Friday, February 20, 2009

Scott Kesterson responds to criticism of the CBC

Troy Steward, author of Bouhammer's Afghan and Military Blog was kind enough too take the time to get in touch with Scott so that he could answer a couple of questions from Mark Collins of the Canadian Military blog The Torch regarding some Canadian comments in reaction to the CBC documentary that "ran an almost twenty minute segment, Feb. 2, demonstrating, amazingly, that the Canadian Forces are actually engaged in combat in Afghanistan."

From my own personl perspective I think the film At War is a very important instrument to help people understand the issue of what it means to be in a war in an apolitical context.

You can listen to Troy's interview here: Scott Interview #3

Thursday, February 12, 2009


GEN David H. Petraeus is Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) whose mission is to work with national and international partners, promote development and cooperation among nations, respond to crises, and deter or defeat state and transnational aggression in order to establish regional security and stability.

Previously GEN Petraeus commanded Mult-National Forces Iraq and was responsible for the succesful prosecution of "the Surge" of American and Iraqi forces which led to the outcome we are witnessing today in Iraq with the completion of the recent peaceful provincial elcections there.

Last Sunday, February 8, 2009, GEN Petraeus addressed the 45th Munich Security Conference with a paper entitled: “The Future of the Alliance and the Mission in Afghanistan” What follows is an excerpt of the speech specifically targeting the importance of the correct application of counterinsuregency (COIN) opertaions for Afghanistan. The implementation of these measures will directly affect Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan.

GEN Petraeus: "What I’d like to discuss next, then, are some of the concepts that our commanders have in mind as plans are refined to employ additional forces. I base this on discussions with GEN McKiernan and others who have served in Afghanistan, as well as on lessons learned in recent years. I do so with awareness that a number of the elements on the ground are operating along the lines of these ideas – and that their ability to do so will be enhanced by the increased density on the ground of ISAF and Afghan forces as additional elements deploy to the most challenging areas. Counterinsurgency operations are, after all, troop intensive. Finally, I want to underscore the fact that commanders on the ground will, as always, operationalize the so-called big ideas in ways that are appropriate for their specific situations on the ground. So here are some of those ideas:

First and foremost, our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive “terrain.” And together with our Afghan partners, we have to work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support, and to facilitate the provision of basic services, the development of the Afghan Security Forces in the area, the promotion of local economic development, and the establishment of governance that includes links to the traditional leaders in society and is viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the people.

Securing and serving the people requires that our forces be good neighbors. While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence. You can’t commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Positioning outposts and patrol bases, then, requires careful thought, consultation with local leaders, and the establishment of good local relationships to be effective.

Positioning near those we and our Afghan partners are helping to secure also enables us to understand the neighborhood. A nuanced appreciation of the local situation is essential. Leaders and troopers have to understand the tribal structures, the power brokers, the good guys and the bad guys, local cultures and history, and how systems are supposed to work and do work. This requires listening and being respectful of local elders and mullahs, and farmers and shopkeepers – and it also requires, of course, many cups of tea.

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort, that we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces -- and those of our Pakistani partners across the border -- and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, our Afghan counterparts, local governmental leaders, and international and non-governmental organizations. Working to a common purpose is essential in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.

We also, in support of and in coordination with our Afghan partners, need to help promote local reconciliation, although this has to be done very carefully and in accordance with the principles established in the Afghan Constitution. In concert with and in support of our Afghan partners, we need to identify and separate the “irreconcilables” from the “reconcilables, striving to create the conditions that can make the reconcilables part of the solution, even as we kill, capture, or drive out the irreconcilables. In fact, programs already exist in this area and careful application of them will be essential in the effort to fracture and break off elements of the insurgency in order to get various groups to put down their weapons and support the legitimate constitution of Afghanistan.

Having said that, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly and tenaciously. True irreconcilables, again, must be killed, captured, or driven out of the area. And we cannot shrink from that any more than we can shrink from being willing to support Afghan reconciliation with those elements that show a willingness to reject the insurgents and help Afghan and ISAF forces.

To ensure that the gains achieved endure, ISAF and Afghan forces have to hold areas that have been cleared. Once we fight to clear and secure an area, we must ensure that it is retained. The people – and local security forces – need to know that we will not abandon them. Additionally, we should look for ways to give local citizens a stake in the success of the local security effort and in the success of the new Afghanistan more broadly as well. To this end, a reformed, capable Afghan National Police force – with the necessary support from the international community and the alliance – is imperative to ensuring the ability to protect the population. And the new Afghan Population Protection Program announced by MOI Atmar holds considerable promise and deserves our support as well.

On a related note, to help increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government, we need to help our Afghan partners give the people a reason to support the government and their local authorities. This includes helping enable Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. And on a related note, given the importance of Afghan solutions and governance being viewed as legitimate by the people and in view of allegations of corruption, such efforts likely should feature support for what might be called an “Afghan accountability offensive” as well. That will be an important effort.
In all that we do as we perform various missions, we need to live our values. While our forces should not hesitate to engage and destroy an enemy, our troopers must also stay true to the values we hold dear. This is, after all, an important element that distinguishes us from the enemy, and it manifests itself in many ways, including making determined efforts to reduce to the absolute minimum civilian casualties – an effort furthered significantly by the tactical direction and partnering initiatives developed by GEN McKiernan with our Afghan counterparts.

We also must strive to be first with the truth. We need to beat the insurgents and extremists to the headlines and to pre-empt rumors. We can do that by getting accurate information to the chain of command, to our Afghan partners, and to the press as soon as is possible. Integrity is critical to this fight. Thus, when situations are bad, we should freely acknowledge that fact and avoid temptations to spin. Rather, we should describe the setbacks and failures we suffer and then state what we’ve learned from them and how we’ll adjust to reduce the chances of similar events in the future.

Finally, we always must strive to learn and adapt. The situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly in the past several years and it continues to evolve. This makes it incumbent on us to assess the situation continually and to adjust our plans, operations, and tactics as required. We should share good ideas and best practices, but we also should never forget that what works in an area today may not work there tomorrow, and that what works in one area may not work in another.


In conclusion, allow me to reiterate the key points I’ve sought to make. We have a hugely important interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanctuary for trans-national terrorists. Achieving that core objective, in turn, requires the accomplishment of several other significant tasks. Although there have been impressive achievements in Afghanistan since 2001, the security situation has deteriorated markedly in certain areas in the past two years. Reversing that trend is necessary to improve security for the population, to permit the conduct of free and fair elections in August, and to enable progress in other important areas. Achieving security improvements will require more ISAF and Afghan security forces of all types – combat, combat support, logistics, trainers and advisors, special operations, and so on. Some additional forces are already deploying, further increases have been ordered or pledged, and more are under discussion. To be effective, the additional military forces will need to be employed in accordance with counterinsurgency concepts applied by leaders who have a nuanced understanding of their areas of operation. And to complement and capitalize on the increased military resources, more civilian assets, adequate financial resources, close civil-military cooperation, and a comprehensive approach that encompasses regional states will be necessary. None of this will be easy. Indeed, as Vice President Biden observed recently, Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier. And sustained progress will require sustained commitment. But, again, our objectives are of enormous importance, a significant opportunity is at hand, and we all need to summon the will and the resources necessary to make the most of it. Thank you very much."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Positive thinking on Afghanistan

I've been reading so much negative press lately about the situation that I thought it was time to highlight some people who are trying to improve the way things play out in Afghanistan now and into the future. Tim Lynch (at left) is a happily married 50 year old retired Marine and founder of Free Range International a small, Afghanistan based, security consulting firm.

Tim has been in Afghanistan for over three years now. He writes on his bio page at Free Range International: "I started my work here as the project manager for the American Embassy guard force in 2005. In 2006 I moved “outside the wire” to start my own company and have been operating in every corner of Afghanistan ever since. There are only a few provinces I have not been in and let me tell you something – in a majority of this country it is completely safe for foreigners, especially Americans. The Afghan people are dirt poor but despite the incredibly slow and incompetent reconstruction efforts remain both grateful and hospitable.

Knowing a little Dari and Pashto helps and all of us in my small company can at least make it through a formal greeting session in both languages. I believe (rather strongly) our efforts here lack focus, unity of command, a sense of urgency, and resources. We have squandered millions on programs that do not work and were poorly conceived “off the shelf” solutions."

Tim's partner is Shem Klimiuk (right), a former Aussie Paratrooper, who describes himself as: " Oi! I’m Shem. It’s not short for anything. " Both Shem and Tim provided security for Michael Yon last October when he was touring Afghanistan on his own without the security of a military embed. Of that trip Michael wrote: "In the weeks that I would spend with Tim and Shem, we drove more than a thousand miles up and down Afghan roads without the slightest drama, except that Tim scares me with his driving. If you are rich and want the adventure of a lifetime, contact Tim Lynch. You might die. But if you live, you’ll come back with a new perspective on Afghanistan." You can read about it in his dispatch The Road to Hell .
Tim and Shlem have also provided security, (free of charge) for an amazing group of highly educated; highly motivated young people who work on Fablab projects in remote regions of the world to bring positive change through technology and they do it on their own time and often on their own dime.
The group who created the Jalalabad Fablab are an example of how effective reconstruction aid can be delivered on the cheap — a fablab costs $35,000 to $50,000 in equipment and about $15,000 to $20,000 per year to operate not including the satcom. I'm really very excited about this project and if you are looking for a way that you can contribute to the education of the young people of Afghanistan this just might be for you.
Besides providing free security for the group Tim also provided Amy Sun, who is the MIT team leader for the Jalalabad FabLab, with free blog space to write about the project. Fab Lab Jalalabad is an uplifting read about the project's beginning in December 2008 and Fab Surge Summary Part 1 : Value = (Cost)^-1 is an update this month. Read about it. You'll be glad you did.
In his post The Yellow Tim writes about a way to circumvent the cumbersome bureaucries of the Government of Afghanistan and the Pentagon in targeting the Afghan problem of poverty. " There is a model, arrived at through a marriage of convenience, which is capable of delivering enough boots on the ground to bring security and rapid infrastructure development to the Afghan population. That model was a Un Ops sub contractor / SF A-Team operation which informally cooperated with each other in Shinkay back in 2006.
This was one of the most volatile areas of Afghanistan back in 2006 and remains so to this day. Yet the small SF A-team and the equally small numbers of ANZAC and Canadian engineers were able to work effectively in that environment without taking casualties. By cooperating with each other their sum was greater than the parts of their respective groups. They showed what can be done by small groups of men living amongst the people and are a good model to emulate countrywide."
This post has sparked some very good comments from people and is still open to comments from anyone with thoughts on the subject or questions. Great forum.
Speaking of great forums, Old Blue, a senior American Army NCO who served a tour of duty in the Tag Ab valley in Kapiza province as a member of an Afghan Police Mentoring team (PMT) and has been in combat and conversation with the Taliban has a lively post going at his blog Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventures called With A Little Help From My Friends regarding the effective use of counterinsurgency (COIN). There's some lively debate there too and it's still open for commenters. Those who want to learn about COIN or contribute to the discussion will find this a valuable tool.
Blue doesn't censor for dissenting opinion, which he welcomes. He censors for smut.
If you are looking for outside the box thinking regarding the enigma that is Afghanistan today you can't do better than read Tim and Blue.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Remembering The Fallen

The Canadian Press—CFB Trenton, Ont.

The 108th Canadian soldier to die during the Afghanistan mission was returned to Canadian soil yesterday in a military aircraft.The plane carrying the body of Sapper Sean Greenfield landed at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario just after 2 p.m. Greenfield, 25, died Saturday when his armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Kandahar province.

Jennifer Reid-Hudson, who said her son was in the same vehicle as Greenfield when it was hit, travelled from Ottawa to pay her respects.She said her son, Cpl. Gregory Hudson, wasn’t seriously hurt in the incident and is fine.“This hits pretty close to home,” she said.Reid-Hudson recalled meeting Greenfield and some of his colleagues at a Remembrance Day ceremony last year.“They are a very tight group of guys,” she said. “They seem like family.”

Christina Steeles and her husband Rob made the trip from nearby Frankford, Ont., as they have done for numerous other repatriation ceremonies.“It doesn’t matter if it’s sweltering outside or freezing cold — we come out and pay our respects,” she said. “But it is getting harder as the body count goes up.”

Greenfield was a member of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.Colleagues say Greenfield, who was based in Petawawa, Ont., had a natural charisma who drew a crowd whenever he brought out his guitar and sang.

Highway of Heroes-Canada

Monday, February 02, 2009

Another Canadian Soldier killed in Afghanistan

There was another ramp cermony in Afghanistan yesterday for Sapper Sean Greenfield, a member of the 24 Field Engineer Squadron, 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, based in Petawawa.

Sapper Sean Greenfield, 25 was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) at the end of a succesful mission to search and sieze bomb making materiel of the kind that ended his young life. The military says the mission was successful, netting IED detonators, pressure plates, ammunition, and other weapons.

By all accounts he was a very popular and gregarious young man known for his playful banter and his guitar playing. Professionaly he was recognized as a Soldier with a promising future in the Army. His goal was to join Canada's special forces with JTF2.

"This day reminds us that freedom often comes with a cost. There are many people in this country who dream this dream with us and there is a lot to be done in building this civilization of love, as opposed to hate." said Padre Roy Laudenorio. "He did not die in vain."

May he rest in peace.