Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Kandahar: A soldier's thoughts

Cpl. James Dalton, 21, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, was deployed to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving weekend. He's been writing monthly dispatches from the Canadian Forces base at Kandahar. This is his fourth column forThe Victoria Times Colonist .

Wintertime sees a relief from the intense heat of the summer months and the start of frigid cold temperatures at night that would make you think you're back in Canada.

Even the Afghans think we're crazy when they see us sleep outside. Unfortunately, the backs of the vehicles we drive are uncomfortable just to sit in, let alone stretch out and sleep.

Traditionally over the winter, we see a decline in insurgent activity as many of the Taliban leaders head back to their homes in Pakistan and order attacks from there. Usually, there is a decline in firefights between coalition forces and Taliban, but we see a spike in IEDs around the country.

Last week, I went on a foot patrol through a built-up urban area of Kandahar with some Americans and Afghan police forces. This being my first patrol on foot, I was slightly edgy and careful of every step I took. Every bush I walked by I thought could potentially be a spot where someone could put a bomb.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I started to relax a little. Kids come up to you constantly to say hello in hopes that maybe you have something to give them. Two boys asked me if I had money, chocolate or candy. I shook my head and held out my hand to show them I didn't have any, but they still grabbed it and went through each one of my fingers to make sure.

and the other Canadian on the patrol seemed to get the majority of the attention, possibly because we were dressed differently, but many of the Afghans driving by would yell "Canada!" out their car windows and wave or give us the thumbs-up. One kid ran by the police officer and the American in front of me to shake my hand.

Getting to walk around and see people face-to-face was much more rewarding than driving past them in an armoured vehicle.

The thing you realize is that in the end, people are the same everywhere. They just want to feel safe and to be able to work so they can feed their children and provide them with a normal life. It's hard to do that in a country that's seen nothing but war since the Russians came in 1978.

Christmas doesn't have the same feel as it does most years. Other than an occasional decoration in certain buildings, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

We've been receiving a lot of great gifts from back home. Unfortunately, I opened mine as soon as I got them, thus fulfilling the Christmas dreams I had when I was eight years old.

I'm also missing out on my family's tradition of watching the movie A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. We've watched that movie every year since I was about seven years old. What kind of parents would make their child watch a movie on Christmas Eve about a man being haunted by three ghosts ... on Christmas Eve! I couldn't sleep; I just sat straight up all night with a baseball bat and a whistle.

The year is coming to a close and I'm sure a lot of people are looking forward to the start of 2010 and the end of another decade, a decade where we saw the reality-show craze and Facebook reach new heights in popularity.

You could probably make a reality show about a gas jockey and turn him into a sex symbol for high school girls overnight. They would go crazy for his two-cent narratives for every emotional scene.

"I couldn't believe he wanted me to check the oil after I just filled up his truck! My girlfriend just dumped me and my parents made me walk the dog at six this morning! Nobody understands me."

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year.

© The Victoria Times Colonist 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Canadian Soldiers Need From You

Nothing more than that we be mindful of their sacrifice, appreciate their effort and take the time to understand what they're trying to achieve in Afghanistan before forming an opinion. To honour soldiers and to support their mission is not hagiography. It is not blind patriotism, or unquestioning acceptance of any government's propaganda, be it Conservative or Liberal.

It is simply to recognize that people, who believe passionately in a humanitarian ideal, volunteer in the service of that ideal and then risk their lives for it, are praiseworthy.

Behind the combat glasses, the body armour, the helmet and the assault rifle, is a man or a woman whose fear and discomfort are managed only by training, the company of other soldiers and the knowledge that we, the public, support them.

Support Wounded Canadian Soldiers

Wounded Warriors

True Patriot Love

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

American Milblogs Go Silent In Protest

U.S. Army Master Sgt. C. J. Grisham has always led from the front, from combat that earned him the Bronze Star with V device, to doing right by the men he led. His honesty won him readership and respect, from the White House on down. Yet, when he stood up for his children in school, his command did not stand by him. You can read more at Military Times to get the full story. Please donate via PayPal; or you can log into PayPal on your own, go to the send money page, and put in his email: dj_chcknhawk -at- yahoo -dot- com; or, you can send donations directly to:

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to you. Today, many milblogs are gone and others are under attack from within and without. Today, you have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.

The battle for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas is fought on many fronts and in many ways. Without your help, the battle may well be lost.

UPDATE:November 17, 2009. From Marcus Penn, Producer/Host

CJ will go from host to guest on tonight's You Served Radio. The show
will begin at 1900 EST with our usual intro and first guest, at 2000
EST CJ will give a statement regarding the milblogs going silent, and
then Troy and I will interview him for the rest of the show.

Who: CJ Grisham
What: You Seved Radio Interview
When: 2000 EST 17 December
Where: You Served Radio

We may take calls from listeners depending on how long the interview
goes. The call in number is (347) 202-0679.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Highway of Heroes

A very moving musical tribute to the troops from Canadian country singer Ginny McIlmoyle performed at the regimental headquarters of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment which is part of 33 Canadian Brigade Group, one of four Brigade Groups of Land Force Central Area.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Marching Off To War

"Even though we lost our fallen comrades one is going to stop us from completing our mission."-- 1st Sgt. James McLeod, 467th Medical Detachment

The 467th Medical Detachment that had soldiers both killed and wounded during the Nov. 5 shooting at Ft Hood deployed as scheduled to Afghanistan. Three soldiers from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Army Reserve unit were killed during the shooting.

"This is how it is, mostly: no brass bands, or even drum and bugle corps. No cheering throngs. Just a simple walk in the pre-dawn hours to a bus that takes you to the flightline, to a plane that takes you to war."Greyhawk

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NATO-ISAF Commander Discusses the Surge

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, addresses members of his staff Wednesday, moments after President Barack Obama announced he would send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in order to help ISAF gain the initiative against violent extremists, deny them safe haven and enhance the coalition's ability to train and mentor Afghan security forces.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama to Announce 30,000 Troop Surge

President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan on an accelerated timetable that will have the first Marines there as early as Christmas and all forces in place by summer report various news sources. But he'll also declare Tuesday night that troops will start leaving in 19 months.

In a prime-time speech from West Point, New York, that finally ends a painfully long three-month review, Obama will seek to sell his bigger, costlier plan for the 8-year-old stalemated war said two senior administration officials speaking as usual anonymously.

This falls 10,000 troops short of what NATO Commander, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal had called for. This will definitely impact Canada's Task Force Kandahar. NATO confirmed Tuesday that Canada's area of operations in south Afghanistan will expand slightly to include a northern suburb of Kandahar City known as Arghandab.

Few Canadian troops will actually move back into Arghandab. Rather, new U.S. soldiers who will be under Canadian command, will soon take over responsibility for the area, which is one of several Taliban hotbeds close to the provincial capital. The Stryker force had been and will remain under U.S. command.

In Kabul, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the new head of a U.S.-NATO command responsible for training and developing Afghan soldiers and police, said Tuesday the groundwork is being laid to expand the Afghan National Army beyond the current target of 134,000 soldiers and 96,800 police by next October. But, he said, no fixed higher target is set.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's Next for Kanadahar?

Current Task Force Kandahar (TFK) Commander, Brigadier General Jonathan Vance, greets the incoming TFK Commander, Brigadier General Daniel Ménard, upon his arrival at the Kandahar Airfield,Photo: Master Corporal Angela Abbey, DND.

Canadian Forces Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard took over Task Force Afghanistan from Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, Thursday, November 18, in a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield. Brig.-Gen. Menard told reporters that he was awaiting direction from "higher headquarters" regarding what may unfold in the coming months.

"We are going to receive more troops. It is complex because in certain cases they come from different parts of Afghanistan or from the United States. There could be as many as four other units attached to Task Force Afghanistan."

When this completed "it will be a huge brigade," he said. "To tell you the truth, it is a Canadian-U.S. brigade. That is how it is known. Those troops are under my command and I have full authority to manoeuvre them and do whatever needs to be done."

Canadian Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, who commands all Canadian forces overseas met with NATO/ISAF Commander, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal earlier in the week in Kabul. Gen. McChrystal commands NATO's more than 100,000 International Security and Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan.

Lt-Gen. Lessard said, "Everyone who know Afghanistan knows that Kandahar is the hub in the South. He who controls the South controls the insurgency and counter-insurgency. Kandahar City and its approaches is the vital ground for ISAF."

Among the plans under consideration were to return Arghandab, which lies just north of Kandahar City, to Canadian control again, as it had been until a U.S. army Stryker battalion took over there three months ago.

All of this hinges on the much delayed decision by the Obama administration as to whether or not he will grant Gen. McChrystal the troop increase that he has requested. If a troop increase is granted Gen. McChrystal is intent on beefing up security in Kandahar, which is the Taliban heartland.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

IED: The Deadliest Weapon

Watch CBS News Videos Online
Traumatic Brain Injuries(TBI)are the signature injuries of the Afghan War for coalition troops. This 60 Minutes video explains what American troops are doing to combat Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). (This is very similar to what Canadian Soldiers are doing.) Combat Engineers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the military and account for a high percentage of casualties among American and Canadian troops.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Remembrance Day is a day like no other in Canada. It is an occasion - once a year, every autumn - for Canadians to honour those who have served, and continue to serve, our country. It is a unique expression of solidarity for those who have died so that we can live in freedom.

Two minutes of silence, everywhere, across this country. Two minutes to stop and think. Two minutes to reflect and respect.

Imagine those of us at home, at school, in offices, factories and farms, stopping for two minutes. Imagine Canadians from coast to coast to coast -- on the street, in the supermarket, at train stations, bus terminals or airports -- stopping for two minutes to honour the men and women who have died to make this country what it is.

We invite you to join us in this personal commitment:

At eleven o'clock this morning, we will take two minutes to remember. We will stand up and be silent. When we do, we will join our fellow Canadians, wherever they may be, whatever language they speak, in honouring those who have served and are serving Canada, and those who have died, or suffered wounds, mental or physical, for our country. When we take two minutes to remember, we pay tribute to their courage and sacrifice.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Prisoner of War No. 52605

Flt. Lieut. Anton Novak's prisoner ID card.

In the early morning of July 29, 1944, during six hours of Allied bombing, Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Anton Novak's Lancaster was shot down over Germany. Badly injured, he was quickly captured and experienced the chaotic close of the Second World War from the discomfort of a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp.

Three weeks after arriving in Stalag Luft III, 160 kilometres southeast of Berlin, Lieut. Novak received a blank notebook from the YMCA in Geneva, with the words "A Wartime Log" written on the front.

The following excerpts are from the National Post’s three part Rememberance Day exclusive: Inside a Canadian POW's secret diary .

This is the first time pages of the secret diary of RCAF Flight Lieutenant Anton Novak, Prisoner of War No. 52605, have ever been published:

Nov. 7, 1944 — Received this book today. Memories that should and won't go down here, but stored away, safe from prying eyes... Show tonight -- shades of home life -- female impersonators very good. Was almost out of fags when Bob Andre, a big good-natured Australian gave me 1,000 Sweet Caps. Really a godsend...

Nov. 8, 1944 — We are now on half rations but we can all thank God for the Red Cross parcel that means all between starvation and some comfort.... But I'm a very lucky young man to be alive. Four of my crew died in the crash.

Nov. 10, 1944 — Grey day -- cold -- why go on? Homesick and lonely....

Nov. 11, 1944 — Remembrance Day — same as any other day here. For a change it has rained all day without let up. A cold wind.... Haven't started to gamble yet -- need my dough for something better: a HOME. Good night, Beloved.

Nov. 21, 1944 Raining like hell -locked out of our quarters all morning as the Germans searched for contraband. What a miserable day.

Nov. 25, 1944 — Have managed to get a bit of food stored away for a real need later on. Now the Germans are confiscating all extras. God knows where it will end up. We will most certainly be hungry before we get home....

Could hear Berlin being blasted again. About 100 miles from here, must have been the heavies [Lancaster bombers]. Wished I was taking part up there instead of down here.

Dec. 11, 1944 ....Allied armies bogged down again. Might have known it! Thank gosh Joe [Stalin] is moving again. We are about halfway between the two. Bet the man of steel gets here first.

Dec. 21, 1944 ....My third Christmas away from home. It is hard on our son. He and I will be strangers when we meet again (if we ever do!).... My injuries give me no trouble now except my leg. There are one or two scars but they won't be seen. Lost my right heel, broke right leg, fractured three and broke two ribs, broke right collarbone, ripped right arm from shoulder to elbow and a few scratches on left hand and both sides of face.... It is very cold now and is miserable most of the time.... But there is always something to live for. Hope to be able to build our own home when I get home. Should have the money by then. Wonder what Jac will have saved?

Dec 31, 1944 New Year's Eve — Thoughts of home and loved ones, food and comfort and warmth.... I wonder how long it will be before I see them again. It was two years tomorrow that I came home on my last Canadian leave....What a wealth of sights, scenes and good and bad experiences in that time!... Over five months and no news from Jac yet. Am getting slightly worried...but I haven't lost faith in my wife yet. She always was square with me and now that I am in a jam and very low is no time to start. So Happy New Year, Beloved, it can't be long now.

UPDATE:November, 10, 2009

The following excerpts are from the second batch of never-before seen pages of the secret diary of RCAF Flight Lieutenant Anton Novak, Prisoner of War No. 52605. Click on the images to zoom in and read the pages for yourself.

Jan 1, 1945: German advance finally checked. Said it would be — we and Joe [Stalin] are moving again. Looks a bit brighter. Started to snow this a.m. and now a howling blizzard….

Jan. 24: My wife’s birthday. I hope you are as happy as you can possibly be…. I love you so very much. 24 below zero and we were locked outside all morning till 1300 hours as the Germans searched our rooms for contraband. Thoroughly chilled.

Jan. 25: Stalin has put in a BIG push and is only 62 miles from here last night. Closer now. Explosions and the rumble of guns can he heard in the east. If we don’t get shifted from here within four days, our days of captivity may be at an end. Excitement and optimism reigns in the camp as we at last may be free and the end of this senseless war is in sight at last...

Jan. 27: … Fooled ourselves by wishful thinking. At 2130 hours we were ordered to pack in readiness to move off at once as the Russians were only a few miles away but did not leave until until 0630 next day. Much flap and a very terrible wastage of clothes and cigarettes as we couldn’t carry them all. Made a sled which comes in very handy.

Jan. 31: Wakened at 0430 hrs in a room roughly 15 x 25 ft with 126 others; how we managed I can’t say, but we are all very sore and stiff. One thing about sleeping together like this is the fact that we keep warm to some extent by being close together… The roads are in a terrible state, crowds of refugees and evacuees hinder progress; we are all travelling west… By gosh I could go for a big chicken dinner with all the trimmings! Four Americans died of cold and exposure. They were left where they dropped, but later picked up.

Feb. 4: … After interminable delays we at last arrived here in a pouring rain and nearly dark…. Had to march us to the camp where we stood around a further two hours in the rain before we were admitted. Then it was nearly 10 at night before we got indoors as air raid was in progress to liven things up a bit. We were soaked to the skin and the sick toll is mounting alarmingly. One American’s pack rope broke, he stooped to repair it, received three bullets in the back and a final resting place at the side of the road. Another fell on his face from sheer weariness – got three slugs in the head. I seem not too ill, but not too strong yet. God, how these bastardly Germans push you around…. Beloved, oh, my Beloved, if murder was ever justified, it really is now…

Feb. 7: … Cigarettes very valuable here, could buy almost anything except freedom, if we had them to spare.…

Feb. 9: … Running out of bumph [toilet paper] and there are no newspapers. Wonder how things are at home?? I’m lonely.

Feb. 10: I have kept notes of the past two weeks and will endeavour to keep this up, provided I can keep going (many have perished) and we get shelter of some sort from the elements… That much closer to home or death, don’t seem to care much which it is now.
… Today were issued with one spoon for every ten men as eating tools. No cooking utensils whatsoever. What stupendous generosity. Also, 1,500 blankets for over 4,000 beds. Managed to get one of them… What I long for almost as much as my family is a long, long hot bath, clean clothes and a deep warm, soft bed. My back and sides have had enough of boards. And some privacy! Am heartily sick of having someone’s front or butt end stuck in my face at odd moments…

Feb. 15: … Heavies [Lancaster bombers] went over last night in great force. Dresden got it in the neck again… Wonder if the Germans will pack up? I doubt it. Still have heavy cold. Bought a wrist watch for sixty cigarettes from an American. That’s how short they are. Shouldn’t have taken it but he insisted, so my conscience is clear…

Feb. 17: … By dint of denying ourselves, we managed to save up 4 loaves of bread between 4 of us. Today we find some lousy bastard has stolen one! I could cheerfully kill that animal with my bare hands — and take great delight in doing so…

Feb. 20: … Am slowly going downhill. Oh, hell, why can’t we die and get it over with? This slow starvation is hell on earth…

Feb. 22: By God, I didn’t think I’d ever be reduced to eating potato peelings, but I started today. Anything to keep alive. When I think of all the food I used to refuse, at home, in England, I damn near burst into tears. … Odd reports come in about the chaos in Berlin and the surrounding country — according to them we are still in the lap of luxury…

Feb. 25: … Made a forced air blower burner out of tin cans — now can heat up some of our food, if we don’t run out of wood chips. Must make one for up the lake when I get home…

March 12: … To my delight I have discovered, or rediscovered, the use of my hands again. The absence of any sort of useful tools hampers my results but what I make are serviceable. All I have to work with are a knife and fork in lieu of all else. But I have made an egg beater (wish we had eggs) for mixing up milk —which comes in powder form and has to be mixed with water. A spoon or fork took too long so the beater was the only answer. Have put sturdy on cans and they can now be used as cups and when we boil water, no longer burn fingers by hanging onto a tin can…

March 14: … Saw a swan this morning as it circled the camp twice Dazzling white and very graceful and beautiful. Made me feel a pang of bitterness and hatred against everyone in general, just because I was unfortunate enough to land here. Wish I could fly again — hope I can get out to the Far East.

April 15: The Germans are trying to find out who escaped in the last three days. Quite a few did but I can’t see the sense of that as we are so near to freedom now. The risk is great and there is no need of it — just a foolish bravado in an endeavour to get your name in the papers. To hell with that! I want to live to grow old at home with my Beloved…

April 20: Can hear the Russians at night. Terrific air raids night and day. Can see the bombers in the daytime, see the markers go down and see the mushroom clouds of smoke as they hit the deck. We are rocked continually by blast but don’t mind as we are so near to freedom… Will soon be home, I hope, if I’m not killed before the end of the war.

UPDATE: Remembrance Day, November 11, 2009

Final installment of the National Post’s three part Rememberance Day exclusive: Inside a Canadian POW's secret diary

It took 29 days after liberation for the prisoners to be repatriated and while he waited within the barbed wire, Flt. Lieut. Novak documented appalling scenes for which even nine months in a Nazi prison camp had scarcely prepared him.

The atrocities he bears witness to in his 114-page diary, revealed here for the first time, serves as a shocking endnote to his account of ingenuity, courage and a deep longing for home.

"I am so full of horror and terrible sights that sometimes I wonder what humanity is made of to carry on in such a senseless and bestial fashion," Flt. Lieut. Novak wrote two weeks after liberation.

Among the acts he recorded and condemned: rapes and close-range shootings of civilians by Russian soldiers; the killing of Western POWs by their Russian allies in disputes over German women; freed POWs exchanging scraps of bread for sex with starving children and rampant sex with civilians seeking protection in the camp.

Before his liberation turned so sour, however, there was euphoria.

"I am no longer a prisoner, but once more a member of our Majesty's Air Force on active service," he proudly wrote on April 21, 1945. "All the Germans, guards and officers, have disappeared and we once-prisoners, 40,000 of us, have the camp to ourselves ... The majority took it quite calmly. No yelling, shouting.

"We have managed to get some machine guns, rifles and small arms. Just in case the Germans come back. Some of them were too slow in getting away and are now locked in the cooler where the former prisoners are their guards. Until troops arrived, all we can do is sit tight and wait."

German civilians arrived before the troops, however.

"Women and children fleeing the flames were at our gate screaming to be let in under our protection! What an irony! They who had us under their thumb are now on their knees begging," he wrote.

In the morning came the Russians, first by armoured car, and then, later in a convoy of a dozen tanks, followed by truckloads of motorized infantry.

"The whole camp went mad with joy!" wrote Flt. Lieut. Novak.

But it wasn't long before he saw cracks appearing. "Though we are free and have the run of the countryside now, we are still virtually prisoners and it is very irksome. Tempers are fraying.

"Russians are killing the Frenchmen who refuse to give up the German women they are living with," he wrote on April 25.

Because he could speak some German (his mother was German), he joined foraging parties with Russian soldiers searching for food, radios, and other items.

"The Russians are indeed heartless to the Germans and [I] have seen some unforgettable sights of their treatment. Germans shot at close quarters. One of the most horrible was the sight of a burly Russian soldier raping a German woman who was hysterical with fear and terror and in convulsions it seemed to me," he wrote on May 1.

"Ugly as it was, I was powerless to do anything for her."

The night before, there had been a skirmish outside the wire.

"This morning, looking over the field, such a scene of carnage and death met the eye that my stomach was almost sick, but past experience allowed me to take it with some sort of composure," he wrote.

Refugees continued to arrive.

"The stray women are attaching themselves to the men here and many are the couples that can be seen strolling the countryside and woods... Women very loose – a lot of the boys are sleeping with them and many have contracted V.D. Personally I value my health too highly.

"[The Germans] are sending their kiddies, pitifully thin and ragged, to the camp to beg for food. I am giving them what I can, for who knows, they may be some of my relatives, and I just can't but feel sorry for the wee tots who are so pathetically grateful for anything they get.

"Young women and girls are so desperate for food that they are selling themselves for scraps of bread – and filthy Poles and Frogs are capitalizing. I thought I had seen everything but this about tops it all. You come upon them all over the shop, in the woods surrounding the lager and by the lake."

Finally, on May 20, the POWs moved west and on July 19, Flt. Lieut. Novak arrived back home to find his wife had left him for another man and never told his family about his diary, but it was recently discovered and returned to his family.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Massacre at Fort Hood - Killeen, Texas, USA

Above, a medic salutes. A first responder to a lone gunman's attack at Fort Hood Nov. 5 renders honors at retreat after aiding his fellow soldiers. U.S. Army photo

The following is from the founder of the Facebook cause: Remembering Our Fallen Soldiers

Corporal Tobin, (RCAF) and I along with all of our members of Remembering Our Fallen Soldiers , (cause on Facebook), would like President Obama, and all American citizens everywhere that we are deeply saddened and shocked about today's events.

All of us send our deepest sympathies to all of the families and friends of these fallen heroes. We pray and hope that family members and friends of these slain precious people would be comforted in the days, weeks and months to come. Also that everybody's needs would be met, either for finances, looking after the children, or just living each and every day.

Our thoughts and prayers also lie with the 31 people that were critically injured. We pray that while you are lying in your hospital bed, that you will be aware that we Canadians, really do love and cherish our neighbours to the south of us.

We also pray that your broken bodies and broken spirits would be completely healed, that your relatives would also be healed during the difficult days that lie ahead.

May God bless each and every single person that was touched by these scenes of carnage and absolute horror.

Respectfully yours,

for Corporal Tobin- Royal Canadian Air Force (creator)
Rebecca Leah Duesbury- administrator

I've just joined this wonderful group of Canadians and you can too here

Hat tip Soldier’s Angels .

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Veterans Week 2009 November 5 to 11

This November, Canadians from coast to coast to coast will come together to mark Veterans' Week.

At hundreds of ceremonies and events, culiminating on Remembrence Day, November 11, we will remember and recognize the sacrifices and accomplishments of our veterans those of past missions and conflicts, and those who are still returning home today.

Lest We Forget.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hallmark Canada Introduces Canadian Hero Cards

The life of a soldier deployed overseas can be hard and lonely, but Canadians can brighten their day with a new card-writing campaign.

Hallmark Canada has introduced Canadian Hero cards to encourage people to write to the troops, even if they don't know someone stationed overseas.

"It's a great morale boost for them to know we are thinking about them and supporting them. This is what the troops need when they're lonely and away from home," said Barbara Macisaac, the first vice-president of the Ladies Auxiliary Ontario Command, Royal Canadian Legion, who has two family members currently serving overseas.

People can write the troops about what is going on in their home town, tell them how badly the Maple Leafs are doing or about the latest politician to embarrass themselves.

"Few things mean more to our men and women overseas than hearing from their fellow Canadians," said Lt.-Col. James Peverley, director of deployment support for the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services.

"The knowledge that their contribution is appreciated and is making a difference is a primary motivating factor."

There are six cards in English and two in French, said Dan Bengert, with Hallmark Canada.

"The line was developed by consumer demand," he said.

Each card costs $2.69, but can be picked up for free at Hallmark Gold Crown stores between Nov. 9 and 11.

One of the cards in the series says, "Saving our country has taken you far away, but your place at home is always filled with pride and love every day until you come home again," and shows two empty rocking chairs on a porch.

"Canadians are concerned about people protecting our freedom and serving in the Canadian Forces," said Patrick Carr, vice-president of marketing for Hallmark Canada.

"The war in Afghanistan is in the news and on everyone's minds. Canadians want to let people in the Forces know that their efforts are appreciated, that their sacrifices are noticed and that we are all grateful."

You can write to the troops here . The website includes a number of addresses that cards can be sent to Afghanistan, as well as Sarajevo, Congo, Golan Heights, Haiti and more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canadian Combat Engineer Killed in Afghanistan

The latest Canadian victim of the relentless IED campaign by terrorists in Afghanistan was headed home Saturday after his flag-draped coffin was loaded onto a military transport plane.

Sapper Steven Marshall, 24, of 11 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, was the sole casualty of an explosion that struck his patrol Friday in Panjwaii district, 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.

More than 2,300 Canadian and foreign troops gathered under the floodlights on the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield to pay their last respects to the Calgary native.

"Steven was a passionate hockey fan who loved his hometown Calgary Flames," said padre Cpt. Steve Defer in a eulogy delivered by the Hercules C130 that will take Marshall to CFB Trenton.

"His ever present grin and sense of humour was contagious."

One of Marshall's best friends, Sapper Dustin Perry, also called attention to his penchant for cracking jokes, which he said brought out the best in everyone.

"Those of us who knew him remember that he was the kind of guy who would do anything for you and ask nothing in return," he said following the ramp ceremony.

"He always put his friends before himself."

Marshall and Perry had been close since training together at CFB Gagetown three years ago, despite Perry being partial to the Vancouver Canucks.

"When Vancouver and the Flames were playing it was gloves off for me and Marshall," Perry said.

"Marshall was a very competitive hockey player. I was always kind of jealous of his skills."

There has been more than 60 per cent increase in the use of IEDs in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008 according to some analysts.

It has already tracked well over 100 more cases in 2009 than for all of 2008.

Since April 2007, 65 of the 88 Canadian deaths in Afghanistan have been the result of improvised explosive devices.

As a combat engineer, Sapper Marshall was on the front lines of efforts to minimize the threat presented by the home-made bombs.

"With his skills Steven held one of the critical keys to a lasting peace in Afghanistan," said Defer.

"Clearing the mines and IEDs that threaten our soldiers promises more than just our safety, but also, it offers the real promise that the people of Afghanistan might one day know a truly lasting freedom."

Marshall was working in an area thought critical for the future success of the counter-insurgency strategy initiated by Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance earlier this year.

The Canadian military is working to establish a series of model villages in the Dand district that will allow them to separate insurgents from the population at large by providing security and basic economic development.

Marshall was killed in the area around Belanday, which borders Panjwaii and was considered one of the success stories of the new strategy.

May God rest his soul.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Canadian Soldier Gives His All

One Canadian soldier was killed and two were injured Wednesday in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.

Lt. Justin Garrett Boyes, 26, was killed when his foot patrol was hit by the blast, at about 9 a.m. local time, 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City in Panjwayi district.

Boyes belonged to the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton and was 10 days into his second deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed. At the time of his death, Boyes was mentoring an Afghan national police patrol.

Two other soldiers who were wounded in the incident were treated at the Kandahar Airfield medical facility and are in good condition.

Boyes is survived by his wife Alanna and son, James, 3, his parents Angela and Brian, a brother serving with the 2nd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Shilo, Man., as well as a sister living in the U.K.

In Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance called Boyes "a dedicated family man" who spent every possible moment with his wife and son.

"Growing up in Saskatchewan, he was an easy-going Prairie boy who preferred sitting around the backyard with good friends, his family and a cold drink."

Boyes is the first Canadian soldier to be killed in action in October.

Canada's previous casualty was Pte. Jonathan Couturier of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, based in Valcartier, Que., who died when his armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device on Sept. 17.

Boyes is the 132nd Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002. The vast majority of dead and wounded have occured since Canada became responsible for security operations in Kandahar in early 2006.

May God rest their souls.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

True Patriot Love

True Patriot Love is an organization founded by corporate and community leaders dedicated to raising funds for programs to improve the well-being and morale of members of the Canadian military and their families, and to celebrate their selfless service. They strive to help meet the needs of Canadian heroes serving at home and abroad, as well as the needs of the families who support them.

In addition to ongoing fundraising, their signature initiative is the annual True Patriot Love Tribute Dinner, a benefit in support of the Canadian Military Families Fund - a fund established by Canada's former Chief of Defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier. The inaugural event will be held in Toronto on November 10, 2009.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blue's Analysis of Insurgent Strategy in Nuristan

Blue, is a US Army Senior NCO on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He has a very interesting piece up on his blog Afghan Quest regarding insurgent strategy, including the recent events at COP Keating.

He writes: "I’m convinced that the latest attack in Nuristan is part of a larger operational strategy on the part of insurgents. Actually, I believe that it ties in to the persistent insurgent presence in the Tag Ab Valley of Kapisa. Numerous rat lines have existed through Kunar and Nuristan, many of them leading to Tag Ab, which ties them in to the ancient smuggling route that avoids the capital… or leads to it. There is no doubt in my mind that the increase in violence is tied to the increase in Coalition (and GIRoA) presence in Kunar and Nuristan. There was no reason for violence prior to the increased presence and control in Kunar and Nuristan, because they had free run of the area. The people were easily intimidated and there is significant appeal to residents because they are so isolated and fear outside (especially un-Islamic) presence. In this area, Arabs are preferable to Americans as far as the locals are concerned… and they bring money to pay for local men to participate."

Read the rest here

Afghan Quest is must reading for those seeking infromation about events on the ground from the perspective of a front line Soldier with experience and excellent contacts.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Battle at Combat Outpost Keating

The Soldiers at COP Keating, a very remote outpost in Nuristan province, were scheduled to be be redeployed to population centric areas of Afghanistan as part of General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency to protect the Afghan people. Nuristan was never a place that coalition troops should have been deployed to in the first place. It is a center for jewel smuggling and the people there don't need or want help from the coalition. It has no strategic value to the war effort.

Here is a piece from Karen Russo that sheds more light on the recent battle.

Apache Pilots Shocked by Size of Attack on Afghan Outpost

Some Keating Survivors Left With Only 'Weapons in Their Hands'


JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Oct. 8, 2009—

The pilot of an Apache gunship who flew to the rescue of U.S. soldiers nearly overrun at a remote outpost in Afghanistan last weekend told ABC News today that he had "never seen that large of a force" attacking coalition troops in Afghanistan.

By the time Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ross Lewallen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chad Bardwell arrived over the embattled outpost, dubbed Camp Keating, parts were in flames and dozens of insurgents could be seen on the camp's perimeter.

When the battle was over and the fire extinguished, many who survived had nothing left "except the clothes off their backs and the weapons in their hands," one soldier told ABC News.

The pilots and two ground controllers who were at Keating spoke to ABC News, providing fresh details of the weekend battle, the bloodiest engagement in Afghanistan in the past year.

The firefight, which killed eight U.S. troops and left 24 soldiers wounded, came as President Obama is formulating a revised strategy for the now eight-year-long war in Afghanistan.

"When we first showed up and put our sensors on Keating, it was just kind of shock," said Bardwell, 35, of Liman, Wyo., who piloted one of a swarm of Apaches that rushed the base's defense. "All the amount of flames and the smoke and to see that amount of personnel running outside of their wire. It was really kind of shock."

Lewallen added, "I've been on three deployments and I've never seen that large of a force attacking one static position." When he first arrived on the scene Saturday, Lewallen said he could see about 30 fighters just along the camp's perimeter.

The number of attackers has been estimated from 100 to 200. Lewallen said he thought as many as 350 were involved in the assault.

Hunkered down inside the base's operations center were 1st Lt. Cason Shrode, 24, of Dallas, and Sgt. Jayson Souter, 22, of Tuscon, Ariz. The two men were working radios and directing traffic for the Apaches and attack jets that swarmed overhead. But they knew the camp was ablaze and that insurgents had breached the camp's defenses and were inside the wire.

"It's definitely not a comfortable feeling to be at a place where you're most vulnerable, just not a comfortable feeling knowing these guys are right outside," Souter told ABC News.

The camp is located at the base of two steep mountains, allowing the enemy to fire down on the camp with a powerful .50 caliber machine gun and other heavy guns.

The U.S. and Afghan army Soldiers inside Keating had been reduced in ranks because the camp was scheduled to be closed as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy of pulling back from sparsely populated areas to protect population centers instead.

The camp's defenders, who endured small attacks several times a week, had been warned by villagers about 10 minutes before the onslaught began. While the camp prepared for a pending attack, soldiers were not alarmed by the warning because it was one of the almost daily stream of tips they received.

"We get reports all the time," Shrode said. "I will say it's 50-50 [the attack] will happen."

The soldiers quickly realized the assault was much larger than any they had ever endured. The camp's generator was hit immediately, plunging the camp into pre-dawn darkness.

Soon the camp was on fire with strong winds fanning it along to additional buildings. Eventually, every building in the camp, except one, was burned.

"We were basically surrounded 360 degrees," Shrode said. "I think there were significant numbers [of enemy fighters] throughout the day." He immediately called for air support.

"We had fixed wing [jets] 20 minutes after fight started," Shrode told ABC News. "We had helicopters 20 minutes later. ... We had so many different assets up in the air ... they were stacked on so many different levels."

Nevertheless, the battle raged throughout the morning. There was a lull about noon, before the attack resumed.

"We had everything we needed. It was just a big attack with a lot of people. Bad things happen, but I think we did well, considering the circumstances." He added that cooperation with the air cover ensured that a "bad situation did not turn worse."

For the pilots, it was, at times, difficult to find the enemy. And because of the smoke, visibility was restricted to a half mile. "One of the primary reasons the fight took so long, it is in extreme terrain," said Lewallen, of Clarksville, Tenn. "There are a lot of rocks and a lot of cover. You really can't detect the enemy until they start moving again."

Three of the attacking Apaches were damaged by insurgent fire, officials said.
By the afternoon, cloud cover moved in, which helped reveal the position of enemy gunners. "At that time we were able to see some of the larger muzzle flashes that were a little higher in the mountains," Lewallen said. "We started to eliminate the larger weapons."

One concern was a report that several large caliber weapons were trained on the helicopter landing zone, waiting for a Medevac flight to take out the wounded. The Medevac chopper didn't arrive until after 9 p.m. that night under the cover of darkness and after those weapons had been located and destroyed.

ABC News had previously reported that when the Medevac flight arrived, some of the wounded refused a chance to leave Keating and kept on fighting. Soldiers also confirmed an earlier ABC News report that some troops gave blood during the fight to be transfused into wounded comrades.

When the attack was over, Souter and Shrode said the soldiers checked on each other and assessed the damage. The fire had destroyed much of the camp.

Lost in the blaze were "cameras, movies, stuff that helps you pass the time ... but there were guys who literally lost everything except the clothes off their backs and the weapons in their hands," Souter said.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

Monday, October 05, 2009

8 Fort Carson Soldiers Killed in Battle in Afghanistan

Eight soldiers from Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team died in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked a pair of remote outposts in Nuristan province, two Colorado Springs media outlets reported Sunday.

The Army hasn't identified the dead, but the Colorado Springs Gazette and KOAA-TV said military sources confirmed that all eight were from the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade, which went to war in May.

U.S. military officials said Sunday that the day-long battle near the Pakistan border, in which the eight U.S. soldiers were killed as hundreds of insurgents stormed a pair of remote outposts, is likely to fuel the debate in Washington over the direction of the troubled eight-year war effort.

The insurgents were armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades during the fierce gunbattle Saturday in the Kamdesh district of Afghanistan's mountainous Nuristan province. It was the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a raid on an outpost in the same province.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, plans to shift U.S. troops away from remote outposts that are difficult to defend and move them into more heavily populated areas as part of his new strategy to focus on protecting Afghan civilians.

U.S. troops used artillery, helicopter gunships and airstrikes to repel the attackers, inflicting "heavy enemy casualties," according to a NATO statement. Fighting persisted in the area Sunday, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for NATO, said the assailants included a mix of "tribal militias," Taliban and fighters loyal to Sirajudin Haqqani, an al-Qaeda-linked militant based in sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Afghan authorities said the hostile force included fighters who had been driven out of the Swat Valley of neighboring Pakistan after a Pakistani military offensive there last spring.

"This was a complex attack in a difficult area," U.S. Col. Randy George, the area commander, said in a statement. "Both the U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together."

Details of the attack remained unclear Sunday, and there were conflicting reports of Afghan losses because of poor communications in the area, 20 miles from the Pakistani border and about 150 miles from Kabul.

A NATO statement said the attacks were launched from a mosque and a nearby village on opposite sides of a hill, which included the two outposts — one mostly American position on the summit and another mostly Afghan police garrison on a lower slope.

Denver Post staff writer Tom McGhee and Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Lori Hinnant in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Is Obama Giving Up on Afghanistan

Apparently the president feels that the Chicago Olympics is more important than the War in Afghanistan that he campaigned on as a must win. I hope that's not the case but th following story from CanWest News doesn't bode well for the people of Afghanistan nor the Soldiers who have fought, shed blood and died there.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama summoned his top commander in Afghanistan for private talks aboard Air Force One on Friday amid new signals White House officials are deeply divided over a request to send up to 40,000 more troops to fight the eight-year-old war.

The 25-minute meeting between Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal occurred in Copenhagen, where the U.S. president had travelled to support Chicago's unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics. It marked the first time in months the two men had spoken in person about deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan, and as McChrystal wages an unusually public campaign in favour of a U.S. troop surge.

The four-star general had been in London only hours earlier delivering a speech in which he rejected a proposal - reportedly being pushed by Vice-President Joe Biden - to narrow the focus of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

"Gen. McChrystal expects that the president and others are going to ask him questions about the assessment that he's made," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, "and that we're going to ask questions of our diplomatic side, of our intelligence side, and of all of those involved in this to get the best strategy for success in Afghanistan."

Mr. Obama is in the midst of a prolonged review of the U.S. role in Afghanistan and as the Pentagon warns the American-led NATO mission could fail within a year unless there is a dramatic overhaul of the coalition strategy.

Gen. McChrystal is lobbying for the White House to embrace a shift in strategy that focuses on greater protection of the Afghan population, while placing less emphasis on winning tactical victories over Taliban insurgents.

The commander last week informed Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, he needs 30,000 to 40,000 additional American troops to meet that task. In a classified review of the war that was leaked last week, McChrystal warned a failure to reverse the situation in Afghanistan within a year could produce "an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

But Gen. McChrystal's recommendations have been met with deep skepticism among some of Obama's most senior advisers. Mr. Biden was among the administration officials who challenged the assumptions behind Gen. McChrystal's request during a three-hour meeting of Obama's war council on Wednesday in the White House's Situation Room, according to the Washington Post.

Among the biggest questions being asked in the White House is whether the Afghan government can be a reliable partner in economic development and improved governance - especially in the wake of ongoing corruption and the still-disputed August presidential election.

The U.S vice-president and others in the White House are said to favour maintaining U.S. force levels at 68,000, while stepping up surgical strikes on al-Qaeda targets inside the country.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, meantime, is tilting towards an endorsement of Gen. McChrystal, CNN reported Friday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not publicly indicated whether she favours more troops.

Gen. McChrystal dismissed as "short sighted" the idea of narrowing the focus of the war in a speech to the Institute for Strategic Studies in London on Thursday, prior to his meeting with Mr. Obama on Air Force One.

"The short answer is no," McChrystal said when asked in London if he would back a scaled-down strategy that emphasized targeting al-Qaeda with unmanned aerial drones.

Since taking office last January, Mr. Obama has committed 21,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of a strategy that linked stability in Pakistan to the outcome of the Afghan war.

But with American public opinion souring on the war, Mr. Obama has come under increased pressure from Democrats in Congress to reject a military surge.

He has also faced criticism from Republicans, who say the White House is taking too long to conduct its review of the war. Until Friday, Mr. Obama had not met face to face with Gen. McChrystal since the summer, although they spoke via teleconference on Wednesday and on another occasion in August.

Obama's War

This is a preview to the Frontline documentary special to air on October 13. The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Obama administration. The decisions are being made by his administration at this moment. We'll know soon enough whether he makes the right one.

Monday, September 28, 2009

General McChrystal on 60 Minutes

Watch CBS News Videos Online

General Stanley McChrystal the new ISAF Commander believes that things have got to be shaken up and fast to ensure conditions to win this war.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Charles Krauthammer: On the McChrystal Report

A scathing analysis from Charles Krauthammer on the Obama administration.

McChrystal to resign if not given resources for Afghanistan

What follows is from Bill Roggio the preeminent source of reliable information regarding the Long War.

Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal's team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn't given sufficient resources (read "troops") to implement a change of direction in Afghanistan:

Adding to the frustration, according to officials in Kabul and Washington, are White House and Pentagon directives made over the last six weeks that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, not submit his request for as many as 45,000 additional troops because the administration isn't ready for it.

In the last two weeks, top administration leaders have suggested that more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and then called that suggestion "premature." Earlier this month, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that "time is not on our side"; on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the public "to take a deep breath."

In Kabul, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.

Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.

"Yes, he'll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far," a senior official in Kabul said. "He'll hold his ground. He's not going to bend to political pressure."

On Thursday, Gates danced around the question of when the administration would be ready to receive McChrystal's request, which was completed in late August. "We're working through the process by which we want that submitted," he said.

The entire process followed by the military in implementing a change of course in Afghanistan is far different, and bizarrely so, from the process it followed in changing strategy in Iraq.

For Afghanistan, the process to decide on a course change began in March of this year, when Bruce Reidel was tasked to assess the situation. This produced the much-heralded yet vague "AfPak" assessment. Then, in May, General David McKiernan was fired and replaced by General McChrystal, who took command in June. General McChrystal's assessment hit President Obama's desk at the end of August, almost three months after he took command. And yet now in the last half of September, the decision on additional forces has yet to be submitted to the administration.

Contrast this with Iraq in the fall of 2006. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was fired just one day after the elections in early November. The Keane-Kagan plan for Iraq was submitted to President Bush shortly afterward, and encompassed both the assessment of the situation and the recommended course of action, including the recommended number of troops to be deployed to deal with the situation. General David Petraeus replaced General George Casey in early February 2007, and hit the ground running; the surge strategy was in place, troops were being mustered to deploy to Iraq, and commanders on the ground were preparing for and executing the new orders. The first of the surge units began to arrive in Iraq only weeks later, in March.

Today, the military is perceiving that the administration is punting the question of a troop increase in Afghanistan, and the military is even questioning the administration's commitment to succeed in Afghanistan. The leaking of the assessment and the report that McChrystal would resign if he is not given what is needed to succeed constitute some very public pushback against the administration's waffling on Afghanistan.

More on this topic here here and here

Friday, September 18, 2009

Royal 22nd Regiment Losses Mount

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD — Another Canadian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan The second to die in a roadside bomb attack this week. The circumstances and details of the latest loss will be far too familiar to those at home. He is the fourth to be killed in action this month. Seemingly, only the names change.

Pte. Jonathan Couturier, 23, was killed in action at 10:15 a.m. Thursday when a Canadian armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device about 25 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City in Panjwaii district. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment.Eleven other soldiers suffered slight injuries and have returned to duty after receiving treatment at the NATO hospital here.

In a statement, Brig-Gen. Jonathan Vance said Couturier was returning from an "operation designed to protect the population by removing important insurgent command and control networks in Panjwaii district.

"This meant capturing weapons and IED caches, and preventing the movement of insurgents and weaponry into areas where the innocent civilians might be harmed. These types of operations were an important part of the security that Jonathan and his comrades were providing in Kandahar province."

He was considered "the little brother" by members of his section and was known for his work ethic."He knew how to communicate his sense of humour during the most difficult times.Couturier never missed the chance "to talk about his passions — hockey, his Mustang, and the love of his live, Andreanne," said Vance.

Pte. Couturier was born in Loretteville, just outside Quebec City. He left for Afghanistan in April 2009 for his first tour of duty abroad. He is survived by his common-law spouse, Andreanne, mother Celine, father Yvan and brothers Nicolas and Mickael.

Pte.Couturier died in the service of his country and the people of Afghanistan. May we always remember him. Rest in Peace.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another Canadian Soldier Killed in IED Blast

CEFCOM NR–09.024 - September 14, 2009

OTTAWA– One Canadian soldier was killed and four injured when an improvised explosive device detonated near their armoured vehicle on a road in Panwjai District. The incident occurred approximately 10 kilometres South-West of Kandahar City at around 1:00 p.m., Kandahar time, on 13th September, 2009.

Killed in action was Private Patrick Lormand from the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment based in Valcartier, Quebec. Private Lormand was serving as a member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group, Quebec.

Four other Canadian Forces members were injured during the incident. They were evacuated by helicopter to the Multi-National Medical Facility at the Kandahar Airfield. They have all since been released. Their identities will not be made public.

Our thoughts and condolences go to the family and friends of our fallen comrade.

Members of Task Force Kandahar work with Afghan security forces for the greater good of Afghanistan. We remain focused and determined to bringing peace, stability and good governance despite the challenge imposed on us by the insurgents. We remain committed to Afghanistan.

Canadian Soldiers Believe in Afghan Mission

Matthew Fisher is an independent Canadian journalist whom I've followed for years. He has reported from wherever Canadian Soldiers have been deployed since the late 1980's; first for The Toronto Sun and subsequently The National Post, owned by Canwest. His reporting has always appeared to me to be unbiased although he doesn't hide the fact that admires Canadian Soldiers. This is his latest from The National Post.(The emphasis is mine.)

Confident voice of Canadian troops rarely heard in Afghan debate

Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service
Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sapper Alexandre Beaudin-D'Anjou, his face still bloodied and badly swollen one day after a homemade landmine had killed two of his colleagues last week, announced he would answer questions about the awful incident, but only after making a statement.
In what was an exceptional "cri de coeur" to his countrymen on the home front, the young combat engineer from Quebec City declared: "I want to say that part of the Canadian population negatively views the work that we do here, above all because they don't understand what we do. In my opinion, the majority of the Afghan population benefits from what we do.

"Sadly, there are dangers in this, as you saw in yesterday's incident. All the soldiers feel deeply that we will finish this work for one another."

With Internet access, and radio and television stations streaming news programs to their forward-operating bases and strongpoints, soldiers are acutely aware that some commentators -- with little or no knowledge of what soldiers confront in Afghanistan -- have given up on them and their mission.

They say they are more than a little bewildered by all the discussion about "wither Afghanistan" and disappointed that the Liberals and Conservatives -- who ordered them to the far side of the world -- have become so terrified about the Afghan file's potential political consequences that they have fallen silent about the current mission and what Canada may do when Parliament's current mandate expires in 2011.

There could not be two more different views of what Canada is achieving in Afghanistan than that of the troops and of the mission's critics at home.

Unlike the U.S., where there is a robust, multi-faceted debate about Afghanistan in which senior soldiers can make their views known, all Canadian soldiers are under strict orders from Ottawa to remain silent about the Afghan mission's future and ways that Canada might adapt or change its mission for the better.

However, in stark contrast to the talk at home, there is confidence among Canadian troops and civilians in Kandahar that a tipping point has been reached recently in the province, with the long awaited arrival of the U.S. cavalry.

In this context, the cavalry is an infantry battalion, three Stryker light armoured battalions, a slew of military policemen and scores of helicopters from the 82nd Aviation Brigade.

Among soldiers there is confidence that Canada's task force is finally in a position to focus on what the government has always wanted them to do.

That is, to "clear, hold and build" within their area of operations which, thanks to the Americans, is now about 60 per cent smaller, and to devote more time to mentoring Afghan army and police units who must take over the fight against the Taliban. It's hoped this will deny the Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens from which they can again use Afghanistan as a kindergarten for global terrorism.

The debate in the U.S. about Afghanistan, which has a profound spillover effect on views in Canada, is being shaped by an odd double whammy. The first was George W. Bush's colossal blunder in abandoning Afghanistan soon after 9/11 to pursues his misadventure in Iraq. The second is that because of that long war, there is little patience south of the border for the long campaign now required in Afghanistan because the former president shifted his focus from South Asia at a time when it would have not taken a great effort to stabilize the situation.

The debate about the Afghan war in Britain has been shaped by some of the same factors. But the British have also been slow to respond to problems of their own making. The decision to pretend that Afghanistan was Northern Ireland, and to roar around the desert in thin-skinned vehicles was a deadly error. So was Britain's inability to muster sufficient helicopters to fly some of their troops out of trouble.

Thanks largely to the Manley Commission, Canada's equipment shortcomings were dealt with some time ago. The G-wagons, which had become notorious improvised explosive devices traps, were banished and more armoured vehicles were brought in. Helicopters were also provided, taking many Canadians off the roads and a U.S. infantry battalion was dispatched to help the Canadians in Zhari/Panjwaii.

Clear evidence of the high regard the Pentagon has for Canadian military leadership was Washington's unusual decision to place that infantry battalion and, more recently, some U.S. military police under Canadian command. At the same time, and in a similar situation, U.S. Marines fighting beside the British next door in Helmand have all remained under U.S. command.

Further evidence of how well Canadian forces are thought of was provided recently by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American who commands the NATO force in Afghanistan, and Anders Rasmussen, the Danish NATO secretary-general. They both lauded Canada for its model village project, which is being expanded at this moment from its base in Dand District, southwest of Kandahar. It is now being copied by other armies, most notably by the Stryker battalions.

Last month's presidential election in Afghanistan has created a political debacle. However, what was obscured by credible charges of vote-buying and ballot stuffing has been the fact that, despite loud boasts by the Taliban, the Canadians and their Afghan and U.S. allies kept the lid on violence in Kandahar on election day, denying the insurgents an expected propaganda victory.

For more than three years now, some media have claimed Kandahar City was about to fall to the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban have not once mounted a serious attack to gain control of even one part of Afghanistan's second largest city. What several deadly attacks on Afghan civilians in the provincial capital have demonstrated is that suicide bombers and IEDs have become the only way for insurgents to fight.

It is impossible for the Taliban to win a war with such tactics unless the coalition countries succumb to the propaganda that such terrorist attacks generate, and fold up their tents.

Although badly battered, the Taliban remains resilient because there still is a steady stream of religious fanatics being recruited from across the border in Pakistan and wealthy donors in the Gulf continue to provide strong financial support.

Despite the Taliban's abiding strength, Kandaharis remain overwhelmingly united about two things. Thanks in part to the huge number of Taliban attacks on civilians, the general population still wants nothing to do with leader Mullah Omar and his Arab friends. What they want is for Canadian and coalition forces to stay until their own forces are strong enough to confront the insurgents.

The view of many Canadian soldiers, which they have not been allowed to express publicly, is that the war in Afghanistan is far from being lost. There is much evidence that the Taliban is running out of room to hide and will find themselves in a dire situation if more U.S. troops are made available to cover the flanks and the routes they take to their winter sanctuaries in Afghanistan are cut off.

Beaudin-D'Anjou spoke for all the troops in South Asia when he said that those who have a negative view of their mission do not understand the many challenges that they have met and why it is of crucial importance to Kandaharis and to Canadians that they are there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rick Rescorla, Hero: From LZ-XRAY to 9/11

No sleep for 48 hours. Grimy, unshaven, filthy uniform. Canteens loose, dogtags hanging out, pocket unbuttoned, helmet strap hanging. No insignia of rank, sleeves up. Dirty fingernails. His bayonet is fixed; trigger finger alert and ready for action.

Lt. Rick Rescorla, Platoon Leader, B Co 2/7 Cav in Bayonet Attack on the morning of 16 Nov 1965. This is not a posed shot; this is a man moving forward into combat. Eyes forward. Ready.

That is how he was described on that morning in this Photo by Peter Arnett

On this, the 8th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, no single person comes to my mind as the symbol of pure selfless heroism as does Rick Rescorla, born in Cornawall, England. At age sixteen he joined the British military. He fought against Communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia. A true British Warrior with no more wars to fight, he went to America, he said, so that he could enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam where he served with distinction above and beyond the call of duty.

It would be at the World Trade Center, serving as Director of Security at Morgan Stanley where Rick Rescorla gave his all in the service of his fellows. He had most of Morgan Stanley’s 2700 employees as well as people working on other floors of WTC 2 safely out of the buildings by the time United Airlines Flight 175 hit WTC 2 at 9:02 a.m.

According to Stephan Newhouse, chairman of Morgan Stanley International, Rescorla was seen as high as the 72nd floor evacuating people, clearing the floors and working his way down.

He was last seen heading up the stairs of the tenth floor of the collapsing WTC 2. His remains were not recovered. As a result of Rescorla's actions, all but 6 of Morgan Stanley's 2700 WTC employees survived. Four of the six included Rick and three of his deputies who followed him back into the building - Wesley Mercer, Jorge Velazquez, and Godwin Forde.

He left behind a widow, Susan Rescorla, two children and three stepchildren. Rick was also followed by his mother, Ciss Rescorla, who died the following year, his uncle Trevor Rescorla, who has also since died, as well as many dear friends and family members in the United States and Hayle, Cornwall, England. A memorial stone was erected in his hometown of Hayle, Cornwall, to commemorate his life.

Canadian Soldiers have fought, died and been severely wounded in Afghanistan in the years since 9/11. Like Rick Rescorla, they have sacrificed not for an ideal but for their fellow Soldiers. Let us never for get why we are at war in Afghanistan today. It's not to create a democracy in a place mired in a medieval timewarp. It is to provide a secure environment where ordinary Afghans can prosper and to keep our shores free from further attacks by extremists who would destroy our way of life.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Coalition COIN Academy Needs Book Donations

Guest Blogger: Scott Kesterson-Donations needed for COIN Reference Library
Posted By Bouhammer on September 5, 2009

The Counterinsurgen​cy Academy is located in Kabul, Afghanistan at the base of the ruins of the Queens castle. The purpose of the Academy is to teach and expand the doctrine of population centric concepts for operations in Afghanistan, and beyond. The contributions the Academy is making to (NATO/ISAF forces commander) Gen. McChrystal’s, strategy can not be understated, nor can the challenges of implementing an expanded doctrine of population centric operations.

In an attempt to support the operations of the Academy, as well as the many soldiers that attend and instruct here, I have developed a “wish list” on of books in hopes of creating an Honorary Counterinsurgency Learning Library made up entirely of donations from our Coalition communities back home. The intent is to further expand the awareness of culture, methods and operations that promote the end goal of national unity, governance and security for the people of Afghanistan.

To find the list, all you need to do is click on Wish Lists
The name of the wish list is: COIN Library – Kabul.

I am continually being asked about donations for soldiers and items of need. This list, though only in the initial phases of development, is something that will have a lasting use and impact on the soldiers here at the Academy and the students of the Academy who eventually take what is learned here and apply the concepts downrange. If the interest is there to support the soldiers by way of donations, I would encourage you become involved in this effort through The shipping address is listed through the “Wish List.” If you wish to donate another book for the library not listed on the list, or wish to purchase a book from another source other than, the same mailing address applies. For reference, the mailing address here at the academy is listed below:

Scott Kesterson
COIN Academy
Camp Phoenix
APO AE 09320

Thank you all in advance.
Scott Kesterson.

UPDATE: September 10, 2009

To give you some idea who the user community is I quote this paragraph from Blue:

"The Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan is growing, and its role in propagating the doctrine of counterinsurgency, or COIN, across many organizations is growing. Students of counterinsurgency from every branch of the United States Military, all NATO and Coalition allies, and most importantly Afghans from government, the Afghan Military, Afghan National Police and even non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are being trained in counterinsurgency every week. Some of this training is conducted on site at the CTC-A, while other training is carried directly to the units and organizations in the field.

Read more about the Academy, including curriculum here

Also KY Woman has more information about The Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan, plus a video here

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Two More Canadian Combat Engineers Killed in Afghanistan

More than 1,000 Canadian, U.S., Dutch and British soldiers turned out in the bright Afghanistan sunshine on Monday for the ramp ceremony to pay tribute to Major Yannick Pepin, 36 and Corporal and Jean-Francois Drouin, 21.

Both men were members of the 5 Combat Engineer Regiment based in Valcartier, Que. A military official at the base said Pepin was a native of Victoriaville, Que., and Drouin was born in Quebec City.

They died Sunday in a powerful roadside bomb blast that hit their armoured vehicle on a road southwest of Kandahar, bringing to 129 the total number of Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since 2002. The vast majority of deaths ocuured since Canada began combat operations in Kandahar in January, 2006.

Maj. Pepin, the highest ranking Canadian killed in combat in Afghanistan, had lamented the death of two soldiers under his command just five weeks ago.

"The loss of these two is very difficult, but the work will continue" Pepin had told reporters Aug. 3, two days after the deaths of Sapper Matthieu Allard, 21, and Cpl. Christian Bobbitt, 23 - also in a roadside explosion.

The soldiers stood quietly as the flag-draped coffins carrying the two were loaded aboard a C-130 for the long flight home.

"Today the entire task force is mourning our fallen comrades," an emotional Col. Roch Lacroix, deputy commander for Task Force Kandahar said late Sunday night when announcing the deaths.

"Saying goodbye to Yannick and Jean-Francois so prematurely is hard for me, it is hard for their friends, and it's hard for their families," Lacroix said, standing in front of a cenotaph marking each of Canada's fallen soldiers

My heart goes out to the family, friends and fellow Soldiers of these two Canadian heroes who died doing what they believed in while performing one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

In Memory of SPC Jordan Shay

As I was leaving work yesterday I checked Jordon's site to see if he had left a new post, Not seeing one I moved on to Alex's site and saw the title Through Amber Lenses, A Light. That's all I read. I thought it would be a post a promoting Jordan's site and made a mental note to read it today.

Today I recieved an email from someone who was also following Jordan's site and realized the worst had happened. In the terse words of the U.S. Department of Defense:

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died Sept. 3 in Baqubah, Iraq, of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. The soldiers were assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Todd W. Selge, 25, of Burnsville, Minn.; and

Spc. Jordan M. Shay, 22, of Salisbury, Mass.

The incident is under investigation.

For further information contact the Fort Lewis Public Affairs Office, (253) 967-0147 // 0152, or after-hours

My thoughts, prayers and sincere condolences go out to the families of SSG Todd W. Selge and SPC Jordan M. Shay.

I leave off with the words of Alex Horton a former member of the 3RD Stryker Brigade Combat Team with whom Jordan served: "The United States lost a brave soldier, and the military blog community lost a brave new voice. I ask that you take the time to read his blog from beginning to end. In his comments section, his girlfriend tells us the blog was important to him. I hope he realized how important it was to those who read it."

Read Alex's complete post. Army of Dude: Through Amber Lenses, A Light

Monday, August 31, 2009

GEN McChrystal Demands Strategic Change in Afghanistan

In a move that will affect Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, US Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in the country, said today as he handed over to US and NATO commanders a sweeping review of operations.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," General Stanley McChrystal said. His findings will be submitted to President Barack Obama, who faces a public increasingly restive over a war that has lasted eight years.

McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June after firing his predecessor, David McKiernan. The document has been sent to General David Petraeus, responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The review is expected to confirm that protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban must be the top priority. The document has not been published yet, and the severity of McChrystal's assessment was difficult to gauge.

McChrystal says the aim should be for Afghan forces to take the lead, but that the Afghan army will not be ready for three years and the police will need longer.

Although the report does not mention increasing troop numbers, the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy. Officers in Afghanistan consider much of the effort of the last eight years wasted, with too few troops deployed and many of them placed in the wrong regions and given the wrong orders.

"Over the next 12 to 15 months among the things you absolutely, positively have to do is persuade a sceptical American public that this can work, that you have a plan and a strategy that is feasible," Stephen Biddle, a military expert who advises the US-led command in Afghanistan, told the McClatchy-Tribune news service.

Another leading counter-insurgency expert said Afghanistan's government must fight corruption and deliver services to Afghans quickly, because Taliban militants were filling gaps and winning support. The Taliban were already running courts, hospitals and even an ombudsman in parallel to the government, making a real difference to local people, said David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to McChrystal and Petraeus.

"A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being out-governed. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Kilcullen told Australia's National Press Club.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reality Check on Recent Events in Afghanistan

Tim Lynch has been living and working outside the wire in Afghanistan for the past five years. Through his blog Free Range International he and his partner Shem Bot have been providing us with very good analysis of what the situation is on the ground. Here, in part, is his latest report.

Ground Truth

by babatim on August 16th, 2009

As the elections approach there has been much in the news on Afghanistan and most of it is not terribly accurate. Yesterday’s VBIED in Kabul is a good example. Most news outlets are connecting this attack to a countrywide effort by Taliban groups to interfere with the Presidential election scheduled for Thursday. I’m not buying that and I don’t think the Taliban view this upcoming election as a significant event. Some groups have publicly stated they will not interfere, other groups say they will disrupt the process, but we are not seeing any real attempts to do that.

This Washington Post story is typical of the MSM reporting on the Kabul blast with the title of “Pre Vote Blast in Kabul Signal Taliban Intent.“ That is bullshit – what the blast signals is that somebody was able to bribe their way past the ANP check-posts and get right up to the U.S. Embassy checkpoint without being detected. This is the first successful Taliban attack in Kabul since last winter and although the execution was better than average the Taliban once again managed to kill or wound innocent Afghan civilians most of whom were undoubtedly children. I was interviewed for my take on the bombing by the Christian Science Monitor and remarked that it seemed this attack was executed better than the average Taliban lash up but after seeing the picture above I take it back. Poor bomb making with typically poor execution – there would be nothing left of the vehicle or that poor bike rider had this been a Baghdad VBIED.

Read the whole very interesting article here