#MILNEWS.ca Review: “Combat Mission Kandahar”

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I was asked by Dundurn Press if I was interested in a review copy of the book reviewed below, and I agreed, saying there was no guarantee about how I would review the book.


Haiku Summary

ROTOs 1 through 10,
Seven different battle views
Of what fighting’s like.

9781459735163


“What is is like to go into combat … in Afghanistan?”

This is what author T. Robert Fowler (this one, not, as he reminded me in an e-mail, the chap who was kidnapped in Africa in 2008) aims to do via his latest book, “Combat Mission Kandahar” (Dundurn Press, August 2016 – also available at Amazon.ca in paperback or e-book format).

Fowler tips his hat to some books already out there on Canadians in Afghanistan (like “Contact Charlie”; “Kandahar Tour”; “The Patrol” and “Fighting for Afghanistan: A Rogue Historian at War”), as well as to some journalists (like Murray Brewster and Brian Hutchinson), but he says these only look at the war from individual points of view — “small segments of the whole picture”, in his words.

Fowler’s combination of open-source research and detailed interviews paint a broader AND more granular picture of what different types of soldiers did during Rotations (ROTOs) 1 through 10 of Operation Athena, Phase 2, between 2006 and 2011.  This is the phase he says “came to be called “the combat mision” as Canadian battle groups engaged in a deadly multi-year war of counterinsugency in Kandahar Province”.

The book starts with a detailed chronological account of the key events and context “the combat mission,” and a chapter explaining counterinsurgency — to oversimplify, how troops help court the locals as part of letting the Afghan government do its job while giving the Taliban less chance to intimidate said locals.  Fowler then shares the stories of seven soldiers representing a range of ranks, jobs and times in theatre (the ranks are those they held during the events described in the book):

  • Captain Jay Mineault, a combat engineer deployed during ROTO 10 (October 2010-July 2011);
  • Corporal Francois Dupéré, a psychological operations (PSYOPS) specialist deployed during ROTO 7 (February-August 2009);
  • Corporal Sean Chard, a Coyote survellance/reconnaisance vehicle crew commander deployed during ROTO 6 (August 2008-February 2009);
  • Sergeant “Sam,” a combat engineer specializing in dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) during ROTO 2 (August 2006-February 2007).  He’s no identified any further because Fowler says such specialists who’ve been to a war zone “do not publicly reveal their names to avoid repercussions in Canada”;
  • Captain Rob Peel, an Operational Mentor Liaison Team (OMLT) team leader during ROTO 5 (February-August 2008);
  • Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Richard Stacey, an armoured unit Squadron Sergeant Major during ROTO 7; and
  • Lieutenant Simon Mailloux (Wikipedia bio in French), an infantry platoon leader during ROTO 4 (August 2007-February 2008).

While all of the “what did they do?” chapters move from offering up some localized context and follow up with details of the individual’s experiences, some stories stood out for me.

Fowler’s account of MWO Stacey’s work during an August 2009 ambush combines, in Fowler’s words, a tone of “duty and responsibility” that’s part of a sergeant major’s job in any unit with all the details of taking care of “beans, bullets and the wounded” during the fight.  The pace of whack-a-mole events will feel a bit familiar to anyone who’s been through a military leadership course — in MWO Stacey’s case, though, it unfolded with real shooting and real casualties.  For what Stacey considered nothing more than doing the sergeant major’s job, he was awarded the Star of Military Valour in 2011.

In another section, engineer Captain Mineault could be seen as a contract manager/administrator in late 2010, doing work that would be familiar to any civilian project manager or consultant.  Fowler’s account, though, shows how tricky and dangerous “contract management” becomes when mixed with the potential for shooting, explosions, Taliban interference and intimidation, as well as tribal politics.

Corporal Dupéré’s segment combined a brief history of how Canada’s military first got into the PSYOPS business around 2003 with his experiences (including those of being wounded in 2011) being part of a specialist team that became an extra set of ears, eyes and minds for commanders, taking in subliminal information that helped assess the mood and intentions of various people they’d have to work with, all while other troops did their own jobs.

I found Lieutenant Mailloux’s interesting both in how it showed his job as an infantry platoon commander in 2007, and in sharing his story of returning to Afghanistan in 2009 after losing a leg to an IED explosion during his previous tour.

There’s a map showing the broader operational area in the front of the book, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more maps showing the tighter operational areas being discussed in some stories.  A good example is the map showing the ambush zone in MWO Stacey’s chapter.

I wonder how easy or difficult it would be (or costly, for that matter) to include a tear-out card in a book with a map or maps on one side, and a list of abbreviations on the other?  Not just in this book, but others as well?  I was able to keep up with the abbreviations, given my limited military experience 20+ years ago and ongoing reading about the military in the media, but some readers without military experience might find it handy to have a bookmark of sorts with key reference material available right there, instead of having to flip back and forth.

I think Fowler’s book succeeds in telling a range of individual stories about being in combat in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011.  You may not be fully satisfied if you want more details about certain individuals, actions or battles, but the book is a reasonably understandable survey of Canada’s fight in that timeframe.

If you have some military experience, you’ll likely get more of the content more quickly.  I also think it’s readable if you’re a civilian knowing little or nothing about the military, allowing you to learn a lot about what the fight looks like to different types of soldiers fighting it.

Further comments/insights welcome, via comments below.


I’ve also been asked if I’d like to comment on another Dundurn book, “Shadow Warriors” .
More on that, when it’s ready.


MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 1 Dec 11

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 16 Nov 11

  • Afghanistan (1)  Toronto Star columnist becomes legal rep for teenager wanting student visa to attend school in Canada.
  • Afghanistan (2)  Someone (I’m guessing) in Ottawa is pissed at how ‘terps trying to come to Canada are being handled“Frustration is growing in government ranks that Ottawa is falling down on its vow to help Afghan interpreters and their families find a new life in Canada. “I would say longstanding and growing frustration,” a senior official said this week after the Star highlighted the plight. The target of that frustration is the Citizenship and Immigration department, which critics say is dragging its feet on a Conservative vow to help Afghans who helped the Canadian mission in Kandahar resettle in Canada. “There is a moral obligation to do the right thing here and it’s unfortunate that CIC doesn’t feel this way,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous ….”
  • Afghanistan (3a)  Canadian Info-Machine officer Commodore Bill Truelove Taliban losing a grip on its troops“The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has said that “the Taliban leadership has lost control of their organization.” During an operational update by representatives from the ISAF headquarters and NATO on Monday, Canadian Commodore Bill Truelove, Deputy Director of the ISAF Communication Directorate, said the Taliban carried out several attacks recently in spite of the Afghan Eid holiday. “Over the past week, the Taliban showed their blatant disregard for this holy celebration through a series of attacks resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians,” he told reporters in Kabul. Truelove said the attacks occurred after senior Taliban leaders issued specific orders to their troops, directing them to stop killing innocent Afghan civilians. “Still, enemy forces are realizing they are sacrificing their lives for a cause that is not just and under leaders who have no concern for this country or its people,” he added ….”
  • Afghanistan (3b)  Does one Taliban post including alleged security plans for a major meeting (link to copy of post at non-terrorist site) constitute a “propaganda war”?  “Afghanistan’s propaganda wars are becoming almost as intense as the actual fighting, as all sides jockey for position ahead of an anticipated NATO withdrawal in 2014. On Sunday, the Taliban took their psychological operations to a new level when they attempted to derail a loya jirga, or national council, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, has called for Wednesday. This will discuss future U.S. troop withdrawals and possible peace talks with 2,000 community and tribal leaders. In addition to the usual threats to assassinate anyone who attends the meeting, the Taliban have published what they claim are highly classified documents detailing security arrangements for the council, scheduled to be held at the Polytechnical University in western Kabul ….”
  • Afghanistan (4)  Senator Pamela Wallin on the training mission“…. Canada has engaged in what is an incredible act of faith, inspired by the knowledge that if we educate and train the next generation of citizens and soldiers we will truly be giving peace – and Afghanistan – a chance.”
  • Afghanistan (5)  “International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says his office will be releasing a report in the coming weeks that will decide whether to launch a formal investigation into Canada’s treatment of Afghan detainees, among other things. “There are serious allegations of crimes committed by different parties,” he said in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News during a stop at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday. “We are trying to find who is really allegedly responsible for crimes to check if there’s a need for us to investigate or not.” Moreno-Ocampo said his report will not specifically focus on Canada’s treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, but all crimes allegedly committed in that country and seven others. Most allegations, he added, are against the Taliban, but all claims are being looked at ….”
  • Canadian Forces reservists can face extra hardships after returning from deployments, researchers say. Difficulty finding employment and poor post-mission communications between reservists and military units are major barriers to soldiers reintegrating into civilian life. The findings of a study by Defence Research and Development Canada in Toronto were presented at the second annual Canadian Military and Veteran Health Research Forum in Kingston. The study involved 125 Canadian reserve soldiers who returned from an overseas deployment. The troops were contacted six to eight months after returning and about one-quarter of them took part in the 20-minute electronic survey. The results showed many reservists struggle to find work following their deployments. The lack of work added greatly to their struggle to reintegrate themselves into civilian life, said researcher Donna Pickering Tuesday afternoon ….”  A bit more on the Forum here, and the latest, updated (as of yesterday) CF Info-Machine backgrounder on PTSD here.
  • Another research tidbit from the same conference:  Almost one-quarter of a group of frontline soldiers sent to fight in Afghanistan in 2007 have been diagnosed with mental health problems, according to a new study by the Canadian Forces. The figure shines a light on the psychological risks facing Canada’s battle-hardened veterans not only in CFB Gagetown, where the study was conducted, but at CFB Petawawa in Ontario, CFB Edmonton in Alberta, CFB Valcartier in Quebec and at other major military bases where soldiers have deployed in great numbers over the last few years. The study of 792 members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, found 23.1 per cent of soldiers who served in Kandahar four years ago were now being treated for their mental health problems. One in five of those soldiers have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, one of the chief health risks to Canadian soldiers after a decade of combat in Afghanistan. The study was presented Tuesday at a military health-care conference (in Kingston) that is bringing together some of the country’s best minds to share the latest research on how to help soldiers with broken minds and bodies ….”
  • After almost five years of legal wrangling, Dennis Manuge says he’s relieved that Canada’s disabled veterans are finally getting their day in court. “How I feel about it is a little bit of relief and absolute faith in the justice system that we are going to begin to have our case (heard),” he said Tuesday. Manuge, of Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., is the representative plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government that alleges it is illegally clawing back the long-term disability insurance benefits of injured veterans. The Federal Court in Halifax will begin hearing arguments Wednesday in the class action, which could potentially affect the benefits of as many as 6,000 injured veterans ….”
  • A reminder:  For the sixth year in a row, friends and families of Canadian troops deployed overseas will be able to send their holiday letters and parcels for free via Canada Post. The program, which started in 2006, has delivered close to 90,000 parcels to members of the Canadian Forces serving overseas in war zones. With capacity limitations on military aircraft carrying supplies to deployed forces, this program is restricted to family and friends of the deployed service men and women serving overseas in war zones. Troops serving on any of the deployed Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships are also included in the program. Canada Post will accept regular parcels free of charge to designated Canadian Forces Bases overseas from October 17, 2011 until January 13, 2012. Lettermail weighing up to 500 grams to deployed troops can be sent free of charge until December 31, 2012.”  More from Canada Post here.
  • Canada’s mission to help Jamaica is wrapping up – safe travels home, folks!  More on OP Jaguar here.
  • Haiti’s efforts to restore its disbanded army could deplete resources from more pressing matters in the Caribbean nation, which is still recovering from the massive earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people almost two years ago, a Canadian diplomat said Tuesday. John Babcock, a spokesman for Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy, said in an email to The Associated Press that Haiti’s decision to create a second security force is a sovereign right but that its formation “seems premature” because of the difficult living conditions that many Haitians still face following the January 2010 earthquake. “Canada fears that creating a second security force will significantly reduce resources available for Haiti’s other important priorities,” one of them being the need to strengthen Haiti’s national police department, Babcock wrote. Haitian President Michel Martelly is moving ahead with a plan to restore the national army that was disbanded in 1995, and recruiting an initial force of 500 troops would cost an estimated $25 million. Babcock said Tuesday Canada wouldn’t help pay for a second security force, echoing sentiments of foreign diplomats who told Martelly in October they wouldn’t fund the force ….”  Here’s a bit of what Canada’s done for Haiti’s police force, as well as the official line on our relations with Haiti.
  • Way Up North  More on how expensive it could be to keep troops in the north (again with no disclosure of “obtained” documents).
  • At least one Canadian Press reporter is not personally averse to the idea of sharing documents obtained through Access to Information Act requests, even if his employer doesn’t seem to be using available technology to make that happen yet – one can hope….
  • F-35 Tug o’ War  “U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned the F-35 project will be scrapped if a congressional “super committee” doesn’t come up with a credible plan to reduce the U.S. federal deficit by next week. Opposition parties in Ottawa jumped on the comments Tuesday, accusing the federal government of continuing to bury its head in the sand as the stealth fighter program suffers ever-increasing amounts of turbulence. But the government again stood firm, saying Panetta’s comments were in response to internal U.S. politics while expressing fresh confidence in the controversial military jet being delivered to Canada on time and on budget ….”  More on Canada continuing to stand behind its decision here, and how it could cost way more if the U.S. cancels here.
  • As the nuclear crisis over Iran heats up, Canada is veering toward a dangerous place. Israel is again contemplating a military attack on Iran to prevent its developing atomic weapons. This time it’s not clear that U.S. President Barack Obama can forestall the Jewish state …. In the past, Canada would have happily stayed on the sidelines …. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, Canada has taken a more militant approach to international affairs. His support for Israel has been rock-hard. He has also shown himself willing to deploy Canada’s small but effective military in combat operations the government deems politically useful …. In short, both sides now see the nuclear issue as life or death. The question for nations like Canada is not which country we like more but which alternative is worse. Is it better to let Iran follow in the footsteps of the U.S., France, Britain, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea by acquiring nuclear weapons? Or is better to unleash another Mideast war?”
  • A bit of Canadian aviation history will become a bit of a British monument honouring Bomber Command (PDF).  “A Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 Transport (landed) in Lethbridge, Alberta on Remembrance Day to pick up 800 pounds of aluminum that was once part of a wartime RCAF Halifax Bomber. The metal will become part of a £6,000,000 Bomber Command Memorial currently under construction in Green Park, London. The aluminum is being provided by the Bomber Command Museum of Canada to draw attention to the fact that 10,000 of the over 55,000 airmen lost with Bomber Command during World War II were Canadians. Halifax Bomber LW682 was part of 426 “Thunderbird” Squadron RCAF. It was shot down in 1944 and crashed into a swamp in Belgium. The seven Canadians and one Briton aboard were killed. The bodies of three of the Canadian airmen, missing in action and entombed in the Halifax bomber, were recovered in 1997 and given a full military funeral in Gerarrdsbergen, Belgium. The recovered parts of the Halifax were all saved and brought to Canada. Some of the parts were used in the restoration of the Halifax currently on display at Trenton, Ontario. The unusable aluminum was saved due to the rarity and heritage of this RCAF metal and was then melted down into ingots to be used into the future for Air Force Memorials, plaques, and statues by the Bomber Command Museum of Canada ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 14 Nov 11

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 9 Nov 11

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 5 Nov 11

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 4 Nov 11

  • Janick Gilbert, R.I.P.  Funeral of rescue technician killed in rescue attempt set for tomorrow.
  • Libya Mission (1a)  CF members returning home from Libyan mission – welcome back!
  • Libya Mission (1b)  Canada’s Defence Minister set to welcome returning CF members at CFB Greenwood in Nova Scotia.
  • Libya Mission (1c)  Canada’s Associate Defence Minister set to welcome returning CF members at CFB Bagotville in Quebec.
  • Libya Mission (1d)  Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence set to welcome returning CF members at CFB Trenton in Ontario.
  • Afghanistan (1)  How Canadian military engineers are training up Afghan military engineers (via the CF Info-Machine).
  • Afghanistan (2)  Former diplomat, political communicator reminds us of Canada’s legacy (while reminding us whose job it is now to keep it going) (PDF).  “In 2009-10, former political aide Renée Filiatrault volunteered for a tour of duty as a foreign service officer in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Here she provides a glimpse of the realities that Canada’s civilian and military team faced while fighting an insurgency on the ground. As Canada stood down its combat mission in Kandahar this summer, she says, despite some bitter lessons, it is a legacy of which Canada can be proud. Ultimately, she adds, “while we can set the conditions for success, winning is not up to us, but up to the government of Afghanistan, which all efforts are ultimately intended to support.”
  • Afghanistan (3)  An update on Captain Trevor Greene, who has been recovering from an axe to the head during a shura in Afghanistan in March 2006.
  • Taliban Propganada Watch:  What the Taliban Info-Machine has to say about the coward chap who killed 17 people, including one Canadian, in a homicide bombing attack in Kabul and tying the attack in to a coming Loya Jirga (both links to non-terrorist page).
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1)  More from The Canadian Press’s obtained (but not shared with the readers) stack o’ briefing notes.  “Canadian pilots are expected to receive training for the F-35 stealth jet at a U.S. Air Force base in Florida, a plan that raises questions about the future of the country’s existing advanced fighter training school. Internal Defence Department documents show that a fee-for-service plan involving an international training centre, already constructed at Eglin Air Force Base by manufacturer Lockheed Martin, has been the main option under consideration. Several air force briefings compiled last year and obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws show that not only is there “potential for NO pilot training in Canada,” but that “pooled” training with international partners is likely the most cost-effective plan ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2)  CDS:  more would sure be nice“Canada’s top soldier says the 65 stealth fighters the government is planning to buy are the minimum number the military needs – but he hinted the back-up if jets are destroyed is that more will be for sale later. General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, told members of the Commons defence committee Thursday that the 65 F-35 fighters the government is planning to buy “is the minimum operational essential for the needs of Canada.” ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (3)  CDS:  pilots want the F-35“Pilots with the Royal Canadian Air Force want to fly in F-35 stealth fighter jets when the current CF-18s are retired, according to the chief of defence staff. Walt Natynczyk, the military’s top boss, appeared before Parliament’s defence committee Thursday to talk about military preparedness but was peppered instead with questions about the controversial purchase of the multi-role fighter jets. “Let me tell you that when I go to Cold Lake and I go to Bagotville and I talk to those young men and women who get in the F-18 and I ask them ‘What aircraft so you want?’ they tell me that they want the F-35 because it is the only fifth-generation, capable fighter for that next phase,” Natynczyk told reporters after his committee appearance ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (4)  Yet AGAIN with the Questions in the House of Commons.
  • A reminder from the Chief of Defence Staff:  to a certain extent, anyway, you get what you pay for.  “The country’s top soldier says that the speed with which Canada contributed to the mission in Libya and post-earthquake relief in Haiti would not have been possible without a trained and well-equipped military. But Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk, whose department is struggling with pending budget cuts during the first real lull in combat operations since 2006, said such capabilities do not come cheap. “If you ask me how we’re doing in maintaining our readiness, I’d say we’re doing the best we can with all the resources we have,” Natynczyk told members of the Commons’ defence committee Thursday. “Readiness is a perishable commodity and it’s expensive.” ….”
  • This year’s Public Accounts are out, and at least one reporter noticed 42 “weapons and accessories” missing.  You can download the DND’s list o’ missing cash & property here (via Army.ca) and the entire government list o’ lost cash and stuff here (28 page small-print PDF).
  • Remembrance Day (1)  No “tanks”, no guns, no displays at Ottawa Catholic school for Remembrance Day“For the past 19 years, students at an Ottawa high school have hoisted 10-pound military rifles to feel what it may be like to lug one around in the muddy trenches. They’ve met veterans and heard their stories, learning how their families were affected and what it was like to fight so far from home. But this year — the year that was supposed to mark the 20th Remembrance Day Symposium at Notre Dame High School — they will get no such chance. The traditional school event, scheduled for Nov. 10, has been cancelled because of a school committee decision to ensure there were “no tanks or guns” at the event, its co-ordinator told participants in an email last Friday …. The event was cancelled because some students who hail from countries touched by war raised concerns about it last year, said Lauren Rocque, a spokeswoman for the Ottawa Catholic School Board. “There are many students in that school that come from war-torn countries and when they saw replica guns in the hallway, it did upset them.” Ms. Rocque was unable to say whether the students had complained to the principal directly. “The tanks on the front lawn, that upset them too, so the committee decided to take this different direction,” she added. Mr. Mac Culloch said he doesn’t remember any tanks — just a variety of other military vehicles ….”  More on this from QMI/Sun Media here, a good question from the Globe & Mail here and discussion over at Army.ca here.
  • Remembrance Day (2)  Editorial:  “In Toronto and Hamilton, human scum steal poppy boxes filled with donated money to help war vets and their families, leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11. In London, a war vet coming in to man his poppy station at a local mall finds a cartoon describing Canadian soldiers as “hired killers”. In Ottawa, a high school cancels a two-decade old program in which vets share their war-time experiences with students and show them the equipment they used, because of a decision to ban “tanks and guns” from the school, even though no tanks have been displayed and the guns are inoperable. That this is happening in the year Canada ends its 10-year military mission in Afghanistan, in which 158 of our soldiers died, is a disgrace ….”
  • Remembrance Day (3)  Conservative MP reminds the House of Commons“Mr. Speaker, July 2011 marked the end of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan. While the combat mission has come to an end, the Canadian Forces continue to play an active role in training their Afghan counterparts. The past 10 years have brought about many changes for Afghanistan. Afghanistan has held three elections, government agencies have been improved, its economy has gained momentum, girls are going to school and the Afghan security forces have been provided with invaluable training and mentoring. One hundred and fifty-nine Canadian Forces members have made the ultimate sacrifice to help Afghans obtain a taste of the freedoms that we hold so dear, tragically, joined recently by Master Corporal Byron Greff, of Edmonton’s Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. In addition to Afghanistan, Canadian Forces are serving in 15 overseas missions, including Libya, Haiti, and Sudan. At home, they save lives during search and rescue missions, provide assistance when natural disasters strike, and protect our nation’s sovereignty on a daily basis. This Veterans’ Week, let us remember the service and sacrifice of our Canadian Forces members and their families. “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die”.
  • Remembrance Day (4)  Politicians set to kick off Veterans Week this morning.
  • More on the soon-to-be hunger-striking vet wanting action on the depleted uranium in his body, from Question Period in the House of Commons.
  • A Canadian indicted in the U.S. on charges he supplied al-Qaida with weapons in Pakistan will not be extradited to the United States after Canada’s Supreme Court said Thursday it wouldn’t hear the case. Abdullah Khadr had been held in Canada on a U.S. warrant after his December 2005 arrest before he was released in 2010. He was released after two provincial courts in Ontario suspended his extradition, ruling his rights were violated during his detention in Pakistan. Dennis Edney, his lawyer, said the top court’s decision not to hear the Canadian government’s appeal means the case is over. The government had argued it was wrong to prevent an “admitted” terrorist from facing trial in the U.S. ….”  More from The Canadian Press, CBC.ca, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and lots of others.
  • Ottawa is bungling rescue missions by not telling families in Canada whether their loved ones are alive or dead, a Canadian diplomat once held hostage overseas says. Robert Fowler says that Ottawa’s mission to free him is tarnished by the fact that his wife, Mary, was kept in emotional limbo for much of his 130-day ordeal. She got so frustrated by official silence in Ottawa that she went to the United Nations complex in Manhattan to demand answers. “Mary stormed down to the UN headquarters in New York, where she had arranged to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,” reads Mr. Fowler’s new memoir. The world’s top diplomat told Ms. Fowler what the Canadian government had not. “‘We have good and explicit reason to believe they [the hostages] are alive and in good health.’” ….”
  • Don Cherry is getting an honourary degree from Royal Military College (and some profs are pissed).  “…. The college’s senate approved awarding the controversial hockey commentator with the honour at a recent closed-door meeting. But now at least one protesting member of the faculty is protesting the decision publicly. French professor Catherine Lord criticized the college’s decision to honour Cherry in a letter sent to local media. “On many occasions he publicly expressed his contempt for many groups of the Canadian population, notably for the French-speaking Canadians, for the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community and for the immigrants,” Lord wrote. “RMC is increasingly representative of the diverse society in which we live. RMC is a strong and unifying place.” Lord questioned what kind of message granting the honorary doctorate would send to the rest of the country. “What message will RMC send, in celebrating Don Cherry, to the students coming from these groups? And what will the Canadian people remember from RMC, as a serious and prestigious institution?” ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 2 Nov 11

  • MCPL Byron Greff, 3PPCLI, R.I.P.  He’s home – more here.  Photos of his ramp ceremony in Afghanistan on Facebook here (thanks to Senior Airman Kat Lynn Justen of the USAF Info-machine).
  • Afghanistan (1)  Meanwhile, the CF Info-machine shares a backgrounder on part of the training mission“The Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) is the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) flagship training institution. Located on the eastern outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital city, the KMTC can house and train up to 12,000 trainees at a time. Over 60,000 soldiers graduate from courses at the KMTC annually. Two hundred and thirty-five Canadian Forces advisors serve at the KMTC as part of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. Thirty-five members have been with the KMTC since mid-June and the remaining 200 recently arrived in October ….”
  • Afghanistan (2)  Canadian ingenuity as we continue to pack up in Kandahar.  “The Armour Removal Platoon of the Mission Closure Unit is responsible for removing the armour added to the combat vehicles used by Canadian troops in Kandahar Province and packing it for shipment back to Canada. The process of dismounting the armour from the vehicles is difficult, labour-intensive and inherently dangerous. Because safety had to be our highest priority, it was difficult to achieve any speed on the production line. That was the case until Private Bryan Capiak and Corporal Bradley Van Olm developed a new way to take the heaviest pieces of armour — the four Z bars — off the Light Armoured Vehicle Mk III (LAV III) ….”
  • Afghanistan (3)  Well done“On October 20th, 2011, Canada’s Acting Head of Mission Philip MacKinnon and Detective Ken Brander, a member of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), donated 11 Kobo e-readers to a group of female students of the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA). Each e-reader comes with 50 classic books pre-loaded, which will greatly increase the number of books available at the SOLA library and allow young Afghan students to perfect their reading skills. The funds to purchase the e-readers were raised by Detective Brander’s EPS colleagues including a group of dedicated resource officers, local business, friends, and family, on behalf of Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, Alberta ….”
  • Afghanistan (4)  The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary does not appeal to all students. But some are more interested in war studies than peace studies. For them, the interest and focus they bring to class ensures an enormously fulfilling experience, particularly for us who teach them. Ryan Flavelle is one such student. Like several others, he is also a member of the military. Unlike his colleagues, he has written a riveting book. It deals with his service in the southern Panjwaii district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Flavelle’s motives for writing The Patrol: Seven Days in the Life of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan were both universal and personal. Like every historian from Thucydides to the present, he wanted to ensure the memory of the immediacy of his experiences would not be lost in oblivion. But the personal side of his story is far more compelling ….”
  • Libya  NATO flies its last air mission.  “…. a NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft (AWACS) conlcuded the last flight of Operation Unified Protector. With this, a successful chapter in NATO’s history has come to an end. Since the beginning of the NATO operation, NATO air assets conducted over 26,500 sorties, including over 9,700 strike sorties to protect the people of Libya from attack or the threat of attack ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1)  LOADS o’ questions on the F-35 (transcripts from Hansard here, here, here and here) during Question Period in the House of Commons so far this week.
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2)  Military planners are concerned the Harper government is buying too few F-35 fighters with almost no room for any loss of the stealth jets throughout their projected lifetimes, according to internal Defence Department briefings. “Canada is the only country that did not account (for) attrition aircraft” in its proposal, said an undated capability-and-sustainment briefing given to senior officers late last year ….” No indication of The Canadian Press sharing the briefing notes in question.
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (3)  Postmedia News Columnist“…. Harper has often shown an ability to execute tactical retreats with lightning speed, if he feels he’s lost the high ground. Look for that to happen with the F-35, sooner rather than later, as the economic gloom deepens south of the border.”
  • Big Honkin’ Ships  Duelling academics“…. Marc Milner, naval history professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the vessels will let the navy cruise the Canada’s Arctic waters later in the fall and earlier in the spring, though winter access will still be the domain of the Coast Guard. The ships also give the navy full year-round access to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He said that, while the new Arctic patrol vessels fit into the Harper government’s Canada First Defence Policy, which is looking to expand the reach and scope of the country’s military, the ships are not designed for serious combat. “Nobody anticipates getting into a real big dustup in the Arctic,” Milner said. “More effort will be put into their sensor suite and communications equipment than in their weapons.” The Arctic vessels will fulfil a constabulary rather than a combat role, Milner said. The icebreakers will let the navy patrol emerging shipping routes in the melting Arctic ice. The Russian route through the Arctic, from Europe to China, is “pretty much commercialized,” he said, with several ships having passed through this summer escorted by Russian icebreakers. “There’s good reason for us to be up there with a little more presence than we have at the moment,” Milner said. Paul Mitchell, a naval historian with the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., said the Arctic ships will likely have little more than an anti-aircraft Bofors gun on their bows. “Despite the growing interests in the Arctic, the area is well handled by diplomatic efforts,” Mitchell said ….”
  • Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino set to say something in Richmond, B.C. today.
  • What’s Canada Buying?  Event recorders for armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, loads o’ flashlights and rain jackets for sailors.
  • A new silver coin will commemorate Canada’s Highway of Heroes, as a tribute to the country’s war dead and the people who line the route to honour them. The Royal Canadian Mint says $20 from the sale of each coin will be shared between the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial and the Military Families Fund. The silver coin, which has a face value of $10, will retail for $69.95 and only 25,000 will be produced ….”  More from the Royal Canadian Mint here and here.
  • New Library of Parliament paper:  “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and the Mental Health of Military Personnel and Veterans”
  • Remember the chap threatening a hunger strike over how he’s been treated by Veterans Affairs CanadaHere’s what the Minister is saying about the issue in Question Period“When our brave soldiers are deployed to theatres of operation, such as Rwanda or Bosnia, they may suffer serious injuries. That is why we are implementing specific and effective programs and services that are based on the most recent scientific data. When we implemented improvements to the new veterans charter, it was specifically to help veterans who had the most serious injuries or illnesses. As soon as I was made aware of this situation, I asked the officials in my department to take the necessary measures.”
  • Whazzup with Khadr Boy’s return?  The Conservatives are continuing to play coy over whether or not they’ll allow convicted war criminal Omar Khadr return to Canada. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Tuesday he will decide in good time if and when Toronto-born Khadr can return home to finish his sentence for murdering a U.S. Army medic in Afghanistan. “I put the safety of Canadians first,” he said. “A decision will be made on this file, as on all applications, in due course.” The Conservatives were in the firing line from opposition parties, who accuse the Tories of trying to back out of a commitment they made with the U.S. government a year ago to allow Khadr to return to Canada after serving a year of his eight year sentence. “This fellow was arrested when he was 14-years-old and held since then and ought to have the benefit of Canadian laws,” said NDP justice critic Jack Harris ….”  More from Question Period on Khadr here, from QMI/Sun Media here and from Agence France-Presse here.
  • Canadians should “absolutely” be concerned about a call for young Somalis in Canada to kill non-Muslims made by a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned Monday. Toews was responding to Al Shabaab, which released a recording on the weekend from a suicide bomber calling for a jihad in Canada and other countries. “If there are individuals with information that can assist us detecting any terrorist threat we would ask them to provide us with that information,” Toews said, adding that the Somali community works with Ottawa on security matters. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the RCMP, the Communications Security Establishment and the Privy Council Office – the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office – are Canada’s terrorist watchdogs. “We are aware of, and take very seriously, the threat posed by Al-Shabaab,” said CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti ….”

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 – 28 Sept 11