The War Tourist

Posted January 30th, 2011 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

I recently read a two-year-old article in The Walrus from a former journalism student at my own college, involving his trip to Afghanistan’s heavily fortified capital city, Kabul. Charles Montgomery describes the city in The Archipelago of Fear, suggesting giant military fortifications and barriers have generated a feeling of colonization and segregation between Afghans and the western aid workers who have come to help them.

In several passages that ring true to my own recent visit of Kabul, he describes the decadence and opulence of western fortresses built right beside gnawing Third World poverty and human filth. “The air is shit,” observes the author’s friend upon arriving in Kabul. It’s not an inaccurate pronouncement. Without wood for fuel, human and animal excrement is burned in great quantities, filling the air with invisible particulates that make breathing difficult.

The Canadian Embassy is housed inside the heart of the city, behind ISAF fortifications and AK-wielding police checkpoints who bar entry to all vehicles without diplomatic plates. Armour-plated cars ferry dignitaries and important business leaders accompanied by Close Protection Teams full of ex-military mercenaries whose job it is to open fire on Taliban ambushes. These vehicular excursions take place at random and secretly arranged times in order to avoid detection by the enemy. Upon my arrival in Kabul, our first briefing involved the discussion of a new magnetic IED placed under the chassis by beggar children who mob western cars stuck in rush hour. One such device had killed two policemen the day before. Police use long handles with mirrors on the end to check the bottom of each car as it passes through the multitude of security blockades.

Outside the embassy is filth, garbage and dust that swirls and covers the scant vegetation that has survived three decades of war. But inside are spacious gardens and flowers, fountains, grass and trees. A dazzling-blue pool sits outside the lounge, which offers a bar stocked with alcoholic beverages, a pool table, leather chairs and a large-screen television. The walls are adorned with autographed hockey sweaters of each Canadian team, folded neatly and presented from the front. It seemed extravagant in comparison to the dry and dusty barracks back in Kandahar, where soldiers were sweating under sixty-pound packs with body Kevlar, not sipping Coronas on air-conditioned leather.

As Montgomery wrote:

It was hard to believe we were in Afghanistan. And really, we weren’t. Kalashnikov-armed guards kept Afghans from approaching the compound gate unless they happened to be employed there as waiters, cleaners, or bartenders. A few years ago, one aid worker felt so comfortable, so fancy free inside the compound, she once opted to swim topless. She was ejected from the country.

And later he wrote “shame pushed me beyond the city’s fortified isles.” The word “shame” isn’t alien to me. At first I was frightened, and then excited about the idea of driving through Kandahar in an armoured vehicle. But as I passed row upon row of shanty dwelling made of corrugated galvanized iron scrap, housing small children without shoes or the slightest of possessions, I grew ashamed. My beard crept out from between the holes in my helmet’s chin strap, a token effort at cultural sensitivity wasted by being strapped into a five-point seat-belt situated behind six inches of IED-resistant steel plating. As we passed Afghans I could see them through the windows, gazing up in awe up at the gunner, this phalanx of wealthy western power needing to train .50 calibre bullets on bearded men car-pooling on tiny motorcycles.

It’s hard to believe I went to Afghanistan. And really, I didn’t. I never got to meet a single Afghan woman that the government hadn’t prearranged for us to meet. I never conversed with any Afghans, save for the desperate translators provided to us at the junior officer college who pleaded with me to ask my government to allow them to immigrate to Canada. And as Montgomery alluded to, the only other ones I met were the servants at Ambassador Bill Crosbie’s mansion, where I dined twice on what I can only speculate would be a King’s banquet for most people in the country.

It isn’t as though I have a right to complain about the situation. I didn’t show up and ask to be pampered. I was invited by the Department of Defence for a familiarization tour, presumably because of my profile in the National Post. As their guest I was subject to their choice of itinerary, under their control and command which included a preposterous level of security. And though I hated the fact I was segregated from Afghanistan, kept inside of military bases and compounds for almost the entirety of my trip, the truth is that it wouldn’t have been a very good idea to simply go for a walk in downtown Kabul either.

That’s the challenge that NATO faces in its battle to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. As Don Rector, Human Terrain Team Director in Kandahar, told us in a briefing at Canadian HQ, “You can talk about winning hearts and minds, but how do you know what is in those hearts and in those minds unless you talk to the people?” And how can you talk to the people when there is this segregation between western agencies and forces in the country and the ordinary Afghans who are forced to detour around these palatial fortresses?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, these seemingly impervious compounds serve as a more enticing target for the Taliban. Worse still, though the mission in Afghanistan shouldn’t be compared to the Soviet occupation, similar mistakes have been made in setting up conspicuously intrusive bases in the heart of the capital city. It’s difficult not to feel occupied when your city is militarized into checkpoints with razor wire and sand bags. As Montgomery writes, the architectural impediments drive people to sympathy for the Taliban. One old man was quoted on a now-defunct website:

“What have these irreligious Christians come for that they write on their cars, ‘Don’t approach, keep away’?… If these bloody foreigners try to stay away from us, then for what reason have they come to our country?”

In one of the lighter moments of our trip, Andrew Potter noticed a car to our right as we meandered along in the dusk of Kabul’s chaotic traffic. On the rear window was stenciled, “My name is Khan, And I am not a terrorist.” As it turns out this was a Bollywood film, but as we sat in an armoured car hoping a suicide bomber wouldn’t descend upon us the irony was entirely appropriate.

Well, well, well: The consequences of delaying our Afghan decision

Posted December 31st, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International by MarkOttawa

You can’t always get what you want. See this Nov. 17 post by BruceR. at Flit:

I hear Mazar in spring is even nicer than Kabul in winter

Matthew Fisher continues to perform the sin of actual journalism by trying to pin down people on where Canadian troops in Afghanistan post-2011 will be going and what they’ll be doing. This was telling:

As Canada is insisting that most of its trainers will be in or near the capital, which is already awash with trainers from other countries, there is immense interest in what specific training tasks Canada is to be assigned by NATO and how its trainers will be shoehorned into already-crowded bases in the capital…

…the demand for what could be readily offered [by the CF] becomes rather small. So in the Kabul area, there were only 106 critical jobs in police and army training that could be filled by “regular” soldiers as of the NTM-A [NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan] annual report, dated three weeks ago… far less than what Canada is now offering…

Looks like Bruce was bang-on:

Canadian trainers likely to be sent across Afghanistan

The Canadian Forces is rushing to draw up a list of military trainers to send to Afghanistan once Canada’s combat mission ends next summer, but senior officers say training positions in the safer regions of the country are already growing few and far between.

The federal government announced earlier this year that up to 950 Canadian soldiers would participate in a three-year mission to train the nascent Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police force.

The Conservative government insisted that the Canadian trainers would be based “inside the wire,” working in secure bases in the relatively stable area around Kabul, the Afghan capital.

But the NATO training organization in Afghanistan is expanding rapidly and needs trainers at sites across the country.

Many of the training jobs in Kabul have been snapped up by nations who committed to the training mission much earlier and Canada may have to send its soldiers into riskier regions of the country.

Maj.-Gen. Stuart Beare, the Canadian deputy commander of the NATO training mission, told CTV News that the coalition needs military and police trainers in almost every province of Afghanistan…

Col. Paul Scagnetti is one of a group of Canadian officers that helped establish the Afghan Army Command College in Kabul, helping to train the Afghan army’s future leaders.

“They know how to fight, there’s no doubt about that: They’ve been doing it for 30 years,” Scagnetti said. “What we’re trying to do is give them a structure, an organization that’ll make them more effective in their fighting.”

But Scagnetti and his fellow trainers have been so successful that they’ve put themselves out of at least one training job: when the new Canadian-funded college opens next spring it will be run by Afghans [I think that may well be the staff college that Brian Platt posted about when he was in Kabul--unembedded--in early November] .

Caught by surprise at the government’s announcement of the training mission, the Canadian Forces is now working overtime to draw up plans for where the Canadian troops will go and what exactly they will be doing.

Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, the head of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, acknowledged that Canada may have little choice but to send soldiers into more volatile regions of Afghanistan.

“The direction I have from (Chief of Defence Staff) Gen. Natynczyk is that it is to be Kabul-centric,” Lessard told CTV News. “And what that means is that the emphasis is to be on Kabul, but not solely Kabul.”

Details of the training mission may become clearer after a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels later in January…

Update remark: Politics, politics, all is politics.


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Brian Platt outside the wire in Kandahar City

Posted November 17th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Very different from Kabul–an excellent post with many photos at his Ubyssey blog,  From UBC to Kabul:


More on decision to keep some CF in Afstan–and some important consequences/In the field Update

Posted November 17th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Excerpts from a very useful post at (worth checking every day):

  • What does this mean for the Canadian-led and run Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PDF copy of page here if link doesn’t work?  This from the Globe & MailCanada is slashing aid to Afghanistan and abandoning any presence in Kandahar by withdrawing not only troops but civilian aid officials next year. Despite the approval of a new training mission, the moves mark a turning point where Canada is significantly disengaging from Afghanistan: dramatically reducing the outlay of cash, reducing the risk to troops, and quitting the war-scarred southern province where Canada has led military and civilian efforts. There will be a deep cut to aid for Afghanistan. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Canada will provide $100-million a year in development assistance for Afghanistan over the next three years, less than half the $205-million the government reported spending last year ….”
  • According to Postmedia News, late decision on new mission = rush to get ready for it...
  • Who’s happy?  The White House and the NATO military alliance applauded Canada’s plan for a military training mission in Afghanistan Tuesday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured opposition parties that the armed forces will work safely “in classrooms behind the wire on bases.” ….” Here’s what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had to say: “I warmly welcome Prime Minister Harper’s announcement that Canada will deploy a substantial number of trainers to the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. Canada has contributed substantially, over many years, to the operation in Afghanistan. Canadian forces have made a real difference in the lives of the Afghan people, often at a high cost ….” More from the Canadian Press on that
  • Meanwhile, the transition continues on the ground in AfghanistanA scouting party from the NATO unit that could replace Canadian troops in Kandahar will be touring the area over the next few days. Planning for the departure of Task Force Kandahar is underway and a proposal on how the transition will take place is still being finalized, a senior U.S. officer with the alliance’s southern headquarters said Tuesday. The Canadians “are in a critical location,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was authorized to discuss the situation on background only. “We’ve got to make sure that area is still covered, and covered well.” ….”

What will strike readers of the NY Times:

Canada to End Combat Role in Afghanistan at End of 2011

Does the world need more Canada? As far as I can find the British media ignored the government’s decision rather completely. Typical.

Meanwhile Maj.-Gen. (ret’d) Lew MacKenzie explains clearly, to enlighten those who scream otherwise, the future non-combat role of our forces (as I have tried to do):

Our trainers won’t be ‘Omleteers’

Regarding our civilian presence at Kandahar, I wrote this ten days ago:

…I have heard from someone well up on Canadian activities in Afstan that the government is currently planning to remove all or almost all Canadian civilians and civilian police from Kandahar as the CF withdraw, and have our civilians based in Kabul. So there goes Canadian participation in the PRT


Fighting the good fight for Afghans–and all of us

Update: A very good Nov. 9 story (via Defense Industry Daily) on what’s happening in the Canadian sector of Kandahar Province now that the US surge has peaked:

Afghanistan: Before fighting season ends, one last push
Photos: Coalition troops sweep through remaining Taliban strongholds.

A month ago:

Canadians work to corral Taliban as major operation begins
U.S., Afghan forces launch air assault in Horn of Panjwaii stronghold


Fighting the good fight for Afghans–and all of us

Posted November 16th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada by MarkOttawa


Afstan is about more than assembling “a coherent narrative”

Now I congratulate the efforts of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee (disclosure: I am a founding member but not involved in their actual work); I believe they really had an effect. I congratulate those politicians, Bob Rae in particular, who put purpose over partisanship. And I congratulate the government for finally doing the best that could be done given Canadian politics (though I do regret their lying for many months when they said that Canada’s military–not combat–mission must end in 2011 because the 2008 Commons’ motion said so; it did not). Canadian politics are desperately debased all around.

Terry Glavin expresses both passion and reason on how things have developed:

‘If Ye Break Faith With Us Who Die, We Shall Not Sleep.’

The two-year paralysis that so utterly enfeebled Canada in the matter of this country’s post-2011 re-dedication to Afghanistan is now officially over. Ottawa has come out of its coma, and now rejoins the company of the grown-ups in the 43-member International Security Assistance Force. With today’s announcement, we take our place once again as a leader in the international cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic…

We should recall that for two full years the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan refused to discharge its duties, in contempt of the Parliament by which its duties were assigned. Instead, it turned itself into a lurid chamber for the most foul (and groundless) “torture” allegations against members of the Canadian Forces. It had become like some kind of celebrity television show where the contestants were challenged to find ways to put the name of a cabinet minister in the same sentence with the words “war criminal.”

It’s finally over.

The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee spent much of the past year running a national campaign to try and help break the Parliamentary paralysis with a new vision for Canada’s role in Afghanistan. Our work took us back and forth from Kabul, Ottawa, Toronto, Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Ottawa again. Hundreds of Afghans and Canadians (especially Afghan-Canadians) were directly involved in the effort. Among them were Canadian soldiers and the parents of dead soldiers, Canadian and Afghan journalists, Afghan MPs, women’s rights activists, academics, diplomats, Afghan Opposition leaders and not a few cookie-baking United Church women.

I would like to think we made some small contribution to keeping the debate alive at least, but no matter. All credit goes to Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, House Special Committee on Afghanistan leader Laurie Hawn, Pamela Wallin and Romeo Dellaire of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, and not a few other Parliamentarians from all parties who would probably prefer that their names be left unmentioned for the moment…

It is right and proper that Canada’s first “key area” of post-2011 engagement refers to investments in education and health. But it is worrisome in the extreme that Canada’s new 950-trainer contribution has been merely tacked on to what was first articulated as a priority for “advancing the rule of law and human rights.” This is the thing that should be galvanizing our attention now. One purpose cannot be put at the expense of the other. It is not clear whether the “training role” will be funded at least partly by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It is more than just a good thing that Canada’s military will continue to put its broad shoulders to the wheel of building up the capacity, competence and professionalism of the Afghan National Security Forces. But we must not allow this to come at the cost of the covenant that has been written in the blood of so many Canadian soldiers already. This is the solemn covenant that binds Canada to the Afghan people. It is the heart of the whole bloody, grisly matter…

If you need further proof of why Canadian public debate on Afstan is so debased, see what pathetic pundit Greg Weston has been up to economizing with words and thus the truth (and he’s just got a paid gig at the CBC; go figure, it ain’t that hard). From the invaluable BruceR. at Flit (to whom one should pay close attention on things Afghan; he’s been there with the Army, done that, and knows more about the country and counterinsurgency than all our punditocracy stuffed together inside a television studio):

On the flip side, you have the CBC’s Greg Weston doing a real drive-by on the subject, gutting a key phrase out of a Gen. (retd.) Rick Hillier piece, apparently only to score cheap points.

In a recent interview with Maclean’s magazine, retired general Rick Hillier said: “You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army … you are going to be in combat.”

Nice ellipses, Greg. The full quote, with the piece that makes all the difference:

If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan you are going to be in combat.

As a former Afghan army trainer in southern Afghanistan, I would tend to agree. But this simply isn’t what was being floated by the government, which was quite clearly all about exploring an expanded role outside the south. Given that it’s a web piece where length doesn’t matter, there’s no real reason Weston and the CBC couldn’t have been honest with their readers…

And if you think Kabul is some kind of death-ridden combat zone, please, please take a look at these very recent posts and photos by Brian Platt at the Ubyssey–a fellow completely outside any wire. One can only wonder why almost all journalists from our major media have ignored and misrepresented reality for so long. And still do.

Afghanistan is about more than Canadian domestic politics.  Really.  We do need to grow up.

Update thought: What was most sadly reflective about this country’s chatterers is that on the politics shows on television early this evening there was nothing, rien de tout, nichts, ništa said about the Afghans or developments in the country except in relation to Canada, or about how the Afghan and ISAF military efforts are going. All Canada, all the time. We must have the world’s most capacious bellybutton at which we endlessly gaze; and far too many brains have been stuffed with its lint.

So long as the Canadians fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people…


Afstan: “A training role is possible”

Posted November 14th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International by MarkOttawa

A letter of mine in the Toronto Star (links added):

Re: Canadians need clarity, information, Nov. 9; Taliban waited and Ottawa blinked, Nov. 10; PM’s reversal on Afghan pullout flawed, Nov. 10

These columns all maintain that it will be almost impossible for the Canadian Forces to stay on with a training mission in Afghanistan that is not at the same time effectively a combat role. That is not so. Basic military training of Afghan recruits, officer staff training, training in technical skills and medical skills can be readily done in the Kabul area without going “outside the wire” alongside the Afghans.

The Canadian Forces have already sent a small number of personnel to engage in that sort of training in Kabul as part of the NATO Training Mission — Afghanistan. They have suffered no casualties and have not seen combat. I would imagine that any large Canadian training contingent would mostly be attached to that non-combat NATO mission.

Indeed, if the government sends the 1,000 personnel mentioned in the media, I would think Canadians would largely be taking charge of the NATO training mission. For which our allies will be very grateful as NATO has had great difficulty in getting members to provide the numbers of trainers needed.

Mark Collins, Ottawa

Though as BruceR. has pointed out at Flit, NTM-A does do a lot of outside-the-wire mentoring; but that would not be the CF’s role at Kabul–or elsewhere in Afstan if some CF members are also stationed outside the capital area, according to this story by Matthew Fisher of Postmedia News.  As for taking charge, that too would be at Kabul.

Update: The letter and this post are in the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

Canadian Commentary

Mark Collins — The Toronto Star
Letter: A training role is possible – More


The Star’s Travesty Weighs In

Posted November 9th, 2010 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

Kabul is a much more stable, safer city than Kandahar.

It’s true that the sudden rumours the Conservative government would be open to a mission extension in Afghanistan that would involve strictly a training role in Kabul is an about-face to the previous protestations of Stephen Harper that we were absolutely out in 2011. The Toronto Star editorial can’t help rubbing that in, even as it gives an endorsement of the role.

If the editorials floating around the Canadian media are any indication, the mission extension in a non-combat capacity comes with almost unanimous consent. National Post columnist Don Martin gives a curmudgeonly approval. Tim Powers says he believes “we owe it to those Canadians who have made the ultimate sacrifice” to see it through to the end. The Calgary Herald opines a similar sentiment, particularly poignant in that it lost a journalist to the cause of covering the conflict. The Winnipeg Free Press calls the behind-the-wire deployment “a good fit for Canada.” The Guelph Mercury says the sudden “U-turn” by Harper is the right move.

Even the troops, the ones the anti-war crowd profess to want to save from incurring more casualties, are open to a mentoring role beyond the July 2011 exit date. Indeed, in my discussions with the OMLT soldiers in Kandahar, this kind of role really inspires our military trainers.

For all of the examples of media maturity displayed above, it is therefore with disappointment that I read the Toronto Star’s most dishonest scribbler, Jim Travers, characterize this mission as being anything other than the necessary, humanitarian role it actually is.

First of all, Travers gets it wrong almost immediately, by saying we’ll be training Hamid Karzai loyalists instead of killing his enemies. What we’ll be doing, actually, is training ANA and ANP security forces, and likely the same way we’ve been doing for eight years already. Calling Afghan security forces Hamid Karzai loyalists makes about as much sense as calling our soldiers Harper loyalists.

His next assertion is conspiratorial in nature. Creating the impression that Canada’s new mission in Kabul could be labelled a training mission but involve combat operations is, unequivocally, rubbish. Having soldiers placed into an operational support role behind the wire means exactly that. There will be no combat role for Canadian mentors any more than there is now for the operational support staff in Kandahar Airfield who never leave the base during their tours. I met soldiers on their third tour in Kandahar who had never been outside the wire at all.

It’s therefore a wrongful characterization of the role we would play in Kabul to say it would sap military resources, drain the treasury and cost more lives. Firstly, it would sap less resources because we’re cutting personnel by at least two-thirds. And second, barring any lucky air strikes or suicide bombings, chances are that more Canadians will be killed in one day in backyard swimming pools next summer than soldiers from 2011-2014. That’s a fact.

Nowhere does Travers talk about the dynamics of the surge, the time element of that gambit, or how different our role could be in just 10 months. Considering how much he writes about the mission, what he would most benefit from would be getting in on the first embedded media assignment for the Toronto Star in Canada’s new Kabul mission. If he could summon the courage of this UBC student, he might even find out the country is about more than just the death and mayhem he writes about.

All This Headache For One Lousy Flight To Toronto?

Posted November 8th, 2010 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

The government screwed up. Again. This time it was in their handling of the Canadian military base, Camp Mirage, in Dubai. Because of the handling of negotiations over potential flights to Canada by commercial aircraft from the U.A.E., we’re going to have to spend $300 million to relocate the logistical support base for our operations in Afghanistan to Cyprus.

The feds have tried to pass this off as a case of the U.A.E. making unreasonable demands, but the truth is a little less harrowing. The Emirates demanded more landing rights for two national carriers, but only in Toronto.

Canada offered each U.A.E. carrier a total of seven new flights to Canada, but none of them to Toronto, the only city the Emirates wanted. When that offer was turned down, Canada made a second one with flight offers to anywhere but Toronto. Not exactly your good faith bargaining considering Camp Mirage was on the line. According to an anonymous government source cited in the CBC article, the deal could have been done if the U.A.E. was granted one more flight to Toronto per day.

Let’s assume for the moment that allowing the extra flights was slightly inconvenient. Unreasonable even. Was it worth giving up Camp Mirage for it, and the quarter billion dollars that will have to be spent to relocate to Cyprus? Dubai is situated 1,600 km from Kabul and 1,200 km from Kandahar. Cyprus is 3,000 km from Kandahar Airfield, and fully 3,400 km from what could be Canada’s new post-combat role in Kabul.

Then there are the immediate diplomatic disadvantages to our petty standoff with the U.A.E., as the country moved to slap visas on all Canadians intending to travel there in 2011. Although that’s largely symbolic with the low number of Canadian tourists, it’s disappointing that Canada has chosen to rankle a potential ally in the Middle East, particularly one that has helped us in our mission in Afghanistan.

As Andrew Potter wrote in Macleans, you take your hosts for granted and this is the kind of fiasco you get. Let’s not forget that we were guests in Dubai, and this wasn’t your average landlord we were tenants under. This was an integral part of logistical operations in Afghanistan and a jumping point into theatre that required only a two hour flight.

I was as surprised as anyone else when, two weeks after I had gone through Mirage myself, I heard the U.A.E. had denied the defence minister the right to land on his own base. What do you have to do to enrage a country that badly?

Quid Pro Quo. We were given a base of operations that is strategically the safest location for Canadian Forces in the region (we do not want to put a base in Pakistan), and all it took to keep it there was let a few more planes land in Toronto.

Breaking: Holy Afghan mackerel!!! When the PM flips, he flips large

Posted November 8th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada by MarkOttawa

Wow!  Assuming this CBC story is close to the truth; earlier estimates had been 400-600 CF personnel:

Extended Afghan mission to involve 1,000 troops

Canada would keep as many as 1,000 troops in Kabul as part of a plan to extend the country’s mission in Afghanistan and convert it into a non-combat role after 2011, CBC News has learned.

Up to 750 trainers and at least 200 support staff would work outside the combat zone at a training academy or large training facility for Afghan soldiers and police officers, the CBC’s James Cudmore reports. They would remain in Afghanistan until 2014 at the latest.

This is the first time specific numbers related to the proposed mission extension have been made public…

I just hope the story, which looks to me more like a true leak than a government trial balloon, does not cause the prime minister to re-think the numbers, which certainly will get a lot a criticism: e.g., they will make it harder to take a significant part in those blessed UN peacekeeping missions.

But our allies will be especially pleased; and the Dutch may get serious encouragement to come  back to Afstan in a similar role.

Earlier today:

The world does need more Canada–in Afstan/State of the battle/Danish note

Update thought: I suspect the arrangement, given the large number of CF personnel, will be that Canada effectively takes over the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan in Kabul–which will be great relief for the alliance. The NATO mission works alongside the separate (sort of) US Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan and has the same commander.


The world does need more Canada–in Afstan/State of the battle/Danish note

Posted November 8th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Further to this post,

Afstan: So maybe the government will keep some CF after all

a very useful round-up from Norman Spector:

Though the PMO leaks presented this new training mission as an option being considered, the Defense Editor of the Times of London, Michael Evans, was already reporting it on Monday as a fait accompli (behind the paper’s pay-wall): “At the NATO summit on November 19 alliance countries may have to agree to retain some troops for a training role right up to 2014. The Netherlands has already withdrawn its troops but there will be pressure on the Dutch to send trainers. Canada, whose combat troops are to leave next year, will also be expected to commit to the training mission.”

Over at the Washington Post, on the other hand, no decision has yet been taken but the pressure on Canada was said to be intense:

“The United States, France and Britain have said to the Canadians ‘Don’t waste your experience’ in Afghanistan” by leaving before the mission is completed, said the European official, one of several who discussed the private meetings on condition of anonymity.

“If the Canadians agree,” he said, “maybe the Dutch will come back with trainers.” ..[more on the Dutch here]

Also on Monday, according to a report behind the pay-wall of the Wall Street Journal, NATO will release a report showing that “Significant progress has been made in building up the Afghan security forces, but continuing attrition among police officers and a dearth of midlevel military leaders pose major challenges … Enthusiasm within NATO for long-term mentoring of Afghan security forces appears to be eroding, and military leaders hope to persuade alliance leaders to continue their training commitment….According to the report, NATO needs 900 more trainers to build up such specialized training.”

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal’s sister publication, the Times of London, is also reporting this behind its pay-wall:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan has drawn up a colour-coded timetable to hand back control to local security forces, The Times has learnt.

A handful of areas in Afghanistan have been stamped “green”, signalling that they have been earmarked for a handover in the spring. The plan, which was drawn up by General David Petraeus, is to be presented to NATO leaders at the summit of alliance leaders in Lisbon on November 19.

The colours range from green to grey, the latter being the most problematic, indicating that the handover is more than two years away. Provinces such as Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan in the south, and Kunar in the east, fall into this category. … The plan, which is expected to be given full support at the summit, will allow President Obama to fulfil his pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan from July next year.

Most of the U.S. combat troops are in areas where there is continuous confrontation with the Taleban and other insurgents. None of the U.S. Marines in Helmand will be going home next July. They, and the British troops in Helmand, expect to be part of the campaign for another three or four years.

In today’s National Post, Senator Pamela Wallin writes:

The man who has twice commanded Canadian troops in Afghanistan says the war is “winnable.” He should know – he’s recently back from the heat of combat where he saw the combined effect of the NATO-U. S. troop surge and a more able Afghan Army. … General Vance’s optimism echoes that of Canada’s current commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Dean Milner, and General David Petraeus, the top NATO commander there, who has said that operations are proceeding “more rapidly than was anticipated.” The Canadian Forces’ unique combination of warrior and humanitarian skills is also bringing – and keeping – Afghans onside. General Vance says that as a population becomes hopeful, it has a “galvanizing effect.”

In Washington, however, the New York Times reports considerable skepticism and an “intense debate” concerning reports by the military of progress in Afghanistan:

In Kandahar, NATO officials say that American and Afghan forces continue to rout the Taliban. In new statistics offered by American commanders in Kabul, Special Operations units have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 of the group’s foot soldiers in the past three months alone. At the Pentagon, the draft of a war assessment to be submitted to Congress this month cites a shift in momentum in some areas of the country away from the insurgency.

But as a new White House review of President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, the rosy signs have opened an intense debate at the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department and the intelligence agencies over what they really mean…

Even the Danes have been pushing us–and with some considerable justification as John Ivison notes at the National Post’s “Full Comment”:

The apparent change of heart by the Harper government came after Gitte Lillelund Bech, the Danish Defence Minister, visited Ottawa last week and met with Mr. MacKay…

Ms. Bech said she believed that Canada will commit to keeping troops in Afghanistan. “My impression from meeting him [MacKay], is that he agrees we share the same values and are fighting to eliminate safe havens for terrorism. The goals haven’t changed but I fully understand you have to have a majority in Parliament supporting what you’re doing.”

The Danes have suffered 38 casualties in Afghanistan — more, as a proportion of the country’s population, than any other contributor to ISAF [emphasis added, more here]. Yet there is no debate in Denmark about pulling troops out of the country, ahead of the 2014 deadline envisaged by the Kabul Conference.

Ms. Bech said that her government has already committed to training police officers and the military after that date.

“We will be there [Afghanistan] until the end,” she said.

Have you seen one blinking thing about the Danes and their casualties (they are fighting with the Brits in Helmand) in our self-obsessed major media? No wonder most Canadian effectively know nothing about the war other than dead Canadian soldiers, ramp ceremonies, and the Highway of Heroes.

By the way, I imagine most CF trainers in a continuing mission would be attached to the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan at Kabul.

Update: One example of the sort of non-combat training we could provide is at the ANA staff college, see this post from Kabul (with photos) by the estimable Brian Platt at his trip blog for the Ubyssey.


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