MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 17 Jul 11

  • Afghanistan (1)  “Intelligence is never perfect, says the country’s top military commander, but as Canada emerges from the five-year trauma of Kandahar, tough questions are being asked about what spy services knew — or should have known — about southern Afghanistan. “I don’t think anyone fully expected the kind of counter-insurgency fight we faced here,” Gen. Walter Natynczyk said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. That in itself is an understatement, the sort of explanation that has the blinding clarity of 20-20 hindsight. But as Canada takes stock of its brutal, bloody war in the desert wastelands of south Asia, there’s been little, if any, consideration of how the army — and, by extension, the country — became so embedded in the Afghan quagmire ….”
  • Afghanistan (2)  Now that the “combat” role is over for the Canadian military in Afghanistan, concern is being expressed for the mental wellbeing of the 27,000 Canadians who have served there. The war may be over, but issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its associated Operational Stress Injury (OSI) remain — affecting to some degree maybe 5,000 soldiers. DND and Veterans Affairs are concerned, and have established a couple of dozen support centres across the country — perhaps provoked by criticism from the former veterans’ ombudsman, retired Col. Pat Stogran, who was bounced because he was too adamant on behalf of vets. A rarely mentioned (even unmentionable) issue with the military is suicide among soldiers — the fate of the last two of the 157 fatalities in Afghanistan ….”
  • A Canadian General is being touted as a possible next Commissioner of the RCMP.  “A well-respected army general, a top bureaucrat with RCMP experience and a popular police chief are among the federal government’s shortlist of candidates to lead the Mounties, Postmedia News has learned. Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the man who headed the army for four years, is a serious contender for the job of RCMP commissioner, government sources say. Leslie is just wrapping up a yearlong stint as chief of transformation where he was charged with coming up with a plan to reposition the Canadian Forces for future challenges — a job some observers say needs doing at the RCMP. Luc Portelance, the president of the Canada Border Services Agency who began his career with the Mounties before heading to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has close ties to the prime minister’s national security adviser Stephen Rigby and is seen to be campaigning for the job. “He has no senior police management but, in the eyes of a whole lot of Mounties, the fact that you have gone through the process of Depot [The RCMP training academy in Saskatchewan], it is sort of a right of initiation,” said Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny, the former chairman of the Senate committee on National Security and Defence. Ottawa’s police chief, Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner, is still in the running despite recently signing a three-year contract extension with the city ….”
  • Nijmegen marchers to honour fallen of Vimy Ridge.
  • Is Russell Williams a unique phenomenon in the world of sadistic sexual killers? Tim Appleby tackles the perplexing question in his best-selling book A New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Chilling Crimes of Colonel Russell Williams. For his first true crime book, the veteran Globe and Mail crime reporter and foreign correspondent has wisely chosen a tale that has piqued the imagination of Canadians from coast to coast ….”
  • War of 1812 commemorations:  celebration without American bashing.  “It’s a sticky question. Exactly how should Canada commemorate the 200th anniversary of a war in which our predecessors repelled an invasion by the United States – now this country’s closest ally and most valued trading partner? The bicentennial of the War of 1812 is fast approaching. It’s a major formative event in Canada’s history – but like all wars, was wrenching and destructive. Both the White House and early Parliament buildings in Upper Canada were torched during the conflict.  For the Harper government in Ottawa, the approach to this anniversary is nuanced: energetically embracing military exploits and valour during the conflict – standing fast against invaders, for instance – while taking extra care to avoid inciting anti-American sentiment ….”
  • Speaking of the War of 1812 ….  “The St. Lawrence River will soon have a higher profile at the Fort Wellington Parks Canada site in Prescott. The hull of an 1812-era gunboat raised from Brown’s Bay in 1967 and housed ever since at the St. Lawrence Islands National Park site at Mallorytown Landing is being prepared for a move next month to a new home being built at the fort. It’s one of only three gunboats from the era known to be in existence, and the move to Fort Wellington is a fitting transition, especially with the War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations on the horizon, said Elizabeth Pilon, project manager for visitor experience. Pilon said in an interview at the Mallorytown Landing site, where the gunboat is being prepared for the move, that the vessel will draw more attention in Prescott while also helping to better explain the fort’s ties to the St. Lawrence River. “Prescott was a gunboat station during the War of 1812 and the fort was built to protect the river,” said Pilon. “It only seems fitting that the gunboat should be displayed in Prescott, where it will allow us to tell the river story ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 7 Apr 11

  • Libya Ops – Canada has boosted the number of personnel involved in the NATO-led mission in Libya by nearly 200, the military said Wednesday. There are now 570 Canadian army and navy personnel taking part in international efforts to crack down on Libyan despot Moammar Gaddafi. That’s compared to the 380 personnel originally posted when Canada joined the mission in March. Brig.-Gen Richard Blanchette made the comments during a media briefing on the mission. He also said Canadian CF-18 fighter jets had been on 14 flights since last week, targeting a number of ammunitions depots and military bunkers in Libya ….” More in the CF Backgrounder on the operation here.
  • Is Canada’s Navy considering centralizing its HQ in Halifax? Not according to British Columbia’s Premier. More here.
  • Hesco barriers to the rescue against flooding in Manitoba. “A new technology is being used for the first time in Manitoba’s flood fight. Crews put up a Hesco Bastion along River Road in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews, just north of Winnipeg, on Wednesday. The one-metre-square wire cages can be unfolded and quickly filled with dirt or mud. They can also be linked for a long row that can be set up far quicker than it takes to sling sandbags. The dike along River Road, more than 300 metres long, will provide protection to several homes and can be built in a day ….”
  • Lt. Vanessa Harmon wraps a scarf around her head and atop her tan battle fatigues when attending shura meetings with Afghan elders and government officials, but not because she is required to. “It makes things easier,” is the Canadian officer’s brief explanation. Head scarves have recently become a controversial subject in the U.S. military, after a request last month by Central Command that its female soldiers in Afghanistan wear hijabs, or head coverings, in order to encourage better relations with the local population by demonstrating cultural sensitivity. Many critics in the U.S. have interpreted the CENTCOM request as being tantamount to an order. Such encouragement would appear to contradict the spirit of a law passed by Congress in 2002 banning the wearing of Muslim head garb by U.S. soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia. There is no such expectation in the Canadian military, according to Brig.- Gen. Dean Milner, who commands Task Force Kandahar. “We haven’t changed our standards. Our women are soldiers,” Milner said. The few Canadian female soldiers who wear head coverings in Afghanistan have been allowed to do so, but as a matter of choice, not because of an order or a request ….”
  • Election 2011 – It’s amazing that we’re fighting two wars during an election campaign and nobody is talking about them as issues. People might just be tired of Afghanistan. Our troops have been fighting for nine years. We’re stepping back, sort of, this year. Still, it’s not clear how many Canadians will stay in the conflict, or whether anything lasting has been accomplished. Those should be campaign issues. Libya is brand new. Canada signed on to a military mission there March 19, just before the election campaign started. That should be a big decision. As citizens, we bear responsibility for government actions. And going to war should bring the greatest responsibility ….”
  • Former CF Ombudsman goes political. “The first commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan says the country’s current democratic system is not working and needs an overhaul of the kind now taking place in the Arab world. Retired colonel Pat Stogran is urging young Canadians to get involved in the political process and engineer change from the ground up. “Canadians are sick of our democracy,” said Stogran, who launched a strident campaign protesting government treatment of former soldiers after his contract as veterans ombudsman wasn’t renewed. “Canadians call for change at every one of the elections. Yet Canadians keep doing the same old thing. “They keep voting for one side or the other, knowing full well that after all the promises are made and the votes are cast, whoever gets in there is going to get into crisis management and go from one flavour to the next to stay in power.” Stogran said the country needs parties with long-term vision, “grassroots movements like we saw in Cairo and Tunisia and Libya.” He has signed on with the fledgling Progressive Canadian party as an adviser on veterans affairs ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 3 Apr 11

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 12 Nov 10

  • A recurring theme this time of year:  Time remains the real assassin as the number of World War 2 vets decline over time at Remembrance Day ceremonies. This from the Canadian Press“…. The Historica-Dominion Institute says the average age of Canada’s 125,000 remaining Second World War veterans is 88 years. They are passing away at a rate of 400 to 500 a week, meaning that in another five years or so, all but the hardiest of Canada’s 1.1 million Second World War vets will be gone….”
  • Families of the fallen travel to Kandahar remember.
  • Soldiers are getting a chance to say goodbye to their fallen colleagues in a way that may help the survivors heal. More on that from Postemedia News.
  • Your parents could be taken away by their job for just a weekend and it might seem like forever, but some kids may never see their folks again.  It’s a feeling 16-year-old Madeline Mills knows too well. She’s spent most of her teen years helping care for her younger siblings while her dad fought in Afghanistan. She doesn’t want attention for her challenge, but attention may soon surround her.  Madeline shared her story in a new documentary about Canadian children whose parents have seen combat in Afghanistan. The National Film Board of Canada marked Remembrance Day with the national simultaneous release of the film, Children of Soldiers ….”
  • An interesting tidbit buried in this Globe & Mail piece, quoting military writer/publisher Scott Taylor:  “Only a “small sliver of the society is being impacted by the war in Afghanistan.” Most of the troops now are the sons and daughters of other soldiers, he said, explaining that 40 per cent of recruits either have one or both parents in the military ….” As others smarter than me have said, could this suggest Canadians’ support for the military is a mile wide and a millimeter deep?
  • Soldiers serving in Afghanistan were the first to receive the newly designed poppy coins on Remembrance Day. More than 3,000 troops stationed throughout Afghanistan were the first to receive the special 25-cent memento from the Royal Canadian Mint, each batch delivered in velvet pouches ….” More on the new coin here.
  • Again witrh the “should Parliament decide Canada’s next mission in Afghanistan?” question, but this time, with an answer from the PM.  This from the Globe & Mail“My position is if you’re going to put troops into combat, into a war situation, I do think for the sake of legitimacy, I do think the government does require the support of Parliament,” he said. “But when we’re talking simply about technical or training missions, I think that is something the executive can do on its own.”
  • So, is this a flip-flop on the Prime Minister’s part?  It sure is, according to Norman Spector writing at the Globe: “…. as the even the Prime Minister himself had to (very slightly) concede in the CTV interview, leaving any troops in any role in any region of Afghanistan would constitute a major shift in his position….”
  • Further to the right on the media political scale, QMI/Sun Media columnist Michael den Tandt wonders: “What took the Harper government so long? Why all the strenuous denials, month after month, that such an outcome was even possible? Because it was always likely, if not inevitable, given the situation on the ground and Canada’s alliances, that we would keep an armed force of some kind in Afghanistan beyond July, 2011 ….”
  • This, from former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, on the prospect of Canadian troops training Afghan forces while avoiding combat:  “You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility …. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army … you are going to be in combat.” CBC.ca says this is a quote from a “recent” interview with Macleans.  The original Macleans article where this was quoted is from October 22, 2009 (more from Hillier here).  Also, a point I raised about a year ago (or “recently”, using the CBC clock/calendar):  if the Canadians train Afghan troops and don’t go out to fight with them, how long will the Taliban Info-machine take to start the “they come to help, and send you to die” message track?
  • A new approach promised by Canada’s new Veterans Ombudsman this, via CBC.ca“Canada’s new ombudsman for veterans affairs said Thursday he’ll try to keep “buoyant” the issues raised by his predecessor, Pat Stogran.  “Mr. Stogran has brought the issues to the surface,” Guy Parent said in an interview with the CBC News program Power and Politics.  “I think my responsibility is to keep them buoyant now and to make sure we separate the issues into ‘chunkable’ pieces and that we can provide specific recommendations based on the issues.”  But Parent, whose term began Thursday, made it clear he would be taking a different approach to the role than Stogran did.  “I would definitely say so,” he said, laughing, when asked if he and Stogran had different styles.  “Sometimes you accomplish much more through negotiations than you do by being vocal.” ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Alleged Taliban Boss in Kandahar City Op Claims Taliban Rules the Night, “tried our best to completely end any civilians casualties on our part”.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 9 Nov 10

  • Belatedly on my part, here’s the Veterans Affairs Minister’s response to all the protests calling for better treatment of wounded veterans here“…. I have listened closely to the concerns of the Veterans who gathered today. They can rest assured that we are working hard each and every day to make sure we are meeting their needs. Other improvements are in the works, notably concerning wait times and bureaucratic red tape ….”
  • According to the National Post, Denmark seems to be the latest to ask Canada “Please Don’t Go” from Afghanistan (not to mention a “stealth diplomatic charm offensive” allegedly being waged by the U.S., U.K. and NATO, according to the Canadian Press).  Terry Glavin at his Transmontanus blog, opines on, among other things, the PM’s position on the post-2011 mission and the potential for a flip flop:  “Prime Minister Harper has committed no flip from which to flop. He has kept shtum, like some sort of pensive emir, and he’s been allowed to get away with it. For more than a year.” Well, not COMPLETELY shtum – more from the PM here from January of this year“…. the bottom line is that the military mission will end in 2011. There will be a phased withdrawal, beginning in the middle of the year. We hope to have that concluded by the end of that year. As you know the Obama administration, not coincidentally, is talking about beginning its withdrawal in 2011, at the same time we are. We will continue to maintain humanitarian and development missions, as well as important diplomatic activity in Afghanistan. But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy ….” The latest, according to CTV.ca, from PMO spokesperson Dmitri Soudas:  “After 2011, the government is considering the three following options: aid, development, and training in a non-combat role” Quite the change from the PM’s words in January, eh?  Meanwhile, more unnamed sources are telling CBC News that up to 1,000 Canadian troops could be left in Kabul to help train Afghan soldiers and cops – if the sources are to be believed, quite the embassy guard, indeed.  It’ll be interesting to hear how it’s sold if the training option gets picked.
  • Speaking of “Do we stay or do we go?”, CBC has an online poll to gauge public opinion here. So far, as of this post, loads more saying “go” than “stay”.  As for other opinions, at least one engineer sergeant who spoke to the National Post says the troops would be up for another go in Afghanistan, especially behind the wire.
  • According to the Toronto Star: The outgoing veterans ombudsman is prepared to launch a class-action lawsuit against the government over a claims process he says is wrongly denying disability benefits. Pat Stogran, who steps down from the position Wednesday, told the Star he has been approached by a private law firm about pursuing legal action over decisions made by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board regarding disability benefits ….”
  • Blog Watch (1): “Ex-journalist, ex-PR guy, and ex-Afghan military advisor”, Bruce Ralston, shares some insights about a recent article on the fight in Kandahar, and how all the money available to hire Afghans to help fight the fight may, in the long run, be making things worse.
  • Blog Watch (2):  Should Omar Khadr be charged with high treason?
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: More Attacks alleged in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 6 Nov 10

  • Shortly after the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting some ISAF soldiers in Helmand province (ISAF says they’re investigating an incident there, one account suggests it may have been an accident, while the Taliban claims – the statement on their Voice of Jihad (VOJ) page here, and a copy at a non-terrorist page here – an Afghan soldier killed three foreign troops and defected to the Taliban), the bad guys are claiming they did the same thing to some Canadians (VOJ version here, copy at non-terrorist page here):  Reports from Shah Wali Kot district say that Wali Muhammad Aka, a 75 year old Mujahid and a resident of this districts Kajoor village opened fire with a Kalashnikov on Canadian invaders who were sitting around in the village yesterday at 12:00 pm and as a result 6 Canadian terrorists which includes a female invader were instantly killed before the brave Mujahid was Martyred (we ask Allah to grant him the highest ranks in Paradise) ….As of this posting, there’s been NO mainstream media confirmation of the incident alleged by the Taliban’s web page report (it’s been carried by a Pakistani paper online, but the paper routinely cuts and pastes Taliban claims straight from VOJ, even giving a by-line to the appropriate Taliban spokespersons, as it does in this case).
  • P.S.:  This is the first Taliban claim of responsibility for Canadian casualties since 19 Jun of this year.
  • Continue reading “MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 6 Nov 10”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 4 Nov 10

  • More from Postmedia News on Canada’s next ROTO of troops headed to Afghanistan from Valcartier, Quebec:  “At first they were smiling, holding hands or hugging each other. But as the roll call neared, tears started to flow, turning into uncontrollable sobbing. Families and friends bade farewell at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier Wednesday to 145 Quebec-based soldiers deployed to Afghanistan as part of the last combat rotation before the Canadian mission ends next summer ….” (More from the R22eR web page – en français – here.)
  • Building on the “Do We Arm the Tribes/Militias?” debate, this, via the Canadian PressThe Canadian military says it would rather boost the number of police officers in Kandahar than use militias to protect locals. Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner says that while the Afghan Local Police initiative is still a possibility, recruiting more police officers is a better option.  The ALP is a controversial program launched this summer to provide weapons and training to villagers in the hopes they will defend themselves against insurgents. Milner, who heads the Canadian mission in Kandahar, says he will be deploying fresh resources to help increase the numbers and broaden the training of Afghan National Police officers …”
  • CBC columnist/commentator Brian Stewart alleges Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s arm could be getting twisted soon (at an upcoming NATO meeting in Lisbon) in the hope that Canada will keep at least some troops in Afghanistan to train Afghan security forces: “…. the rumour is that NATO will badger Harper for as many as 400 trainers, to be based in Kabul and other areas away from direct combat. That number would still leave Canada with a significant role in the nearly decade-long conflict. But, politically, that kind of request would seem a safe political sell for the PM, as many Liberals, as well as many in Harper’s own caucus, are open to the idea of maintaining non-combat trainers after next summer. Harper, however, has not indicated in any way that he’ll consider changing his mind ….” My guess:  PM’ll still say “no”, with unnamed sources telling media, “where was NATO when Canada was fighting it out in Kandahar four years ago, asking for other NATO countries to help in the fight?”  More of my venting on this here, here and here.
  • Blog Watch: Lookit what Mark Collins over at Unambiguously Ambidextrous has managed to dig upI’ll bet you didn’t know about this American military contract for helicopter services to a Canadian company (will our major media notice?) ….” Good question.  Even more at defenceindustrydaily.com here and the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities page announcing the award here.
  • According to QMI Media, “Canada’s outgoing veterans ombudsman says he has “no confidence” that the $2 billion dollars the Conservatives recently announced in new benefits will find its way into the pockets of injured vets. Pat Stogran told senators Wednesday that too many conditions are tied to the Tories’ proposals and numerous policies are not retro-active, so injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan won’t benefit.  “I’m concerned it is too piecemeal,” he said of the policy changes. Stogran pleaded with senators to massively reform the way the federal government treats former soldiers.  He said he has “no confidence” staff are briefing the minister in an (unbiased) way.  He told the Veterans Affairs subcommittee he is recommending 11 ways the government can “break the culture of denial and often poor treatment of our veterans and their families that is firmly entrenched in Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeals Board.” ….”
  • Guess who Canadians surveyed by Abacus Data found scarier:  Child soldier-terrorist Omar Khadr or disgraced former military multi-killer-rapist Russell Williams? QMI Media tells you here.
  • Remember Beverly Giesbrecht, a.k.a.Khadija Abdul Qahaar, the B.C. woman who was kidnapped in November 2008 while visiting Pakistan to share the Taliban’s story with the world via her web page (which no longer seems to be working – here’s a taste of the site via Archive.org, and the domain name should be coming up for sale early next year as it expires then)?  This, from the Indian ExpressA woman journalist from Canada, who was abducted by militants in November 2008, has died following prolonged illness in the custody of the Taliban somewhere in northwest Pakistan or Afghanistan, sources said on Tuesday …. Khadija Abdul Qahar, 55, who was known as Beverly Giesbrecht before she converted to Islam, was abducted along with her translator Salman Khan and cook-cum-driver Zar Muhammad while travelling to Miranshah in the restive North Waziristan tribal region …. Salman Khan and Zar Muhammad were released after eight months of captivity due to efforts made by the head of a religious party.  Khan disclosed after his release that Qahar was suffering from hepatitis and was mentally prepared for death.  She was not very optimistic about her release, he had then said.”  (More from Postmedia News here, QMI/Sun Media here, the Georgia Straight here, with a bit of a timeline/commentary on the story at Army.ca here).
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch: Taliban Claim Responsiblity for Allegedly Killing 5 “Intelligence Officer” in KandaharMeme o’ the moment – “minion”
  • In Ontario, Conservative Member of the Legislature for Nepean-Carleton, Lisa MacLeod, is introducing a Private Member’s Bill today making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday across Ontario. According to QMI, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec are the only provinces where it isn’t recognized as such.  Private Member’s Bills have a very, very small “pass through to Royal Assent” rate (more on this here – PDF from the Legislative Library of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario), but it might just get public debate going.

Have a great day!