Selling the CF a Bit Better

I preface this by admitting that there’s probably HEAPS more hurdles and process than I can see from the outside looking in when it comes to getting the CF’s message out to the public.  I also know the individual CF public affairs people I’ve dealt with are passionate about getting the good word out there.

All that said, I’ve pointed out some areas where the CF comms machine might do a better job in selling the outstanding work the soldiers/sailors/air folks are doing in the field, maybe even picking up some best practices from military establishments alreading doing interesting things.  I’m still seeing things that make me scratch my head, though.

For example, on Canada’s Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM), we read about the good work being done by troops in general, and engineers in particular, on an operation almost a month after the operation happened.

Meanwhile, I stand to be corrected, but I’ll bet a donation to Wounded Warriors that these stories and photos from ISAF Public Affairs about Canadians didn’t take a month to get out there on the Internet:

Canadian Medic Returns to Kandahar to Mentor Afghan National Army
Story by Pvt. Luke Rollins, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Date: 12.09.2009

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WILSON, Afghanistan – Surviving just one tour in Southern Afghanistan is no mean feat. Many of the world’s best and brightest soldiers have fought and died here, and still more return home irrevocably shaken. There are among us, however, soldiers whose mettle has been cast in the furnaces of war, and who feel it is their duty to return, having emerged battle-tested and knowledgeable.

Army Cpl. Corey Sagstuen, a combat medic currently serving in a Canadian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, is one such soldier. In 2007 he deployed to the Kandahar province with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the Pan’jwai District. Now, he has returned to Kandahar’s Zhari district on the opposite side of the Arghandab River to lend his skills and experience to his fellow Canadian soldiers and Afghan national army soldiers alike.

There are a lot of green medics coming to Afghanistan, and it’s a bad place to make mistakes, said Sagstuen, an Edmonton, Alberta, native. Making sure they get back in one piece is how I make a difference, he said….

A Spirited Cook Dedicated to the Morale, and Stomachs, of Canadian and U.S. Troops in Southern Afghanistan
Story by Pvt. Luke Rollins, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Date: 12.09.2009

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WILSON, Afghanistan – An old military maxim says, “An army marches on its stomach, not its feet.” The Forward Operating Base Wilson dining facility has two armies, American and Canadian, to feed and keep marching to their missions in southern Afghanistan’s Zhari District.

The FOB Wilson dining facility features an all-military cooking team with members from the Canadian and American armies. Leading this team is Sgt. Karen Jones, a military cook with 23 years of service behind her.

“It’s been a unique experience for our American counterparts, because they’re not afforded the same kind of training or time on the kitchen decks that we are. We do this all the time as Canadians,” said Jones, whose home unit is 3 Area Support Group at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.

Under Canadian mentorship, Jones said, the Americans have done and learned things which many of their peers and seniors haven’t….

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Former OMLT-eer on Surge for AFG

My fave bit of BruceR’s latest post at Flit regarding the possibility of more U.S. troops being poured into Afghanistan, specifically, the potential of pouring them into Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and having them drop by the neighbouring regions:

Experience has proved the only way you keep the Afghan police alive and honest long enough for them to make a difference is by living with them 24/7, not by driving out on alternate mornings to see if they’re still breathing. Putting more soldiers into KAF, by contrast, will increase the lineups at the French bistro and the Burger King, but will do absolutely nothing to help Afghans.

Here here!

The Clip You’ll Never See on TV….

…about how the individual soldier contributes to the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan, in terms that are easy to understand – from the mouth of C.F. Corporal Duane Gyuricska, speaking to NATO’s natochannel.tv:

Does this clip oversimply the task?  It does only show a small part of the work.  Does it explain the fight better or worse than how mainstream media does now?  You be the judge – let me know with your comments.

You can see the entire natochannel.tv video story about Canada’s approach to COIN here.

Why won’t we see/hear this on mainstream media?

Because it’s produced by our side.

To mainstream media, NATO or Canadian government produced video pieces = “falling into line with government propaganda”, while what the Taliban says = “including all sides in the interests of fairness”.

3 Dec 09 Update: Canada’s Man at the US Army/USMC COIN Centre spots the video on youtube.com and shares.

5 Dec 09 Update: The Celestial Junk’s take on the same story.

Hillier: No Avoiding Combat Post-2011

Speaking to the Toronto Star promoting his new book, former CDS shows how NOT to mangle messages, as is being done in the Mission Messaging Mambo by politicians and staffers these days:

There will still be a need for security and counter-insurgency operations when Canada’s current mandate expires in 2011, he said. If experienced Canadian troops leave Kanadhar, some other nation, likely less familiar with the local terrain and power brokers, will have to do the job.

Hillier also said there’s also no need for Canadian troops, except in Kandahar or the northeast, and there’s no way Canada can carry out a goodwill mission without encountering frequent violence.

“If you stay in the south and try to do something like training, you will still be in combat. I don’t care what (political) staffers say in the media about how they can find a way to do it. You simply will not. You will be in combat,” Hillier said during a promotional interview for his new book, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War.

Living behind blast walls and trying to carry out aid and reconstruction projects are futile, and potentially dangerous in a country where NATO and insurgent forces are battling for the trust of the local population.

“It would be like going to shore at Normandy on the sixth of June (1944) and driving around . . . sightseeing and leaving the enemy the opportunity, flexibility and initiative to attack you when they want,” Hillier said … “to have people and staffers coming out and saying that we can do this job in two years or five years, or we can train without being in combat . . . it’s just baloney.”

Get it now?

UPDATE (1): More of the same quoted by Macleans:

Is there a safer way to teach those Afghan recruits? Hillier doesn’t think so. Here’s what he told us about the sort of scenario sketched by Soudas: “You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in a camp and train people for the Afghan army or police, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan, you are going to be in combat.”


“Candid” Look at Training, Mentoring AFG Troops

A “must read” from Thomas Ricks at Foreignpolicy.com, highlighting comments from none other than BruceR, the star of Flit.

My fave highlight:

Afghan National Army military intelligence officers brought an interesting perspective to signals interception: “rather than passively listening [to enemy radio traffic], the ANA had a tendency to get into arguments with insurgents.”

PDF version with some comments here – enjoy!

Translation Call Centres for Afghanistan?

Canada’s search for a portable voice translator for use by troops who don’t have access to an interpreter drew an interesting response and alternative from a participant at the Small Wars Journal (SWJ) discussion forum:

I understand the requirement for such a capability, however this ‘solution’ appears very short-sighted indeed and will not provide the sort of direct translation support that may be required, and will likely result in additional training etc for the deployed troops with little utility.

I would propose something far simpler and better which would meet all the current and several other potential requirements/applications. I propose that a call center be setup in Kandahar with native and english speakers, similar to the call centers that exist in India to respond to North Americans. Such a centre could act as an on-demand, real-time translation service supported through local cellular telephone capabilities, and supplemented by Army or satellite radio links where required. Soldiers could communicate directly with anyone they require regardless of language or sex. Such services could be further supplemented with laptop communications for web broadcast of specific messages and information – such as medical advice, notices , psyop, IO and CIMIC related materials etc tailored to the audience.

In addition, such a system would protect the translators as well, since they would not be revealing their identities to other Afghans. Local Afghans could staff some of these positions, and the centre could respond to a multitude of users and services such as 411 or 911 types of services.

An interesting proposal, but methinks not one that can be applied in all situations – this, from another SWJ participant:

I know how Canadians would respond if foreigners with guns made us speak via a handset to a strange, remote voice. It is hard to believe that Afghan reactions would be any more positive.

Quite.

What do you think?

CF Troops to Train (Not Mentor) Afghan Forces

If CBC.ca correctly quoted Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Dimitri Soudas, there’s more detail here about the post-2011 mission (highlights mine):

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told CBC News there will be Canadian troops in Afghanistan after parliament’s mandate expires, though “exponentially fewer.”

“I would caution you against saying dozens or hundreds or a thousand, there will be exponentially fewer,” Soudas said.

“Whether there’s 20 or 60 or 80 or 100, they will not be conducting combat operations.”

Soudas said the government would shift focus from combat operations and in-the-field training of Afghan police and soldiers to a development and reconstruction mission.

The military’s training mission will continue, but it will take place in the safety of protected facilities, he said.

The combat-mentoring role currently undertaken by Canadian troops would end, according to the plan.

“You can do training in training facilities,” Soudas said. “And when I say training, I mean Canadian soldiers will not be doing combat training of Afghan soldiers in harm’s way.

I’m certain our troops will do a first-rate job delivering any training, no matter where it’s done, but what will this do to the relationship between the trainee and the trainer?

How about the potential for Taliban Info-Machine messaging to the effect of, “they come to help, and send you to die?”

I’d love anyone who’s been there, done that to share their ideas on this one.

HERE’S Why a TRAINING Mission is a COMBAT Mission

In all the back and forth regarding Canada’s post-2011 mission in Afghanistan, there are those who say CF troops could stay to train Afghan forces without it being considered  a “combat” mission.

One point that’s shared via this post from the US Army/USMC COIN Centre Blog explains exactly why a TRAINING mission must be a COMBAT mission:

“Afghans trust and value those whose caveats permits them to go into combat with them”

Unless, of course, we want a training mission where the Afghan student troops and cops don’t have to respect the trainers.

Great use of resource, that – NOT.

Still More on Dealing with Child Exploitation by AFG Security Forces

Former CF trainer of Afghan troops BruceR has taken on the sensitive subject of sexual abuse by Afghan security forces.  Outside of obvious “catching them in the act” situations, be paints, in more detail, the shades of grey involved in dealing with this problem:

“The question is how to discreetly determine when that’s become inappropriate. You see a beardless boy you don’t recognize spending a lot of time around the police station, or in a uniform two sizes too big for him. He’s not unhappy or bearing any signs of abuse… no one’s beating him, or treating him as obvious chattel. If you ask him how old he is, he likely couldn’t tell you. So is he a sexual object for one of the officers, or does he have a legitimate right to be there? Or a little of both? And how do you investigate that fully in a combat environment without causing unnecessary offense to your comrades? Among mentors in Afghanistan, this constitutes a common dilemma… sometimes handled well, sometimes not well at all. But I’ve never seen the larger issue wilfully ignored, covered up or waved away.”

Good summary as well:

“Having a plan in mind for how to deal with homosexuality and pederasty in the security forces is something every ISAF/OEF mentor should keep in back of mind. This isn’t an issue that’s going to go away. As a former mentor, I can condemn the practice, and say we were always prepared to move to stop it if it became readily apparent, but still feel the Canadian public has been particularly poorly served by its media in this instance due to the sensational and prurient nature of this issue.”

Here here…

How Do You Talk to Afghans Without an Interpreter?

This appears to be a question being asked by DND, via this posted tender on MERX:

“This requirement is for the Department of National Defence (DND) to procure a portable Voice Response Translators (VRT). This device provides soldiers the capability to communicate basis (sic.) commands and phrases allowing them to conduct tasks proficient manner in the Contemporary Operating Environment and Future Security Environment.”

A little more, from the Statement of Work portion of the bid package (PDF downloadable from here):

“Experience in Afghanistan indicates that the language barrier between Canadian troops and Local Nationals (LN) can result in significant challenges that are extremely difficult to work around.  As a result there is a need for soldiers to have the ability to communicate with LN in their native languages.  This need is most acute when the services of a local translator are not available to unable (sic.) the task at hand.  A VRT will provide soldiers the capability to communicate basic commands and phrases, allowing them to conduct tasks in a more proficient manner.”

The most intriguing part of the bid package is the annex containing eleven pages of phrases the machinery has to be able to translate.  In addition to the usual commands for running a shooting range, giving orders to troops during operations and asking about medical conditions, here’s a few examples (apparently given in a “CF person says into machine – machine reads out” format):

“Begin Directing”: “I’m speaking to you through a device that translates select phrases into your language.  When I ask questions, please hold up one finger for yes, and two fingers for no.”

“Elite Forces”: “Attention!  Attention!  Attention!  You are surrounded by elite Government Forces.  Abandon your weapons, move out of the building into the open with your hands over your head and remain standing until secured by a Government soldier.  Do this and you will not be harmed.”

“No looting”: “Do not take anything from this house/vehicle or you will be punished.”

Apart from the typos (in red above, as well as this one):

Diffuse detonate?”: “Will the bomb detonate if we attempt to diffuse it?” (I think they may have meant “defuse”)

an interesting concept.  Two points come to mind for me:

1) I’d love to hear from anyone regarding whether 310 of these units (if the winning contractor fulfills the entire contract in this bid) would be enough.

2)  Why has it taken this long to get this sort of thing considered and bought?