Friday, October 05, 2007

Canada claims Victory in latest Afghan offensive

Matthew Fisher

CanWest News Service

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD -- Canada is claiming a major victory over the Taliban with its latest offensive, called Operation Honest Soldier, although one Canadian soldier was killed by an enemy mortar.

The Taliban "were surprised," Captain Stephane Masson, operations co-ordinator for Joint Task Force Afghanistan, told a briefing Wednesday. "We tightened the circle and they had to fight. We saw signs of panic."

The recently completed operation aimed to seize land to establish police checkpoints at strategically significant places throughout Panjwaii, an area long infested with insurgents, about 50 kilometres west of Kandahar City.

Operation Honest Soldier involved Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion of the Quebec-based Royal 22nd (Van Doos) Regiment, tanks from the Alberta-based Lord Strathcona's Horse, as well as Afghan army and police.

Corporal Nathan Hornburg, a reservist from Nanton, Alta., and the King's Own Calgary Regiment, who was attached to the Strathconas, died during the operation last week when he tried to repair a tank tread.

Other than confirming that there were insurgent casualties, the Canadian military, as is its policy, refused to reveal a body count.

Honest Soldier was designed to rationalize Afghan police checkpoints and convert them into more easily defended police substations.

Four of the stations have been completed. They were located in strategic locations near traffic arteries.

"The big conflict was last week. Since then contacts have dropped to about one a day," Capt. Masson said.

While the operation unfolded in Panjwaii, it also had an effect on the equally restive neighbouring district of Zhari.

There was already "a great intelligence improvement," as a result of establishing the police substations, said Capt. Masson, an artillery officer.

While the Van Doos fought in Panjwaii and Zhari, elements of the Quebec-based 12th Armoured Regiment helped Afghan authorities with what were described as "governance issues" in the eastern town of Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border.

Meanwhile, Ahmed (Sorkai) Zia, the 12-year-old Afghan boy shot in the head by Canadian troops on a convoy on Tuesday, was doing "much better," a day after emergency surgery at NATO's hospital at the Kandahar Airfield, a military spokeswoman said.

The boy was in stable, non-life-threatening condition and had been placed in a medically induced coma to assist with his recovery, said Captain Josée Bilodeau, adding the child probably would remain in that state for at least three days.

Sorkai's older brother, Esmatullah, died instantly when he was also shot in the head in the same incident. The brothers had been riding a motorcycle near the convoy.
The shooting was an accident and "not the result of enemy activity," the Canadian military said on Tuesday.

However, military police are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the shooting, including suggestions that it may have been caused by an equipment malfunction.
After several weeks of calm, the Kandahar airfield, where many Canadian and other NATO troops are based, was hit several times by rockets on Tuesday and Wednesday.