Why is the Defence Minister issuing a statement for Fathers’ Day(full text at Scribd.com here if link doesn’t work)? Considering I missed seeing any such message for Mothers’ Day for May 8. And I’m hoping the Minister also wanted to thank the dads keeping family together and sorted out while mom’s deployed, too. I’m also hoping whoever writes these things keep that in mind next time. Meanwhile, a belated salute to all dads, deployed or waiting for someone deployed to come home.
Afghanistan (1) Buh-bye Zangabad. “The road to Zangabad is lined with graves and for many years was littered with mines, but for Canadian troops it is now memory lane. The place they fought hard for over so many years, a place they occupied for the first time last fall, was quietly handed over to the Americans on Sunday as the withdrawal of the Canadian army from Kandahar hit full stride. Alpha Company 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, which rolled into the notorious Taliban redoubt as part of NATO’s major offensive last year, pulled back to Kandahar Airfield as a first step on the long journey home. “Au revoir, Zangabad,” the radio crackled on Sunday morning as the last Canadian light armoured vehicles rolled out the gate of the region’s main forward operating base ….”
Afghanistan (2) “As Canada leaves the killing fields of Panjwaii over the next few weeks, the last commander to be responsible for formerly Taliban-held territory to the west of Kandahar City says that what has been accomplished should be measured in the number of villages and clusters of compounds visited, the number of meetings held with village elders and the huge advances made by Afghan security forces. “There was a constant shift from what is contested or in the hands of the insurgents to less contested or in the hands of the ANSF,” said Lt.-Col. Michel-Henri St. Louis, during a long interview reflecting on what his 1 Royal 22e Regiment battle group had achieved during its tour. “This month is significantly less violent that the same month last year. There are fewer casualties. Locals feel more secure. This is true from the district governor down to the people in the bazaar.” ….”
“The Canadian military is trying to understand why female personnel in their early 40s were more than twice as likely to die from suicide as their civilian counterparts. Groundbreaking research by the Canadian Forces, Statistics Canada and Veterans Affairs has shown a statistically significant increase in the number of suicide deaths in female service members between the ages of 40 to 44. The Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study also found a similar increase in women of the same age who have been released from the military. “We’re a little bit surprised,” Col. Colin MacKay, director of Force Health Protection and co-chair of the study’s advisory committee, said in Ottawa. “This was information we hadn’t had before and is very important information…because we can now start to look at it more carefully.” Researchers can’t explain the increase for that age group, but MacKay cautions it involves a small number of women over a 35-year period ….”
What’s Canada Buying? (1) The “Who Builds the Big Honkin’ Ships” sweepstakes heat up. “Jobs and Innovation Minister Pat Bell is not revealing details of any B.C. backing for Seaspan’s shipbuilding bid for fear of tipping off competitors in other provinces. “We anticipate being involved in extensive training programs, as well as some creative opportunities to make sure we support Seaspan and that we provide them with a bid that is certainly competitive across Canada,” Bell said in a briefing on Friday. As for specifics, “We don’t want to reveal that information” to others vying for the work, he said. North Vancouver-based Seaspan is one of four shortlisted companies competing for one of two federal shipbuilding packages worth a total of $33 billion. Seaspan owns Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver Drydock and Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt ….” More from The Canadian Press here.
“Unfinished plates of lamb and rice are still being cleared away as the governor of Panjwaii, Haji Fazluddin Agha, receives a post-lunch briefing on security threats in his district. An official with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security stands on the shura room’s ornate red carpet to deliver his report, telling Agha his agency has identified a pair of insurgents who have been appointed to the new Taliban shadow government in Panjwaii. The official says evidence was recently discovered proving both men are responsible for killing Canadian troops and laying “thousands” of roadside bombs. It also seems both men had been previously captured by coalition forces and then released, though the reasons for this are unclear. Agha takes in the information and a discussion ensues among the dozen or so Canadian and Afghan military commanders in the room. The idea is raised of re-arresting the men or killing them. But a consensus ultimately forms around another course of action, which is verbalized by Lt.-Col. Michel-Henri St-Louis, the commander of the Canadian battle group. Instead of taking punitive measures, give the insurgents a chance to change their ways, St-Louis says. “I think the district governor has a great opportunity to convince some of the fighters to live in peace, and maybe these two can be the start,” he tells Agha. “If these two individuals came here with their village elders, admitted to some of the choices they’ve made and vowed a future of peace, I think you could have the start of something very positive.” ….”
“The Conservative government quietly went to Federal Court last week hoping to impose limits on what a military watchdog can say in its final report into torture allegations involving Afghan prisoners. The Military Police Complaints Commission is currently reviewing evidence and writing its report after hearings into allegations that army cops turned a blind eye to suspected abuse in Afghan jails …. The Harper government …. (has) challenged the definition of what military cops could have known. Justice Department lawyers also accused the commission of stepping “out of its narrow jurisdiction” and investigating Ottawa’s policy of handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities — something it was strictly forbidden from doing. The government wants to exclude the testimony of diplomats and civilians who did not work for the Defence Department. Its lawyers also want any documents belonging to those officials, including reports that warned of torture or documented the abuse, excluded from the commissions findings ….”
Oopsie….“A military base commander who served with the UN has lost a bid to return to head CFB Borden after being stripped of his power for inappropriate behaviour. Capt. John Frederick Schmidt was removed from the top position in July 2008 following an incident in which he was drinking alcohol and inappropriately touched two junior female officers, according to court documents. Schmidt, a 30-year veteran, went to a federal court, seeking a review of his removal due to “procedural unfairness.” He wanted the decision set aside and for a new probe to be launched. Judge Robert Barnes recently tossed out the request, ruling that Schmidt admitted the incident to his commanding officer and did not answer questions about it when interviewed at another time ….” Full text of Federal Court of Canada decision here.
Operation GTFO Libya (1) Here’s one way of putting it. “The Canadian government has “facilitated” the safe evacuation of about 200 Canadians from Libya on a number of flights and vessels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a televised statement Friday evening. Saying the situation at the airport in Tripoli was “becoming ever more difficult,” the prime minister said evacuation efforts will continue Saturday. “A Canadian armed forces C-17 is standing by in Malta, ready to be deployed to Libya at a moment’s notice,” he said. So far, however, Canada hasn’t directly airlifted any of its citizens out of Libya. Many have found their own way out of the strife-torn country by hitching rides on allied countries’ flights and ships ….”
Operation GTFO Libya (2) Here’s, um, another way of putting it (albeit via unnamed “sources”). “A flight chartered by Canada to evacuate its citizens from Libya left Tripoli empty after panicked Canadians fled the country by other means before it arrived, a government source said Friday. Almost 200 Canadians, including 105 who were left waiting at the Tripoli airport for an earlier plane that was nixed by an insurer on Thursday, found passage aboard other flights and boats. They safely arrived in Britain, Malta, Madrid and Turkey overnight, the source said. When a second charter flight arrived in Tripoli from Amman, Jordan Thursday evening, there were no Canadians or citizens from countries cooperating with Canada on the evacuation at the airport, the source explained. The jetliner was granted only two hours to land, pick up passengers and depart, and so it had to leave with no passengers ….” If this is true as reported, someone’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. More on this here, here and here.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Defence Minister manages expectations on what can be done for Libya right now. “Just how far will the world go to stop the bloodshed in Libya? Probably not as far as anti-government demonstrators in the country are calling for, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay. While the United Nations Security Council debates a long list of measures designed to punish and disarm Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the security forces that remain under his command, a number of nations say they are unlikely to order their military forces into the country to keep the peace. The decade-long military slog in Afghanistan and the lukewarm global response to civilians being killed in Sudan’s Darfur region have shown that the UN’s famous Responsibility to Protect doctrine, a policy conceived in Ottawa in response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has “lost it’s lustre,” MacKay said. The lesson, he told a defence conference in Ottawa, was that countries should not “overextend” themselves or “raise expectations that can’t be met.” “I perhaps tend to lean toward practical conservatism when it comes to assessing what Canada can provide to these international missions.” ….”
Speaking of managing expectations, here’s what the PM had to say on the Libyan fracas: “…. I have instructed our officials to prepare a full range of sanctions against the Libyan regime, both in collaboration with our international partners, or unilaterally, if necessary. No options have been ruled out. Canada fully supports the United Nations Security Council on a resolution that could include a weapons embargo, individual sanctions against key Libyan officials and an asset freeze. The Libyan regime must and will be held accountable for its violation of human rights atrocities committed against the Libyan people. Canada also calls for Libya’s immediate suspension from the United Nations Human Rights Council. We are working with our allies and international partners to ensure that this suspension occurs, and will be acted on by the General Assembly. As well, Canada fully supports the Human Rights Council’s decision to dispatch a mission to investigate human rights violations in Libya. Finally, we call on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court ….”
More news on the latest in Libya here (Google News), here (EMM News Brief: Libya), here (NewsNow), here (BBC) and here (Al Jazeera English).
Someone else runs with the “fewer casualties in Afghanistan” story: “Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have reached an important milestone, one that speaks to their recent success in securing territory previously under insurgent control. Yet, it’s also an accomplishment few troops are eager to discuss publicly, as if the very act of acknowledging it might prompt their run of good fortune to end. As of this week, just one Canadian has been killed while on duty in the last six months. That soldier was Cpl. Steve Martin, 24, of St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, Que., who was killed by an improvised explosive device during a foot patrol on Dec. 18 ….” I’m looking forward to CBC.ca sharing this information – please e-mail me a link to any story they may have done along these lines since official stats were released here.
Some highlights from a recent town-hall meeting on Afghanistan near Edmonton. “…. One town hall attendee listed off the number of times Afghanistan has been conquered in its history, then asked Hawn why the “NATO Canadian invasion” would see a different outcome. Hawn said Canada was invited to come into Afghanistan to help, and that’s what he hopes to see happen. “I can’t look at an Afghan child … and say, ‘You don’t deserve a chance,’” he said. “We’re not there to conquer Afghanistan. We’re there to give the Afghan people a chance to build themselves up.” Another person asked why the Afghan government recently awarded a contract to develop mineral resources to Chinese companies when they could “show some gratitude” and award such contracts to Canada or other allied nations instead. Hawn said that he has “no love” for Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the corruption in the current government there, but it is something NATO is working on. “We’ve got to get a grip on Karzai and corruption. … Will we succeed in the end? I don’t know,” he said. “But I know we’re trying very hard to do this.” ….”
“A Canadian who served with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan is to receive an American bravery medal. Grant Derrick, a duel Canadian-American citizen, will receive the Silver Star on Friday for his part in a 14-hour battle in Hendon village, an isolated community east of Kabul. The former Ottawa man, a member of the U.S. army special forces, was part of a raid in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan last spring. The action saw two commandos killed and three badly wounded. Derrick, a 31-year-old retired staff-sergeant, was a member of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, based in North Carolina. A medic who spent most of his life in Canada until joining the U.S. army in 2003, Derrick is credited with saving the life of an Afghan commando shot in the face as the force swept into a Taliban weapons depot May 4 ….”
F-35 Tug o’ War“A battle of numbers has broken out over the Harper government’s deal to buy the F-35 joint strike fighter jet. Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the country stands to lose up to $1 billion if the purchase of the stealth jets is scrapped, largely because of lost economic benefits in research and development. The loss estimate includes up to $100 million in royalties earmarked for the federal treasury because of Canadian research on the aircraft. Ottawa invested in the development phase and is in line for a cut of export sales to other countries. MacKay underlined that the $9 billion price tag for the initial purchase of 65 F-35s is firm — a number critics say will only increase ….”
Whaddya do when you want to help Canadians GTFO Libya, but the insurance company won’t cover the charter plane you’ve hired go in?Send in the big honkin’ military plane instead!“Canada will send a military cargo plane to evacuate its citizens from Libya, where conditions are becoming more dangerous, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters on Thursday. The announcement came hours after plans to send a chartered civilian airliner on Thursday to the Libyan capital Tripoli fell through over insurance concerns. Cannon said nearly 200 Canadians had been, or were about to be, evacuated from Libya on planes and ships arranged by other nations. Cannon, speaking to reporters in the Canadian embassy in Rome, said a C-17 military transport plane with 156 seats was on its way to Italy from Germany and would fly to Tripoli as soon as Libyan authorities have permission. He also said a charter plane from Amman would arrive in Tripoli in the early hours of Friday. So far, 213 Canadians have expressed a desire to leave Libya ….” About the bit in red, if this is correct, I really hope a politician is not going to take up a seat in any of the planes flying out of Libya. To be fair, I’ve also found this for his being there: “…. Cannon is in Italy to discuss the situation in Libya and the region with his Italian counterpart….” More from CBC.ca here.
Other ways outta Libya: “…. Canada’s governor general …. has agreed to keep his aircraft on standby for possible use; he is due to be in Kuwait on Friday. Italy has also offered to welcome any Canadians trapped in Benghazi aboard its navy ships that have authorization to approach Libyan shores, he said. It’s not clear if and when the Italian vessels might arrive ….”
A Liberal and a Tory senator lay out how Canada can help in Libya. “…. Support from the international community, and Canada especially, should be offered for building Libyan civil society and the national institutions neglected and denied during Gadhafi’s four-decade, one-man rule. Although the Security Council has expressed “grave concern” and called on Libya “to meet its responsibility to protect its population,” its issuance of a press statement is insufficient to communicate the gravity of the situation that Libyans face -namely, the threat of mass atrocities. Time is literally of the essence …. But strong words must be paired with strong action. Canada and the international community must stand by the people of Libya who, like so many others throughout the Arab world, seek the basic human rights that should be enjoyed by all who desire them. Whereas the protests elsewhere have led to relatively peaceful transitions or to dialogues for reform, Libya’s rulers have chosen repression and slaughter …. We have seen the cost of inaction, delay and obfuscation on innocent populations elsewhere. The Responsibility to Protect is about the world engaging when a civilian population is under attack -either from its own government or because its government lacks the means or will to protect it. Libya is one of the clearest examples yet of just such a circumstance. Canada has an opportunity to help build a coalition at the UN for rapid engagement. This needs to be a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months.”
More news on the latest in Libya here (Google News), here (EMM News Brief: Libya), here (NewsNow), here (BBC) and here (Al Jazeera English).
Taking a trick out of the Taliban’s play book to reassure Afghans.“The letter opens with a greeting seemingly ripped from a fairy tale: “Brothers and sisters, sleep soundly.” Beginning this week, Afghans in Kandahar province will wake up to those warm words posted on their front doors. The Canadian military is borrowing a Taliban tactic to counter the insurgency’s message, coming up with night letters of its own to be distributed in select communities in the Panjwaii district, where most of Canada’s battle group is based. The letter, written in Pashto, is an attempt to reassure locals that the Afghan National Security Forces are patrolling their villages at night. It also encourages them to report suspected insurgent activity, such as the planting of improvised explosive devices or stashing of weapons, and provides phone numbers where people can offer tips while maintaining their anonymity ….” More on the Taliban’s use of night letters here and here.
Poochie story o’ the week: “The Canadian Army has been employing sniffer dogs to detect mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) not only along routes, but also in buildings and vehicles. “We work with canine teams nearly every day, and the dogs form an integral part of our teams and sections,” explained Sergeant Alexandre Murgia, commander of a combat-engineer section of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group (1 R22eR BG) ….”
23 Feb 11: The head of Canada’s public service gives a Twitter atta boy to civil servants working in Afghanistan. 11 Jan 11: The date of the speech by the head of Canada’s public service in Afghanistan, giving them an atta boy about working in Afghanistan. The good news: good to see government using social media. The bad news: a bit more immediacy (something less than 6 weeks) would keep this sort of thing more timely.
Oopsie….“The cost to refit one of Canada’s trouble-plagued submarines is skyrocketing, according to documents obtained under an access to information request by CBC News. In the year 2010 alone, the Canadian navy spent $45 million on repairs to HMCS Windsor. It had budgeted to spend just $17 million, the documents show. It appears that every system on the British-built submarine has major problems, according to the documents, including bad welds in the hull, broken torpedo tubes, a faulty rudder and tiles on the side of the sub that continually fall off ….” Broken record: any links to the access to information documents obtained? Nope (again).
Tracking down the identity of REALLY “old” soldiers. “The Honourable Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, announced today that Department of National Defence has identified the remains of a First World War soldier found in Avion, France, in 2003, as those of Private Thomas Lawless of Calgary, Alberta …. In October 2003, two sets of human remains were found at a construction site south of Avion, France, in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge. Over a period of six years, the Casualty Identification section of the Directorate of History and Heritage, sought the identity of the soldiers …. The first soldier was identified, in February 2007, as Private Herbert Peterson of Berry Creek, Alberta. Through continued genetic testing using inherited genetic material through the maternal line (mitochondrial DNA), osteology, facial reconstruction, military history and finally, stable isotopes – the second soldier was identified as Private Thomas Lawless on January 10, 2011. Veterans Affairs Canada has made contact with the members of Private Lawless’ family and will provide on-going support to the family as arrangements are made and carried out for the final interment ….” More on how this sort of thing is done.
Project management in Afghanistan appears to be very different than project management taught in business school. “In 2002, while I was studying project management at the École des hautes études commerciales in Montreal, I never imagined that I would someday apply the principles I was learning to a counter-insurgency campaign in the heart of one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan. After only two weeks here, Lieutenant-Colonel Michel-Henri St.-Louis, commander of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group, informed me of the full scope of the mission that would be my main effort for the coming months ….”
Meanwhile, a Canadian General checks out how projects are working out. “…. The alliance has also helped the Afghan Border Police build a new battalion headquarters on a vast, empty plain a couple of kilometres from the frontier, which follows the Durand Line, a British creation in the 19th century that few Afghans recognize. It was to check on construction at that new base in an area long notorious for smuggling and to see how some Afghan police officers at isolated checkpoints were faring that Brig.-Gen. Andre Corbould, of Edmonton, deputy commander of Regional Command South, had travelled more than an hour down a muddy, outrageously bumpy track in a U.S. army convoy. Leading what the military calls a “battlefield circulation” was Col. Jim Edwards, a career intelligence officer from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who commands U.S. forces in Spin Boldak. Along the way, the officers met Afghan construction engineers who told them of threats from the Taliban, who accused them of building the border police base for American troops, although none was going to live there. “I told them I am an Afghan and I am building this for Afghanistan and not for Americans,” the chief engineer said. Searching for Afghan flags and only spotting one, Corbould suggested an easy way to help brand the base as Afghan would be to fly a lot more Afghan flags ….”
One can hope. “Hope for the best. Expect the worst. So goes the philosophy of the man leading Canada’s battle group into one of southern Afghanistan’s most treacherous areas, with the spring fighting season just around the corner. A winter of raiding Taliban redoubts for hidden weapons has Lt.-Col. Michel-Henri St-Louis feeling optimistic that the insurgents won’t be able to muster the fierce attacks of years past. “We are hoping,” said St-Louis, who is in charge of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment combat team, based at CFB Valcartier. “The intent is to have the spike in violence either diminished, lulled or taken away. That will obviously make things better.” “I cannot stand here and say for sure in January that there will be no spike in violence, because the insurgent has a vote, and we will see how he reacts.” ….”