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…


The strange death of the Conservative Canadian cabinet

Posted November 14th, 2010 in Canada, united states by MarkOttawa

What is strange is the way it has been announced.  It has been a central principle of the Westminster system of Parliamentary government that major government decisions are made collectively by the cabinet and that cabinet members are collectively responsible for those decisions.  It has been apparent for at least two decades that the prime minister, whatever the party, has increasingly been usurping that power of decision.  The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, Laurie Hawn, has now made this changed reality completely clear.

This is what he has just had to say about the prime minister’s decision (not, it is very apparent, the cabinet’s) to shift the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul and to change its role to solely non-combat training:

1) On CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Nov. 12, at 6:40 on the clip:

…The prime minister is empowered to make this kind of decision…

2) And more fully on CBC Radio One’s The House, Nov. 13, at 8:35 on the clip:

…The prime minister is the head of our government and he is empowered to make these kinds of decisions…The prime minister is within his authority and mandate to make this kind of call…

So the Canadian federal government is de facto headed by a powerful presidential figure; there is no de jure to prescribe the powers of the cabinet vis-à-vis the prime minister, just accepted convention which is most definitively not what it was.  One wonders when our politicians, punditocracy, and professoriat will remark upon the constitutionally rather startling statements by Mr Hawn.

One pundit, Chantal Hebert, does make these rather telling observations on how the prime minister’s decision was presented to the public:

…Stephen Harper’s communications director, Dimitri Soudas, did the media rounds.

The sight of an unelected partisan staffer apprising Canadians of their government’s thinking on a top-of-mind defence and foreign policy issue that involves committing hundreds of Canadian men and women to a war theatre for an extra three years was unprecedented.

The power of the PMO has been in ascendancy at the expense of the federal cabinet for a number of decades, but that evolution has rarely been as blatantly obvious as over the past two weeks…

The Crown may still have ministers but they no longer are of any real account. The prime minister indeed rules the executive alone.  And, with a majority government, the legislature too–unlike in the United States where the two branches of government are firmly separated.

Update: A response of mine in the “Comments”; this post was not making a partisan political point:

I was not criticizing this prime minister in particular. I was merely pointing out what an odd way in which a fundamental change in the Canadian constitution was effectively made public (significant parts of our constitution are still unwritten: neither “cabinet” nor “prime minister” appears in the Constitution Act, formerly known as the BNA).

I would point out that PM Chretien was in practise equally presidential. I have seen no indication that he took his announcement in early 2003 that the CF would return to Afstan (so they would not be available in any strength for Iraq) to cabinet, nor that shortly thereafter he took to cabinet the announcement in the House that Canada would not take part in the invasion of Iraq.

Prime ministers for some time have become ever more presidential. The present difference, for good or ill depending on how you look at it, is that until 2004 those PMs could also control Parliament.

Rather scary, regardless of the party the PM heads.

Upperdate: Version of the post is also at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds blog.


Canada and the F-35: Two views/Reality Update

Posted November 1st, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

I strongly urge readers to look carefully at both of these:

1) Chief of the Air Staff Lieutenant-General André Deschamps at the Commons’ Standing Committee on National Defence:


2) David S. McDonough, Canadian International Council (I especially like his concluding paragraphs):

Canada and the F-35 Procurement: An Assessment

…it might be prudent for the government to more fully re-assess the role of the air force and the need to contribute its air force for high-intensity combat missions. The F-35, while having the requisite capabilities for such operations, might simply be too expensive a choice for the Canadian military. And if this means that Canada might no longer be capable of participating in a coalition air war, perhaps it is now finally time to seriously look at that option.

A more specialized role for our air force, focused more on domestic and continental tasks with the acquisition of the cheaper Super Hornet, might appear to be a risky proposition. But given the need for fiscal restraint and soaring costs of advanced weapon platforms, the status quo is not without danger. Simply put, the decision to acquire the F-35s can easily result in significant opportunity costs. For example, the navy could find little funds available in the capital budget when its major surface combatants are in need of replacement [see this post for more on the Navy].

Canadian governments generally prefer to avoid making hard choices on defence. However, with the recent F-35 controversy and major naval procurement projects on the horizon, it is perhaps finally time for the government to begin to take a hard look at and make some difficult decisions on the future of Canadian defence policy, force structure and procurement priorities [more on that at this post].

David S. McDonough is a Doctoral Candidate at Dalhousie University, a Doctoral Fellow at Dalhousie’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, and is presently a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa.  He is the editor of the CIC-CDFAI Strategic Studies Working Group’s forthcoming book, Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World: Strategy, Interests and Threats. He would like to thank Philippe Lagassé for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this commentary.

Mr McDonough’s article via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs. My F-35 posts here.

Update: I wonder how/if the government will react to this news:

Pentagon May See Higher F-35 Costs, Delays Up to Three Years

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s costliest program, may see more price increases and new schedule delays of as much as three years, two government officials familiar with the matter said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to be briefed tomorrow on new cost and schedule assessments for the F-35 and other aircraft, said the officials, who requested anonymity because details aren’t public. Software, engineering and flight difficulties are greater than expected, the officials said…

New delays and higher prices would add to the struggles in development and combat testing of the F-35, which is more than four years behind schedule [emphasis added]. Designed for missions including bombing and aerial combat, the JSF will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps…

The $50 billion development phase may cost as much as $5 billion more, and Pentagon analysts now estimate the JSF may be as much as 1 1/2 times more expensive to maintain than the warplanes it will replace [emphasis added], according to preliminary estimates in Venlet’s review, the officials said.

Different Models

Slippage in the JSF’s timetable may be as much as one year for the Air Force [the one we're supposed to get] and Navy versions and two to three years for development of the Marine Corps model capable of short takeoffs and landings, the officials said.

The potential increases would be on top of changes unveiled this year by the Pentagon: a 13-month extension to the current development phase to November 2015, shifting of $2.8 billion in production funds for continued research and delaying the purchase of 122 jets to beyond 2015…

Do you really believe the cost figures given by the government mentioned at this earlier post?

More on the F-35:

On CBC News Network’s “Power and Politics” National Defence Parliamentary Secretary Laurie Hawn just said [Oct. 26] that $5 to $5.5 billion of the F-35’s $9 billion acquisition cost will be for the aircraft themselves ($70-$75 million per plane), with the other costs being for associated equipment, munitions, facilities, training etc. (I’m expanding somewhat on his explanation of these costs).

Nice price if we can get it when a contract is actually signed.

Remember the F-35–all three versions–is still in flight testing and no-one knows what the actual production price will be.

And you think the maintenance costs and delivery date from the government are realistic either?

The government committed $9-billion to buy the 65 planes from Lockheed Martin, and the first aircraft is to be delivered by 2016, said a statement from the Defence Department.

But the overall cost is expected to soar to $16 billion when a 20-year maintenance contract is factored in…


Helicopters: “Auditor General on CH-148 and CH-47F acquisitions (plus lessons/risks for F-35?)”

Posted October 27th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s fire is not directed at either the Liberal or Conservative governments–though the politicians certainly weren’t exactly on the ball (and it’s a pity none of them no almost anything about things military).  The CF in particular have a lot to answer for.  A post at

AG’s very damning report is hereCyclone was sold by DND as off-the-shelf when in fact it was a completely new aircraft.  Won’t have operational version until 2012.  Chinooks also supposedly off-the-shelf but turned, because of “Canadianization”, into effectively a completely new version, won’t be delivered until 2013.  Acquisition risks and capital costs of both greatly underestimated, and in-service support costs way off.

AG’s summary:

The total project cost of 28 Cyclone helicopters, together with initial set-up, training, provision of spare parts and long-term maintenance, is now estimated at $5.7 billion. Delivery of the first fully capable Cyclone, initially expected in 2005, was delayed to 2008 and is now expected to occur in 2012. The total project cost of 15 Chinook helicopters, together with initial set-up, training, and long-term maintenance, is now estimated at more than $4.9 billion. The first fully capable helicopter is scheduled for delivery in 2013, five years later than planned…

* National Defence underestimated and understated the complexity and developmental nature of the helicopters that it intended to buy. Both helicopters were described to internal decision makers and the Treasury Board as non-developmental, using “off the shelf” technologies. On that basis, overall project risks were assessed as low to medium. In each case, however, significant modifications were made to the basic models. For the maritime helicopter, this will result in an aircraft that never existed before. For the medium- to heavy-lift helicopter, this will result in a new variant of the Chinook. Ultimately, these modifications led to schedule delays and cost increases beyond original plans.

* The medium- to heavy-lift helicopter acquisition was a directed procurement using an advance contract award notice (ACAN). National Defence had initially planned to proceed rapidly to contract award by spring 2007; however, its needs and priorities were not precisely defined at the outset, evolved over the course of the acquisition, and were not finalized until 2009. The manner in which Public Works and Government Services Canada used the ACAN did not comply with the letter or intent of the applicable regulations and policies and, consequently, the contract award process was not fair, open, and transparent.

* National Defence did not develop full life-cycle plans and costs for these helicopters in a complete or timely way. In addition, total estimated costs were not disclosed to decision makers at key decision points. Some costs have yet to be completely estimated and some elements needed for the capability are not in place. Without adequate cost information, National Defence cannot plan to have sufficient funds available for long-term operation and support of the helicopters. Moreover, without sufficient funds, National Defence may have to curtail planned training and operations.

* National Defence did not fully comply with the oversight and approval framework established in its Project Approval Guide. For the maritime helicopter project, boards provided appropriate oversight at the preliminary project and effective project approval stages. However, neither the Senior Review Board nor the Program Management Board met to challenge and approve the information in the 2008 revised effective project approval that was related to the contract amendment approval of $262 million. For the medium- to heavy-lift helicopter, there was an absence of timely meetings, challenge, and approvals by senior boards at all key decision points in the acquisition process and before seeking Treasury Board approvals.

The entities have responded. The entities agree with all of our recommendations. Their detailed responses follow the recommendations throughout the chapter.

The ACAN sole-sourcing of the Chinook Foxtrot is criticized, though not that sternly.  Mainly for technical abuse of details in the ACAN process itself.

As for the F-35, a piece by the National Post’s John Ivison:

Helicopter shenanigans increase doubts on F-35 purchase

This kind of Sir Humphrey Appleton-like manipulation of the politicians by public servants still has the power to shock. Ms. Fraser called the deliberate understatement of risk as “totally inappropriate”. But amid the mendacity, there was evidence of old-fashioned incompetence…

None of this inspires confidence in procurement at a department that is currently making the biggest military purchase in Canadian history. The Opposition is entitled to demand that the entire process for the new jets be laid bare before Parliament, not only to ensure that the Conservatives have been open and transparent but also to check the Department of National Defence has been giving the government the real goods this time. As Ms. Fraser said in her press conference: “Let’s hope nobody is assessing them [the F-35s] as low risk [emphasis added]…”

More on the F-35:

On CBC News Network’s “Power and Politics” National Defence Parliamentary Secretary Laurie Hawn just said [Oct. 26] that $5 to $5.5 billion of the F-35′s $9 billion acquisition cost will be for the aircraft themselves ($70-$75 million per plane), with the other costs being for associated equipment, munitions, facilities, training etc. (I’m expanding somewhat on his explanation of these costs).

Nice price if we can get it when a contract is actually signed.

Remember the F-35–all three versions–is still in flight testing and no-one knows what the actual production price will be.


Pentagon response to Bears over Calgary, Toronto, Montreal/F-35 fact check Update

Posted August 25th, 2010 in Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

A Cannonball Press report, August 26, 2020:

New York (CBP): Russian TU-95 Bear bombers yesterday were intercepted and identified over three northern cities, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, by F-16 fighters of the US Air National Guard responding under the American Aerospace Defense Command [more here].

A Pentagon statement said the interceptions were a routine indentification of Russian aircraft approaching US airspace that posed no threat to American southern sovereignty.

In response to questions at her daily news conference Pentagon spokesperson Amelia Earhart said that the interceptions were performed by F-16s instead of F-35s since the primary role of the stealthy 300 Joint Strike Fighters now with the US Air Force was initial attack on ground targets against adversaries with heavy and effective air defences.

Ms Earhart responded, upon further questioning, that it would be some time before sufficient of the problem-plagued F-35s [more here and here] could replace F-16s and F-15s in the role of continental air defense.

In the country formerly known as Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Alberta issued a statement saying that if only Canada had bought F-35s–and only F-35s–the Russians would have been deterred from creating such an annoyance for his American allies.

When asked why the Alberta’s 24 AF-18s based at Cold Lake had not been used to intercept and identify Russian Bears, Mr Harper replied that Alberta’s sovereignty was “non-negotiable“.

While F-35s might have deterred the Russians, the prime minister added, his AF-18 Hornets were perfectly capable of dealing with any real threat.  As would be the 24 Super Hornets Alberta has recently contracted to buy from Boeing.

Mr Harper also noted that Alberta was very interested in Gazprom’s offer to increase its stake in the oil sands to 68%.

Earlier in Toronto, Ontario Prime Minister Dalton McGuinty in a statement said his government was pleased that the United States was capable of dealing with issues that might affect its own airspace.

Quebec President Gilles Duceppe, replying to a question in the National Assembly, said his country’s 12 QF-18s, based at Bagotville, had not been scrambled since “One does not want to break eggs when there is no need for an omelette.”

President Duceppe went on to reiterate his government’s intent to replace the QF-18s with Joint Strike Fighters if an agreement, now under negotiation, could be reached to assemble the aircraft in his country.

Professor Michael Ignatieff of the University of California at Berkeley, in a Tweet to the Cannonball Press, said:

bearish antecedents time real canadians debate if better off as Americans Canucks need my help

Much more here.

Update: From the current government:

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, a former CF-18 fighter pilot, just twitted (or is it tweeted!) this, laughing off a question about why Canada is buying 65 Joint Strike Fighters. Here is what he writes:

“NDP MP Jack Harris asks why Canada is buying 65 F-35s while “similar” country Norway is only buying 48. It’s a good question. Canada is 26 times area, 7 times population and 3 times GDP. Jack’s math would demand between 144 and 1248 F-35s for Canada.

I guess we’re being pretty prudent with only 65, eh?

Ya gotta laugh.”

Not quite, Mr Hawn. Norway has, like Canada, selected the F-35; but, also like Canada, no contract has been signed yet. And there are tough negotiations going on with Lockheed Martin–one wishes our ministers would speak as cogently as this Norwegian one.  It should also be pointed out that Norway had a competition for its new fighter and that the planned purchase was approved by its parliament.  Both unlike Canada.

Mark (“Cannonball“)

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