News Highlights – 12 Apr 11

  • Scott Vernelli, 1980-2009 & John Faught, 1965-2010, R.I.P.  Remembering the fallen in Sault Ste. Marie. Mandy Dickson is putting a face to the name of every Canadian killed during Operation Enduring Freedom. Dickson, a former Sault Ste. Marie resident, has created her own “wall of heroes” tribute at her Mr. Sub outlet in Angus, Ont. “It’s important to me . . . It puts a face to every name,” said Dickson, in regards to the 154 three-inch-by-five-inch photos of Canada’s war dead in Afghanistan. “My husband Master Cpl. Scott Dickson and I know a lot of people on the wall . . . This is our salute to their ultimate sacrifice.” Among the miliitary dead they knew were Sgt. John Faught, 44, of the Sault, a cousin of Master Cpl. Dickson’s, and Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, 28, also of the Sault, who the Dicksons got to know while stationed at CFB Petawawa ….”
  • A mostly Canadian-led seven day sweep across Panjwaii district that involved thousands of Canadian, American and Afghan troops ended Sunday, having found a trove of Taliban weaponry and homemade explosives as well as large quantities of drugs often used to fund the insurgency. The weapons and improvised explosive device caches discovered during Operation Hamaghe Shay II were expected to make it much harder for insurgents to plant homemade bombs during the summer fighting season in Kandahar. Attacks by the Taliban are expected to increase when the annual poppy harvest ends in a few weeks. “The caches were mostly in the fields, not in the compounds,” said Maj. Martin Larose, operations officer for the Royal 22nd Regiment battle group. “Because we also found a lot of stuff in compounds in January and February, they may have changed their tactics.” ….”
  • Is anybody out there watching anymore? Where have all the embeds gone? At any one time in 2006, when the Canadian military formally launched its embed program in Kandahar, and throughout 2007 and 2008, between 10 and 15 journalists were always embedded in Kandahar to chronicle Canada’s first major combat mission in half a century. However, for the first time since the formal embed program was established in Kandahar just over five years ago, only two reporters are embedded with the troops today — yours truly from Postmedia News and a journalist from The Canadian Press …. You would think that this would be the ideal time for journalists to assess Canada’s military and diplomatic triumphs and failures in Kandahar and to provide insights into the Harper government’s controversial new training mission, which is soon to begin in northern Afghanistan. But Canadian editors obviously have different priorities. For them — although certainly not for the soldiers and their kin or Canadian taxpayers, Afghanistan is yesterday’s war ….”
  • “Afghanistan: Should the Canadian mission continue to 2014?” CBC online survey says (so far), no.
  • Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, now a Conservative candidate, says Canadian soldiers never knowingly handed detainees over to a high risk of torture though he admitted the Afghan system was rife with abuse. Chris Alexander, a former United Nations deputy envoy in Kabul who’s running in the riding of Ajax-Pickering, says the controversy over the treatment of Afghan detainees transferred to Afghan custody is overblown. Until now, Alexander has resisted public comment about allegations by fellow Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin that Canadian government officials turned a blind eye to reports about the clear risk of torture facing prisoners transferred by Canadian soldiers. But in a wide-ranging interview with the Star, Alexander flatly disagreed with Colvin’s interpretation. “I don’t think that happened at all. “I don’t think any Canadian ever handed over a detainee knowing there was a high risk (of torture) because anyone handed over by Canada — as the record shows — was going to be tracked through the system, was going to be monitored more than other detainees would. As a UN official, I was much more worried about people who were being detained by the Afghans or other countries that weren’t as careful as we were.” ….”
  • Here’s the report I mentioned yesterday, saying a training mission in Afghanistan would be dangerous for Canadian troops (PDF).  Here’s some of what someone who’s been there, done that in Afghanistan has to say: “…. this was a rather shoddy paper, even by CCPA standards. What was remarkable about it to me was that the writers did no real research of any kind, with all their citations pointing to news articles or other similar papers. They didn’t interview a single soldier or former soldier, or anyone with any first-hand knowledge of Afghan military training in Canada or outside. (The bibliography is also bereft of any references to Afghan sources of any kind, for that matter.) I doubt I’d have said anything if they had called, but I really don’t think we’re all that hard to find. So there’s no real reason to take anything they have to say seriously ….” More from here and here.
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Assassinations and attacks claimed in Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Taliban (responsible for 3/4 of civilian casualties) worries about civilian casualties.
  • Libya Ops (1) – Canada backfills fighters to ensure Iceland has air cover now that CF-18’s are in Libya. “Three fighter jets landed at Iceland’s Keflavik airport and NATO military base yesterday evening and three more are expected later today. The air cover for Iceland had to be swiftly re-arranged because the Canadian Forces Air Command decided to send the team originally earmarked for Iceland on a mission to Libya. Canada has just taken over responsibility for Icelandic airspace under the NATO arrangement which sees allied nations take turns to patrol the air above Iceland. Air forces often also take the opportunity to use Iceland for exercises, as the NATO member country has the relevant equipment and ground crews despite not having a military of its own. Before the three F-18 fighters arrived yesterday, Canada had already sent personnel, tools and equipment to Iceland. Later today one more F-18 will arrive, along with a P-3 aircraft used for aerial re-fuelling. Some 150 personnel accompany the planes and will be staying at the Keflavik base over the coming weeks. As well as patrolling, the Canadians also plan to conduct exercises and landing practice at Keflavik, Akureyri and Egilsstadir ….”
  • Libya Ops (2) – Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister: Off the campaign trail, over to discuss Libya. “After taking heat for skipping a major international conference on Libya to stay on the hustings, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon will globetrot this week to two major meetings aimed at finding a way around the impasse in the country. With nations around the world looking for a way past what appears to be military stalemate and a divide over whether Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi must depart before a ceasefire can be struck, Mr. Cannon is leaving the campaign trail this time – but first asked for a blessing from opposition parties ….”
  • Election 2011 – Blogger Mark Collins on the Conservative and Liberal platforms on defence.
  • Remember James Loney, the Canadian peace activist kidnapped with some others in Iraq, then rescued in 2006?   He has a new book out about his experiences. “An angry soldier told a Canadian hostage in Iraq that many people risked their lives to rescue him from terrorist kidnappers, according to a new book. Captivity by Christian activist James Loney reveals how a team of Mounties, soldiers and diplomats teamed up for a joint British-Canadian operation that apparently relied heavily on the mass surveillance of cellphone signals to pinpoint the hostages and their captors ….” My own humble open source analysis of what was said in public about the rescue here ( only has the Kindle version out for now here.
  • Added #100 to my list of Fave War Flicks here.