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March 15, 2006

Canada @ War

English/Anglais<br><br />
IS2005-0514<br><br />
30 November 2005<br><br />
Ghazni, Afghanistan<br><br></p>

<p>Canadian Forces vehicles line up and prepare to depart the FOB (Forward Operating Base) in Ghazni, Afghanistan, as the CF convoy continues their approximately 600km journey to Kandahar Airfield. <br><br></p>

<p>With the handover of Camp Julien to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on November 29 2005, this convoy was the last to transport equipment, supplies and personnel to Kandahar from Camp Julien. The Canadian presence at Kandahar Airfield continues to grow so that by February 2006, there will be a brigade level headquarters and a 2000-strong task force. <br><br></p>

<p>After the Afghan National Assembly and Provincial Council elections, the Canadian Forces completed their mandate in Kabul in October 2005. Canada continues its strong defence commitment to Afghanistan by concentrating Canadian Forces personnel and equipment to the Kandahar region. <br><br></p>

<p>Photo By MCpl Robert Bottrill, Canadian Forces Combat Camera<br><br>

Captain Green, the soldier attacked with the axe, is showing some improvement.

And no doubt driving his security guys crazy - General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff (Equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the US) has been out where the Iron Crosses grow. Good on ya, General.

The heart of the story speaks for itself.

The mission, code-named Operation Peacemaker, is not about taking prisoners, but rather about establishing communications with Afghan communities and elders.

"The focus of this operation is actually to engage the local population, including the village elders, and speak with them about the fact that we will be patrolling more regularly in the area," said Lundy. "Show them that we mean them no harm."

The operation is commanded by Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, who leads the Canadian task force in Kandahar.

Before the bomb went off, Hillier, Hope and Capt. Kevin Schamuhn were chatting with Haji Mohammed Nabi, the village elder in Kundalan. They were trying to urge his people to abandon sympathies for Taliban insurgents.

However, Hope said Hillier was not the target of Friday's blast.

Kundalan is just a few kilometres down the road from Shingai, the scene of an axe attack last week that seriously wounded Capt. Trevor Greene.

Schamuhn was sitting beside Greene when the attack happened, and was one of three soldiers that shot the attacker dead. However, during Friday's chat he removed his helmet.

Wonder how that went over with the elders? I'm sure it didn't go over well with the family. But those are the kinds of gestures and risks people have to take. I wonder how that would have gone down with US forces - we tend to be helmet happy. Hard to say, especially if you're the commander who has to write the letter home. Damian has an interesting discussion on the difficulties of maneuvering in a culture you haven't had time to fully grasp.

Over at The Torch, where Denizen JMH can at times be found, comes a discussion of War versus Peacekeeping:

Among the sharper points General Hillier made in his recent Globe & Mail interview was that in the context of Afghanistan, words such as "peacekeeping" and "war" are not particularly helpful. Canadians will be involved in a wide range of tasks, ranging from simple delivery of aid to combat operations against insurgents. "Peacekeeping" it ain't, for "peacekeeping" has a narrow definition. "War" is a more flexible word, but "war" it ain't, either. Not quite. It's something in between.

Link here.

A view of how Canada may be trying to change it's self-image in the arena of things military (it's a nascent effort, with not enough time yet to tell if it will have any staying power).

Mark points us to John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe:

For half a century, now, Canadians have seen themselves as a nation of peacekeepers. But the age of peacekeeping is past. Today's geopolitical hot spots are found in lawless lands and dysfunctional states that breed anarchy and harbour terrorists. Canada has a role to play in these places by helping to protect civilian populations while nurturing institutions that can enforce the social contract.

This is dangerous work that can lead to guerrilla warfare with higher casualties than Canadians are used to. Nonetheless, although a Liberal government authorized the Kandahar deployment, Mr. Harper has embraced it. He wants Canadians to be proud of what their troops are doing in Afghanistan, and willing to accept these necessary sacrifices as part of Canada's new and more aggressive role in the war on terror.

...and Lorrie Goldstein writing in the Toronto Sun:

Harper's decision to make his first foreign trip as PM a surprise, morale-boosting visit to our troops in Kandahar is a bold statement of how he intends to redefine Canada's place in the world, post-9/11.

No longer will our military be viewed at home or abroad simply as "peacekeepers." Instead, they will be peacemakers, fighting and killing those who threaten Canadian security, values and interests abroad, while carrying out the tough job of "nation-building."

The whole thing, with Mark's commentary, can be found here.

Lastly, Canada finds itself in that bind that every Army going into large-scale operations after a long hiatus finds itself in - whether the US Army in WWII, or the Canadian Army today - the inertia of the "Institutional Army" vice the very real blood-on-the-ground imperatives of the Operational Army. Quoting a Canadian soldier from another Toronto Star article,

"It is not the fault of the instructors. That was the environment they came up in. But at the same time, that's not what war is anymore. The reality today is counter-insurgency. The top Canadian brass realize this and so do the front-of-line soldiers. But in between, there is a layer of the army locked in hidebound thinking, basically resistant to change.

I live in and work with TRADOC, the US Army's "Institutional Army." And I'll tell you, it's hard, hard work keeping up with the Operational Army and keeping the training relevant. We're doing a better job of it than we have in the past, I believe, but it is surprising just how hard it really is - and the Institutional Army isn't just full of old fossils like me - TRADOC gets it's share of combat experienced instructors. It's just damn hard to keep up, and much of the peacetime largely budget-driven impedimenta gets in the way structurally, while at the same time TRADOC is starved of money to pay operational bills - and that process isn't always a rational one...

Damian's post is here. The Toronto Star article is here.