“The Torch” No More

They say if people are getting upset with what you write, you’re doing a good job of it.

If that’s the case, “The Torch”, Canada’s award-winning military blog, must have been doing a great job.

The owner of the site has decided to close the electronic shop because of legal threats.

Sad to see it go – Canada’s military information space is a little less interesting place without “The Torch”.

We mourn with you, Damian, Mark and all the others who helped make it what it was.


How One Reporter Makes the Others Look Bad

First, the good news.

A reporter based in Kabul reached out to some military bloggers, some with first-hand experience in Afghanistan, bounce a thesis about for comment:

“non-US coalition partners (Canada included) are taking casualities because they simply are not driving vehicles that are effective against the IED”

Several people, myself included, shared information, much of it detailed, all in context, saying it’s not quite as simple as the thesis makes it look.

Now, for the bad news.

After thanking all for their input, here’s what he wrote:

Canadian reporter Michelle Lang spent her last moments in a Canadian Light Armored Vehicle rolling down a muddy path in Kandahar province on the day before New Year’s Eve.

The improvised explosive device that killed Lang and four Canadian soldiers flipped the 23-ton LAV upside down, according to the Canwest News Service, Lang’s employer. The Canadian LAV-III and LAV-25 closely resemble the American Stryker, an armored vehicle that U.S. soldiers have nicknamed the “Kevlar coffin.”

In Iraq and now in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has battled to keep pace as insurgents have devised IEDs that are big or sophisticated enough to cripple or destroy even the biggest American armored vehicles, the 33-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle.

The MRAP, however, is still far superior to less heavily armored vehicles such as the Stryker and the Canadian LAVs. No MRAP has ever lost its entire crew to an IED, and if Lang and the soldiers who died with her had been in one, it’s less likely that the bomb would have killed them all….

My colleagues, who were also consulted, were underwhelmed like I was:

“There are none so blind as those who will not see” (Mark Damian, The Torch) <my mistake – sorry Damian)

“Trial and Error” (Brian, Canada-Afghanistan blog)

Some on Milnet.ca were even MORE underwhelmed.

My only additional comments are on this part:

…. No MRAP has ever lost its entire crew to an IED, and if Lang and the soldiers who died with her had been in one, it’s less likely that the bomb would have killed them all….

1)  I re-emphasize the fact, as others smarter than I have mentioned, the bit in blue is NOT TRUE.

2)  I wonder how comforting the bit in red is for the families of those killed in the incident in question?

I realize most reporters are trying far harder than this to get the best information and the best story out, but like cops, teachers, soldiers and other professionals, the group is often judged by the worst possible example.

Update (1): Small Dead Animals joins the parade of the underwhelmed.

The Torch Makes Top Ten in 2009 Canadian Blog Awards

Again, well done!

Noted earlier that we won a Gold and Bronze; now note that this blog finished sixth in the best “Overall” category. Not bad indeed:

Finalists and Winners 2009


Disclosure:  I occasionally contribute to The Torch.

Blogroll: “Gold and Bronze for The Torch: 2009 Canadian Blog Awards”

Good on The Torch!

The results. Not bad for a milblog in Canada. Good on the crew, and especially Babbling for launching us and having the con:


Canadian Blog Awards ’09 Round 2: Group


Canadian Blog Awards ’09 Round 2: Professional Life

Here’s the main webpage for the awards.

Well done!

Full Disclosure: The Torch team allows me to share the occasional rant on their space as a blog team member.

On The Right Priorities, Questions about Detainees

I couldn’t have put it better than Damian “Babbling” Brooks over at The Torch, so I’ll just share a bit of what he had to say:

Think of Afghanistan as a very badly injured patient. A medical professional performs an assessment, and catalogues the injuries. The key in treating the patient is then to prioritize those injuries; you don’t ice the bump on an elbow before you stem the abdominal bleeding, for example. The treatment of detainees shouldn’t be at the top of that list. I have no doubt not everyone, especially on the political side, had motives this pure, but I’m sure some of those who tried to skate past this issue did so because they didn’t want it to distract from other problems much more fundamental to the success or failure of the mission. They didn’t want a sideshow to become the main show.

( …. )

…. asking questions isn’t unpatriotic, it’s essential to a functioning liberal democracy.

But for heaven’s sake, ask decent questions: here are some points I consider legitimate on the detainee issue. These are perspectives in opposition to my own that I can at least respect:

  • Complicity in torture could result in Canadians being tried for war crimes. Serious stuff, that, and worth a serious response. First of all, the CF has teams of lawyers whose job is to look into exactly those sorts of repercussions any time a policy is written. I would hope their professional judgment is proven sound. Either way, all the CF leadership can do is trust their experts on such a point. I do find it interesting that with all the missions Canadians have undertaken in all the failed and troubled states around the world over the decades, with all their desperate prisons and security services, this is the first time this concern is being taken seriously. I mean, who was talking about pulling out of Haiti because of the potential for Canadians to show up in the dock at the ICC? If the only places Canadian soldiers can be deployed are countries with a fully developed and accountable prison system, well, so much for “the world needs more Canada.”

  • Handing detainees over to known torturers undermines our effort to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans. This concern is at least mission-focused. It likely has some truth to it, in that the Afghan government is largely mistrusted in the Pashtun south and east of the country, and any involvement with that government is going to reflect poorly upon international forces in the eyes of many. But there’s the key: Afghans don’t expect to be treated well in their own jails:

    Sadly, as an observer of Afghanistan who has closely monitored the security apparatus for almost a decade now, the revelations of Colvin are nothing new. Most Afghans would also express little surprise; their only shock would be over the naïveté of those who believe some form of torture is not a routine aspect of prison life in Afghanistan. You would be hard-pressed to find an Afghan who does not know someone, whether a family member or friend, that has not been mistreated in some form or another by the security establishment over the past eight years. One Afghan police official I spoke to during a recent trip looked puzzled when I inquired about prisoner abuse. He didn’t understand why Canadians are so fixated on the issue.

    Moreover, even if we’re not involved with the prison system, we’d still have to be involved with the police, the army, the domestic ministries and NGOs, and the Karzai government at some level or another. So we can’t actually escape that tarnish. All we can do is try to fix the image by fixing the root causes of the mistrust.

  • Handing over detainees to suspected abuse runs counter to Canadian values and cannot be tolerated. A principled objection, to be sure. As something of an idealist myself, I can appreciate this perspective. Unfortunately, I don’t think we could accomplish anything in Afghanistan without making some compromises. That doesn’t mean we don’t promote our values. What it means is that we pick a place to start, and have some patience for their progress. Because I think one of our greatest Canadian values is compassion. And removing ourselves from the effort to aid Afghanistan because we were upset about one aspect of their national standards would be the least compassionate course of action. In other words, I don’t believe we should throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue.

  • This is yet another illustration of the futility of our commitment in Afghanistan. If we can’t win, why waste our money and lives on the country? Again, I can appreciate this one. I know people who have lost friends and loved ones over there. I know people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the experience, and not for the better. My only response is that I don’t believe it’s a lost cause, and I do believe the betterment of Afghanistan is worth continuing the fight. It benefits our own security to have a stable and productive country there, rather than a failed state that can once again become a haven for those who would hurt us. And helping those less fortunate than ourselves find their way is a very Canadian thing, to my mind.

I may not be swayed completely by these arguments, but I feel that, unlike “NO BLOOD FOR OIL” or some such idiocy, reasonable people can make them in good conscience.

Well said.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I sometimes contribute rants and ramblings to The Torch.

MISSION MESSAGING MAMBO: Another Factor Affecting Future Plans?

Kudos to David Pugliese with CanWest/the Ottawa Citizen for spotting a tidbit from the U.S. military’s info-machine, leading to this story:

Canada is sending two surveillance aircraft to Afghanistan in a move some defence analysts see as laying the groundwork for a military mission in Kandahar beyond the announced 2011 pullout date.

Although the federal government has not made any details public, the U.S. army issued a news release on Monday that an American company had been awarded a $12-million contract to modify two aircraft being provided by Canada. Work on the surveillance planes is to be done in the U.S. and in Afghanistan and completed by June 15, 2011….

Here’s the tidbit from the U.S. military news release mentioned above (PDF of release here) – highlights mine:

Telford Aviation, Inc., Bangor, Maine, was awarded on Nov. 25, 2009, a $12,268,639 firm-fixed-price contract for a medium altitude reconnaissance surveillance system – Canada Systems integration and logistics support for two King Air 300 commercial aircraft provided by Canada. This effort is currently funded at 49 precent of the not-to-exceed price until definitization takes place. Work is to be performed in Hagerstown, Md. (75 percent), and Afghanistan (25 percent), with an estimated completion date of June 15, 2011. One sole source bid was solicited with one bid received. CECOM Acquisition Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J., is the contracting activity (W12P7T-07-C-W009).

And what kind of work do King Air’s do in Afghanistan, you may ask? Very low key, but important work.  Airforce-technology.com sums it up in the simplest way I can find for one of the version of the King Air flying the Afghan skies:

The MC-12W is designed to intensify data collection operations through intelligence-collection capabilities operating in-theatre, allowing real-time full-motion video and signals intelligence for battlefield decisions of military troop leaders.

A fully operational MC-12W would comprise sensors, a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and SATCOM data links, as well as a robust voice communications suite. It would have manpower sufficient for 24hour deployed operations.

(Some) aircraft (could) have an MX-15i system with an infra-red pointer, which would allow the aircraft to signal an object or building to a soldier wearing special goggles on the ground. Further upgrades would provide the aircraft with a state-of-the-art laser designator to target a position with formidable precision.

Such capabilities have been put to good use by organizations such as Task Force Odin to hunt down IEDs and those who make them happen.  After a successful run in Iraq, TF Odin is being used in Afghanistan as well – more on that at Paul McLeary’s War, the military, COIN and stuff blog.

Defence Industry Daily even has a little diagram of how electronics suites could be laid out in the smallish plane, which carries about 8 passengers in the back in its civilian version (note:  the diagram shows a border monitoring plane, but you get the general idea – my guess would be there could be loads more hardware in the version envisioned for Afghanistan):


And how does this tie into the Mission Messaging Mambo?

Civilians contractors can fly these planes, as well as use the bells and whistles in the back.

In fact, such a plane full of contractors went missing in Afghanistan around mid-October of this year, and was recovered 27 Oct (ISAF statement).  You can tell the hush-hushedness of the mission from the measures taken in the recovery of the fallen contractors:

On October 21 the aircraft was stripped of its sensitive and useable parts, and the aircraft was destroyed in place October 25 due to the mountainous terrain and elevation preventing aircraft recovery operations.

I’ll have to mull this over a bit, but at first blush, I think contributing civilians to hunting down and finding IEDs and their facilitators is a good idea if we’re not going to have any soldiers left in Afghanistan.

More, as it unfolds…

Update (1): More on the idea/debate from Mark at The Torch.

Update (2): Possible sighting of one of the planes?

Audtior General: DND Needs to Work on Vehicle Buying Rules

Here’s this week’s report from Sheila Fraser.

And here’s Mark’s better-than-I-could-do-so-quickly overview over at The Torch.

My 2 cents:  folks have been grousing about defence procurement for a looooooooooooong time, so it doesn’t surprise me to see:

1)  the rules need work, and

2)  the military is still walking the tightrope, balancing between following the letter of the rules and the need for new hardware to protect our troops.

The three-way pull of “make sure it’s built in Canada,” “we have to make sure the process is the best value” and “we have to get this quickly” makes the process difficult to speed up any time soon.