Monday, January 28, 2008

The Future of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan

The Canadian Forces role in Afghanistan has been a hot issue and a very partisan one at that. To give a little background, when Jean (The Worst Prime Minster Ever) Chretien was elected to office one of the first things he did was to axe a major military helicopter purchase that he had made on the Liberal Party campaign trail. It was partisan, it was petty, it was plain wrong.

This decision lead to the neglect of our military both personnel and equipment. Under his reign of error Chretien talked big about our military while destroying it behind the scenes.

After September 11, 2001, it was time to s***t or get off the pot. So in early 2002 we sent troops to Afghanistan, mainly to Kabul, in what was essentially a relatively safe tour of duty for the troops. Meanwhile back in the back stabbing world of Canadian politics a guy named Paul Martin managed to oust Chretien, after much plotting, and usurp the role of Prime Minister, which as it turned out he wasn't very good at. (They called him MR Dithers, 'nuff said)

One thing he did do however was let himself be persuaded by NATO that Canada really needed to step up to the plate in Afghanistan and take on some heavy lifting in a combat role in the Southern Afghanistan province of Khanadar which was to begin in early 2006. As a former Canadian Soldier I was pleased as punch.

I was even more pleased (thrilled would be more like it) when Martin called an election and promptly lost to the Conservatives of Stephen Harper. To be certain Harper only has a minority government but he quickly proved to be a major political strategist.

With Liberal party in disarray (oh, the back stabbing was a sight to behold) they held a convention which was basically split between the centre right and the loony left with a few moderates in between. This led to a stalemate that caused Stephane Dion become the Leader of the Liberal Part of Canada. (Like Martin before him he's not very good at it)

To make a long story short Harper called a surprise vote in the House of Commons to extend the mission for February 2008 to February 2009. He won. Then he started beefing up the military.

This has caused a stir in the population as the mission has never properly been explained to Canadians either by the Liberals who started the mission or the Conservatives who prosecute the war.

Now, back the lack of Military helicopters I mentioned above. We only have a relatively small number of Soldiers in the 'Stan, 2,500 to be more exact, but per capita we are taking casualties out of proportion to our allies who are also engaged in combat operations there. I. e. the Americans and the British. That's because our troops have to DRIVE every where. No helicopter insertions or re-supply.

To shed some light on the subject for the populace Prime Minister Harper commissioned an independent panel to report on the situation on the ground currently and recommendations for the way forward. Heading up this panel as Chairman would be John Manley a former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government. The report has now been tabled. What follows is the forward to the report.

Chair’s Foreword

If I learned one thing from this enquiry, it is that there is no obvious answer to the question of Canada’s future role in Afghanistan. But our presence in that distant land does matter.

Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan matters because it concerns global and Canadian security, Canada’s international reputation, and the well-being of some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people. Our commitment is important because it has already involved the
sacrifice of Canadian lives.

At the same time, I realize many Canadians are uneasy about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. They wonder what it’s all for, whether success is achievable, and in the end, whether the results will justify the human and other costs. The most difficult decision a country can make is to send its young men and women into harm’s way, particularly when the outcome may appear less than certain. I can assure Canadians that each of us on the Panel wrestled with this question throughout our enquiry.

We find ourselves, with our allies, in a situation of conflict in a land that is far from us, little known by us and where our interests do not seem self-evident. We are trying to help a country whose recent history has been one long, unending tragedy, and whose prospects still appear bleak.

The question of Canada’s future role defies a simple answer. It is complicated by the challenging nature of the mission and by the difficult neighborhood in which Afghanistan is situated, made even more volatile by the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It is made more complex because we assumed responsibility for fighting an insurgency in a dangerous province of the country and we did so with little political debate and not much public engagement. And that insurgency is far from defeated.

Our Panel consulted very broadly – both here at home and abroad. We traveled through four provinces in Afghanistan. We tried to assess progress made to date and the requirements for improved prospects. And we sought to answer the question of Canada’s appropriate role in the future.

Our assessment of the situation recognizes the enormity of the challenge: regional instability; slow progress on reconstruction and development; mounting insecurity and violence; corruption, criminality and increasing poppy production. But there can be no doubt that compared to the starting point in 2001, living conditions in Afghanistan have seen measurable, even significant improvement.

Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, there was never any hesitation: “We want you to stay; we need you to stay.” Without the presence of the international security forces, they said, chaos would surely ensue.

The Panel learned early that we must be careful to define our expectations for success. Afghanistan is a deeply divided tribal society. It has been wracked by decades of war and is one of the poorest countries on Earth. There should be no thought that after five or even ten years of western military presence and aid, Afghanistan will resemble Europe or North America. But we came to the conviction that with patience, commitment, financial and other forms of assistance, there is a reasonable prospect that its people will be able to live together in relative peace and security, while living standards slowly improve.

The essential questions for Canada are: how do we move from a military role to a civilian one, and how do we oversee a shift in responsibility for Afghanistan’s security from the international community to Afghans themselves?

To achieve these objectives, much still needs to be done.

Institutions that are respected need to be built and the Afghan National Army and Police need to be further recruited and trained.

Agricultural districts need to be reclaimed from land mines and poppy fields, so that traditional crops can once again flourish where they have in the past.

Both the reality and the perception of corruption in the Government of Afghanistan must be rooted out. They are undermining not only the hope for an Afghan solution but also support for the Western forces sacrificing their lives to help secure the situation.

Roads, bridges and electrification must be enhanced, so that ordinary Afghans can see progress.

With all that needs to be done, no end date makes sense at this point. Afghanistan presents an opportunity for Canada. For the first time in many years, we have brought a level of commitment to an international problem that gives us real weight and credibility. For once, our 3Ds (defense, diplomacy and development assistance) are all pointed at the same problem, and officials from three departments are beginning to work together.

But the cost is real, and it is high.

Canadians don’t need any lessons in sacrifice. Our history is replete with examples of courage and fortitude in conflict against difficult odds when the cause was just and the determination to prevail was present. But our Panel concluded that the sacrifice of Canadian lives could only be justified if we and our allies and the Afghans share a coherent, comprehensive plan that can lead to success, and if our allies are willing to stand with us with the resources and commitment that are necessary to make success possible.

We like to talk about Canada’s role in the world. Well, we have a meaningful one in Afghanistan. As our report states, it should not be faint-hearted nor should it be open-ended. Above all, we must not abandon it prematurely.

Rather, we should use our hard-earned influence to ensure the job gets done and gets done properly.

Honourable John Manley, P.C.

Ottawa, January, 2008

More on the report later but for me reading the words: "Canadians don't need any lessons in sacrifice." Coming from a very powerful member of the Liberal Party of Canada is music. To any Americans reading this John Manley = Joe Lieberman; Stephane Dion = Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

I had to post this in the hopes that the very few people who read this site will be aware of this excellent American Soldier working with Afghan troops and writing about his experiences. He is absolutetly the best blogger writing from Afghanistan at this time. The following is a piece he wrote today.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Knew It Was Coming
I actually wondered why it hadn't happened before. Our press tends to assassinate us. In their fervor to recreate the journalistic glory of Viet Nam, you knew that they had to do it. They had to begin to portray veterans of this struggle as "troubled," leaning towards, "murderous." Perhaps it has happened before and I didn't notice it, but here it is;
Here's the headline:
Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles - New York Times
Chilling. Dramatic. Oooooh, deadly. What's deadly?

The New York Times actually did a series addressing the "trend" of murderous veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. No less than 9 journalists and researchers created new demographics in order to suit their needs, drawing the conclusion that veterans are a dangerous lot because so many of us suffer from PTSD and the government refuses to help us. The Viet Nam specter is clearly invoked, and the underlying theme is that hundreds of thousands of mentally diseased trained killers are knowingly and/or negligently unleashed upon the peaceful people of the United States by an uncaring military establishment and a wantonly careless government.
"The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction." - New York Times

Not only that, but we are very very very likely to kill our own families. And... SHHHHH... we tend to own GUNS. >gasp! <

Imagine the horror. I, personally, am totally angst-ridden. I can't believe that any responsible government would create monsters like... well, like me... and then unleash us upon an unsuspecting society?!?!? What in the name of all that is decent is going on in this world?
We, ladies and gentlemen, are the Love Canal. We are the radon gas of society. I am the avian flu.

The article actually made me afraid of myself. Since reading the article I am constantly looking around to see if I am sneaking up on me with murderous intent.
Well, let's take a look at that, shall we? With the limited information that I have available on the internet, I've discovered that there are roughly 700,000 veterans of the Global War On Terror who have been discharged. That does not count the number who have not been discharged (remember, there are nearly 1.4 million active duty military members.) I have also discovered that the murder rate in the United States is roughly 7 per 100,000 people per year. That means that in a population of the size of the discharged veterans, you would expect a total more along the lines of 294 homicides over the course of six years.

Now... am I stretching here, or is someone manipulating information to make it appear that I and my brothers (females accounted for 1 of the 121 murders cited) are unconscionable risks to society? Now, remember, 9 people worked full time to produce a printed series on this issue. Tragic stories were told. Tragic graphics were created. Any story of a senseless murder is tragic. You can manipulate all kinds of emotions when you tell stories of a 20 year old father who beats his 2 year old to death.

Unfortunately, that happens several times a year in most decent sized cities. It was one of the cases involved. One. Not a dozen, not a hundred. One. Yes, it is pitiable. Yes, it is heinous. It's absolutely heartbreaking; but it is one guy out of 700,000 in six years.

Again, I say to you; our own media is manipulating this war and the information that is coming from it in some twisted attempt to recreate their society-shaping role of the 1960's. Where were the teeth of the people who run the media at this point in time cut? They were cut on the stories of Watergate, Viet Nam, McNamara, My Lai, and Kent State. Deranged combat veterans are mother's milk to these most esteemed professionals.

Oooops... here's another number; they earlier mentioned 121. Now they bring in another number. Let's see what that is, shall we?

"The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.
The Pentagon was given The Times's roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper's research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by "an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11." He also questioned the value of "lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide." " -New York Times

Uhhhhh-huh. Hmmmm. A little more arithmetic, Copernicus, please? Ah-ha! Okay... now we see that three quarters were combat veterans. Okay. Three quarters of 349 is 274. Now, we already know that we are missing some veteran's numbers... the ones who haven't left the service. Oh, perhaps a hundred thousand or so (out of a pool of approximately 1.4 million, I think I'm being generous.) But we'll just go with the number that we have. We already determined that over a 6 year period, we would see roughly 294 in the standard population, or twenty more than in the comparable military population... actually an admittedly larger population, which should have more homicides, not less.

A crime wave. It's shocking. It's heinous. How can we, as a society, tolerate the wanton abandon with which our veterans murder us??? I demand action.

Thankfully, our press, led by no less than the venerable New York Times, has leapt to our rescue with the greatest of attempts to educate us all about the dangers that people like this bring. Oh, I'm sorry... I mean people like me.

I saw the wholesale slander that was levied against Viet Nam veterans. I remember that it went so far that the Veterans Administration had to run television ads begging people to hire veterans. Laws were passed to protect the rights of veterans. I am protected by those laws at my civilian employer. But where did the man on the street get the idea that war veterans were undesirable? Gee... I don't know. What do you think?

Remember "The Deer Hunter?" You know, Christopher Walken is still crazier than a shithouse rat after that one, just from playing a Viet Nam vet. I'm assuming that's what did it to him. "Rambo"... great entertainment; it played upon that Viet Nam killer vet who's really no good for anything other than killing kind of thing. Hassle him for vagrancy and he'll tear your whole town down. Tens of thousands of Viet Nam veterans struggled for years, practically ashamed of their veteran's status. I remember that. My brother was a Viet Nam veteran. He never forgot what his country... not his government; his country did to him. His country threw dog crap at him and turned their back on Viet Nam veterans for years.

I was wondering when it was coming. Our media is so damned predictable. You knew it had to start sometime. Now it has. Now comes the slander of the soldier. Oh, their statistics are constructed by the best journalists they could find sitting around the assignment desk... at least as reliable as mine, I'm sure. I mean, if you can't find a real statistician, find a journalist, because they are the most trustworthy and accurate people in the world, other than statisticians and tobacco company PR guys.


Yep, some of us are going to have problems. Guess what? Lots of people have problems. A Marine just murdered some girl that he apparently got pregnant by raping her and he was apparently afraid of the baby turning out to be his. Guess what? Scott Peterson wasn't even in the military, and he killed someone he got pregnant while he was married to her. Oh, by the way... that Marine was never deployed to a combat zone. That's not a military issue, it's a human issue. That's not PTSD, it's just crime.

I am a tiny voice in a corner of the web. I started this to share with some of my friends and to jog my memories when I get home. I never want to forget what this feels like. It turns out that sometimes people who I don't know read this. So, I will raise my feeble cry and throw the bullshit flag. I will not tolerate this without raising my voice, for I have one.

I just sent a bunch of the finest young men that South Carolina has ever offered the world home. Don't you dare slander them. Shame on the New York Times for trying to paint our veterans with this brush. Shame on them as much as I have ever shamed anyone in my life. Those nine people have earned my everlasting disgust.

Here are their names:
DEBORAH SONTAG and LIZETTE ALVAREZ, Alain Delaquérière, Amy Finnerty, Teddy Kider, Andrew Lehren, Renwick McLean, Jenny Nordberg and Margot Williams

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you would care to make amends, why don't you come to where I am and see what is being done for the people in the little AO (Area of Operations) that I work in? Why don't you come here and see the flood control project in the village down the road? How about the bridge up the other way? I got a road for you to see. Why don't you come here and see the village assessments, involving the village elders in improving their conditions, the schools that have been built? Why don't you come here and see the huge hearts that these young soldiers have? Why don't you come here and see the clinic on this FOB that is specifically for the local nationals? Why don't you come here and see how we are working to iron out the corruption and improve the Police? Why don't you come here and see how we are working to get this problem-riddled young nation to stand up?
Why don't you write about that? Because it's easier to sit find stories of shocking crimes and heart-wrenching human tragedy. It's easier to manufacture data and then make the blanket statement that our homicide rate is higher because... you say so. Because a school in a tiny valley in Afghanistan doesn't sell. Bastards.

I know that was just wasted electrons, but I had to offer you the opportunity to make it right.
Now, I have seen young men who have been referred for treatment. One was the young man who had a machine gun blown in half right in his face and then just scant days later, he took an RPG in the door and was wounded. Yup, it shook him up. Yup, he needs a little help. Can't blame him at all. That was so scary that most of you can't imagine it. He's going to be fine. The other one from our little group was referred because he saw his friend (the aforementioned soldier) blown up with not one but two RPG's. Of course, he was a half a bubble out of plumb when he got here, so I'm not sure that he counts. It's good that he got a little help, though. Doubtless he needed it.

Just this week a Combat Stress Team came here to the FOB. Leaders were encouraged to have their soldiers talk to the trained mental health professional who was here. Plenty did. Our government has abandoned us and is clearly not taking combat stress disorders seriously. It took a helicopter to get that team here. Total lack of commitment.

There are people who will have problems. There are millions of Americans who will suffer from mental illness this year. There is stigma about mental illness in every sector of American society, including ours. But to manipulate data and emotions to stir the shadow of fear in people about our combat veterans is a careless misuse of the power of the press. Shame.

This article was on the front page of the New York Times web site. Journalistic integrity is an oxymoron.

My sources were the US Department of Justice, the DOD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and my own eyes full of the dust of Afghanistan.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Canadians Ambushed in Afghanistan: 2006

This is more video footage shot by American photojournalist Scott Kesterton while going into combat with Canadian troops in July, 2006. Note as soon as the troops are ambushed the Soldiers run directly into it. That's the way to do it!!

Troops from Alpha Company, 2nd Platoon, "Red Devils" from Edmonton, Canada are ambushed as they conducted battle damage assessment in the village on July 15, 2006 in Sangin, Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan