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August 11, 2004

A Red Ensign Moment

As is my wont (especially when prompted from my handler in the Forces) I occasionally like to remind my readers there is still a war in Afghanistan. And the Canadians are there.

Two great stories from the Globe and Mail (my favorite Canadian paper thus far).

The first is about the Canadians long in-country conducting their last patrols:

For the past week, the 1,900 Canadian soldiers and officers who make up the largest contingent of the International Security Assistant Force have been conducting joint patrols with the Norwegian-led mission that is taking over their duties at Camp Julien, the Canadian military camp.

The year-long Canadian operation, which has provided stability to the war-torn capital, is being scaled down in size and scope. Starting next week, instead of patrolling the streets of Kabul, about 700 soldiers, including a squadron from the Lord Strathcona's Horse based in Edmonton, will become the eyes and ears for NATO-led peacekeepers. that is taking over their duties at Camp Julien, the Canadian military camp.

“Probably (Canadian forces are) going to stay for a couple of years over here and we have only three brigades in Canada,” he said. “In one year from now, probably people from Valcartier will come back.

“Afghanistan is progressing but it's going to take a while. There's still a job to do over here.”

Speaking of the Strathcona's - well, that's my handler's Regiment, so how can we ignore that?:

The year-long Canadian operation, which has provided stability to the war-torn capital, is being scaled down in size and scope. Starting next week, instead of patrolling the streets of Kabul, about 700 soldiers, including a squadron from the Lord Strathcona's Horse based in Edmonton, will become the eyes and ears for NATO-led peacekeepers.

"We are smaller. We don't have a Canadian infantry battalion here any more," said Colonel Jim Ellis, commander of the Canadian contingent who began his new job yesterday. "But the conditions are set for a successful mission."

The reconnaissance teams, or "reccys" as the soldiers call them, will be carried out in Kabul and around its outskirts with the aid of 16 Coyotes, armoured vehicles equipped with high-tech machinery to enable the soldiers to prevent possible terrorist threats.

The vehicles have radar and real-time photography that allows a soldier to see 40 kilometres ahead. "Generally they will do route protection, convoy escorts, and set up vehicle checkpoints. And because of that capability, they will be used for the elections, " said Col. Ellis, referring to the Oct. 9 presidential vote.

The Lord Strathconas arrive at a critical point in Afghanistan's post-Taliban history. The presidential election is the first ever to be held in the country and insurgent Taliban groups have vowed to disrupt the vote organized by the United Nations. Security is deteriorating and an increasing number of election and aid workers have been killed. Recently Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a charity that has operated in Afghanistan for 24 years, pulled out after five of its workers were shot dead in June.

Make no bones about it - Afghanistan is still a dangerous place, but since it's not as dangerous as Iraq, nor as damaging to Bush, you don't see it much in the news, eh? Of course, if you are a soldier killed in Afghanistan, you are still just as dead as a soldier killed in Iraq. Just not as likely to have your sacrifice slimed by some dirtball at the Democratic Underground.

The story of the departing group m (actually already back home - I'm slow) is here.

The newbies? They are here.

And if there's any doubt - Canada's soldiery is paying a price to be our Allies.

The Canadian battalion's final patrol was conducted by five paratroopers out of Valcartier, Que., led by veteran Sergeant Sylvain Leclerc, who is completing his fifth and, he says, last tour.

Under a blistering Afghan sun, Sgt. Leclerc took his section on a three-hour patrol that included an always-nerve-racking checkpoint, a brief foot patrol through war ruins, handouts to impatient children and cigars for Afghan militia troops with whom he had many long conversations.

“We talked about religion, the family, the way life is in Afghanistan,” he said. “We didn't talk about war — anything but war.”

Sgt. Leclerc, a 39-year-old native of Ruisseau-à-Rebours, Que., led more than 100 patrols during his time in Kabul. His wife is in the army as well, and between them they have drawn more tours than he can count.

Yes, the Canadian government may have opted out of Iraq - but Canada's small Army is being taxed pretty hard to support US objectives - and while I will tolerate people slamming the Canadian gov't - I'm not willing to listen to abuse of the Canadian soldiery.

Any Aussies or Kiwis or Brits (or any other nation serving with US forces in the GWOT) wants some exposure... email. I'm happy to showcase any warrior who walks next to warriors wearing US flags on their shoulders. I'm all about Combined Ops!

*This post was extensively re-done this morning, having initially been composited under the influence of way too much tequila. For you purists out there who believe nothing should be edited after hitting the 'publish' button - tough noogies, go see if the Google-bot cached it.