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Afghanistan 2009


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« on: April 18, 2009, 08:22:08 pm »

God Bless America


Obama rolls out his own war on terror

4,000 troops headed for Afghanistan; president to ask NATO for more

 
By Sheldon Alberts, Matthew Fisher and Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service

Warning Americans that al-Qaeda is "actively planning" new terror attacks on the United States, President Barack Obama will deploy 4,000 additional troops to the war in Afghanistan and ask NATO members to increase their efforts in the country.

Unveiling a sweeping new strategy to confront the Taliban and al-Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama described the security situation as "increasingly perilous," with the Taliban in effective control of some areas of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda enjoying a safe haven along Pakistan's lawless frontier.

"Let me be clear: al-Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Obama said at the White House.

"Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

The Americanization of the war in Afghanistan was inevitable once the conflict in Iraq began to wind down, because NATO countries in Europe -- with the exception of Britain, Denmark and the Dutch -- refused constant demands to send forces to the only places in Afghanistan that really matter: the east and south of the country.

The increase in activity is already breathtaking.

The most obvious evidence is the vast swath of real estate being claimed by American forces at the already overcrowded Kandahar Airfield, which is the logistical hub for the war in the south.

Every few minutes, giant transport aircraft disgorge troops, combat gear or supplies. There are new landing pads for more than 100 helicopters from the 82nd Aviation Combat Brigade. Seabees from the U.S. navy are frantically erecting scores of barracks and other buildings. Every road on the base is being torn up as plumbing and electricity systems are installed.

Outside the airfield, Canadian troops in Kandahar still outnumber Americans; but, by the end of the summer, four of every five soldiers outside the wire in Kandahar will wear a Stars and Stripes shoulder patch.

This dramatic move doesn't diminish Canada's key role in the volatile south. The Canadians will remain in the same numbers precisely where they are now: in one of the deadliest parts of the country, an area about the size of New Brunswick. In most places, it's less than 100 kilometres from Pakistan, where Taliban leader Mullah Omar is said to direct the insurgency from the city of Quetta.

What has changed is that the Americans are going to blanket much of the rest of Kandahar. They are to provide what a diplomat here has called "a protective crust" to the north and east of Kandahar City.

As a result, Canadian troops hope insurgents and their weapons will have a harder time getting through from safe havens in Pakistan.

After years of relative U.S. neglect, Obama said his administration's plan would see dramatic increases in personnel and funding for the war.

The 4,000 new U.S. troops will be embedded as trainers with soldiers in the Afghan army and bringing to 21,000 the number of new U.S. forces Obama has ordered deployed to Afghanistan ahead of upcoming presidential and provincial elections in August.

Obama said he will ask NATO members for more troops and civilian personnel when he travels next week to the military alliance's summit in France and Germany. Specifically, the U.S. wants NATO to provide more military trainers "to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner."

In addition, he wants NATO's help with "clearly defined capabilities" that include support for upcoming elections and civilian aid in helping build Afghan political institutions, which are now rife with corruption.

The United States' military goal is to "accelerate" efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and increase the size of the national police force to 82,000 by 2011.

"For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police," Obama said.

In advance of the NATO summit, the Times of London reported that Britain was prepared to send an additional 2,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Canada welcomed Obama's "clarion call."

The White House strategy offers a "compelling, comprehensive and realistic assessment" of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said.

"We look forward to working with the U.S. in order to reach our ultimate common goal of leaving Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure."

Cannon said there are "many elements" in Obama's plan that jibe with Canada's strategy of the past year. They include calls for an integrated military-civilian strategy, his emphasis on training Afghan army and police faster, and the president's decision to send more combat troops to "secure and hold areas, thereby facilitating development and reconstruction efforts."

Obama's strategy is expected to drive the cost of the Afghan mission -- now about $2 billion U.S. a month -- up by 60 per cent.

Obama cast the decision as nothing less than essential to U.S. domestic security. While the U.S. was consumed by the war in Iraq, al-Qaeda terrorists regrouped in lawless areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border, he said.

The al-Qaeda leaders there "almost certainly include Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri," Obama said.

"For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world."

The strategy includes benchmarks for measuring progress by the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan -- including goals for the training of Afghan troops, economic growth and impact on the flourishing narcotics trade.

International aid will be linked to evidence the government is cracking down on corruption, Obama said.

U.S. military tactics will also change. While fighting the Taliban's "uncompromising core," Obama said the U.S. planned a "reconciliation process" with insurgents fighting for other reasons.

To help strengthen Pakistan's government, Obama will ask Congress to triple aid to $1.5 billion a year for the construction of roads, schools and hospitals.

"Make no mistake: al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," he said.

But the U.S. also plans to impose tough conditions on Pakistan -- tying financial aid to fighting extremists.

"It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al-Qaeda. This is no simple task," Obama said.

"After years of mixed results," he continued, "we will not provide a blank cheque. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken -- one way or another -- when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets."

Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari to brief them on the U.S. strategy. The initial response from both governments was positive.

"Pakistan is willing to play an active, constructive role in this because we feel our peace and security is linked to Afghanistan's," Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, told Reuters.
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2009, 08:18:23 am »



British troops also paying heavy price in Afghan war
 

 
By Matthew Fisher, Canwest News ServiceApril 19, 2009
 

 

Canwest News Mideast Correspondent

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan - Like most of his countrymen, Pte. Colin Walstow admitted that he "did not have a clue" that Canada was fighting only 60 kilometres to the east of where he was serving as a combat medic for the British army in Helmand Province.

Most Canadians suffer from a similar myopia.

They have been so focused on Canada's war in Kandahar that most don't know the British have been fighting and dying in almost similar numbers in neighbouring Helmand.

Since 9/11, 152 Britons and 117 Canadians have died in Afghanistan.

Britain has dispatched 8,300 troops and five infantry battalions to Helmand. Canada has about 3,000 soldiers and one infantry battalion in Kandahar.

The British have mostly fought from light-armoured Land Rovers. That is a path that Canada abandoned shortly after moving their forces from Kabul to Kandahar in 2006 because its jeep-like vehicles were considered vulnerable to improvised explosive devices.

Canadian soldiers mostly use armoured personnel carriers and heavily armoured RG-32 trucks to get around. They also have Leopard tanks.

"If you've got the enemy within, laying bombs and attacking with small pockets of men, there are not many scenarios in this small zone for armour," said Col. Greville Bibby, the British contingent's deputy commander, adding that the populated terrain in this province was not practical for heavy vehicles.

"Our experience in Northern Ireland is that you can't influence the people from behind 10 inches of armour. You can't do it whizzing past with armour, pushing them off the road."

Still, the similarities between how the Commonwealth allies are prosecuting this violent, opium-fuelled war in the Taliban heartland are more striking than the differences. After the Brits and Canadians won some very one-sided early battles against insurgents in Helmand and Kandahar, the enemy now mostly causes mayhem by planting IEDs.

Contact has been particularly light in recent weeks because so many of the insurgents have been out harvesting opium.

However, the fighting season is expected to begin again in earnest in a few weeks.

The British contingent in Afghanistan is the 19th Light Brigade - the last of the light brigades immortalized in Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem about the heroism of the troops carrying out a senseless cavalry charge against the Russians during the Crimean War.

And just as the Canadians are about to hand over the largely unpopulated northeastern and southeastern half of Kandahar to a U.S. Army Stryker Brigade, the British are transferring the largely unpopulated southern half of Helmand to a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

The Brits and the Canadians have embraced the growing American presence and have adopted nearly identical strategies to try to win Afghans over. They are using provincial reconstruction teams comprised of civilians and soldiers that are "as joined at the hip as an organization can be," Bibby said.

The British and the Afghan government already have established five protected communities within a security bubble since they began the program early last year.

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, Canada's commander in Kandahar, revealed a similar strategy last week, with work to begin soon to secure the town of Den-E-Bagh.

"We're not trying to turn Helmand into Hampshire," said Bibby, who is No. 2 at the Helmand PRT to a British foreign affairs official. But the security bubble strategy "works. It is absolutely fantastic to see. It is all about them doing it. I can tell you that if we pulled out, the locals would be very angry. They are really hungry for this."

Bibby and other soldiers at Lashkar Gah, which is the British headquarters, expressed frustration with their own journalists for seldom wanting to report on the non-military war.

"The British media focus on the kinetic stuff,'' said Sgt. Paul Crawford, a Royal Engineer who had served previously in Iraq and Afghanistan. ``They want to film firefights. But the majority of what we do is stability and construction.''

One of the ways the British army has tried to do that is to send six-member teams of experts to the most far-flung places.

"We are trying to map the human terrain to understand as much we can about the human environment," said Maj. James Bunyard of the The 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh. "It all boils down to developing capacity. We want to hand over to civilians, to other foreigners, or better yet, to Afghans. This is a very complex environment. Everything we do is about getting an Afghan to do something for himself."

As in Canada, there is also a war to be won at home. While hugely supportive of their troops, many Britons remain skeptical about the mission.

"My impression is that there is a lack of understanding as to why we are here," Bibby said. "Like so many things political, the media use this to discuss political implications, rather than what is actually happening on the ground."

There were hard facts to support the contention that "there are absolute signs of progress," said Lt.-Col. Nick Richardson, a Royal Engineer who runs media operations in Helmand.

"During the Taliban time, there were one million kids in school. There are six million now. Back then, eight per cent of the population had access to health care. It is now 80 per cent. And 35,000 kids are alive because of immunization programs."

Unlike Ottawa, which has announced its combat mission in Kandahar will end late in 2011, Britain has an open-ended combat commitment in Helmand.

"It has been challenging. We are almost working at capacity," Bibby said. "But we can do it and I am confident that we can keep going at this level as long as we keep doing it."

Walstow, the combat medic, said there was an "atmospheric change" every time he "crossed the bridge" and left the relative peace of Lashkar Gah.

The 20-year-old private said he had already been told that it was likely he will be back in Helmand again sometime in the winter of 2010/2011.
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2009, 08:40:08 am »

   A snapshot in time: 72 hours in Afghanistan
 
Rocket attacks are way, way louder than in the movies

By Major John Cochrane, The Edmonton JournalApril 20, 2009 7:29 AM
 

Forward operating base Ma'Sum Gar, Afghanistan / It is hard to explain the level of activity that occurs in a Forward Operating Base (FOB) during a day here. While some days are busier than others, in general it is a consistent flow of events throughout the day; and a workday over here is 24 hours; we are always on call. In order to give you an idea of what goes on I have outlined a 72-hour block of time that occurred in the vicinity of FOB

Ma'sum Gar.

Day 1

Morning -- I was required to launch the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for an improvised explosive device (IED) that was suspected to be on one of the routes where we are conducting a paving project to facilitate better, and safer, movement of the local Afghan people. This project also provides work for up to 400 of the locals and helps them to earn an honest living.

Fortunately, there was nothing there, but you can never be too careful over here.

Early Afternoon -- We experienced another rocket attack. It was the first time for some people, but old hat for others. For me, no matter how many times you hear them, they are loud!

It is not unlike what you see in the movies with the whistle and explosion. But multiply the speed and volume of the whistle and

explosion by 50 times and that will give you an idea as to what it's like.

Late Afternoon -- The camp had its first additions to its family.

Yesterday, one of our FOB cats gave birth to four healthy kittens which we have affectionately named Ginger, Bog, Barf, and Shock, after my troop leaders.

Mother and kittens are doing well.

Evening -- The first casualty for the tour for the new battle group, Trooper Karin Blais from the 12th Armoured Regiment of Canada serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment Battle Group. May she rest in peace.

Day 2

Morning -- I travelled to Kandahar Airfield (KAF) on a Canadian Chinook helicopter to attend the ramp ceremony for Trooper Blais.

Afternoon -- As I was in KAF, I attended the transfer of authority ceremony between the outgoing battle group from 3 Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) under Lt.-Col. Roger Barrett and the incoming battle group from the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, under Lt.-Col. Jocelyn Paul.

Night -- I attended my first ramp ceremony. It was a rather surreal experience. There were thousands of soldiers present from all nations.

It was an honour to be part of the ceremony and see the respect that soldiers afford one another all over the world, regardless of nationality; but I really hope I never have to attend another.

Day 3

Afternoon -- Afghan police along with Canadian and U.S. advisers strike an IED about 1,800 metres from the forward operating base. Two Afghan police were instantly killed and three critically wounded, along with a pregnant mother and a four-year-old girl.

They were evacuated after life-saving treatment was provided by Petty Officer Martin Bedard and his medical team. Unfortunately, one additional Afghan officer passed away overnight and the pregnant mother lost the baby.

So there you have it -- 72 hours in the FOB. Unfortunately, it's just another day, or days, at the office for us.

Watch for stories from the front lines every Monday on A2 as members of the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) write about their tank squadron's experience in Afghanistan during the spring and summer months.
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« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2009, 03:27:08 pm »

   Canadians urged to send fighter jets to Afghanistan
 

U.S., NATO want CF-18 Hornets supporting mission, general says
 
By Matthew Fisher, Canwest News ServiceApril 20, 2009
 
 

The United States and NATO have "expressed a desire" for Canada to deploy CF-18 Hornet fighter jets to Afghanistan, according to the Canadian general who leads the coalition's air war in Afghanistan.

"I can tell you from the senior Canadian in this headquarters that I have been asked on several occasions by AFCENT (United States Air Forces Central) and CENTCOM (Central Command), 'How can we get Canadian F-18s into the game over here?' " Maj.-Gen. Duff Sullivan said. "And I've told them that that is a political decision back in Canada."

Sullivan, 52, flew sorties in CF-18s over the Balkans and during the first U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991.

"What has been highlighted to me as the director of the air element here, the commander of AFCENT has said that it would relieve the pressure on his American squadrons if we could have Canadian F-18s come in. I haven't commented one way or the other, but passed it back to Canada to the chief of defence and I know that issue is well known in his office."

But on Sunday evening, Defence Minister Peter Mac-Kay's director of communications, Dan Dugas, disputed the notion it was a "political decision."

"The general is somehow mistaken on this issue," he said. "This is something that has not gone through a chain of command and then to the minister's office ... so it can hardly be a political decision.

"If the chain of command believes this is worthwhile, they would make a recommendation to the minister. As far as I know, this has not happened."

Sullivan has been described by U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, as his "air czar." The Cornwall, Ont., native is a graduate of the U.S. air force's most prestigious combat school and flew NATO missions in Germany for Canada for seven years.

"Whenever our troops are in trouble and taking casualties, every single time they call for air support -- armed overwatch -- that is what the Canadian F-18s would do," Sullivan said, noting that Canada alone contributes combat ground forces in Afghanistan without also providing close air support.

"This is what I think that other allies are noticing and pointing out to me," Sullivan said. "Canada is the only nation that has not yet done a tour of duty with its fighter force. ... If we brought our F-18s, it would allow us to be fully involved in the air/land operation."

The questions being asked about Canada's CF-18s were "interesting in the NATO environment because before officially asking a country to fill a capability they will unofficially ask them to feel them out about where they are," said Sullivan, who is also deputy director of air and land operations for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who commands all Canadian troops overseas, said during a visit to Kandahar last month that the air force was already making a major contribution in Afghanistan and that Canada had no plans to deploy CF-18s to Kandahar.

"You have to recognize that Canada is contributing in a very, very significant manner with the more than 3,000 troops we have on the ground," Sullivan said, echoing some of Gauthier's comments. "We have (also) plussed up with our Chinooks and Griffons (helicopters) and Herons (unmanned surveillance drones), so there is no doubt Canada is shouldering quite an impressive contribution."
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
 
 
 
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2009, 03:27:50 pm »

  Canadian and American brass prepare for Afghan changeover

Matthew Fisher,  Canwest News Service


KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- With thousands of U.S. troops descending on Kandahar, Canadian and American diplomats, development experts and soldiers are involved in scores of meetings to try to ensure that the marriage of American and Canadian military and civil operations in the war-plagued province is successful.

"There is a lot going on," confirmed Ken Lewis, Canada's top diplomat in southern Afghanistan. "A big part of the laydown is being co-ordinated through their [U.S.] very big embassy in Kabul. We are meeting with them and with their embassy with followup meetings at KAF (Kandahar Airfield) and the PRT (provincial reconstruction team)."

Other meetings have taken place in London and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mr. Lewis said.

The plan is for American forces, ordered to Afghanistan by U.S. President Barack Obama, to take over military responsibility from overstretched Canadian troops in an arc from northwestern Kandahar to southeastern Kandahar. Canadian forces will remain in charge of Kandahar City and its Taliban-infested western approaches and, as crucially, will retain the lead role for all governance issues and economic development activities for the entire province.

Similar plans are in place for neighbouring Helmand, where British forces are turning over the southern half of the province to U.S. Marines, while retaining primacy for governance and economic development everywhere.

"The mood is very collaborative," Mr. Lewis said. "So far, we are in the initial stages. We are still discussing back at headquarters [Ottawa] and with the [State] Department in Washington who is coming and what positions to fill."

The growing U.S. presence has already been felt at the Canadian army headquarters at Kandahar Airfield. A steady flow of U.S. army officers and senior NCOs have been discussing with their Canadian counterparts how they will work together. Among the recent visitors have been the top commanders of the Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., which is to be based in Kandahar, beginning this summer.

But the two armies are used to working together. A greater challenge may be to achieve the same level of co-ordination between the U.S. State Department and USAID officials and representatives of Canada's foreign affairs ministry and its CIDA branch.

"Having a province-wide representation with a U.S. influence, you really need close co-operation and synchronization of all activities," said Lieutenant-Colonel Carl Turenne, the Franco-Manitoban who leads the PRT, where 360 soldiers work alongside 60 men and women from other branches of the Canadian government.

"We welcome the American surge," said Rhonda Gossen, Canada's deputy director of development, and a former CIDA official in Africa and Asia.

Brigadier-General John Nicholson, the top American soldier in the south understands development and how critical it is to achieving the end state of peace and security, she said.

"It is important to engage with Afghans at all levels, especially the provincial level -- and that there is an Afghan face on everything. Brig-Gen. Nicholson understands the basis of that."

Canada spent nearly $350 million on aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan during the last fiscal year, according to figures supplied by Foreign Affairs. Much of that money was spent in Kandahar.

"To have that much money flowing into one province, for us, that is very big," Ms. Gossen said. "Such a figure might usually be for an entire country.

"We are certainly addressing the most difficult part of the country and, from the development perspective, the poorest. So, this is where we should be."

As well as working closely with the U.S. military and the State Department, Canada's military and civilian representatives are co-ordinating strategies with the United Nations, Afghan line ministries and local non-governmental organizations.

"How many organizations are involved in this? I wouldn't even guess. It's mind-boggling," said Lt.-Col. Turenne, the PRT head.
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2009, 03:28:32 pm »


Winning over tribal leaders' fluid loyalties key to Afghan mission's success

  'This is how you win insurgencies; you try to win hearts and minds'

SARAH DAVISON

Special to Globe and Mail Update

April 21, 2009 at 4:35 AM EDT

KABUL — The future of Afghanistan rests upon the shoulders of Ahmed, and men like him. A thirtysomething tribal leader with nearly 800 fighters in two provinces, Ahmed is a Taliban commander who regularly takes up arms against the coalition forces.

But that doesn't mean he won't switch sides if the Americans, Canadian and British give him what he wants: better security, and a better government.

"This is a misunderstanding, the criminals are not the Taliban," he said. "The Taliban are good people who brought security here. Al-Qaeda are the criminals. The criminals are here, in the centre [Kabul]."

Resolving such "misunderstandings" will be essential if U.S. President Barack Obama's comprehensive review of Afghanistan strategy is to yield results.


The review calls for an additional 4,000 police trainers in Afghanistan and comes as talks with the Taliban, once considered anathema in the United States, gain credibility as a route out of the current stalemate.

But the word Taliban can mean pretty much anything, from a young religious student to a terrifying warlord.

Recently, the Kabul government reached out to the most extreme Taliban elements such as the fundamentalist warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Both are reported to have ties to al-Qaeda and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

"Mullah Omar has given the green light to talks," Abdullah Anas, a former friend of Osama bin Laden told the Sunday Times recently. "For the first time, there is a language of ... peace on both sides."

Prof. Wesley Wark at the University of Toronto said that to use a language of "peace" is overstating the facts.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not have the authority to negotiate on behalf of the international community. Instead, the effort is directed at dividing and conquering, Prof. Wark said.

"I think this is what it's always been. This is how you win insurgencies; you try to win hearts and minds," he said. "I think a lot of this is smoke and mirrors, and it's been misinterpreted."

In his new white paper on Afghan strategy, Mr. Obama recommends that regional offices persuade mid- to low-level insurgents to lay down arms, but rejects reconciliation with hard-line Taliban.

"While Mullah Omar and the Taliban's hard core that have aligned themselves with al-Qaeda are not reconcilable and we cannot make a deal that includes them, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won without convincing non-ideologically committed insurgents to lay down their arms, reject al-Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution," the white paper says.

Ahmed made clear that better security and improved governance will win the hearts and minds of his tribes, and those like him.

"If anyone takes a bribe, they should go to prison for 30 years; anyone who robs something should have his hand cut off; if anyone kidnaps you, they should be hanged," Ahmed said. "In that case, not only me but the government shall get the support of my whole tribe as well."

He also pointed out that while U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden has referred to paying Taliban to keep them onside, it is the tribal leaders who dictate their tribe's allegiance. And after 30 years of war, anyone who provides security comes out a winner.

Recently, Ahmed reinforced his own tribal support by arresting six brothers who had been setting up roadblocks, stealing from local people and restricting their movements. Four of the brothers are in his "private prison," but two escaped and are now working for the intelligence services.

Even though he's now wanted by the intelligence services, which he dismisses as belonging to the Northern Alliance, Ahmed moves freely in and out of Kabul, and between his two spheres of influence in Helmand and Wardak.

His biggest problem is public recognition. That is one reason why he keeps a low profile in Kabul and refuses to allow his name to be published, but his clothes are of high quality, and he speaks with natural authority.

He is called "commander" by those around him, who ordered me to listen carefully to what he said, and were quick to inform me when he was tired and wanted some lunch.

"If the international community makes a stronger commitment to the welfare of the people of the nation, then, of course, we will support them, but the coalition forces in our regions always kill women and children, innocent people," he said.

"If I come to your country and at 2 o'clock at night, I fly a plane and bombard you in the place where you live and kill all innocent people, so how do you look at me, how do you see me?"

The coalition also supports a corrupt central government in Kabul, which Ahmed views as dominated by the Northern Alliance. "Fahim, Rabbani — we will not co-operate with these people. What crimes have they not done — raped, killed innocent people, everything we have not done — and yet the international community supports them."

The Taliban, by comparison, look clean as a whistle, which is why they get Ahmed's vote. So far.

Afghanistan analyst Ken Guest said one of the Taliban's great successes has been their portrayal of themselves as agents of law and order. That shrewd exploitation of Afghan war fatigue has allowed the Taliban to present their politicized version of sharia law as Islamic law.

"Under this religious cloak, they are able to impose themselves on the tribes and discredit the government," Mr. Guest wrote in a position paper on behalf of election candidate Prince Abdul Ali Seraj. "Taliban sharia is not Islamic sharia."

Mr. Guest argues that it is only by winning over tribal leaders such as Ahmed, partly by allowing them to control, police and defend their own areas, that the international mission in Afghanistan will succeed. Special to The Globe and Mail
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2009, 12:57:19 pm »

   In Canada, Afghanistan not 'forgotten'



By Manav Tanneeru
CNN

(CNN) -- Afghanistan has been called "the forgotten war" but for Canadians, it is the war.

As U.S. troops begin increased deployments to Afghanistan, the United States can look to its northern neighbor for insights on the frontlines and the home front.

Canada's involvement began in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "There was a feeling in Canada that it had to be done," said Alan Henrikson, a professor of diplomatic history at Tufts University.

Canadian forces increased their numbers in 2006. And last year, following a national debate, the Canadian government extended the mission -- which was to end this February -- until the end of 2011.

More than 2,800 Canadian troops and dozens of civilians are currently in Afghanistan. Most of them are based in the Kandahar province in the southern part of the country, home to some of the worst violence and instability. At least 117 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan as of Wednesday. Canada has had no troops in Iraq. See a breakdown of some countries with troops in Afghanistan »

Afghanistan is the largest recipient of development aid from Canada. According to the government, Canada will have authorized $1.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan from 2002 through 2011.

"Relative to other involvements of Canada around the world, it's an enormous commitment," Henrikson said. "It is proportionally larger than the stake the United States has in Afghanistan."

But some recent polling suggests that the increasing violence and slow pace of progress are taking a toll on support for the war.

More than half -- 55 percent -- oppose having Canadian troops in Afghanistan, according to a Harris/Decima poll released in April. Forty percent support the policy.

"Afghanistan continues to be a lightning-rod for controversy among Canadians," said Jeff Walker of Harris/Decima in a statement.

In a March poll conducted by Angus Reid Strategies, 48 percent of those surveyed said they'd like the bulk of Canadian troops to be withdrawn before 2011. Another 35 percent said they should be withdrawn as scheduled.

Mario Blais, godfather of a female Canadian soldier recently killed in Afghanistan, told the Canadian Press it's time to pull the troops out.

"I think she did this for absolutely nothing," Blais told the news agency. "The Russians were in Afghanistan for many years and they couldn't push them back. I ask myself what Canada is doing."

Jonathon Narvey, a founding member of the Vancouver-based Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, said this is precisely when the Canadian mission needs public support.

Arguing that the mission was consistent with Canadian foreign policy traditions, Narvey said pulling Canadian troops out of the conflict could lead to more violence and possibly a civil war.

"We're for a robust involvement, and if [Afghanistan] is going to get back on its feet after decades of war, it's only going to do so with huge international involvement. So, more, not less," he said.

The Canadian interest

Before the vote that extended the mission, the Canadian government commissioned an independent panel to study its future role in Afghanistan.

Though the report concluded that "our interests do not seem self-evident," it listed several reasons for a continuing role in Afghanistan: Global and Canadian security, preserving Canada's international reputation and the "well-being of some of the world's most impoverished and vulnerable people."

The policy's philosophical foundation lies in Canada's sense of responsibility to the international community, some observers say.

"Canadians tend to think more in terms of what might be called the 'international interest of Canada,'" Henrikson said. "They never really have focused, in any kind of narrow sense, on what the distinct national interest of Canada is."

That self-image dates back to the 1950s, said Patrick James, a professor of international studies at the University of Southern California.

Though Canada had no direct interest in the Suez crisis of 1956, Lester Pearson, a Canadian diplomat, won a Nobel Prize for helping pull together the world's first international peacekeeping force to mediate the conflict and avert a wider war.

"[The experience] entrenched in the Canadian mind that 'we are the peacekeepers and the peacemakers,'" James said. Hence, "due to its reputation and self-image, bailing on Afghanistan ... would strike people as being damn irresponsible," he said.

Observers say another compelling motive for Canada to continue its involvement is its relationship with the United States.

"In the background, there's always the sense of keeping the United States happy," James said.

Transformed mission

During the past year, the Canadian mission has increasingly focused on rebuilding Afghanistan.

Canadians military forces were partnered with civilian experts -- police, corrections officers, development experts -- said Elissa Golberg, who served as the Canadian Representative in Kandahar last year. She was the civilian counterpart to the brigadier general on the military side.

Some core priorities: Building up the capacity of the Afghan military and police, providing basic services like education and water, managing and securing the Afghan border with Pakistan and helping build institutions that forge political reconciliation.

The United States now seems to be taking a similar approach. In February, President Obama approved the increase in U.S. troops, in part to help bolster security, train the Afghan army and assist in rebuilding efforts.

Hundreds of nonmilitary specialists -- such as agricultural experts, educators and engineers -- also are headed to the region.

U.S. Brigadier Gen. John Nicholson, who is implementing the increase of American forces in southern Afghanistan, said they would take advantage of the Canadian experience.

"[They] are the ones who built the relationships, made the investments in the Kandahar provincial government and have the mechanisms in place. We will simply plug into the existing Canadian mechanisms," he said in an April 5 interview with the Canwest News Service.

Understanding tribal dynamics is key, Golberg said. For example, ethnic Pashtuns dominate southern Afghanistan, and there "are some districts in Kandahar that have 19 different tribes," she said.

When it comes to practical matters like allocating money and contracts, those dynamics and historical ties have an "impact on everything," she said.

Golberg also noted that a bottom-up approach of empowering local communities was important. "People see their district leaders, their cop at the end of the street as the first face of government, so those are things we need to strengthen," she said.

Meanwhile, she said, government ministries in Kabul and regional governors need to be held accountable. "This is new for a country that, in the past, has had very limited central government," she said.

"The whole objective of this is that you have an Afghan government that is viable and capable of providing basic services and basic security to its population," Golberg said. "That's the endgame."

The Canadian leadership, however, is modest about what it can accomplish in Afghanistan.

"We are not ever going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had -- [based on] my reading of history -- an insurgency forever of some kind," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in March.

"We have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance."
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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2009, 12:58:16 pm »

  Canadian soldier found dead at Afghan base
 
 
By Brian Hutchinson, Canwest News ServiceApril 24, 2009 5:30 AM



KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Tragedy found its way inside this sprawling military base with the unexplained death of a female Canadian officer.

The body of Maj. Michelle Mendes was discovered inside a sleeping unit here late Thursday afternoon. She died from what military authorities would only call a non-battle injury that did not involve enemy action.

An investigation into the unusual death has been launched but few details are being given at this time.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of our lost comrade. Our primary focus at this time is to provide the best possible support to the family of our soldier and to her colleagues,” said Maj. Mario Couture.

Mendes, 30, was a member of Canada’s Task Force Kandahar headquarters.

She had served previously in Kandahar. According to previously published news reports, she was in the area of a September 2006 friendly-fire incident that came during Operation Medusa, a major Canadian-led battle against Taliban insurgents that took place in the Panjwaii district west of Kandahar city.

Then a captain, Mendes was among 11 Canadian soldiers who were returned to Canada after the friendly fire incident, which saw an American aircraft mistake a group of Canadians for the enemy. It opened fire, killing Pte. Mark Graham and wounding approximately 36 others. The Canadian military has not identified what physical injuries if any that Mendes suffered then.

Canadian Forces personnel spent Thursday evening trying to reach the deceased soldier’s next of kin.

Mendes, who hailed from an area near Wicklow, Ont., was based in Ottawa before arriving here. Once members of her family were located and made aware of her death, information about the fatality was made public.

A 2006 story that appeared in the Colborne, Ont., Chronicle just days before the launch of Operation Medusa described her as a married officer with a master’s degree in international affairs from Carleton University in Ottawa.

The newspaper noted that she had opted for a career in military intelligence. “I was thrilled,” the newspaper quoted her mother, Dianne Knight, as saying. “It’s right up her alley. She spends the majority of her time reading and analyzing things, and she’s so good at it.”

Maj. Mendes is the third Canadian soldier in three years to die within this heavily fortified base, which houses and supports some 15,000 NATO-led troops from different countries.

In March 2008, the body of Bombardier Jeremie Ouellet, 22, of Matane, Que. was discovered inside his sleeping quarters at Kandahar Air Field. The Canadian military did not disclose the cause of his death.

Almost exactly a year earlier, 25-year-old Cpl. Kevin Megeney of New Glasgow, N.S., died in what authorities called at the time a “friendly fire” incident.

Another Nova Scotian, Cpl. Matthew Wilcox, 23, was later charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and negligent performance of duty and now faces court martial. Pre-trial arguments were heard in the matter earlier this year.

Two other Canadian soldiers deployed in the region also died from non-battle injuries. In August, 2007, Maj. Raymond Ruckpaul, 41, died from a gunshot wound to the head sustained in his quarters in Kabul, the Afghan capital. His death was eventually declared a suicide.

And in July 2008, the body of Cpl. Brendon Downey, 36, was discovered in the living quarters at Camp Mirage, a military base in the Persian Gulf that Canadian troops use as a staging area before air deployment to Afghanistan.

The nature of his death was not disclosed.

A small number of deaths from accidental injury has occurred outside the confines of Kandahar Air Field since Canadian troops deployed here in 2006.

Fatalities inside the base are more unusual, and, in a sense, more disturbing, as they do not do not involve enemy participation, and they are not necessarily the result of an accident.

Whatever their cause, these casualties are subjected to intensive inquiry by Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, a unit that examines serious incidents involving Canadian Forces members either in Canada or abroad.

Death by suicide is now a concern. It is well known that many Canadian soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress related to their deployment to Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict. Figures released last year by Veterans Affairs Canada indicate that more than 25 per cent of 1,300 soldiers who had already served in this country described some symptoms of the disorder.

Other Western armies with men and women fighting overseas now ask their troops to confront stress-related issues and to look out for each other’s mental well-being.

Posters have appeared recently on a British military base near Basra, Iraq, urging members to recognize problems and to request help if necessary.

According to a British report, one poster reads “Never let your mate fight alone. Worried about someone in your team? Be willing to listen. Not all wounds are visible.”

The posters went up after three British soldiers on the base killed themselves, all within a ten-week span. Last week, an American soldier in Kabul took his own life.

As is tradition for all Canadian soldiers who die here, a ramp ceremony for Mendes will be performed at Kandahar Air Field and a memorial plaque in her honour will be placed at a shaded cenotaph. A Canadian flag flew at half-mast beside the cenotaph on Friday.

Mendes is the 118th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since Canadian troops were deployed here in 2002, and the second Canadian female soldier to die here this month. Trooper Karine Blais, 21, was killed and four other Canadian soldiers were wounded when an armoured vehicle in which they were travelling was struck by a roadside bomb north of Kandahar city.

The military funeral for Blais takes place at 10:30 a.m. Friday in St-Edouard Church in Les Mechins, Que.
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« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2009, 12:59:06 pm »

Military probes death of major

Intelligence specialist found dead in her room at Kandahar Airfield within days of arrival

Apr 25, 2009 04:30 AM

Allan Woods
OTTAWA BUREAU

OTTAWA – On Tuesday, Maj. Michelle Mendes told friends she was just getting settled into her new life at Kandahar Airfield, the sprawling military base where she had arrived only days before as part of the most recent Canadian deployment to Afghanistan.

If it was tough to adjust, it may have been due to the rapid pace of change in the days leading up to her six-month mission, according to recent posts on her Facebook page.

Amid shuttling between her job in Ottawa and the home in Kingston she shared with husband, Victor, a soccer coach at the Royal Military College, heading to her family home near Cobourg for Easter, and packing for her second Afghan tour, the 30-year-old was promoted from captain to major. It was another step in what appeared to be a steady rise up the ranks of the Canadian Forces.

There was also a party thrown by 120 friends and family at the Portuguese Hall in Kingston that was partly to celebrate her promotion, partly to say goodbye.

No one anticipated it would be for the last time. Days after arriving in Kandahar, messages of good luck turned into streams of condolences. Mendes was discovered dead on the base about 72 hours after telling friends the adjustment was going well, in part because the Afghan heat hadn't yet flared.

One friend recalled "Mic," as her friends knew her, as "one of the fittest women at (Royal Military College). And, of course, her infectious smile and enthusiasm."

Unlike most of the 117 other Canadians who have died at war half a world away, Mendes's death came not in battle with insurgents or dodging hidden bombs, but in the confines of her sleeping quarters. The cause of death is now being investigated by the military, but it could be months before any more information is made public.

Only a small number of other Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan outside of combat. The gunshot death of Bombardier Jérémie Ouellet in 2008 was a suicide, while there has been no official reason given for the 2007 death of Maj. Raymond Ruckpaul, who was also killed by a bullet wound in his Kabul sleeping quarters.

The military will be looking to determine whether Mendes's death was an accident or suicide, said Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, who stressed he had no inside information on her death. "It's strange because she went to military college. She had a great career in front of her."

Mendes was an accomplished soldier. She was a scholar of war, earning a master's degree in conflict analysis and resolution at Ottawa's Carleton University in 2003 that she used in her work on counterterrorism as a military intelligence officer. But she was also a thoughtful, churchgoing girl from small-town Ontario.

"One of the things she used to do was she'd bake pies and bring them into the school for students and faculty and sports staff," said Fenn Hampson, director of Carleton's Norman Patterson School of International Affairs. "Everyone around here, I think, is both shocked and saddened by what we've heard. She was a very gifted student and also a very popular one."

Mendes's first tour in Afghanistan was also cut short. She was deployed as an intelligence officer in August 2006 ahead of Operation Medusa, a full-scale clash with the Taliban in Kandahar's Panjwaii district. Military officials said she was injured in an incident they would not disclose and was treated at Landstuhl military hospital in Germany before returning home.

Her mother, Dianne Knight, told the local newspaper shortly after Mendes's deployment that she worried about her daughter heading off to war but believed herself luckier than other military parents.

"I tell myself she's safe because her job is working on a computer," she said of her daughter's role as an intelligence specialist.

Dianne and husband Ron raised Mendes and sister, Melissa, in Grafton, a tiny town east of Cobourg. It is a dot on a map, nestled between the shores of Lake Ontario and the Highway of Heroes that the young soldier's body will travel along when her remains are returned to Canada in a few days time.
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« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2009, 12:59:38 pm »

Comrades bid farewell to soldier found dead at Afghan base

Brian Hutchinson, Canwest News Service  Published: Friday, April 24, 2009


Soldiers carry the casket for Maj. Michelle Mendes onto a waiting transport.Brian Hutchinson/Canwest News ServiceSoldiers carry the casket for Maj. Michelle Mendes onto a waiting transport.

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Maj. Michelle Mendes had barely returned to Kandahar for a second tour of duty when she was found dead in her sleeping quarters Thursday afternoon.

Late Friday evening her comrades bid her farewell in an emotional ramp ceremony, with a padre referring to questions about her "unexpected demise and untimely death."

"Major Mendes left this world suddenly," said Canadian Forces padre Martine Belanger, in an address to hundreds of soldiers standing in tribute to the 30-year-old Ottawa-based soldier.

"Her tragic death has left many of us stunned. She left us with no goodbyes or signs . . . Our minds and hearts are full of questions as to why this happened to her."

Canadian Forces officials have not said Maj. Mendes took her own life offering only that she died from a non-battle injury that did not involve enemy action.

An investigation into the fatality is underway.

Maj. Mendes, who was married, had been assigned to Canada's Task Force Kandahar headquarters.

"She always strove to do her best and was respected for her professional knowledge and work ethic," said Mr. Belanger. "We would often see her with highlighter markings on her face after a late night of study because she had a tendency to fall asleep in her books.

"The world will be an emptier place without her presence."

Maj. Mendes served here before, in 2006. Then a captain, she was among 11 Canadian soldiers who were returned to Canada during early stages of Operation Medusa, a major Canadian-led battle against Taliban insurgents that took place in the Panjwaii district west of Kandahar city.

It is not clear if she participated directly in that operation before she was flown home.

A story that appeared in the Colborne (Ont.) Chronicle just days before the launch of Operation Medusa described her as a married officer with a master's degree in international affairs from Carleton University in Ottawa.

The newspaper noted she had opted for a career in military intelligence.

"I was thrilled," the newspaper quoted her mother, Dianne Knight, as saying. "It's right up her alley. She spends the majority of her time reading and analyzing things, and she's so good at it."

Maj. Mendes is the third Canadian soldier in three years to die within this heavily fortified base, which houses and supports some 15,000 NATO-led troops.

In March, 2008, the body of Bombardier Jeremie Ouellet, 22, of Matane, Que. was discovered inside his sleeping quarters at Kandahar Air Field. The Canadian military did not disclose the cause of his death.

Almost exactly a year earlier, 25-year-old Cpl. Kevin Megeney of New Glasgow, N.S. died in what authorities called at the time a "friendly fire" incident. Another Nova Scotian, Cpl. Matthew Wilcox, 23, was later charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and negligent performance of duty and now faces court martial.

Pre-trial arguments were heard in the matter earlier this year.

Two other Canadian soldiers deployed in the region died recently from non-battle injuries.

In August, 2007, Maj. Raymond Ruckpaul, 41, died from a gunshot wound to the head sustained in his quarters in Kabul. His death was eventually declared a suicide.

In July 2008, the body of Cpl. Brendan Downey, 36, was discovered in the living quarters at Camp Mirage, a military base in the Persian Gulf that Canadian troops use as a staging area before deployment to Afghanistan. The nature of his death was not disclosed.

These casualties are subject to intensive inquiry by Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, a unit that examines serious incidents involving Canadian Forces members either in Canada or abroad.

It is also well known many Canadian soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress related to their deployment to Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict.

Figures released last year by Veterans Affairs Canada indicate more than 25% of the 1,300 soldiers who had already served in this country described some symptoms of the disorder.

Other Western armies with men and women fighting overseas ask their troops to confront stress-related issues and to look out for each other's mental well-being.

Posters have appeared recently on a British military base near Basra, Iraq, urging members to recognize problems and to request help if necessary. According to a British report, one poster reads: "Never let your mate fight alone. Worried about someone in your team? Be willing to listen. Not all wounds are visible."

The posters went up after three British soldiers on the base killed themselves, all within a 10-week span.

Last week, an American soldier in Kabul took his own life.

Meanwhile, a memorial plaque in honour of Maj. Mendes will be placed at a shaded cenotaph at Kandahar Air Field.

A Canadian flag flew at half-mast beside the cenotaph on Friday.

Maj. Mendes is the 118th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since Canadian troops were deployed here in 2002.
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« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2009, 01:00:34 pm »

  Back from the war zone

'We had a couple of incidents and times when our truck almost got blown up'

Posted By COREY LAROCQUE REVIEW STAFF WRITER
Posted 3 hours ago
   

With his army kit sitting in the doorway of his Willmott Street home, Cpl. Justin Hamlyn was already talking about a second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He had set his camouflage backpack, olive-green duffel bag and travel trunk at the base of the stairs, just inside the front door.

"I wouldn't mind doing another one, but I probably wouldn't go again until it stabilizes a bit more," Hamlyn said Wednesday, about a half-hour after returning to Niagara Falls.

The 21-year-old Niagara Falls soldier was reunited with his family that afternoon, a few days after leaving Afghanistan. A piece of white Bristol board with a handwritten "welcome home" message and a yellow "support our troops" ribbon hung from the porch of their two-storey brick home.

He talked with pride about the satisfaction of having gone.

"You can't experience being a true Canadian until you've served Canada," he said.

Hamlyn is a member of the Lincoln and Welland regiment, Niagara's militia regiment. He started work as a reservist in 2006, as part of a co-op class while he was a Westlane secondary school student.

Unlike regular forces personnel who are assigned overseas rotations as part of their full-time job, members of Canada's reserve regiments are part-time soldiers who volunteer for these assignments. Hamlyn had to apply for a tour in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, he was physically far from Afghanistan, but he wasn't long removed from the danger he encountered in the eight-month mission.

"We had a couple incidents and times when our truck almost got blown up," Hamlyn said.

His mother, Debra Ferrone, and stepfather Pio Ferrone were hearing the details of the close calls for the first time, as Hamlyn described them to The Niagara Falls Review. Pio whispered, "this is surreal" as he listened to accounts of incidents that had been downplayed in the weekly phone calls home.

Hamlyn was stationed at Camp Nathan Smith, the Canadian base in Kandahar City, one of the country's largest cities.


He served in the escort team for the commanding officer of the camp.

"I was part of niner tack. It was the CO's escort. Wherever the colonel went, I was his close protection," Hamlyn explained.

One of the closest of the close calls happened in early April, near the end of his tour when five suicide bombers destroyed the provincial council building in Kandahar, killing 13 people.

"We were supposed to be there," Hamlyn said, adding the blast from a car bomb would have certainly killed anyone near the gates of the building - the spot where he would have been stationed. The meeting the Canadians were supposed to attend had been called off hours before.

There were nights when Debra woke up in the middle of the night, worried about her son, and considered those interruptions a cue.

"I just felt like I had to pray for him," she said.

Debra works at Zehrs and Winners in Niagara Falls. Her coworkers were constantly asking about her son, keeping him in their thoughts.

The framed baby pictures of Hamlyn she brought out for his going-away party last August were still sitting in the front window pane.

Hamlyn's family said they got a lot of support from the "prayer warriors," members of their church, the Joy of Life church in St. Catharines, who prayed for his safe return.

"It's great to hear the stories of the close calls now," said Pio.

Hamlyn's assignment meant a lot of driving around because his colonel had business off the base.

"When we drove around, I was the gunner for the vehicle. We drove around everywhere," he said.

For Canadian troops, driving has been by far the biggest threat. The vast majority of the 118 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan have died because their vehicles hit roadside bombs placed by Taliban fighters.

Hamlyn spent a lot of time on the road. In his nearly eight months in Afghanistan, he drove 250 patrols, sometimes as many as four a day.

Whenever Hamlyn and the soldiers he worked with had a close call, they would try to laugh it off, a coping mechanism to deal with the stressful situations.

"It's relieving to still be around and stuff. You would laugh at it when it happens. You just talk about what could happen and everything," Hamlyn said.

His colonel, whom he wouldn't identify for security reasons, regularly had meetings with Afghan officials, or would visit troops at forward operating bases or meet with Canadian government officials from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency.

Canada's role in Afghanistan has shifted away from combat, toward reconstruction -helping Afghan people rebuild roads, schools and hospitals in a country ravaged by war for decades.

The Canadian reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is taking hold, Hamlyn said.

"During our rotation, a lot happened to make it a better place."

Hamlyn was in Afghanistan when Warrant Officer Dennis Brown, a member of the Lincoln and Welland regiment, was killed in March. The 38-year-old St. Catharines soldier was also the victim of a roadside bomb.

"It was pretty hard," said Hamlyn. They weren't working directly together, but they were on the same base.

"I worked with him overseas and he was in my unit. It was pretty upsetting, but we had a good memorial for him."

He attended Brown's ramp ceremony -the military parade in which the coffins of fallen soldiers are loaded onto a military plane for the return flight to Canada.

Two dozen of the 118 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan died since last August when Hamlyn went over. The most recent casualty was Maj. Michelle Mendes, an intelligence officer whose death Thursday was not combat-reated.

Hamlyn attended some of the ramp ceremonies.

"It's quite nice to see because of all the people who turn out. It's more honouring them. It's showing so much respect."

Hamlyn said he didn't know Cpl. Tyler Crooks, originally from Port Colborne who was a regular forces member of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Niagara's other casualty in 2009.

Now that he's home, he has about a month and a half leave time from his duties with the Lincoln and Welland regiment. Hamlyn talked about going back to school in the fall, possibly with the goal of becoming a police officer. He's also considering joining the air force.

Whatever path unfolds, he said he knows now he wants a career "doing stuff for the country, making it a better place and making other places better."

His family is throwing a welcome home party today, exactly eight months after he left. Hamlyn's mother said friends and family are welcome to stop by between noon and 9 p. m.
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« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2009, 01:01:19 pm »




Five die in attack on Afghan governor's compound

   
JESSICA LEEDER

Globe and Mail Update

April 25, 2009 at 2:13 PM EDT

Kandahar, Afghanistan — Five people are dead and ten others injured after a coordinated suicide bombing on the grounds of the Kandahar Governor's palace Saturday.

One of the bombers, who were travelling on foot, detonated at the main gate of the compound inside a checking area where two police officers were examining identification documents of people entering the grounds. A civilian who was inside the checking station at the time was killed, as well as two guards.

Two other bombers, both of whom breached the palace gates, were killed by guards, said Governor Tooryalai Wesa said in an afternoon news conference, where he also called the bombers "cowards."

While no one inside the palace was killed, several people there were injured by broken glass and mirrors that shattered with the force of the blasts. Several of the injured, which included some street beggars, remained in hospital Saturday night.

At his press conference, the governor also delivered a message from President Hamid Karzai, who asked him to convey to Kandahar residents that security will soon improve in the city.

It's a promise residents are hoping will come true: within the past month there have been several deaths due to assassinations and suicide bombings. The most high profile of those was an incident in which four suicide bombers stormed a provincial council compound and killed 13 people, including government officials.

While the Taliban claimed responsibility in that assault, no one has done so in Saturday's palace bombing.
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« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2009, 01:02:43 pm »

Our regimental brother, William Mackenzie will be attending and any RCR's in the TO area are invited to join him on the bridge.

Time 1515 hrs, Nelson St. and 401 Bridge.


Body of Canadian soldier arrives home Sunday

Updated Sun. Apr. 26 2009 7:19 AM ET

The Canadian Press

TRENTON, Ont. -- The body of the latest Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan is due to arrive this afternoon at CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario.

The body of Maj. Michelle Mendes, a 30-year-old intelligence officer based in Ottawa, was found Thursday in her quarters at the Kandahar base.

The military says her death is under investigation, adding enemy action has been ruled out.

Mendes is the 118th Canadian soldier, and third Canadian female soldier, to die in the Afghan mission, which began in 2002.

Among the dignitaries who will be on hand for the repatriation ceremony will be Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

As per custom, the body will be driven along the Highway of Heroes -- the 170-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Trenton to Toronto
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« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2009, 01:03:45 pm »

'Canada must stay': activist
 
Human rights advocate says NDP, antiwar groups wrong to abandon Afghanis to Taliban 'fascism'
 
By Dave Cooper, The Edmonton JournalApril 26, 2009


Lauryn Oates has seen the face of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and she calls it the face of fascism.

"They represent fascism -- even if the antiwar movement here fails to call them such," the human rights advocate told a military symposium Saturday.

"The Taliban now want a return to those times before 2001. They are not dissidents, their ideology is engaging in open revolt against humanity. And that's why Canada must stay in Afghanistan."

Canada will bring its combat troops home in 2011, but is expected to maintain a substantial assistance force to train more Afghan police and soldiers, and do development work.

Oates, founder of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan chapters in Vancouver and Montreal, has been an activist since 1996 when she learned of the plight of women under Taliban rule.

She said the progress so far has been amazing, considering the nation has endured 30 years of violence, but it could change dramatically if Canada pulls out.

Oates told the story of a woman co-operative store owner in Kandahar, who fears a return of the Taliban.

"She said, 'If Canada leaves, the Taliban will be back and I will be dead, so you had better get me a visa for Canada,' " said Oates.

She told of a crowd of schoolgirls blinded in acid attacks, who insisted on returning to school. And of how a library in one village has completely changed the attitude towards education.

"As women study to master literacy, they are finding there is nothing more powerful in the world than learning to read," she said. "It's an uphill battle in Afghanistan, but this is something worth defending. Abandonment is not the answer."

Oates is critical of groups in Canada that don't understand the reality in Afghanistan and plead for Canada to bring home its troops.

"It is a misinformed campaign that the NDP and stop-the-war groups are doing," she said. "It is astounding that they don't seem to understand this is a United Nations mission."

Oates says their campaign is "rooted in selfishness" and attracts people who "prefer a NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach for the whole world."

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, said "the defence of Canada starts thousands of miles away," and recounted the efforts of the forces to defend Afghanistan and rebuild the nation.

"In 2006 there was bare ground, now things are green as farmers are back, markets open," he said. "In 2006 there was not one Afghan policeman or soldier working with us. Now we have thousands."

Natynczyk said the bravery of Afghans who continue with their lives in spite of Taliban threats is an inspiration to the Canadians.

"A fellow working on a road project was stopped by the Taliban, and he had new bills. They knew he had just been paid so they shot him. But he returned to work. These people know they have no hope, no future, with the Taliban."

Despite the constant flow of bad news, Natynczyk said Canadians are seeing a new professionalism among the Afghan security forces.

"They are taking a full role now and asking us to come along. On one main road where they provide all the security, there haven't been any IEDs (improvised explosive devices) since they started."

But a porous border with Pakistan, and recent Taliban advances there, threaten Afghanistan stability, he added.

"We know the Taliban rest and recover in those ungovernable areas," he explained.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay called Pakistan the "most dangerous nation in the world" today.

"Afghanistan was the incubator for terrorism, now it is Pakistan, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda are able to influence what is going on in Afghanistan today. Which is why Canada, the Americans and others are concentrating on a regional approach," he said.

He said it is critical that Armed Forces on the ground tighten control the border.

"Pakistan can do more, as can the international community," said MacKay. "Clearly in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan, free travel allows for the transport of weapons and motivated terrorists to come in, and Kandahar province is the funnel for terrorists. That's where they are coming in.

"And that is why we have thrown down the gauntlet there. We need everybody at the front line," he said.

There are seven NATO nations engaged in fighting the Taliban and 60 others choosing to stay away from danger, he said.

MacKay praised the Edmonton contribution to the mission, the biggest for the military since the Korean War.

"The leadership and quality of our people has allowed us to deliver on our pledge to the international community to keep our promise to Afghanistan, and we have relied heavily on Edmonton," he said.

The local 408 helicopter squadron recently began flying new heavy Chinook helicopters and smaller Griffon escort helicopters to aid ground troops, and more than 1,000 members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) are currently training for another deployment to Afghanistan in August.

dcooper@thejournal.canwest.com
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2009, 11:54:52 am »

And may i give my THANK YOU to you all , who have put your all on the line to help all of us here and all of those in Afghanistan, who now see hope and light at the end of the tunnel.. rong
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« Reply #15 on: April 29, 2009, 06:12:52 pm »

Time to catch up.

Shot over!

   Van Doos commander has a message for Canadians: the threat is real



KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The commander of the Royal 22e Regiment in Afghanistan says Canadians need to be reminded of why their soldiers are fighting in the war-torn country.

"People shouldn't think that what's happening in Afghanistan can't affect them in some way," Lt.-Col. Jocelyn Paul recently told The Canadian Press.

A Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll in early April suggested that only 40 per cent of Canadians supported the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Of the 1,000 people polled, 55 per cent opposed the mission. In Quebec, home to the Royal 22e Regiment, 71 per cent opposed the mission.

"It's a bit naive to think that we're safe," Paul said. "Thinking that North America is some kind of an island on the other side of the ocean and that whatever goes on in the rest of the world won't come to us is an excessively naive vision of the world.

"Somehow, I have the impression that we have very quickly forgotten that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened in New York state, which is a neighbour (of Quebec)," said Paul, who will lead the troops of the 2nd Battalion tactical group for the next six months.

"We've forgotten that Canadians lost their lives in these attacks. Canadians were among the victims in Mumbai (India) in December."

When asked how to better communicate the value of the Canadian mission, he referred to globalization, which he says affects not only goods and services but ideas as well.

He retraced the roots of the current fight against terrorism, depicting people who, influenced by particular ideas, "decided that societies should live under Shariah law" and who have "a very archaic vision of their religion.

"These people need to be stopped. They need to let people live in peace. We need to ensure that the people can choose to live how they want and the way that's done is through elections," like the ones that will be held in Afghanistan in August.

The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal 22e Regiment have been deployed at an important time in the international military operation in Afghanistan. U.S. President Barack Obama has promised 17, 000 American soldiers as reinforcements. Canadian troops will help the Afghan forces to ensure the presidential elections are carried out smoothly.

Lastly, NATO's high command in the southern region - which heads all of the national detachments, including Canada's - recently announced an increase in the intensity of fighting. Strengthened by the arrival of American reinforcements, Maj.-Gen. Mart De Kruif called for the systematic tracking of the insurgents. He said the mission is at a "turning point" and that confrontations in the south will determine the future of the country and the outcome of the war.


II

Returning soldiers deserve our thanks

April 27, 2009
THE RECORD

So what should the people of Waterloo Region say to 18 members of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada who have either just returned from the war in Afghanistan or will soon be home?

What should we tell 18 soldiers who volunteered to put themselves in mortal danger in a strange, far-off land because they believed it would make Canada safer, Afghanistan better and that all this risk and sacrifice was nothing more than their duty as warriors and citizens of a democracy?

And what words should we speak, knowing that they have, unlike so many other of their brothers and sisters-in arms, survived and come back safe and sound to their families and loved ones in southern Ontario in springtime?

How about, "Thank you.''

And how about, "You have made us extremely proud.''

It's neither a long nor terribly complicated message. But those 18 soldiers deserve to hear it. And because of 1,000 people who went to a formal banquet at Bingemans in Kitchener on Friday, the soldiers most certainly will.

Everyone involved in this event deserves congratulations. From one perspective, it was a big deal, a ceremony coloured by splendid uniforms and dignified by royalty. Yet it was, despite all the pomp and ceremony and even the presence of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, the least this community could do for these soldiers.

Like all of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan, they had chosen to be part of the mission. They had gone willingly, giving up the comforts and securities of life in Canada while accepting the dangers and hardships of a war zone.

They went knowing the abundant risks, the ever-present possibility of being wounded -- or worse. They knew about snipers, roadside explosives and suicide bombers. They knew the Taliban is often a merciless foe. But still they went.

And having served and having seen firsthand what is happening in Afghanistan, they want Canadians to know they believe in their hearts that the mission is vital.

"We're making a difference,'' Cpl. Chris Drouin of Kitchener, who returned a few weeks ago, told a Record reporter, citing how the Armed Forces are building roads and schools in Afghanistan.

Warrant Officer Mark Adam of Kitchener helped support the municipal government in Kandahar where the mayor survived a car bombing. Every one of the returning soldiers could tell a similar story. It is a perspective worth considering.

Since 2001, Canadian soldiers have been fighting in Afghanistan. And since 2002, they have been dying there. For the better part of a decade, Canadians have become painfully accustomed to watching the flag-draped coffins of their fallen warriors -- 117 in all -- reverently borne onto military transport planes for the final journey home.

Yet over all those years, thousands of other men and women in uniform -- including this region's Highland Fusiliers -- have come back from Afghanistan safe, sound and glad to have served Canada. No matter what you think of the war in Afghanistan, it is important and appropriate to mark their return for the proud and happy occasion it is. It is also crucial to hear what they say
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« Reply #16 on: April 29, 2009, 06:14:08 pm »

How will army rebuild after war?
Posted By PETER WORTHINGTON
Posted 2 hours ago
   

Although there are two years to go before Canadian combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, there are signs the government is cooling on its commitment to expand funding and improve the military.

In the National Post, military historian Jack Granatstein noted Department of National Defence budget projections for 2010 and 2011 show a slight decrease from the current $20.993 billion budget.

Last spring, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were more gung-ho, promising to raise our regular forces to 75,000 from the present 55,000 effective, and to spend $30 billion on new aircraft, ships, combat vehicles.

DND's projected budget in 2030 was $30 billion to $35 billion. Some figure this would represent roughly 2% of our gross domestic product going to Defence -- up from the present 1% to 1.5% of GDP.

Granatstein, a military realist, is uneasy that DND's present budget "will likely seem to be ripe for the plucking" when the Treasury Board looks for ways to reduce government spending.

"There is little sympathy for the Canadian Forces in the Privy Council Office," Granatstein says. He's right. Never has been in that section of the government.

Traditionally, 40% of the DND budget goes to personnel, whose projected numbers keep getting downscaled (now down to 66,000 regulars).

Granatstein also notes that the capital equipment program is not aimed at acquiring new fighter aircraft or warships, but at modernizing and upgrading existing long-range patrol aircraft, Leopard II tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and such.

Sound familiar? It's what we've always done -- keeping equipment, vehicles, aircraft and ships long past their "use before" date. Our equipment is older than most soldiers.

There's also a fishhook embedded in pulling out of Afghanistan.

Put bluntly, it's likely every Canadian fighting vehicle isn't worth bringing home because of the wear and tear of what will be close to nine years in action. Afghanistan is hard on mechanized vehicles of any sort.

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One only has to think back to Canada's peacekeeping days when roughly 50% of our Leopard tanks were out of commission and being repaired at any one time. And they were only used for training in pretend war games.

Our APCs were originally used by the Americans in the Vietnam War -- and discarded as being too vulnerable. In the Balkans, we reinforced them with metal siding and sandbags on the floor. Still, their casualty rate soared.

The Iltus was to be a replacement for the jeep -- and was essentially useless. At the Canadian base in Kabul, there was a graveyard of Iltuses stacked in rows. Troops recall we offered them to the Afghan army, which refused unless they were guaranteed a year's supply of gasoline.

Citing security reasons, DND won't reveal the casualty rate in Leopard II tanks in Afghanistan, or the casualty rate in vehicles. The Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR) has assessed incidents where casualties have occurred in roadside bombs, on the assumption if someone is wounded or killed in a blast, the vehicle is likely irreparably damaged.

Up to February 2008, there were 22 LAV III incidents, resulting in 69 wounded or injured and 20 fatalities, 10 incidents with the G-wagon (22 casualties), eight with Bison armoured vehicles (22 casualties), seven involving Nyala armoured personnel vehicles (27 casualties), four Coyote incidents (10 casualties) and assorted other explosions and accidents, including three Leopard tanks down.

And these are mostly battle casualties -- not counting wear-and-tear casualties.

When our mission in Afghanistan is done, the army may need every vehicle replaced if, indeed, it is to maintain its hard-earned reputation as one of the world's small but most competent armies.

One hopes Prime Minister Harper is paying attention.

No sheet!

II

Good news.

April 28, 2009
Karzai backs down over ‘abhorrent’ marital rape law
Tom Coghlan in Kabul

President Karzai bowed to international pressure yesterday by promising to amend a new law condoning marital rape and child marriage that provoked violent clashes in the Afghan capital.

The Shia Family Law, signed by the Afghan President last month, appeared to reintroduce the draconian policies of the Taleban era, such as a ban on married women leaving their homes without their husbands’ permission. The law applies to the 15 per cent of Afghans who are Shia Muslims.

At a press conference in Kabul yesterday, Mr Karzai said: “The law is under review and amendments will take place. I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in international treaties.”

His statement appeared to rebut widespread speculation that by signing the law he was pandering to conservatives before this summer’s delayed presidential election. Mr Karzai confirmed that he would stand in the elections, where he will be the front-runner.


Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees equality of the sexes and the country is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. However, hardline theologians argue that all other provisions are overridden by Article Three of the Constitution, which guarantees that nothing contrary to the “beliefs and provisions of Islam” is permissible in Afghan law.

Mr Karzai’s climbdown came a day after he said that he had been unaware of its content when he signed it. He made the claim when he met a group of women activists who organised a protest against the new law in Kabul last week. The protesters were attacked by a mob of male supporters of the law.

The controversial provisions were buried in the 239-page document, much of it written in dense theological jargon. Mr Karzai said that his aides had not briefed him properly about the details. Many opponents of the law have said that it did not pass through the normal channels, that would have included discussion of all the articles, because MPs were advised to let the Shia community determine the details of their own laws – a right granted by the constitution.

One article stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”. Another passage sanctions marital rape. “As long as the husband is not travelling he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night . . . Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”

Article 133 reintroduces the Taleban restrictions on women’s movements outside their homes, stating: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency.

Article 27 endorses child marriage, with girls legally able to marry once they begin to menstruate. The law also withholds from the woman the right to inherit her husband’s wealth.

When its contents were made public it was condemned widely by Western governments, with President Obama describing the new law as abhorrent.

The Afghan Government had insisted that criticism of the law was misplaced. “We understand the concerns of our allies,” Mr Karzai said on television earlier this month. “Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”

- A suspected poison attack on a girls’ school north of Kabul made 45 pupils and staff sick. Officials said that the teachers and pupils fell ill with severe headaches during a ceremony at the school in Sadiqi District of Parwan Province, north of the capital. “It seems to be airborne poisoning,” Dr Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said.
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« Reply #17 on: April 29, 2009, 06:15:44 pm »

Good news.

April 28, 2009
Karzai backs down over ‘abhorrent’ marital rape law
Tom Coghlan in Kabul

President Karzai bowed to international pressure yesterday by promising to amend a new law condoning marital rape and child marriage that provoked violent clashes in the Afghan capital.

The Shia Family Law, signed by the Afghan President last month, appeared to reintroduce the draconian policies of the Taleban era, such as a ban on married women leaving their homes without their husbands’ permission. The law applies to the 15 per cent of Afghans who are Shia Muslims.

At a press conference in Kabul yesterday, Mr Karzai said: “The law is under review and amendments will take place. I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in international treaties.”

His statement appeared to rebut widespread speculation that by signing the law he was pandering to conservatives before this summer’s delayed presidential election. Mr Karzai confirmed that he would stand in the elections, where he will be the front-runner.


Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees equality of the sexes and the country is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. However, hardline theologians argue that all other provisions are overridden by Article Three of the Constitution, which guarantees that nothing contrary to the “beliefs and provisions of Islam” is permissible in Afghan law.

Mr Karzai’s climbdown came a day after he said that he had been unaware of its content when he signed it. He made the claim when he met a group of women activists who organised a protest against the new law in Kabul last week. The protesters were attacked by a mob of male supporters of the law.

The controversial provisions were buried in the 239-page document, much of it written in dense theological jargon. Mr Karzai said that his aides had not briefed him properly about the details. Many opponents of the law have said that it did not pass through the normal channels, that would have included discussion of all the articles, because MPs were advised to let the Shia community determine the details of their own laws – a right granted by the constitution.

One article stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”. Another passage sanctions marital rape. “As long as the husband is not travelling he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night . . . Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”

Article 133 reintroduces the Taleban restrictions on women’s movements outside their homes, stating: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency.

Article 27 endorses child marriage, with girls legally able to marry once they begin to menstruate. The law also withholds from the woman the right to inherit her husband’s wealth.

When its contents were made public it was condemned widely by Western governments, with President Obama describing the new law as abhorrent.

The Afghan Government had insisted that criticism of the law was misplaced. “We understand the concerns of our allies,” Mr Karzai said on television earlier this month. “Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”

- A suspected poison attack on a girls’ school north of Kabul made 45 pupils and staff sick. Officials said that the teachers and pupils fell ill with severe headaches during a ceremony at the school in Sadiqi District of Parwan Province, north of the capital. “It seems to be airborne poisoning,” Dr Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said.

*****




Pakistan expands offensive against Taliban

Updated Tue. Apr. 28 2009 8:38 AM ET

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD -- Fighter jets began bombing Taliban hide-outs in a district near the Pakistani capital Tuesday, a military spokesman said, signaling an expansion of an offensive against militants seemingly emboldened by a controversial peace deal.

Ground troops also are preparing to enter Buner district, said Maj. Nasir Khan, adding there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Taliban from the neighboring Swat Valley alarmed the world this month when they entered Buner by the hundreds and began setting up checkpoints, patrolling streets and warning locals to abide by strict interpretations of Islam.

Buner lies about 100 kilometres from Islamabad, and the Taliban's foray prompted major concern from the U.S., which urged Pakistani officials to tackle the threat head-on.

Though they denied they were responding to outside pressure, Pakistani officials in recent days issued stern warnings against the Buner infiltrators, while launching a separate offensive against militants in Lower Dir, another district covered by the peace deal.

The deal imposes Islamic law in those areas in exchange for peace with militants who have waged a violent two-year campaign in the Swat Valley. It apparently emboldened the Swat militants to go beyond the valley's borders, at least under the guise of enforcing Islamic law.

Many of the Taliban were reported to have left Buner starting on Friday. But Interior Minister Rehman Malik said earlier Tuesday that around 450 militants remained there and he warned them to get out or the government would take action.
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« Reply #18 on: May 01, 2009, 08:33:31 pm »


Pakistan expands offensive against Taliban


Updated Tue. Apr. 28 2009 8:38 AM ET

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD -- Fighter jets began bombing Taliban hide-outs in a district near the Pakistani capital Tuesday, a military spokesman said, signaling an expansion of an offensive against militants seemingly emboldened by a controversial peace deal.

Ground troops also are preparing to enter Buner district, said Maj. Nasir Khan, adding there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Taliban from the neighboring Swat Valley alarmed the world this month when they entered Buner by the hundreds and began setting up checkpoints, patrolling streets and warning locals to abide by strict interpretations of Islam.

Buner lies about 100 kilometres from Islamabad, and the Taliban's foray prompted major concern from the U.S., which urged Pakistani officials to tackle the threat head-on.

Though they denied they were responding to outside pressure, Pakistani officials in recent days issued stern warnings against the Buner infiltrators, while launching a separate offensive against militants in Lower Dir, another district covered by the peace deal.

The deal imposes Islamic law in those areas in exchange for peace with militants who have waged a violent two-year campaign in the Swat Valley. It apparently emboldened the Swat militants to go beyond the valley's borders, at least under the guise of enforcing Islamic law.

Many of the Taliban were reported to have left Buner starting on Friday. But Interior Minister Rehman Malik said earlier Tuesday that around 450 militants remained there and he warned them to get out or the government would take action.
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« Reply #19 on: May 01, 2009, 08:34:09 pm »

Canada to welcome hundreds of Afghan employees

Updated Thu. Apr. 30 2009 6:19 PM ET

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Canada is set to open its doors to hundreds of Afghans who face life-threatening risks after having worked with our military and diplomats, The Canadian Press has learned.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he's putting the final touches on a policy to provide safe haven to Afghans endangered by their association with Canada.

Unlike other NATO countries, Canada has no policy on humanitarian immigration for local staff -- but that's about to change.

Afghans who have been severely injured working with the Canadian military, or who can prove they face threats, will be eligible for fast-track entry.

The first of those ex-employees and their immediate relatives could arrive within months.

The policy goes much further than the one initially considered by the Harper government, which last year said it would examine possible ways to bring over severely injured interpreters only.

The new program will be open to anyone with 12 months' service to the Canadian mission, medical and security checks, and a recommendation letter from a senior soldier or diplomat.

Kenney says his first preference is for them to resettle in safer parts of Afghanistan, because the last thing policy-makers want is an exodus of educated, liberal, English-speaking people from that country.

"Those kind of people are going to have to play a central role in the long-term construction of a stable and democratic Afghanistan," Kenney said in an interview.

"But in particular circumstances where we feel that a person's safety will be jeopardized by staying in the country, the door will be open to Canada. ...

"I think Canadians would be proud to help provide refuge to those who have helped our forces, aid personnel and diplomats."

Kenney said he expects hundreds of Afghan employees to benefit from the program, along with their immediate families.

Insurgents have gone to gruesome lengths to make an example of locals who work with NATO.

In one case, several interpreters' bodies were strung up in a public square and left to rot there for weeks as a lesson to anyone else thinking of helping the foreigners.

Government officials say the program is inspired by similar ones in the United States, Britain, Australia and Denmark.

Officials say they would receive many of the same services as refugees: income support for 12 months, health benefits and help preparing a CV and finding work.

The program is to be funded by the existing budget at Citizenship and Immigration.

They denied the Afghans would strain federal resources, saying they represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of refugee claimants Canada receives annually. And unlike many others who come here, they noted, the Afghan workers are all fluent in at least one of Canada's official languages.

An interpreter nicknamed Junior, who asked that his real name not be used for his and his family's safety, said he was overjoyed by the news.

He lost both legs in a rocket attack on Canadian troops three years ago and has continued working as a translator and cultural adviser on the provincial reconstruction base. For now, Junior earns $1,250 a month -- a lavish sum by Afghan standards.

But as a legless man in a town without sidewalks or wheelchair access, he says he has no future job prospects in Kandahar. He has also received numerous death threats by telephone.

Junior said he plans to move his family to Toronto or Ottawa, where he hopes to work as an adviser on Pashtun culture to the Canadian government, military and policy analysts.

"There are many different jobs that we could do because we are very educated people," said Junior, who learned English as a teenager at a private school.

He and his peers face a far different fate, he says, if Canada leaves them behind in Afghanistan.

"If the (security) situation stays the same, it's clear like sky: We will all be cut into parts," said Junior.

"That's what's going to happen to the people who worked for the coalition forces, who worked to make Afghanistan a better place to live in. If they catch us, that will happen."

A Canadian soldier expressed delight at Kenney's announcement.

Cpl. Tim Laidler helped draw awareness to the threats faced by local employees, raising concerns for their safety with superior officers last year when he was in Kandahar.

Laidler, a B.C. reservist who helped train Afghan soldiers, called local employees an integral part of Canada's mission.

"I felt (their situation) was an injustice. They face the same danger that we do and I felt they deserved to be taken care of just like we are," said Laidler, now back in university in B.C.

"We trust them with everything -- with sensitive information. They are essential to our task in Afghanistan."

The new policy does not require legislation.

The minister will use his power under Section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to let the Afghans into the country, and seek cabinet approval for some of the settlement services.

So there will be no vote in the House of Commons on the new policy. But any vote would have been moot, because the opposition had already expressed its support months ago.

New Democrats said it was shameful that Canada lacked such a program, while its allies had one. The party applauded the move.

"It's the least we can do for people who have risked their lives working with the Canadian military," said immigration critic Olivia Chow.

"It's about time."
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