Friday, May 05, 2006

Our Allies in the Forgotten War: Canada

Afghanistan is not "won" in the sense that most people understand "winning". That is to say that, while we are rebuilding and vaccinating, we and our allies continue to face a threat by Taliban rejectionist and Al Qaeda in country. Our allies continue to work every day and pay the price every day while trying to stabilize a nation that is not "third world", but more like "fourth" or "fifth".

As Americans, we probably don't hear much about these other groups beyond sound bites from one country's leader or another about whether they intend to stay or leave a certain theater. As for the troops, we probably don't know much. Most people don't even know what nations are in what country with us or that some have died alongside our men and women in faraway lands while others have hoisted beams, driven trucks, hopped helicopters into mountains, provided dental work, medical care, vaccines, built schools; all of the things our men and women do but with little recognition in their own countries or here.

This post is dedicated to the men and women of the multi-national forces who stand beside us everyday, sacrifice and pay the price.

We are not alone.

Two Italians Killed, Four Wounded in Afghanistan; Three Killed in Iraq

KABUL (Reuters) - Two Italian peacekeepers were killed and four wounded by a roadside bomb near the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday, a spokesman for Afghanistan's NATO-led peacekeeping force said.

Taliban insurgents have intensified their campaign against foreign troops and the government in recent months with a wave of roadside and suicide bombings, attacks and assassinations.[snip]

Italy is still recovering from last week's killing of three soldiers in Iraq. They were killed by a roadside bomb which struck their convoy southwest of Nassiriya.

According to this report, over 1775 Italian troops are in Afghanistan. While there are discussions about pulling troops from Iraq, there has been little if any discussion about Italy abandoning it's NATO committments in Afghanistan. So, while we may be concerned over the Iraq re-deployment, let's not forget that Italy still stands by us in Afghanistan.

Four Canadian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan, Bombadier Myles "Smylie Mylie" Mansell laid to rest in Victoria

A full military funeral was held Wednesday for Bombardier Myles Mansell, who died in Afghanistan 11 days earlier.

More than 1,000 mourners, including hundreds of army reservists and friends, attended the service at Christ Church Cathedral.

Mansell, 25, died on April 22 along with Lieut. William Turner, Cpl. Matthew Dinning and Cpl. Randy Payne when a bomb hit their vehicle near Gumbad, north of Kandahar.

Mansell, from Victoria, was described as a gregarious child by his uncle Michael Mansell, who spoke at the service.

"He paid the supreme sacrifice to help others," said his uncle. "In his mind, he was always home. In our hearts, he will always be home. Myles, I love you and you will never be forgotten."

Don't forget our men and women. The men and women of our allies are "ours", too.

According to the original article on the Italians, Canada has over 2,200 troops in Afghanistan. They are currently moving to secure Helmand province. Brig. Gen. David Frasier has taken command of the Canadian troops in March 2006. Other details about Afghanistan can be found here.

More about the Canadian mission and the men:

Throwing rocks (at) the carrier, no problem at all," he says. "Then, if there's trouble," Hope says, "Look to me. I will dismount. RSM (Northrop) will mitigate the rest of the column, any damage that's done to the column. Organize the column if there's no damage. Be prepared to move, dismounted, with me towards the threat." One key to this mission is to reach out to local people.

"We're there for us to help them," says Sgt.-Major Northrop.

He reminds everyone what to do if things go right.

"They are not our enemy, the people that we will be engaging on these type of ventures. They're not our enemy. Don't give them the steely-eyed cold look, all right. They don't deserve it."[snip]

Today, Col. Hope isn't looking for enemies, he's looking for friends. There are frequent stops for meetings known as "shuras" with local leaders, trying to build bridges, discussing alternatives to growing opium poppies.[snip]

In the middle, trying to help Canadian soldiers and Afghan villagers to find common ground, is the colonel's interpreter, Bashir, a former Vancouver teacher.

"I'm an Afghan-Canadian. By coming here, I actually do something for both countries. Yeah, I love this country. I want to do something. These people, they suffered a lot. I know what they went through," Bashir says.

People gather when the convoy stops.

When a Canadian convoy arrives for the first time, the villagers are sometimes suspicious, even fearful. But with several return visits, several long conversations over tea, and a few gifts, the welcome gets warmer every time.

Chai tea, mud huts, villages with no names.

8 Canadians have died in Afghanistan in 2006. 28 wounded.

2002-2005: 9 Killed, 17 Wounded

More on the Canadian Units deployed and their missions:

The Canadian Forces began building up its forces in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005, expanding the mission from the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul (called "Operation Athena"), to a more aggressive mission in Kandahar ("Operation Archer") working closely with the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom. [snip]

The move is part of a NATO plan to build up allied forces, including British and Dutch troops in the Kandahar area, to relieve pressure on the American forces that will then concentrate on the border region with Pakistan.

The Canadian commitment to Afghanistan is officially called "Task Force Afghanistan" and includes three main components:

    About 80 personnel assigned to Kabul to various civilian and military organizations.

    About 2,000 assigned to a battle group at the Kandahar air base, an old airfield built up by the United States after the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. For the first part of 2006, this will include the headquarters group commanded by Brig. Gen Fraser.

    About 150 assigned to Camp Nathan Smith, a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) based in the city of Kandahar.

The provincial reconstruction team, called "Operation Archer," is made up of personnel from the Canadian Forces, Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Canada's Department of National Defense

Grassroots effort to show appreciation for Canadian Troops - Wear Red on Fridays:

TORONTO — The mother of a Canadian soldier serving in Kandahar is urging people across the country to wear red on Fridays until every member of the armed forces is home.

Audrey Slaney, whose son Pte. Matthew Holden knew two of the four soldiers killed last month, says Red Fridays will boost the morale of troops in what is becoming an increasingly dangerous war zone.

"People should be letting the troops know what they feel," Slaney, a grocery store worker who lives in Oshawa, Ont., east of Toronto, said Thursday.

"The message is to show the troops that we’re thinking of them and that we love them."

The grassroots movement is believed to have started on the Internet and spread through e-mail in the U.S. before moving north of the border.

Spread the word.

March 6, 2006 Lt. General Caron addresses some comments to those who oppose Canadian presence in Afghanistan:

We occasionally hear comments by some Canadians who question our mission in Afghanistan. Perhaps they did not see the photos of little Afghan girls delighted at being able to return to school after the Taliban were ousted. Perhaps they don't realize that if, as General Hillier said recently, we can get security to a reasonable level, medical clinics can be built so that children will not die before the age of five. Most importantly, they should understand that as we replace a training ground and haven for terrorists with peace and stability for the Afghan people, we are doing what Canadian soldiers do - we are protecting Canada and our fellow Canadians here at home.

Another note from March 31:

These suicide attacks and roadside explosions targeting military convoys have certainly caused more Afghan casualties — to civilians and security forces — than they have injured or killed coalition troops.[snip]

"We build schools. We build bridges. They burn them down," Vernon said of the Taliban.

Or they blow things up, including, if not themselves, then their ruinously enthralled acolytes.

As one Canadian commander noted yesterday: "I consider it a very successful suicide campaign. The more of themselves they kill, the fewer we have to worry about."

March 12:

SOMEWHERE NEAR GOMBAD, AFGHANISTAN - Eyes are watching tonight as the blackness settles in on the barren mountaintop. Eyes that seek Canadian blood. They have been watching for weeks, from the very first moment Alpha Company of the First Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group made its presence known in the high hills of the Shawali Kot region of northern Kandahar Province.

Read the entire report. It's great and the soldiers in Canada talk about the same thing our soldiers do: new war, new techniques, officers in the middle are slow to change.

Another note on Chai Tea, Mud Huts, Villages with No Names:

"As much as I want to help you and focus on humanitarian aid, I cannot do that if we're always fighting people."

The one-eyed man softens at this news and, in the next breath, his combative tone vanishes. "If you give us a school, a medical clinic, we can keep security in these places. We can help you. The Taliban is not made of Afghans. It is made of Pakistani people who come here to fight," he says.

The sudden Afghan warmth is sanctified by the serving of tea and bread. With it comes the rest of the villagers, who until now had stood at a distance. The Afghans remark favourably on the Canadians' willingness to share in the ritual, noting that when U.S. soldiers came to visit, they refused the offer of the sweet tea.

"My American friends have weak stomachs," laughs Schamuhn, raising his glass to salute his hosts. "So when they drink your chai they get sick."

A wry[thanks John for spelling lesson] comment from a Canadian soldier on the sand and dust:

The creeping dust finds its way everywhere, from the deepest pores of the exposed members of the LAV crews, who stand two abreast with guns at the ready through the open sentry hatches of the vehicle, to the inner workings of the weapons themselves. Hundreds of cases of aerosol air duster will be consumed during this mission.

In the indelicate words of one soldier, "Boogers around here make good sandbags — if you can ever get them out of your nose."

Mistakes in a counterinsurgency are often hard to overcome:

"The Americans went out of their way to stay with us until the very end," says the Canadian platoon's Warrant Officer, Justin Mackay, 33. "They showed us the site of every IED (improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb) and every rocket attack; they helped us understand the mood in the various villages, which ones were friendly and which were problematic.

"They stayed until the day before they were due to fly home, which was impressive."

The area around Gombad went bad not because of those particular U.S. troops but because of their predecessors, a U.S. infantry company that opted to bar itself within the compound's gates and venture only rarely "beyond the wire," the Canadians say. The valleys were allowed to fester unchecked with an ever more emboldened insurgency, eager to test the will of the coalition soldiers.

Now that turf must be reclaimed, village by village, with Canadian boots on the ground.

I am wondering how many American officers and troops have read books on counterinsurgency? Did they read TE Lawrence? Or 28 Articles by Kilcullen?

Part 4 War Canadian Style:

The LAV did not crumble when a mechanized section of 1st Platoon was struck the evening of Feb. 9 in an area that some of the soldiers now call "Sphincter Alley," a narrow, natural ambush site on the approach to Gombad. [snip]

With this kind of firepower, one wouldn't expect Canadian soldiers to need much else in situ. But the men of 1st Platoon come also with a few superstitious tricks up their sleeve. One has gone so far as to have the symbol for "luck" tattooed onto his neck in Mandarin. Others, when asked about good luck charms, empty their pockets to show such unlikely totems as "three lucky bullets."

This is where the coalition forces work together:

But there is one weapon we can describe — the "ratpicker." We saw it first after a tense dismounted patrol through the comparatively hostile village of Padah, where scowling men ignored the friendly but cautious waves of the marching Canadians and in some cases admonished Afghan toddlers who waved back in greeting.

Dead ahead on the other side of Padah was the ratpicker, or Meerkat — a kind of giant praying mantas on wheels whose sole purpose is to detect and disable roadside bombs before the Canadians drive over them.

U.S. army Specialist Russ Snyder, 28, of the 391st Combat Engineer Battalion, has been driving the Meerkat and its larger variant in Afghanistan for almost a year. A reservist and former Philadelphia city cop, Snyder's crew is the only mine clearance team of its kind in country — and therefore in high demand.[snip]

The hope is that, before Snyder's team is called elsewhere in Afghanistan, bomb-planting insurgents will accept the futility of their efforts and move elsewhere, away from the Canadians at Gombad.

"We're basically chasing the bomb planters around the country," says Snyder. "Hopefully they will eventually get tired of being chased and move out of Afghanistan altogether

Part 6: Canada's Citizen Soldiers Fathers and Sons

The pups of Alpha Company call him "Pops," or sometimes "The Old Man." To glimpse at his grey whiskers, it is easy to imagine Cpl. Erik Hjalmarson is a lifer with decades in the Forces.

Not so. Though Hjalmarson turns 55 this month, he didn't join the army until age 49, making him an extraordinarily mature recruit to Canada's front-line combat forces.

What drove the Duncan, B.C., native to call the Canadian Forces Recruitment Centre six years ago? In part, Hjalmarson explains, it was his last chance to share in a family heritage that dates back to World War I.[snip]

Hjalmarson has another overriding interest for being in these hills: It helps him keep tabs on his oldest son, also named Eric, 25, who is deployed at the main Canadian base at Kandahar Airfield, working with Bravo Company. Father and son have been in the same battalion for the past six years.

"I think I worry about him more than he worries about me, but that is what a parent does. It just goes to show how our family is steeped in military tradition. My dad was with the Royal Canadian Engineers in World War II, landing at Juno Beach and fighting right through to Germany," he says.

"And my grandfather served with 49th Battalion, the South Saskatchewan Regiment, in World War I.

"I've grown up with the stories. To me, it relates to a tradition of what Canadians used to call `citizen soldiers' — volunteers who joined up to fight. Canada always had an army that could make do with what they were given."

With many complaints about the state of Canada's military, the Canadians often do "make do". Right now they've been making do with US airlift and resupply support, among others.

Canada's relationship with it's soldiers and the purpose of a military:

"I think the biggest satisfaction is watching these young guys become men of substance. We get people from all walks of life coming in, boys from the farms and cities and fishing villages. A lot of them already know what is it to work hard and some of them have to learn it the hard way.

"What we end up with is a fighting army. Not just a peacekeeping army, but a peacemaking army. Sad to say, most Canadians don't know about it. But it's here. We're here. And we're getting the job done."[snip]

It emerges by firelight that the Red Devils resent that, somehow, in the minds of so many Canadians, they don't really exist. A crack combat unit, they feel, has no place in the eyes of what many perceive as anti-military Middle Canada. Like their grandfathers, they trained to fight. But somehow in the 50 years between then and now, these shadow warriors lost their hold on the country. Or Canada simply let go.

The Axe Attack on Lieutenant Greene:

Warrant Mackay barks the order to the Red Devil Inn and instantly the men sprint for their gear. Flak jackets, helmets and guns are gathered in seconds. The cause of alarm is not yet known. Everyone knows better than to ask.

It is 2:02 p.m., Saturday, March 4. And something has gone terribly wrong at the village of Shingai, three kilometres away, where Capt. Schamuhn and Lieut. Greene are visiting the third village of the day to meet with village elders. The first radio transmission announced "Contact." That means contact with the enemy. Shots were fired, there were explosions. No other details are known. [snip]

Headquarters at Kandahar Airfield, codenamed "Orion Zero," enters the radio conversation, informing Schamuhn that U.S. Apache helicopters are on the way. They will advise when the Medevac is "wheels up." Headquarters requests for additional details about the nature of the casualty, in order to better prepare base hospital staff.

"Orion One-One: casualty is (unintelligible). He has received an axe wound to the head."

Radio silence.

Then headquarters repeats its query: "Orion One-One this is Orion Zero: Say again the nature of the wound, over."

Schamuhn keys his microphone to repeat. "Orion One-One: I say again. The nature of the wound is an axe to the head. Over."

Definitely a must read.

More on Canada and its military:

"It is so rare for Canadian soldiers to be put in a situation by our government where we are actually able to use the weapons we've been trained to use," he says.

"As morbid as it may seem to an outsider, we get to be soldiers. And a lot of us are going to go home very satisfied that we got to do it. Imagine an EMT worker training all their life in medicine and never getting the call."

As a student of military history, the young captain also has something to say about the Canadian tendency to take its peace for granted. The sheer lack of fighting on our own soil, he says, has damaged the Canadian perception of what really goes on in the world and fostered a culture of blithe pacifism.

"It is one thing for someone to come back from seeing reality in a place like this and to say, `I'm a pacifist. I don't want Canada to have an army.' I can respect that, even if I don't agree," says Schamuhn.

"But if you're born in Canada and that's all you've ever known, your words mean nothing to me. Because you haven't seen the other side of the world. You haven't seen the necessity of conflict. There are people who are fighting against peace, against stable government.

"And Canada, whether they want to know it or not, has a very strong warrior class. I guess that is what the front-line soldiers really want Canadians to understand. We want Canadians to get on board, to realize we are out here and to allow us to do what we are prepared to do."

Virtual Dave from Canadahar's Sibling wrote to the Sun:

In my letter I was trying to make it clear that Canadian soliders serving in Afghanistan are not “peacekeepers”. This will be obvious to anyone reading this weblog; however, it is not at all obvious to many Canadians, including many in the media, who often refer or allow correspondents to refer to our soldiers as peacekeepers.

This is just plain wrong - peacekeeping is done by the UN, not Canada, and we’ve pretty much pulled out of peacekeeping these days anyway - but it bothers me especially because of the emotive image of peacekeepers, and of the idea being put into people’s heads of Canadian peacekeepers as casualties. The article my letter was responding to was one such confused collection of statements about “peacekeeping personnel” being killed, and asking whether this was the best use of our peacekeepers. I may be wrong about this, but I think that people are more likely to support the Canadian mission in Afghanistan - even with casualties - if they know that those involved are soldiers. Changing them into peacekeepers suggests, to me at least, that there should be less shooting involved - both by them, and by others.

Canadians need to understand that these are soldiers, and that this is a war effort. The term “peacekeeping” implies that there should in fact be a peace to keep, and the recent battle at Sangin suggests that this is not entirely the case in Afghanistan.

The final piece of the multi-part story from the Star gives point in fact view of this war.

You may call the Afghan villagers of Gombad and places like it helpless. The lingering paradox now is that they may also be unhelpable - altogether too shredded by successive generations of conflict and decline to accept the hand within reach.

It is a question Capt. Schamuhn has been pondering for months, even before he came to Kandahar. He went to his father, the pastor, for answers.

"I was struggling with the problem that we can't help everybody. We could be here for the rest of our lives and we still won"t be able to solve Afghanistan, it is such a complex and deeply rooted problem," he says.

"But my dad's advice was, 'Don't worry about changing the world. Just change individual people's worlds, one at a time."

"There will always be war, there will always be bad guys," says Schamuhn. "It is the nature of humanity. But just to smile at the kids as we go through these villages, to see their faces light up, you are touching a life on the other side of the planet.

"That's what we have to focus on: the individual victories."

This is a long war. There is no fixing Iraq or Afghanistan overnight. People who imagine that the initial phase of the war or "major combat" could have been fought differently and would have changed the outcome to in fact be "peacekeeping and reconstruction" only have no idea what war we are fighting. They are lost. They don't know the history of the area nor its current condition. They do not understand that third world countries do not turn into even second world countries overnight or in three to five years. The "significant progress" that impresses a ground commander looks like nothing in the news clips and videos that we see on TV. Words from Presidents and Prime Ministers do not explain it nor can they really convey how important it is.

People have a fantasy world that they imagine exists. In this fantasy world, the people in Africa or South Asia are just like the neighbor who lives next door. They think that they can just shake hands, wave hello and these people will simply open their doors and be ready to accept a new social structure that revolves around what we in the west call "the rule of law", but only exists through a unique social contract that does not exist in every nation or backwater hole. In those places, the rule of "survival of the fittest" and the rule of the "gun" are the "rule of law". Disputes are settled with blood, money and even exchange of hostages. Subsistance does not even begin to describe the situation.

In the fantasy world of many people, from Canada to the US to Europe, the American Peace Corps is the exemplary method for changing the world. Where a group of people go to a village somewhere, build a school, dig a well, teach children some English, vaccinate those they can reach and this, they imagine will be the trigger, the only trigger necessary to change a world full of armed thugs, militias and violent idealogues.

People pretend that the moral authority of men in blue helmets standing between a heavily armed force and another or a group of civilians, calling themselves peacekeepers, will actually bring peace. Peacekeepers can only keep the peace that already exists, they cannot make peace. If people are not willing to make peace, they will not have it and we cannot keep it.

It is a strange paradox. On the one hand, people insist that "someone should do something" to stop genocidal killings or keep children from starving or whole countries from obliteration, yet they demand that there is no military force used to stop it because then the military might have to kill people that we did not originally have any fight with. They demand that no military person should die in this "peacekeeping mission" when we have said they cannot shoot. One must wonder what they expect to happen? Is there a magical shield that will keep bullets from hitting "peacekeepers"? Are they protected by a higher power from the violence of the world we expect them to enter? Should they be martyrs, never having fired their weapons? What is it that makes people believe that peaceful organization and action, having occured in some nations, will work in every nation?

How are people to get food and medical treatment if other armed groups kill them or prevent them from doing it if "peacekeepers" cannot insure the safety of these people either coming to receive help or when they leave for surely, those who understand know that, having received help, in the world these people live in, is tantamount to declaring for "our" side or some "other" side.

This war will be long. The transformation of nations are always long, but, more in fact, this war is not just Afghanistan or Iraq. It is far reaching from Africa to Indonesia. It is more than a region. It is more than simply giving people water or food or medicine. A squad will not drink tea with a village elder, build a clinic and school, then leave expecting that they have changed the life and security of that village. It takes many visits, many weeks, months and years to build the kind of trust that is required to change their world and ours. If we do not commit to that; if we are not prepared to go there day after day, week after week; if we are not prepared, not only to spend money and resources, but to provide security to these people over a long haul, we will not win.

The fact is, when we leave every day, when we do not come back the next, there are men over the hill, whether they be Taliban, Al Qaida, other Tribes that are waiting for us to leave. They are waiting to punish, to take away and to destroy what we have built. If there is anything that we should have learned from Vietnam, this is it. You cannot change this fact unless you are willing to become the "peacemakers" who will give people the security necessary to develop into this society, the good society. Unless they can expect to live every day without the fear that their neighbors will come to kill them, they have no incentive to change.

Those who want a silver bullet, that imagine roads, water works and schools then leave, do not want to "win". They do not want to commit. What they want is to have done something to make themselves "feel good" so they can pretend they have changed the world while they go back to microwave dinners and cable TV where, ten years from now, they will see the news that shows these places in the same condition we had found them so long ago. They will shake their heads. When another third world national sets off a bomb in their city, they will wonder why it is that it has happened. They will wonder why it is that we could not change this world. They will blame those people in the past who "failed" to change these places. They will blame these "others" from so long ago for not doing enough, forgetting how they insisted that "enough" had been done so long ago or that "enough" should not include war.

How they expected them to change without the necessary committment, the committment, not only to provide water, food and medicine, but the committment to security, one can only guess. This security does not come solely from chai tea and built clinics, but with a sharp sword in one hand and a handshake in the other. It takes a long time. It will take a long war.

It can be done, but only if we finally accept that money does not fix it. When we are prepared to understand that our soldiers will be shot at and killed for many years. When we are prepared to accept that we may kill others who will be prepared to kill us. When we are prepared to accept, when we have provided for a village, we must provide security or everything we have done will not matter. It will be pile of rubble, like the old Soviet buildings in downtown Kabul: crumbling, dirty and unused.

This is the new war. It will not go away when we leave these places. It will still exist. It will be in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc, etc, etc from now until the term "third world nation" no longer exists. Therefore, if we reject fighting this war, this type of war, today, it only means that we will fight it later. The fight we may fight later may be worse than the fight we have today as WMD and advanced weapon systems proliferate throughout third world and "failed" nations into the hands of individuals without political control and without a "state" or assets that can be targeted to force them to stop. The casualties we take today, the money we spend, the small victories today, may mean that we do not fight a war where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilians and soldiers die.

There may be nations where "securing the peace" is not required before performing civil affairs projects such as in Dijbouti or Ethiopia, but we had better be prepared to "secure the peace" with force of arms if necessary or we had better be prepared to continue to stand by and watch starvation, dehydration, death, disease, and genocide. We had better be prepared for third world nationals to believe they are exploited or somehow injured by the existence of our nations and that wants to exact revenge or destroy us all together. That is a fact that "pacifists" do not comprehend. Their principles do not exist in all the world, yet they project that in their fantasy and they try to force it on realistic national security policy and the military.

If people really want to believe that they should not fight, but keep the peace, then I suggest that we should be ready to "not exist".

Today we have allies and we should not forget them. Tomorrow we may be alone.

Other Coalition deaths in Afhganistan include:

Denmark: 3

France: 2

Germany: 2

Italy: 5

Spain: 17

Sweden: 2

Romania: 3

United Kingdom: 7

More information on Coalition Partners in the Forgotten War.

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