told CBC News that the story about Natynczyk may have been leaked by someone, perhaps in a bid to see the general replaced ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (5)  We’ve gone from a Saturday Calgary Herald editorial headlined “Jet-setting general” to this commentary from the National Post“…. Defence Minister Peter MacKay offered him use of the Challenger to join his family on vacation after he spent Christmas in Kandahar, and then attended a repatriation ceremony for five Canadians killed in Afghanistan, forcing him to miss his scheduled flight. Was he supposed to hang around Pearson airport waiting for a cancellation instead? ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (6)  One letter to the editor (bottom of page) sums it up for me:  “…. If the Chief of Defence Staff had done what the average Canadian would have done, said, “sorry I cannot be there to honour a Canadian hero, I have a holiday booked,” then the headline would have been something like “Top General Too Busy On A Cruise To Honour Our Dead.” ….”
  • In other news in case you’ve been distracted by the shiny bright thing that is the CDS’s jet story….  An internal government investigation has concluded that Conservative MP Bob Dechert did not breach national security despite exchanging emails with a Chinese reporter, insiders say. CTV News has learned the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service have found no evidence Dechert compromised national security as a result of his relationship with Shi Rong, a reporter with the Xinhua News Agency in Toronto. Senior CSIS and RCMP officers confirmed to CTV that the Chinese news agency functions as an intelligence arm of China ….”
  • Libya Mission  The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence prepares to hear about and discuss the Libyan misison today.
  • A reminder that not ALL of Canada’s troops overseas are in Afghanistan“On 27 August 2011, the nine members of Task Force Freetown were guests of honour at the jubilant opening of the rebuilt Grafton Scout Camp near Freetown, Sierra Leone. Guests and Scouts joined together in a heartfelt ceremony with gifts, singing and outbursts of rhythmic clapping to thank Scouts Canada, the members of Task Force Freetown and the people of Canada for their generosity and compassion. Task Force Freetown, the Canadian Forces team deployed in Sierra Leone with the International Military Advisory and Training Team, got involved with the local branch of the Scouting movement through a civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) project. With a budget of Cdn$90,000, it turned into the most ambitious CIMIC effort ever undertaken by the tiny task force in its 11 years of existence ….”
  • Afghanistan  Door Gunner 101 courtesy of the CF Info-Machine“Door gunners are combat arms soldiers whose job is all about protecting soldiers. During the Task Force Freedom combat mission in Afghanistan, door gunners ranging in rank from private to sergeant flew aboard CH 146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters. On the Chinooks, they used their weapons strictly for local protection and close defence; on the Griffons, they were called upon to protect ground troops and ensure the security of the Chinooks they were escorting ….”
  • Way Up North  Russia:  If you’re not an Arctic country, keep your nose outta the Arctic.  “Russia will increase its military presence in the Arctic – a region NATO should stay out of, a senior Kremlin official said Tuesday. ‘Our northern border used to be closed because of ice and a severe climate,’ said Anton Vasilev, a special ambassador for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘But the ice is going away we cannot leave 20,000 kilometres unwatched. We can’t leave ourselves in a position where we are undefended,’ Vasilev said, in an interview with the Interfax news agency. Global warming and demand for new energy sources make necessary new and clearer international agreements on the division of Arctic region’s resources and usage he said. Only Arctic Council nations – and not outside agencies like NATO or the European Union – should set the groundwork, he said ….”
  • I’m shocked, SHOCKED to hear someone from the Rideau Institute object to a British nuclear sub visiting Canada“A British nuclear submarine will visit the Port of Halifax next month, CBC News has learned, and that has at least one military critic worried about the risk of a nuclear accident. The British nuclear submarine fleet has been plagued by accidents in recent years, including a fatal explosion and fire, an onboard shooting and an underwater collision with a French sub.There have also been multiple leaks of low-level radiation. And while the risk of a major accident is small, Steve Staples of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa said, the consequences for Nova Scotians would be dire if the worst should occur. “If a fire spread to a nuclear reactor and even any of the potential nuclear weapons that could be on board, you could see the release of radiation like we had in Fukushima,” Staples said ….”
  • Now that the branches have been “Royalized”, more calls for unit re-namings are coming out of the woodwork “Made up mostly of farmers, fishermen and blue collar workers from northeastern New Brunswick, they became one of the most decorated military units in Canadian history as the North Shore Regiment. They were one of the first Canadian units to fight in the Great War. Before the regiment was merged with others in New Brunswick, it was among the first to breach Adolph Hitler’s Fortress Europe on Juno Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day during the Second World War. And while the “royal” title has been restored to many Armed Forces veterans delight, a growing chorus of voices wants to see New Brunswick’s second battalion of the Royal New Brunswick Regiment drop the colonial throwback for its original name. Proponents now say they are closer than ever to seeing the North Shore Regiment return after meeting with both provincial and federal officials this month. “We lost our identity,” said Graham Wiseman, president of the North Shore Veteran’s Association, whose father, Sprague Wiseman, is the only surviving member of the original regiment from Bathurst. “It has been a long wait to get it back, but there is a feeling that it will now happen.” ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 17 Nov 10

  • Guess what?  Canada’s keeping 950 military trainers and support staff (as well as about four dozen cops) in Afghanistan until 2014“…. The Canadian Forces (CF) will support ANSF training by providing up to 950 trainers to the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM-A). This training mission will build upon the CF’s established expertise in training the ANSF, thereby contributing to the goal of preparing Afghans to assume responsibility for their own security …. Through the deployment of up to 45 civilian police officers, Canada will continue its involvement in police reform by leading training programs, promoting the establishment of accountability and civilian oversight mechanisms, and advancing institutional reform and capacity building ….” Surprising, eh?  More on that from QMI/Sun Media, the New York Times, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and BBC.
  • What does this mean for the Canadian-led and run Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PDF copy of page here if link doesn’t work?  This from the Globe & MailCanada is slashing aid to Afghanistan and abandoning any presence in Kandahar by withdrawing not only troops but civilian aid officials next year. Despite the approval of a new training mission, the moves mark a turning point where Canada is significantly disengaging from Afghanistan: dramatically reducing the outlay of cash, reducing the risk to troops, and quitting the war-scarred southern province where Canada has led military and civilian efforts. There will be a deep cut to aid for Afghanistan. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Canada will provide $100-million a year in development assistance for Afghanistan over the next three years, less than half the $205-million the government reported spending last year ….”
  • According to Postmedia News, late decision on new mission = rush to get ready for it.
  • Notice who’s name is listed first on the news release?  Not Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay but Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. Also, while Cannon got to answer questions in the House of Commons on the mission this week (Hansard transcripts here, here and here), Peter MacKay took a question on the F-35 fighter plane buy.  Yesterday, the PM fielded two questions (here and here) on Afghanistan, while McKay fiielded one question from a fellow Conservative party member (here).  Some see this as further proof that Peter MacKay may be on his way out (he says not so), but the government has been trying to civilianize the feel of the mission for at least the past couple of years – more on that theme here, here and here.
  • The Foreign Affairs Minister reminds us of the obvious, via CTV.ca“…. Cannon said the “non-combat” troops will be based in the Kabul area. However, Cannon admitted that soldiers would still be in danger, despite the relative security in Kabul compared to the current operation in Kandahar. “I am not going to hide the fact that there is a risk factor,” Cannon told CTV’s Power Play. “(But) our people will not be mentoring in the field, they will be in classrooms.” ….”
  • Who’s happy?  The White House and the NATO military alliance applauded Canada’s plan for a military training mission in Afghanistan Tuesday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured opposition parties that the armed forces will work safely “in classrooms behind the wire on bases.” ….” Here’s what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had to say: “I warmly welcome Prime Minister Harper’s announcement that Canada will deploy a substantial number of trainers to the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. Canada has contributed substantially, over many years, to the operation in Afghanistan. Canadian forces have made a real difference in the lives of the Afghan people, often at a high cost ….” More from the Canadian Press on that.
  • Who’s unhappy?  The usual suspects: “…. The NDP again accused the Conservatives of lying, saying it was “inevitable” that the 950-strong training contingent that will be in Afghanistan until 2014 would be drawn into combat because the whole of Afghanistan is a “war zone.” ….” The rabble.ca brigade has already come up with the rhyming chant:  “Activism Communiqué: The war in Af’stan, demand – Don’t Extend It. End It!” Ceasefire.ca pipes in, too, comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam: Unaddressed by the ministers is whether the government really believes in the training mission it has committed Canadian troops to fulfill. No one seriously expects Afghanistan’s army and police forces to be ready to hold off the Taliban on their own in four years’ time. But it is still unclear whether NATO’s efforts to Vietnamize Afghanize the war are intended merely to provide a face-saving way for foreign forces to withdraw from a dead-end war or remain based on the illusory prospect of creating an ARVN ANA that can hold the field against the Taliban even in the south of Afghanistan ….”
  • It didn’t take long for the “Survey Says” crowd to get its numbers out there – this from Harris-DecimaCanadians Wary of Extension to Afghanistan Mission: The latest Canadian Press/Harris Decima survey asked about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. According to Senior Vice-President Doug Anderson “At this point in time, Canadians are split over whether to leave troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of the combat mission. While few feel that the combat mission should be extended, there is clearly some support for Canadian troops continuing to play some role.” ….”  More on that from the Canadian Press.
  • Blog Watch: Congrats from Mark Collins at Unambiguously Ambidextrous for those rating it here, while Terry Glavin at Transmontanus shares his words of wisdom this way:  “…. The two-year paralysis that so utterly enfeebled Canada in the matter of this country’s post-2011 re-dedication to Afghanistan is now officially over. Ottawa has come out of its coma, and now rejoins the company of the grown-ups in the 43-member International Security Assistance Force. With today’s announcement, we take our place once again as a leader in the international cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic ….”
  • Meanwhile, the transition continues on the ground in AfghanistanA scouting party from the NATO unit that could replace Canadian troops in Kandahar will be touring the area over the next few days. Planning for the departure of Task Force Kandahar is underway and a proposal on how the transition will take place is still being finalized, a senior U.S. officer with the alliance’s southern headquarters said Tuesday. The Canadians “are in a critical location,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was authorized to discuss the situation on background only. “We’ve got to make sure that area is still covered, and covered well.” ….”
  • The CF is working towards setting up a research institute devoted to studying military medicine. More from the Kingston-Whig Standard on a conference under way this week:  “…. That the military is taking the initiative seriously can be seen by the list of people attending, including Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the chief of the defence staff, senators Romeo Dallaire and Pamela Wallin, veterans affairs ombudsman Guy Parent, and (Commodore Hans) Jung, the military’s top medical officer.  “We are the only nation amongst our major allies that does not have such a national institute,” (former CFB Kingston base commander and Kingston General Hospital chairman Bill) Richard said, a fact lamented by many of the high-profile attendees.   The military would love universities to dig through its wealth of data — it has comprehensive medical records on everyone who ever served from the day they enlisted to the day they discharged and keeps the records 99 years, but Jung said only 5% of that data has been analyzed because it doesn’t have enough people to do it ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: The Taliaban’s main English-language site appears to be down, so there’s the Taliban’s Lies o’ the Day via theunjustmedia.com.

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?

Special Envoy for Afghanistan: Deja Vu All Over Again

Let’s look at a bit of the history of Canadian “special envoys” for things Afghan.

11 Feb 09: Responding to a question in the House of Commons by Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon rejects idea of Canada getting its own “Special Envoy” for Afghanistan.

5 Mar 09: Same Lawrence Cannon says we may name a Special Envoy.

9 Oct 09: Maclean’s tells the world that (hat tip to Mark at The Torch for drawing my eye to this):

Maclean’s has learned that the Harper government is on the verge of appointing a member of the Canadian government who will work as part of Holbrooke’s Washington team. “Canada is currently considering potential candidates for an assignment in Mr. Holbrooke’s office,” Jamie Christoff, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman, wrote in an email.

19 Oct 09: Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert, during discussion in the House of Commons, AGAIN calls for a Special Envoy. Response from Jim Abbott, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation:

“We on the government side are less concerned with the actual title  our officials carry than we are with the actual work they carry out and the quality of our assistance in Afghanistan.”

27 Jan 10: The Liberals call for, you guessed it, a “special envoy to lead Canadian efforts to work on governance, on a reconciliation process and a post-2011 future in Afghanistan.”

Where I stand:

1)  Just a reminder – we have

** – Who knows how long this will last, though, given Canada leaving Dodge Kandahar by end of 2011.

Do we need anybody else, public servant or political appointee, to do this as well?

2)  If Canada’s departure is going to be as complete as the latest from the Prime Minister, it doesn’t appear we’re going to have any significant level of “Canadian efforts to work on governance, on a reconciliation process and a post-2011 future in Afghanistan”.  Given that, this special envoy would do what, exactly, and with what?

Mission Messaging Mambo: MacKay Confirms No Mo’ Troops Post-2011

Since the PM was enroute to China, Defence Minister Peter MacKay took the latest question in the House of Commons on the post-2011 mission in Afghanistan.  Here’s what was said:

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ):  Mr. Speaker, earlier in question period, the Minister of National Defence refused to answer a very simple question. I will ask him once again.  Given that NATO announced today that Canadian soldiers will be leaving Kandahar in early 2010 and going to a neighbouring district, can the Minister of National Defence confirm that this redeployment will not change the July 2011 end date of the mission for all Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC):  Yes, I can confirm that, Mr. Speaker.

I suppose now, the Bloc Quebecois can complain if there’s even ONE Canadian soldier left in Afghanistan, right?  I guess he didn’t get the PM’s memo about still figuring out what happens next.The mambo continues…

AGAIN with the Special Envoy for Af-Pak!

Under the mainstream media radar this week, the Liberals are asking, again, for Canada to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, something I’ve disagreed with in the past.

This from Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert, via Hansard (19 Oct 09), with PDF of exchange here:

The United States, Great Britain, France and the EU have all assigned a special envoy to the region. Given the importance of Pakistan, particularly with regard to the Taliban and the current situation in Waziristan, et cetera, it is important that we have an envoy on the ground and certainly subject to our resolution …. We want to build better institutions there with the EU and the United States. Because of the changing strategies that President Obama announced back in March, this needs to be done …. Even in General McChrystal’s assessment recently, that was done in August for the president, he indicated very clearly the need for this type of strategy, the fact that the Taliban are in Pakistan, that there is a porous border and they go across …. The special envoy, as I say, is something others have clearly done. They recognized the need. The EU does not even have any troops, obviously, because it is a political organization, yet it found that this was necessary. Certainly the British, the French and the United States have found it necessary. We need to be there to be a major player.

(Nitpick:  The bit in red is technically correct, but let’s not forget the EU’s police training mission EUPOL, which includes civilian and paramilitary police trainers from across Europe in Afghanistan.)

Canada has

I’m not convinced that having one more “envoy” would improve the process.  And if the people already in place are not communicating and co-operating, I don’t think having one more in the line diagram won’t fix that, either.

A bit more history:  the then-Senlis Council even suggested the idea in 2007 (h/t to The Torch for this tidbit).

UPDATE (1): From Mark at The Torch – maybe the American Special Envoy will get a Canadian sidekick?

To get a sense of the fighting tempo….

….in southern Afghanistan, I found this response to a question in the UK House of Commons regarding how many “troops in contact events” (firefights) were tracked in Helmand Province from June 2006 to February 2009.

CHART-TICS-HELMAND-JUN06-FEB09

A PDF version of the response and chart is also available for download here via Milnet.ca.

Keep in mind these caveats about the numbers, from the response:

ISAF forces operating in Helmand come from a number of different nations, which often operate closely alongside each other and alongside Afghan Army and Police units. Without undertaking a detailed assessment of each engagement, it is not possible precisely to define in every case whether an attack was aimed at UK forces, at our ISAF partners, or against Afghan units. Data is therefore collected on the number of incidents involving ISAF forces in Helmand without attempting to identify the nationality of the forces actually being attacked. The environment in which forces are operating makes it extremely difficult precisely to distinguish between incidents initiated by insurgent forces and those initiated by ISAF.  This data is based on information derived from a number of sources and can only be an estimate, not least because of the difficulties in ensuring a consistent interpretation of the basis for collating statistics in a complex fast-moving multinational operational environment.

All that said, as a relative non-expert, I can read the numbers to this extent:

1)  At peak, we’re talking between 6 and 7 firefights a day anywhere in Helmand Province.

2)  Most months so far see more contacts than the same month a year earlier.

Business is picking up.

More Mission Tea Leaf Reading

So far, it’s still only initial versions of stories from CBC.ca and the Canadian Press, but things are getting a touch clearer (but only a touch) about Canada’s future mission in Afghanistan:

Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the House of Commons defence committee today Canada will not be leaving Afghanistan even after the combat mission expires in 2011. The role will change from war-fighting to a development and training role. MacKay says the Tory government will respect a motion passed in March 2008 to withdraw the country’s battle group until a new motion is tabled in the Commons …. MacKay side-stepped the question of how Canada will carry out a development mission with the Taliban insurgency continuing to rage throughout many parts of southern Afghanistan.

Another tidbit from the CP article:

His remarks echo Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, who told the Commons in an impromptu debate on Afghanistan earlier in the week that the future mission will be brought before MPs.

led me to hunt through Hansard for a few snippets on these tea leaves.  Here’s some of what Hansard says Mr. Obhrai said during debate in Monday’s session in the House of Commons (32 page 1.3 MB PDF of the Afghanistan portion of the debate also downloadable from here):

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the hon. member that when the mission is debated after 2011 by Parliament, he …. will have an opportunity to fully participate in that debate. The (Special) committee (on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan) will participate. Canadians will participate to indicate how the mission after 2011 should go, while taking into account the strong values and past contributions.  I can tell the hon. member that we are looking forward to that debate.

Notwithstanding the word-for-word implication that the debate will happen post-2011 (I’ll chalk it up to not having a grasp of every single word during debate in the house), it appears, indeed, that it will come back to Parliament.

It’ll be interesting to see how “Canadians will participate to indicate how the mission after 2011 should go”.

A sidebar:  The most worrisome part of the 5 Oct 09 exchange in the House is when the Mr. O said this to an NDP colleague about the job being done in Afghanistan:

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.

So, it’s not a war, but it’s a different kind of war?