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Afghanistan 2009


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« Reply #20 on: May 01, 2009, 08:34:29 pm »

Crosses, memorial will honour fallen soldiers

By BRIAN MEDEL Yarmouth Bureau
Thu. Apr 30 - 5:46 AM

[Silver crosses like this one are handmade in Yarmouth to be given to fathers of Nova Scotia soldiers killed in Afghanistan.</p>]

Silver crosses like this one are handmade in Yarmouth to be given to fathers of Nova Scotia soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

   

YARMOUTH — Four Nova Scotia fathers whose sons were killed in Afghanistan will be honoured with handcrafted silver crosses at a ceremony here next month.

The silver cross program was begun to do something for fathers similar to the silver cross mothers program of the federal government, said Joe Bishara, an organizer and junior high school teacher.

He oversees the Memorial Club, a student service group with branches at Maple Grove Education Centre and Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School.

The silver cross ceremony will take place in the Yarmouth Mariner’s Centre at 2 p.m. on May 9, said Mr. Bishara.

The fathers and family members of eight fallen Canadian soldiers are expected to attend the special weekend, which will also see a black granite memorial unveiled.

"On May 8, we will hold a ceremony for the official unveiling of our new monument at Maple Grove school," Mr. Bishara said.

The memorial will consist of six slabs of black granite, each one 76 centimetres wide by 1.5 metres high by 7.5 centimetres thick, he said.

Each panel will cost about $3,000, which includes the engraving of the names of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

"It will be a reminder to generations to come of the great sacrifices that were made by Canadian soldiers serving our country and people around the world," said Mr. Bishara.

The memorial will have room for many more names, which could be added periodically, he said.

Democracy 250 gave $10,000, and a group of dentists from across Nova Scotia gave $5,000 toward the project, said Mr. Bishara.

The original plan was to do something on the reverse side of an existing school ceno- taph that was erected by the student club in 1986.

That memorial was put in place at a cost of $8,000, much of which was raised by students. They’ve continued to raise money over the years to help them travel to entertain vet- erans in hospitals and special care centres.

The first Memorial Club Silver Cross was presented to Lloyd Smith of Tatamagouche in 2006. His son, Pte. Nathan Smith, was killed in Afghanistan in 2002.

Since then, two other crosses have been given. "Our goal is to see that all fathers of our fallen soldiers from Nova Scotia who died in Afghanistan will one day receive one of our silver crosses," said Mr. Bishara.

The modified Maltese crosses are handmade in sterling silver and 10 carat yellow gold by Yarmouth goldsmith Robert Hood. Each cross is 65 millimetres long and 44 millimetres wide, and weighs 33.5 grams.
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« Reply #21 on: May 01, 2009, 08:35:05 pm »


Taliban flaunt power in Pakistan's Swat Valley
'They have committed so many atrocities that they can't give up power, they would not be safe.'


SAEED SHAH

Special to Globe and Mail Update

April 30, 2009 at 7:17 PM EDT

MINGORA, PAKISTAN — On the back road to Buner from Mingora, fierce young Taliban operate an impromptu check post.

Half a dozen bearded militants, with AK-47s slung over their shoulders, ammunition vests and walkie-talkies, stop traffic and search cars. What they are looking for is unclear, but locals said they are mainly there to exert their presence, show people they have not gone away.

On the main road in and out of Mingora from the rest of Pakistan, passing through the suburbs of Balogram and Odigram, armed Taliban can be seen on the roadside, sitting, seemingly monitoring the situation.

According to residents, Taliban are present in much greater numbers on the side streets of Balogram or Odigram, occupying homes and public buildings with their armed comrades posted outside to keep watch.

“The Taliban have tasted power. They will not give that back,” said one Mingora teacher, who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation by the extremists. “They have committed so many atrocities that they can't give up power, they would not be safe. People are just waiting for the day they can take revenge [on the Taliban].”

Under the terms of a recent controversial accord, Pakistan is to impose Islamic law ( sharia) in return for peace in Swat, a scenic valley and former tourist haven only 160 kilometres from Islamabad. The Taliban are not supposed to “display weapons in public” and must “recognize the writ of the government.”

But even without leaving Mingora, the seat of district administration in Pakistan's Swat valley, flagrant breaches of the peace accord with the Taliban are visible. Conditions on the ground indicate the Taliban militia is tightening its grip, making it even less likely that they will be willing to give up power.

A ceasefire accompanied the announcement of the deal in February, ending a failed 16-month counterinsurgency operation by Pakistani security forces. With troops back in their barracks, the Taliban are unopposed and have no need to function surreptitiously.

The militants have used recent weeks to strike into new areas, residents say, and brazenly loot and rob, including private homes, cars and the offices and vehicles of non-governmental organizations. Armed patrols by the Taliban and their check posts are visible across Swat, a huge valley that covers 5,300 square kilometres.

“The peace deal has given them [the Taliban] a long life,” said Shaukat Saleem, a human-rights campaigner in Mingora. “Before, they could not roam freely in Mingora because there was a [military] operation on.”

During an 18-month rampage, the Taliban butchered and plundered their way through the valley, blowing up nearly 200 schools, banning girls from education and barring women from markets. The agreement with the militants has stopped the worst of the violence and schools have reopened.

Beyond Mingora, which lies at the bottom of the long Swat valley, the district is almost completely in Taliban hands. Residents living north of Mingora report that the Taliban are entrenching, not preparing to disband.

In Bahrain, a small town about 65 kilometres up the valley from Mingora, Taliban arrived for the first time in the beginning of April. More than 50 armed militants, wearing masks, are now stationed in and around the town, with two check posts, according to locals.

“Bahrain was better off before the [peace] deal,” said one resident, who requested anonymity because he lives among the Taliban. “They [the Taliban] will remain and now they will be more forceful because they have the legitimacy of law behind them.”

In Bahrain, most girls stopped going to school during the past week after threats from the local Taliban and most female teachers have given up work. Shops selling music CDs have been forced to close, while barbers can no longer offer customers a shave. All stores and restaurants are compelled to close during prayer times, residents said.

An official from the North West Frontier Province administration, which is supposed to govern Swat, admitted that state officials with executive powers are not functioning outside Mingora.

“If the government machinery is not even present [outside Mingora], how can there be any writ of the state?” said the official, who could not be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Another military operation would have been a big disaster. We had to stop the beheadings, we didn't have other options [than the peace deal].”

Under the peace agreement, negotiated by the NWFP government, Islamic courts are to be established in Swat. After that, the hope is that the Taliban will lay down their arms and some of them will be absorbed into the state security forces.

The militants suspect that the promised Islamic law will not materialize.

“They [Islamabad] can't implement the sharia regulation because they are the slaves of America,” Muslim Khan, a Taliban commander and spokesman, said in an interview at his Imamderi headquarters just across the Swat River from Mingora. “The generals and the politicians are grabbing money from America to fight the Taliban. They don't care about Islam. They don't care about their country.”

But, given the Pakistani military's clumsy campaign in Swat, where locals insist that more were killed by the army's long-distance shelling than by the Taliban, there is almost no appetite among residents for another military offensive, no matter how brutal life is under the effective rule of extremists.

“Those who sit in air-conditioned offices and want an operation here should come and see conditions for themselves. People in Peshawar, Islamabad and America don't know what it's like here,” said Fazlullah Khan, a lawyer and activist in Mingora.

“If the army shows its strength, the Taliban shows its strength; the ones who will die are ordinary people.”
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« Reply #22 on: May 01, 2009, 08:36:11 pm »

   3 American, 2 NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Updated Fri. May. 1 2009 5:03 PM ET

The Associated Press

KABUL -- Three Americans and two other international troops were killed Friday in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

Insurgents attacked Afghan and international forces Friday with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, NATO forces said in a statement. The troops called in air support, forcing the militants to withdraw. They are being pursued, the statement said.

Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, confirmed that three of the dead service members were Americans. The nationalities of the other two were not immediately known because NATO typically waits for countries to release such information.

The Taliban have vowed to increase ambushes and other attacks as an additional 21,000 U.S. troops flood into Afghanistan this summer in an attempt to stem the group's resurgence and bolster security for August presidential elections.

In a sign that electioneering itself is likely to be chaotic, Afghanistan's top vice president broke away from the president to join a competing ticket, a spokesman for the ticket said Friday.

Former warlord Gul Agha Sherzai has snagged First Vice President Ahmad Zia Masood as his top deputy in his run against President Hamid Karzai, said Gul Khalid Pushtoon, a lawmaker serving as spokesman for Sherzai.

Sherzai, now governor of eastern Nangarhar province, plans to file official papers on Saturday, Pushtoon said.

Sherzai, who met with President Barack Obama when he visited Afghanistan in July, has a mixed reputation. He helped the U.S. oust the Taliban from southern Kandahar province in the first push against the militants, but he has also been accused of heavy-handed rule and corruption in the aftermath.

A government spokesman, Waheed Omar, said he had not yet been informed of Masood's decision but that the government would not stand in his way.

"Masood is still the vice president of Afghanistan, but if he has decided that joining a different team will help, I don't think the president will have a problem because that is his constitutional right."

Spokesmen for Masood could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sherzai had in the past been a strong supporter of Karzai but Pushtoon said they are running against the president because they don't believe he's popular enough with the citizenry to hold onto the job.

A spike in violence and the accompanying civilian death toll has greatly eroded Karzai's popularity over the past year, along with conservatives arguing that he is puppet of Western powers.

"We think that President Karzai will not win the election, so therefore we want to keep the leadership in the region as well as improve the economy of the country," Pushtoon said.

Three Afghan army soldiers and 15 militants also died in clashes in the south and east Friday, U.S. military and Afghan officials said. No international casualties were reported in those incidents.

  P.E.I. soldier wounded in Afghanistan

A 24-year-old soldier from Cardigan, P.E.I., was wounded earlier this week in Afghanistan.

Capt. Tyler Collings is based with Lord Strathcona's Horse in Edmonton, and was training Afghan soldiers. His mother Valerie Collings told CBC News Thursday she understands her son was on foot when a bomb went off nearby. Collings has a serious eye wound and has lost a few teeth.

Some of the Afghan soldiers Collings was with were killed and others were wounded, she said.

Collings's mother received word from the military on Tuesday morning about her son, and she has since spoken to him. She said it was a great relief to finally speak with him.

Collings is being transported to a hospital in Germany Thursday evening.
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« Reply #23 on: May 01, 2009, 08:36:59 pm »

   Dozens of Taliban dead in battle with Pakistani troops


MOHAMMAD SAJJAD/AP

Villagers flee their homes as Pakistani security forces launch a
crackdown against Taliban and militants in Buner, Pakistan.

(April 30, 2009)

Asif Shahzad
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ISLAMABAD – An escalating battle between security forces and Taliban militants left more than 50 dead in a district near the capital even as Pakistan's government pressed on Friday with a much-criticized peace plan in the region, officials said.

The army launched an operation on Tuesday to retake Buner, a district just 100 kilometres from Islamabad, after it fell to the Taliban last month.

Army spokesman Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas said Friday at least 55 militants had been killed in fighting in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total killed so far to more than 100. He said two troops also died and eight others were injured when they were destroying a cache of explosives.

Security forces barred some reporters from entering the area and phone lines were down, making it hard to verify the army's account of the fighting. A Taliban spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.

Buner lies near the Swat Valley, where a peace process between the government and militants has come under severe strain following the Taliban move into the district amid growing international concern over the militants' expanding reach in northwestern Pakistan.

A government minister met Friday with a hardline cleric who claims he will be able to persuade the militants in Swat to lay down their arms in return for imposing Islamic law, which the government has agreed to do in a bid to restore peace.

The cleric, Sufi Muhammad, suspended the talks earlier this week and demanded the army pull back. But he agreed to meet provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain on Friday in the northwestern town of Timergara for talks that both sides termed positive.

"If the government enforces (Islamic law) in its true letter and spirit, I guarantee that the Taliban will lay down their arms and help restore peace in this region," Muhammad told reporters afterward.

He appealed to both sides to halt the fighting while the talks were underway.

U.S. leaders have slammed the peace plan as a surrender to violent extremists bent on destabilizing Afghanistan as well as nuclear-armed Pakistan and have welcomed the military operation.

But Pakistani leaders say setting up Islamic courts – a popular demand in Swat – will rob the militants of their main rallying call and make it easier to justify a crackdown on those who refuse to renounce violence.

Muhammad and the provincial government are wrangling over the identity of senior Islamic judges to be appointed to the new courts in Malakand, a region including Swat and Buner.

Hussain said the two sides were close to breaking the deadlock and that more talks would be held soon.

In Buner, the army said troops had taken control of the Ambela Pass leading into Buner from the south and were trying to link up with government forces holding the main town of Daggar.

Security forces in the Ambela area destroyed 10 cars and motorbikes laden with explosives, apparently for suicide missions, Abbas said.

He said security forces also destroyed the house of a Taliban commander in Pir Baba and a militant hideout in Chakdara, a town outside the district.
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« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2009, 09:23:31 am »



Alliston soldier returning from Afghanistan

BY Staff   April 30, 2009 17:04

An Alliston man will soon be home from an eight-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Heather Nichol-Hogan is waiting anxiously for her 22-year-old son, James Hogan, to return. He has been serving with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan since September.

"Right now I'm just counting minutes and days. He's my baby, I'm pretty excited to see him coming home," Nichol-Hogan said.

Hogan is expected home within the next few days, but his mother wasn't told exactly when he'd be arriving.

Hogan is part of the Royal Canadian Regiment based in CFB Petawawa, Ont.

He attended Banting Memorial High School.


   'Thank you for your service here on Earth'

Mourners pay tribute to major whose death in Afghanistan is being investigated by military
May 02, 2009 04:30 AM

Ian Elliot
THE CANADIAN PRESS

KINGSTON, Ont. – Both of Maj. Michelle Mendes's families – military and civilian – said goodbye to her yesterday.

Eight days after she was found dead in her living quarters at Kandahar Air Field, a death that is still under investigation by the military, Mendes's body was returned to this eastern Ontario city for a funeral service at Sydenham Street United Church.

Mendes, 30, is one of 118 Canadian Forces members to die in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of mourners, many military, packed the church to pay their respects, a number openly weeping as the flag-draped casket was carried into the church by an honour guard from her Ottawa unit, the chief of defence intelligence (CDI) organization.

Her parents, Ron and Dianne Knight, clung to each other as they watched the pallbearers remove the casket from the hearse.

It, along with a small floral wreath with the banner CDI Family and Mendes's Afghanistan service medal, were carried on a cushion into the church.

As per military protocol, the honour guard carrying her casket was from her home unit, each one wearing the North Star insignia that denotes military intelligence, and a comrade from Afghanistan accompanied her body the entire trip still wearing his desert camouflage uniform.

Her sister Melissa, often confused with her lookalike sister when the two were teenage athletes growing up near Cobourg, Ont., delivered a moving eulogy for the young officer to the packed church.

"It breaks my heart that my little girls will never get to know you," she said, her voice breaking with emotion as she remembered the pair growing up on an apple farm near Grafton, Ont.

Her sister remembered how Mendes, known as "Mich" to her friends, thrived in the intellectual and athletic pressure cooker of Royal Military College and how she fell in love there with soccer coach Victor Mendes, whom she married after graduation.

She was immediately accepted by his family and the Portuguese community in Kingston, her sister recalled.

"She was so beautiful, inside and outside," Melissa said. "Maj. Michelle Mendes, we salute you.

"Thank you for your service here on Earth. We will always love you, until we meet you again."

Two of Mendes's classmates from RMC, Rebecca Barton and Amber Comisso, remembered her as an athletic overachiever, noting that she was the first person in the 2001 graduating class to achieve the rank of major, an appointment she earned just months before being posted to Afghanistan.

Mendes served in Afghanistan in 2006, but was repatriated to Canada after she was one of a number of Canadian soldiers injured in a friendly fire attack by an American jet that mistook them for enemy forces.

"We were so proud to have known her," said Barton. "Her beautiful, brilliant smile would light up any room she was in."

Alan Okros, a friend and former military member, said memories of Mendes will be those of someone more than just a first-rate officer.

"She was more than just a soldier," he said in his own eulogy, noting that she was remembered widely for her empathy and friendship as well as a promising military career.

"You served your country with honour," he said.

Her family has not spoken publicly since her death, but released a written statement yesterday thanking the public for their gestures of condolence.

"She was all Canadian – proud, strong and free," her family said.
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« Reply #25 on: May 20, 2009, 09:25:07 am »


Canadians playing a role in new security unit at Kandahar Airfield



KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A new NATO security unit aimed at making the busy Kandahar Airfield a safer place has a bit of a slight Canadian flavour.

Seven of the unit's 66 members are Canadian, including master sailor Peter Hughes, who was in charge of the squad's first shift on Friday.

Hughes, who works on HMCS Ottawa out of Esquimalt, B.C., said the security unit will "drastically improve the chances for our troops on the ground to get air support."

Aircraft are often called in to back up soldiers involved in ground operations in the vast, desert country and the unit will provide much-needed order at a sometimes chaotic air base where traffic is expected to double in 2009.

Kandahar Airfield, which opened in 2005, has seen an increase in traffic in recent months - a situation that will only intensify when thousands of other American soldiers arrive at the base.

Already in March, air traffic controllers oversaw more than 20,000 military operations; the average monthly rate is 16,000.

"As the air base gets busier and busier there are more and more aircraft and more and more vehicles and there's increasing risk of a vehicle and an aircraft ending up in the same place at the same time," said NATO Cmdr. Andy Fryer, who attended Friday's inauguration ceremony.

With vehicles and aircraft crossing the air strip helter skelter at times, the American 451st Air Expeditionary Group decided to look at the situation in mid-March.

The project was put in place in less than six weeks thanks to the co-operation of the international forces.

"It was done quickly," said Master Sgt. Joseph Ilsley of the U.S. Air Force.

Ilsley noted the contribution of Wilf Rellinger, a Canadian major with NATO and the man in charge of security at the airfield.

"Major Rellinger... was one of the key players in getting this off the ground and addressing a lot of the safety concerns," said Ilsley.

"If we didn't have him getting all the political buy-in from the operators on the flight line we never would have never been able to push forward."

Canadian Master Cpl. Roland Wightman is the co-ordinator and administrator of the new unit. Wightman, who is normally based in Halifax, said he was very pleased that the aircraft at the base would be protected.

"I think it's great because now we have proper security," he said. "The air assets to me on this camp are the most important thing because that's what protects the guys on the field."

The new unit should make his job a lot easier, he added, noting that the 12-and 13-hour workdays he was putting in will likely get a little shorter.

"I was trying to run and provide security for the airfield with between 15 and 17 guys on three shifts," Wightman said. "Today we went from that to 66 people on two shifts, so the manning has gone up I think 300 or 400 per cent just today."

The unit is made up of members of the American, French, British, Canadian, Belgian and Dutch military. But it is open to any other NATO members who want to get involved.

"We've still got room, so if they're interested, we'd be more than happy to accommodate them," Fryer said.

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

This is a bit outdated yet is a very good read none the less. Local newspaper...

On the front line

Corporal Mike Lawrence of Beamsville has seen the War on Terror first hand, serving as a combat medic with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Cpl. Lawrence is back in Canada and recently, he and his family shared their experience with This Week's Joanne McDonald

By Joanne McDonald

Kneeling in a vineyard, Canadian soldier and combat medic Corporal Mike Lawrence lifted his own water bottle to feed the wounded Taliban fighter who lay dying in the aftermath of a bloody insurgency that had been initiated against the corporal's small platoon somewhere outside Kandahar.

Earlier Cpl. Lawrence had been on patrol through a mud-walled maze of vineyards with 25 members from the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) India Company unit, serving under the NATO-led coalition.

It was dark and they were using night vision equipment. Taking shelter in a tiny grape hut, he couldn't sleep and dozed fitfully. Around 4 a.m. he put on his helmet. Ten minutes later a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) exploded the night air and launched one of many live fire attacks he would be involved in during his six-month tour of duty.

The platoon pushed forward, advancing and got caught up by machine gun fire. Securing the area, the first Taliban they found had died beside the RPG. They secured his body and continued to advance, continuing to search for more casualties or possible detainees. They found bodies dumped into a wadi (dry waterbed) system.

Cpl. Lawrence came upon the injured Taliban fighter. He was rail thin, weak, about 19 years old and he had been shot through the arm and leg.

"He was alone and he was praying and he wanted us to kill him."

Cpl. Lawrence applied a tourniquet to young man's arm and leg. "Our job isn't to kill." The last the medic saw of him, he was being flown away in an American helicopter, headed for further treatment.

He is careful with what he shares, details, locations.

In 35 patrols, 27 involved live fire. It was like fighting a sponge he said. They would never know from which direction the Taliban would attack. "They would close in all around you."

Later that morning they had air strike support from the Americans. When you're alone on the ground with a small platoon, the drone of the planes "sounds like angels coming in the sky, there's no sound like it". You feel safe instantaneously when you hear the bombs drop. "You don't feel alone anymore."

* * *

A Reuters photo that appeared on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen captured an unbelievably poignant moment with the heat of combat reflected deep in the eyes of the young medic. Cpl. Lawrence had just been shot at, dove down with the reporter in tow, pulling him by the sleeve and telling him, "stay with me, stay low".

Earlier he had calmly advised the same journalist that "when the shooting starts your heart rate will go up two or three times its normal rate".

Moving from open desert to the grape fields lined with mud walls, they marched directly into battle. "How's your heart rate now?" the medic asked the reporter as they ran for cover.

At the age of 26, Cpl. Lawrence has seen so much in his young life. But he has a strong mind and heart and sense of humour. That strength is fortified with the solid understanding and belief in what he is doing.

He also has a most amazing family. Through and through, the Lawrence family is a service family.

His tour wrapped up, he has since been posted to Cold Lake, Alta. But he was with his family during a recent weekend and they generously shared those precious hours for an interview in his hometown.

* * * *

The early morning kaboom of a bird banger from a nearby vineyard sends Mike running for cover behind his dad's truck in the driveway of their Beamsville home.

After months of duty and operating on high levels of adrenaline, being shot at by RPGs and 82 mm cannons, it's hard to make the adjustment.

Mike's fit and he's brawn and he's acutely aware of everything in his perimeter. What's he not prepared for is the juxtaposition back to Canada. "It's definitely different coming home. Over there we were always ready to react." The reflex reaction to the bird banger is a quick read of his state of mind.

Canada is in Afghanistan as part of a UN-sanctioned mission to help build a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society.

About 2,500 members of the Canadian Forces are currently serving as part of Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF AFG). They play a key role in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission's goal to improve the security situation in Afghanistan and assist in rebuilding the country.

Mike is a character says his mother Sue Lawrence. "He has a zest for life. It's calm until he walks in and then there's an infusion of energy."

Sure-footed, self-resilient and proactive, says his mom are attributes he shares with his dad.

Sgt. Doug Lawrence CD was a vehicle technician with the Canadian Forces Decoration. He served on the Golan Heights in the Middle East and was a master corporal with 2 Service Battalion a regular force service battalion united based out of Petawawa. He is now a training sergeant with 23 Field Ambulance of Hamilton.

His mom, Sue, is a principal at Battlefield Public School in Niagara Falls. The closeness they share is immeasurable -- she's his best advocate and friend. "I can tell her almost anything."

When Mike left for Afghanistan he carried an angel coin from his mom.

Doug sent him a drop holster for his pistol so it was more accessible to him when he was tending to patients.

"I am a practical sort of guy," he says.

Marshmallow inside, bravado outside. "There's that sensitivity. Stoic on the outside, but so touched by human response. They both shine," says Sue.

Amanda Wintermute, who lives with the family, considers Mike as her big brother. And in his fianc? Nicole (Nikki) he also has a best friend.

* * * *

The family would see clips on TV news of Mike giving support to others. He doesn't wear the notoriety as a banner. Back at the Kandahar Airfield he was presented with a special RCR coin. Only 20 are presented each year and it is usually to honour longevity of service.

Service is a word that describes Mike. He wants to pay back as many as have helped him. "When he was growing up he had people who believed in him," says Sue. "This is a young man who walks in the door and he's ready."

Both Mike and Doug are very strong willed and very good at what they do. There's never been competition, only support for each other. "We're a military family," she says.

Every day Cpl. Lawrence pushed into the unknown, on patrols from a forward moving base, carrying close to his own weight in equipment and supplies -- a 30-pound Blackhawk medical bag, rifles, food, 12 litres of water -- the helmet alone weighed 11 pounds.

Throughout the entire tour, Mike spent only seven days behind the wire, in the relative safety of the military base at the Kandahar Airfield. During those six months, he operated from a forward operating base at locations unnamed in Afghanistan.

Sue recalls one phone call when Mike couldn't sleep. The desert air he told her was about 60 degrees. The moon was big and yellow over the vast terrain.

"Mom," he said, "it would be an awesome place to visit if you weren't going to get killed." The poetic observations he shared with his mom.

Worry was never been part of the equation. She knows her son was prepared physically. But she read the barometer in his mental well being. "Is he still able to see the beauty?" she would ask herself.

"In all this chaos there's beauty," he told his mom.

Some phone calls he needed to speak directly to his dad. "Doug was his grounding," says Sue.

During his first fire fight "I was shaken to the core" and the first time he picked up casualties and had a chance to use a phone, he said, "I need to talk to dad".

Heading out on patrol he told his father, "I'm not ready for this one." And another night he said, "this is my niche in life. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing".

Cpl. Lawrence's unit deployed Feb. 7 to Afghanistan. During the whole rotation they didn't lose one soldier. Two of his friends died on different rotations - one had been a roommate. "I feel guilty that I got home and my buddy didn't."

The terrain they patrolled was comparable to Vineland, hills covered with vineyards, only different with mud huts and walls. A real fear was the snakes, especially poisonous snakes and it was well founded as the soldiers learned to check their gear and roll their sleeping bags tightly to deter poisonous vipers from finding a hiding place.

Part of the time they would provide medical outreach within their mandate to residents in the local communities. They patrolled out of a forward moving base. Their mission was to find Taliban.

Sometimes it was disheartening as a human to provide medical outreach to people in a village only to be attacked by the Taliban in the same streets.

"It has changed my entire outlook on life," says Lawrence. "Every day is a sunny day."

People complain about insignificant things. Kids complain they don't want to go to school. "There kids pick up a gun and go to war. We have it so good in Canada."

By the time he could walk, it was in his father's footsteps. A snapshot taken when he was four shows Mike in his camouflague pants holding a fish he caught in Algonquin Park.

"He would match everything Doug did," says Sue. The Special Services Forces put on a family day. There was a competency course set up for kids, crawling under netting and through heating ducts. Mike excelled. The military was already his calling.

A former student at Senator Gibson, Jacob Beam and Grimsby Secondary schools, Mike came up through the ranks of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada Cadet Corps and has been in the Forces since the age of 18.

When he joined, Doug took him to a recruiting centre, intent on a five-minute visit. Three hours of testing followed. Mike showed a high aptitude and was given his choice of studies. He chose paramedic.

Over five years he studied to be a paramedic at Camp Borden and at the Justice Institute in British Columbia.

He worked the G8 Summit at Alberta. His initial training to go to Afghanistan was with the Van Doos,the Royal 22e R?giment. Moving up in rotation, he deployed with the Royal Canadian Regiment. His home unit is 1 Canadian Field Hospital.

"I'm very proud of Mike. I'm very happy he was with the Royal Canadian Regiment. I know their competency, the level of training," says Doug.

"Dad trained me without realizing," says Mike. "If it wasn't for Dad, I wouldn't be who I am."

"Doug was there to support him through difficult emotions," says Sue. "I had total faith in his commanding officer."

* * *

Opinions may vary on Canada's involvement at the international level, but the importance of support for the troops, the individual soldiers who are serving on the country's behalf can't be overstated says Sue. "It means everything to hear from home, to receive something familiar and comforting."

"The support from the Niagara region was insane." Schools, businesses and individuals sent cards and letter and care packages.

Niagara Falls Mayor Ted Salci sent a 30-foot banner that had been created by students at Battlefield School. They gathered information about their own family history of service and copied it onto the banner. They sent care packages, food, magazines, bandannas.

"It was great to have the support for the troops and individuals. I can't overstate the importance of that support," Sue said.

Canada's veterans can be proud of the work being done - their memories are constantly alive with the current serving members.

"Veterans can be assured the young generation is moving forward with Canada's legacy in service,"says Sue. She watched the mutual exchange of respect and information between the old guard and current service members, united by pride and dedication, when Mike, who had just returned from Afghanistan was with his family for the 100 years history of service celebration at the 23 Hamilton Field Ambulance annual parade in Dundas.

Mike was on tour with the (RCR) India Company -- a battle group commissioned to secure the area -- which included about 200 members and four medics. He has already been honoured with accolades including an ISAF medal and the RCR coin.

* * * *

The war in Afghanistan began in 2001, launched in response to the 9/11 attacks in the United States. News reports say the war removed Taliban from power for a time, but there has been a resurgence in Taliban forces.

From January 2006, the NATO ISAF force started to replace U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Canada is in Afghanistan to help Afghans rebuild their country as a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society as part of a NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission.

Reports say 2007 has been one of the bloodiest years since the fall of the Taliban six years ago and there have been no breaks in fighting as Canadians have pushed into Taliban strongholds to reassert control and establish security.

"We do the best we can under the conditions we're given," says Cpl. Lawrence. He's limited as to what he can discuss.

"It is frustrating when people don't understand, but how could they?"

While Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan is scheduled to end in February, 2009, the government's Throne Speech delivered Tuesday said it will likely continue to 2011.

Cpl. Lawrence wraps up the interview.

"The work is undone," he says.
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« Reply #26 on: May 20, 2009, 09:26:05 am »

 Back to the Present

Sweating bullets

Kandahar posting was war on heat, soldier says

By BILL SPURR Staff Reporter
Sat. May 2 - 10:05 AM

Shane Schofield's pants aren't baggy because that's the fashion - they're a souvenir of five months in Afghanistan.
The Canadian army private, who arrived at the Halifax airport on Friday night, lost 46 pounds while on duty with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry at the Kandahar airport.

Creature comforts weren't a priority in Kandahar, where Canada's soldiers slept two to a tent the size of a dining-room table and, for the first month, ate their meals standing up while holding a tray and wearing a helmet and full gear.

"You'd get a good gust of wind and it would blow the food off your tray," Pte. Schofield said Saturday, sitting on the front step of his parents' impressively landscaped home in Lower Sackville.

"The dust would blow into your food. Eventually they got us a tent where we could sit on the floor while we ate."

And eating preservative-filled American rations wasn't always the most delightful dining experience.

For example, the eggs were brown - not the shells, the eggs.

"People would get there and ask, 'What's this?' and you'd tell them, 'That's your eggs,' " he said.

"But just because of the Canadian way of putting a little extra effort into things, our guys were able to get us a few barbecues, which was really good."

Not that anyone was offering any beer, but he wouldn't have taken it, anyway.

"If someone put a beer in front of me, I wouldn't have drunk it.""You knew you had to drink 15 litres of water a day, and beer would severely dehydrate you," he said, recalling that temperatures of 58 C were common.

"Plus you just couldn't imagine waking up hung over — it would have been torture."

Exhaustion was a constant companion as the soldiers humped up and down mountains, carrying 45-kilogram packs filled with water and plastic explosives.Pte. Schofield took photos of caves the Canadians cleared, where they sometimes found rocket-propelled grenades and, occasionally, bones.

"There were a lot of guys in Afghanistan who did the job and did it well but saw that it might not be for them forever, so they're looking at other trades in the (Canadian Forces) and the odd one will be getting out. For the most part, the guys there were doing what they love," Pte. Schofield said.

"There were a lot of positive things about it, the whole patriotic aspect of working with other countries and proving we can do the job."

During their time off, soldiers tried to read or exercise, but in Afghanistan even those activities have their challenges.

Men had to wear gloves to lift weights because the bars were too hot to handle, and they found the weight loss and heat had made them weak.

"You'd put on (a weight) that you used to be able to handle easily and it would pin you to the bench," Pte. Schofield recalled.

"If someone sent you a book, you just had to accept the fact that it wasn't coming home with you. You'd turn the page and the whole book would fall apart because the spine had melted. It happened every time."

The dust gave CD players a lifespan of about 10 days and took a mental toll on the men.

"You could never get a comfortable feeling. You'd take a shower and 15 minutes later you'd be all grimy again," he said. "A lot of the time it was just so rotten there that guys couldn't even see the end."

Several men, including a medic in Pte. Schofield's camp, were stung by scorpions, and one soldier was awakened by a viper slithering over his nose.

Now 22, Pte. Schofield joined the army right out of high school. He had considered following his father into law enforcement but decided he needed some life experience.

Postings to Bosnia and Afghanistan, and witnessing the deaths of men he knew, have provided that.

Pte. Schofield was on roving security about four kilometres away from the site of the accident that killed four Canadian soldiers in April.

"The sky lit up and the ground shook," he said of the incident in which an American pilot mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers involved in a live-fire exercise.

Pte. Schofield had only a nodding acquaintance with the four men who were killed and said the tragedy didn't change anybody's attitude about the mission itself.

"But I know for a lot of guys, particularly the company that was on the range, it made things difficult for a while in terms of working with the Americans," he said. "There was a surprising number of them who didn't know about what happened, and that was frustrating."

After a four-day "decompression period" in Guam, Pte. Schofield's company got back to Canada on July 31.

The first thing he did was hug his girlfriend, Rene Boughton, who accompanied him to Halifax from Winnipeg, where they both live.

"She's never been to Nova Scotia before, so I'm really looking forward to showing her the sights around here," he said.

Pte. Schofield now thinks a career in the military might be even more gratifying than the one he had originally planned as a police officer.

One thing's for sure — he won't voluntarily return to Afghanistan.

"Absolutely not," he said firmly. "Some guys in the company would say things like, 'When I retire I'm going to buy a boat because no matter how lost I get, I can never end up in Afghanistan.' "

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« Reply #27 on: May 20, 2009, 09:26:29 am »

  'Drawback' New Tactic: Military

Afghan village not being abandoned: Canadian officer

Brian Hutchinson, National Post  Published: Monday, May 04, 2009
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Canada's military says it has not abandoned villagers in the Taliban-controlled western Panjwaii district, insisting that the "drawback" of troops last week and the dismantling of a Canadian-built police substation are tactical victories.

Tearing down the Mushan substation signals the start of a new strategy that will see Canadian Forces troops move closer to Kandahar city, where the majority of Kandaharis live and where a greater security presence is considered an urgent priority.

But Mushan village and surrounding communities are now left without a fixed Canadian presence for the first time in two years, after hard-won battles and casualties in the area.

The police substation, lately referred to as a strong point, was taken apart and troops were redeployed in a large-scale operation called Munkiredal, the Pashto word for deny.

The name might seem ironic. But Canadian officers say it reflects that the strong point was eliminated and all its equipment removed, thus denying the Taliban any opportunity to claim anything from the site.

In a briefing yesterday with reporters at Kandahar Air Field, officers explained that the 64 Afghan National Army soldiers who were stationed inside the tiny and primitive fortress, along with a rotation of eight Canadian military mentors, had not effectively disrupted insurgent activity in the area. The strongpoint was constantly under siege, according to the military.

Mushan is a hardscrabble agricultural community about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar Air Field. It is now under Taliban control, the officers conceded, as is much of the Panjwaii peninsula, an area of some 160 square kilometres where poppy is a lucrative cash crop for insurgents. The Taliban use profits from the opium trade to buy arms and hire local men to fight their insurgency.

Canadian officers say that after living beside coalition forces for two years, villagers may find themselves in harm's way. They could face reprisals from insurgents.

"There is a concern," said Major Stephane Briand, operations planning officer for the

Canadian Forces battle group in Kandahar. "[Reprisals] can happen in Mushan, but it [also] happens elsewhere."

The villagers have not been abandoned, he added. "I can see how it could be [interpreted that way]. But the main reason for the drawback was to reassign [troops]."

It was done at the request of the Afghan National Army, he said.

Canadian and Afghan soldiers stationed inside a larger, well-equipped forward operating base farther east will conduct sporadic patrols in and around Mushan, he said.

Operation Munkiredal involved 400 Canadian soldiers, 120 Afghan National Army troops and elements from the U. S. 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. The Americans are stationed in neighbouring Maywand district and fall under Canadian command. The operation was launched on April 26 and ended on schedule on April 30.

Two Canadian companies from the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment had infrequent contact with insurgents over the course of the operation.

"Canadians took fire and fired back," Maj. Briand said. He did not say if any Taliban were killed or detained in the brief firefights.

Seven or eight improvised explosive devices were discovered along the route leading out of Mushan as dozens of coalition vehicles, some laden with strong point equipment, returned to base.

Two of the IEDs were detonated. There were no coalition casualties or injuries.

An unreported number of insurgents were killed after taking on the U. S. 2-2s early in the operation, about 10 kilometres east of Mushan near the village of Zangabad. After a brief firefight on the ground, a U. S. aircraft was dispatched and a bomb was dropped on the insurgents.

Long described as a Taliban hotbed, the Panjwaii peninsula has been a centre of intense activity since Canadian troops arrived in 2006. It is the scene of Operation Medusa, the bloodiest conflict to involve Canadian troops since the Korean War.

The September, 2006, battle cleared some area villages and farmland of Taliban, but the insurgents moved west, down the peninsula, to places such as Mushan.

The strongpoint was built there in 2007 to protect the local population from further Taliban attack, reprisal and recruitment. Two other Canadian-built strong points east of Mushan, in the villages of Talukan and in Zangabad, were dismantled last year. Talukan was the scene of a Taliban-led massacre of civilians in December, 2006.

The entire Panjwaii district area remains an area of Canadian responsibility. The number of Taliban operating there is difficult to determine. Their movements are seasonal, and they concentrate in certain areas. Canadian officers can't say if there are fewer insurgents now compared to three years ago.
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« Reply #28 on: May 20, 2009, 09:27:36 am »


Wave of Afghanistan attacks kills 32: Officials
 
 
By Bronwen Roberts, ReutersMay 4, 2009


KABUL - A wave of bomb blasts and shootings killed 32 people, including two children, in Afghanistan Monday as President Hamid Karzai jetted to Washington for a summit on defeating extremism.

In the bloodiest incident a bomb tore through a tractor and trailer transporting a group of Kuchi nomads in a remote district of southern Zabul province, a district governor said.

"A roadside bomb struck their vehicle and killed 12 people," said Wazir Mohammad, head of the Shamalzai district on the border with Pakistan.

The dead were six women, two children and four men, he said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the blast but there are regular bombings in Afghanistan, most of them blamed on Taliban fighters targeting Afghan and foreign security forces.

Mohammad also said two Taliban fighters were killed in the same district early Monday when mines they were planting in a road exploded.

Taliban fighters elsewhere attacked a construction site near the Zabul capital, Qalat, where labourers were rebuilding bridges destroyed in earlier militant action, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Jialani said.

Six security guards protecting the workers were killed in the shoot-out, along with two civilian passers-by, he said.

In the eastern province of Laghman, a suicide attacker walked up to a vehicle carrying the provincial mayor and blew himself up, killing the official and six other people, the interior ministry said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said his group was responsible.

The mayor of Laghman, Mohammad Rahim Rahim, was one of the most senior officials in the province after the governor.

"The mayor, three of his bodyguards and three civilians were martyred," the ministry said.

In western Farah province meanwhile, three policemen were killed and three wounded in a firefight with Taliban, police said.

"A big number of militants have also been killed but we cannot give a figure now," provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Watandar told AFP.

Authorities in the western province of Herat also reported that 13 Taliban and a policeman were killed in clashes in the area Sunday.

The Taliban, in government between 1996 and 2001, warned last week that they would step up attacks on government officials as well as Afghan soldiers and the nearly 70,000 foreign troops who support them.

The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan has alarmed Western nations, which fear it could foment another major Islamist attack like the September 11, 2001 strikes on the United States.

Karzai headed to Washington Monday to meet U.S. President Barack Obama and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari amid concerns about efforts to fight the al-Qaida and Taliban-linked threat in the region.

Karzai flew to the United States with his foreign and defence ministers immediately after registering to run for re-election in August. Included on his ticket as one vice presidential candidate is controversial warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

Obama has put the spotlight firmly on Taliban and al-Qaida extremists straddling the Afghan and Pakistan border, pledging more troops and resources to eliminate what he has called an international threat.

He has also pushed for more co-operation between the Muslim neighbours to deal with the militants, expressing concern about the fragility of Pakistan's eight-month-old civilian government, which has made concessions to the Taliban.
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« Reply #29 on: May 20, 2009, 09:27:54 am »

Now, it's the Van Doos' turn to carry the load

May 12, 2007 04:30 AM
Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa Bureau

CFB WAINWRIGHT, ALTA.–"Ils sont motive et prêt pour l'Afghanistan. Les vingt-deux ont hâte, nous avons hâte, et c'est maintenant notre tour."

That's the message from Maj. François Caron, commander of A Company of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment: His troops are ready and eager to take their place on the front lines in Kandahar.

To press his point, he repeats it in English.

"It's our turn," Caron says. "They are motivated and ready."

But it's the "mots de français," heard in the back of the armoured vehicles, in the mess tent, in the barked orders, that tell the real story of the upcoming mission.

More than 2,000 Quebec-based troops have come to this sprawling military base for final drills before their summer deployment to southern Afghanistan,

It will mark the first time Quebec soldiers have gone to the dangerous region as a battle group.

Like pro hockey players itching for their turns in a playoff game, it hasn't been easy for these professional warriors to sit on the sidelines while troops from Edmonton, Petawawa and Gagetown, N.B., served their tours – and took their casualties.

The troops are keen. But the bigger question is whether Ottawa is ready for the casualties and the political fallout that could come after the six-month deployment of the Quebec contingent.

"It's dicey," military historian Jack Granatstein says.

At the heart of the deployment are close to 1,000 soldiers from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal 22e Régiment, the famed "Van Doos." They'll be joined by a battery of artillery, engineers, an armoured reconnaissance unit, a service battalion, field ambulance – 2,500 troops in all. Of the total, 2,171 come from CFB Valcartier, just north of Quebec City.

It marks the biggest deployment yet of Quebec-based soldiers to Afghanistan, although some 200 of them are over there now, many of them Van Doos providing security for the provincial reconstruction team. As well, troops from the 5e Régiment Artillerie Légère du Canada, also based at CFB Valcartier, operate the unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles that serve as the eyes in the skies over Kandahar.

But the upcoming deployment promises to truly bring the front lines of Afghanistan home to Quebec, where support for the war is lower than in any other region of the country. Some say it could bring political consequences too, if casualties are steep, and Quebecers turn even further against Canada's presence in the troubled nation.

"It seems to me there are two possibilities: One is public opinion collapses; the other is that it might in effect rally around our brave (troops). I certainly hope it's the latter," Granatstein says.

That it is now CFB Valcartier's turn to deploy to Kandahar is just "luck of the draw," he says.

But it's not so lucky for the Conservatives who may be left coping with the fallout of an already divisive mission in a possible election over the coming year.

"I think there's political impact on all this. Heavy casualties in Afghanistan for Van Doos could have a major impact on an election, could have a major impact on deciding whether to have an election," Granatstein says.

He says a senior officer even confided to him that it would be folly for the government to consider going to the polls when the Van Doos and other Quebec troops are serving their tour. Still, he notes also that the upcoming deployment, with a contingent of Quebec media in tow, could put a spotlight on the mission within Quebec and boost approval of the mission.

"They will perform very well and, I dearly hope, stir some pride in the province in their soldiers and come through with colours flying," Granatstein says. "But we don't know how it will play."

Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, agrees that the upcoming deployment is politically risky.

"Anything which focuses more attention on this in Quebec is problematic for the government because it's already the place that is leading opposition and consistently offside ... on issues about Afghanistan," Graves says.

However, he says public support for Canada's role in Afghanistan relies on more than just casualties.

"Casualties are not the main driver of the opposition to the mission. It hinges on the issue whether the mission can obtain the objectives that ... Quebecers support."

But Liberal MP Denis Coderre (Bourassa), the party's defence critic, downplays talk that the Quebec deployment is any different from the ones that have gone before.

"A human life, anglophone, francophone, from Gagetown or, I hope not, from Quebec City and from any other places ... is a tragedy – it doesn't matter where you come from," Coderre says.

Talk about the politics of the mission doesn't weigh on Caron or his soldiers, who are focused on their final preparations for a mission that for many will be the highlight of their career.

Standing on a windswept hill, only the bone-chilling wind belies the fantasy being played out here this month – that this patch of rolling Alberta turf is southern Afghanistan.

This elaborate exercise is no easy test, as troops endure daily mock bomb attacks and ambushes as they conduct patrols, do re-supply convoys and visit the mock "Afghan" villages built here like some movie set, complete with real Afghans playing the role of local citizens.

Their training for the mission started in earnest last October with refreshers on shooting, first aid, sessions on handling combat stress, lessons in the laws of war and rules of engagement.

The troops were drilled in mountain and cave operations, night manoeuvres and long-range patrols during a month of training at Fort Bliss, Texas, in February. After that, commanders had their decision-making skills put to the test in tabletop exercises.

Now, until the end of May, they're putting all pieces together in Exercise Maple Guardian.

For the troops of A Company, it means getting a taste of the hardships they're likely to experience stationed at a forward operating base – living in tents, eating rations and enduring harassing attacks from fellow Canadian soldiers who play the part of "insurgents."

"It's close to reality, not far from the reality that we're going to experience out there in theatre – except for the cold today," says Caron, who has done tours in Haiti and Bosnia.

Caron appreciates the chance to make mistakes here before his troops encounter insurgents who fire real bullets.

"It's very important. ... it's a matter of saving lives and bringing everyone back home. The better you get in training, the better you get when you're out there fighting and working for real," he says. "The guys are getting good at it."

Still, he does concede that last month's tragedies – when eight soldiers were killed in two separate bomb attacks – do spark sober reflections about the job they're about to take on.

"Families are scared and it's normal. It's not the kind of mission we used to have back in Haiti where we were patrolling and nothing was going on," Caron says.

"Guys are scared but the guys are well-trained and well-prepared for this mission. If something happens, we'll be able to deal with it."

That view is echoed by his troops, who chat during a break in their patrols.

"You won't be human if you don't stop and stress a bit and be scared," says Cpl. Maxime Richard, 23. "But we have a job to do."

"We take it as though it's bad luck, wrong place at the wrong time," says Cpl. William Comeau, 23, of Quebec City, of the deaths that have occurred so far.

Richard says that having Quebec soldiers in the media spotlight may already be boosting flagging support for the mission and the military in the province.

"They are opening up their minds that we're not just a bunch of killers," he says.

Pte. Martin Theriault, 23, adds the thought that the military hopes sticks with the Quebec population: "That we're actually helping people."

Still, Cpl. Jonathan Nolin's heavy medical bag is a sombre reminder of the dangers that lie ahead. It's loaded with tourniquets, emergency field dressings, plastic airways and other gear. And as a medic, Nolin, 32, has undergone hours of training in battlefield first aid.

He belongs to the 5e Ambulance du Campagne – the field ambulance unit at CFB Valcartier. It is deploying 83 personnel in all, from doctors to physician's assistants to medics, like Nolin, who will be with soldiers in the field.

"Some of them are scared, especially the older ones because they are more aware of the dangers," says Maj. Jocelyn Dodaro, of Montreal, a doctor leading the medical group.

"But they know it's also a chance to save a life, and not just a soldier's life but the life of an Afghan also," Dodaro says.

He dampens talk that his soldiers are carrying the weight of Quebec opinion.

"They have a pride to serve Canada but they also have a pride in their unit. But they're serving first as Canadians."

At CFB Valcartier, the reception so far from the local community for the deployment has been encouraging, even unprecedented, says base spokesperson Capt. Eric Chamberland. Radio stations have been calling to interview soldiers. Area businesses have been offering support.

"This is actually very different from what we're used to in Quebec. Quebec has never been, if you go back through history, very supportive of missions like this," Chamberland says.

But he knows the true test is yet to come.

"When the reality hits that we have casualties, we're going to see how people react. That's where it's going to be hard for everybody," he says.

Does he fear that casualties might cost public support in the mission?

"That's the beauty of our work. That's not our problem. Our problem is to make sure troops are ready, that our families have everything they need to live through this, that our soldiers have the best tools," Chamberland says.

"It's our work. It's like a firefighter. We don't pick the fires we go to. But we need people to support us."
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« Reply #30 on: May 20, 2009, 09:28:23 am »

THE AFGHAN MISSION
Mentoring pays off as Afghan forces hit insurgents

JESSICA LEEDER

May 7, 2009

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- On top of a bedsheet-covered table in a guarded compound in central Kandahar lies a city map.

Sheathed in plastic, it has been scribbled over with erasable markers to divide the city into boxes, coloured according to their ripeness for police raids.

Blue is for those that have already yielded rich caches of weapons - raw explosives, AK-47s, suicide vests, rocket launchers, grenades - as well as dozens of insurgents themselves. Areas outlined in red represent even more glowing prospects: known Taliban hideouts that soldiers and police officers have their eye on, biding their time before they attack.

For a high-level coalition of U.S. and Canadian troops given the task of rebuilding Afghanistan's security forces, the map represents something more than an impending blow to the urban insurgency. It is a long overdue sign that years of mentoring senior Afghan officers is starting to pay off.


The Globe and Mail

Afghan security forces - police and army - planned and executed the series of early-morning raids across the city over the past week on their own. By the time coalition soldiers found out about the raids, the Afghan forces were already in motion. Left waiting in the wings were their bewildered but pleased North American and British advisers.

"It's true mentoring," a grinning U.S. Army Colonel Bill Hix said.

For 19 months, Col. Hix has been at the helm of the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command in the southern quadrant of Afghanistan. His job is to use U.S. and Canadian police mentors to rebuild Afghanistan's police force, which he said was "destroyed by 30 years of war."

During his tour, he has fought constantly to extinguish perceptions - even his own, on occasion - that his Afghan counterparts are corrupt and incapable of self-sufficiency.

So it was with a mix of glee and disbelief that he attended a planning meeting in Kandahar yesterday for the next series of counterinsurgency raids, which Afghan forces unilaterally deemed necessary. Their goal is to flush the insurgents out of the city and destroy their weapons caches before the summer fighting season and the August election. Then they'll choke off entryways into Kandahar city to prevent the Taliban from re-entering, thus achieving - and, ideally, maintaining - some semblance of security.

"This was a surprise to the coalition, which I think was great," Col. Hicks said. "They are far more capable than we think or allow," he said, pausing to add a caveat: "That's not to say that they're ready to be off on their own."

Senior Afghan security officials admit as much. During a three-hour meeting designed to map out the next and most difficult phase of the raids, the dominant subject was the scarcity of police, which threatens to jeopardize not just the operation, but its aftermath.

"They don't have the numbers necessary to sustain security," Col. Hix explained, adding that he expects that toward the end of their operation, the Afghans will begin struggling to keep the insurgents from creeping back in and to achieve lasting results. "There will be a point where they'll run out of capacity."

Solving that problem is a dilemma facing both the Afghans and the coalition forces. The current police chief has already hired about 1,000 more officers than he is "allowed" under a cap put in place by a committee of international stakeholders who are financing the police. Some European nations believe that police should be kept at minimal levels.

But General Esmatullah Dawlatzai, a former police official who is now a high-level administrator for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, said the size of the force has been limited by the amount of funding from donating nations.

"The enemy is equipped better than the Kandahar police," he told NATO soldiers listening in on yesterday's meeting. "They have better weapons. Police weapons, if it is not better than the enemy's, it has to be equal," he said.

If Col. Hix has his way, Kandahar city will soon have 3,000 police officers, about double the number it has now. And against the wishes of his European counterparts, they would all be trained in counterterrorism tactics and carry AK-47s, another bone of contention between U.S. forces and some NATO allies.

"They want them to be normal policemen," said Col. Hix, shaking his head and citing examples from a few years ago, when poorly armed police were routinely slaughtered by insurgents.

"Now when the Taliban come after these guys, they can give it back to 'em," he said, adding: "That's progress. It's ugly progress. But it's progress."

And he insists that if progress continues, the city will not always have a need for machine-gun-carrying police.

"It's not the end game," Col. Hix said. "But we're nowhere near the end."
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« Reply #31 on: May 20, 2009, 09:29:02 am »


Hundreds of thousands flee Pakistan's battle with Taliban

May 08, 2009 04:08 PM
RIAZ KHAN
Associated Press Writer

MARDAN, Pakistan – Pakistan's army vowed today to eliminate militants from a northwestern valley but warned that its under-equipped troops face thousands of Taliban extremists who have seized towns, planted bombs made from pressure cookers, and dragooned children to be suicide bombers.

As air force jets roared overhead and gunbattles raged, terrified civilians from the Swat Valley and neighboring districts accelerated their exodus, with U.N. and Pakistani officials predicting 1 million refugees will soon burden the turbulent Afghan border region.

The army formally announced today that an offensive was under way. It has drawn praise from U.S. officials alarmed at the Taliban's recent advance to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.

Washington describes the militants as an existential threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan itself, as well as to U.S. chances of destroying al-Qaida or of winning the war against their insurgent allies in neighboring Afghanistan.

"The army is now engaged in a full-scale operation to eliminate the militants, miscreants and anti-state elements from Swat," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief army spokesman. "They are on the run and trying to block the exodus of civilians from the area.''

There are doubts about the ability and resolve of the army and the government to sustain the kind of grinding counterinsurgency warfare needed to defeat extremists whose rhetoric resonates widely in a Muslim nation deeply skeptical of U.S. goals in the region.

Abbas sought to counter portrayals of the military as ill-trained, saying that they had learned a lot in eight years of fighting along the border. But he said they need helicopters, surveillance drones and night-vision equipment, which the U.S. is scrambling to provide.

Pakistan's army is fighting to wrest Swat and two neighboring districts from militants who dominate the adjoining tribal belt along the Afghan frontier, where U.S. officials say al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is likely holed up.

The army announced its offensive after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government would wipe out groups trying to ``take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint." Battles and bombing runs by helicopters and jets have been going on all week.

Abbas said today that more than 140 militants and two soldiers had been killed in Swat in the last 24 hours – roughly doubling the number of casualties reported so far.

The latest figure included 100 militants killed in bombardments of remote training camps and arms dumps. Abbas didn't explain how the body count was done. Fighting in neighboring Buner and Lower Dir killed another 31 militants and three soldiers, he said.

Officials say they are unable to confirm accounts from fleeing civilians of innocents killed and wounded by indiscriminate gunfire and shelling. Abbas said troops were advancing slowly to try to minimize such collateral damage.

But the stream of civilians seeking safety appeared to have intensified, leaving Pakistan facing a humanitarian emergency.

The mayor of Mardan, the main district to the south of the fighting, said an estimated 250,000 people had fled in recent days. Of those, 4,500 were staying in camps, while the rest were with relatives or rented accommodation, he said.

Today, the U.N. refugee agency said provincial officials had told them 500,000 had fled, were on the move, or were trying to flee. About a half-million have already been made homeless elsewhere in the border region since August 2008, when the army launched its last major anti-Taliban operation in the Bajur border region.

Tens of thousands of people are trapped in Mingora, Swat's main town. Some have accused the Taliban of not allowing them to leave, perhaps because they want to use them as human shields. Others came under attack even as they fled.

Siraj Muhammad, a 19-year-old mechanic among the exhausted multitude who made it to Mardan today, said a shell exploded near people trying to walk to safety, killing two and wounding him, his mother and two siblings.

After struggling on for several miles, they flagged down a truck, joining scores of others escaping over a mountain pass, he said.

"We had a home, we had a family, we had happiness, we had prosperity, and all we have now is tears, fear and a dark future,'' he said, lying on a plastic sheet in a refugee camp.

Taliban militants seized much of the area under a peace deal, even after the government agreed to their main demand to impose Islamic law in the region.

U.S. officials likened the deal to a surrender. Pakistani leaders said the agreement's collapse had opened the eyes of ordinary citizens to the extremist threat.

Abbas wouldn't say how long it would take to clear the valley of 4,000 or 5,000 militants, including small numbers of foreigners – Tajiks and Uzbeks – as well as Punjabi extremists and tough Waziri fighters.

He said the military was reinforcing the 12,000 to 15,000 troops already in Swat. He gave no details, but he predicted a tough fight against militants who exploited the peace deal to regroup, descend from mountain hideouts and seize most of Swat's towns.

The troops faced guerrilla tactics, including remotely detonated homemade bombs made of explosives, steel pellets and nails packed into pressure cookers, Abbas said. Mines have been laid in Mingora.

Insurgents had forcibly recruited young boys from poor families in Swat, and sent some of them to train as suicide bombers in the South Waziristan tribal region, he said.

"We have seen with the capture of Mingora that the initiative has been taken by the militants," said Nasim Zehra, a fellow of Harvard University's Asia Center and a prominent Pakistani security analyst. "It's obviously an operation that is going to take weeks, or more.''

She said strong support from Pakistan's fractious politicians and divided civil society will be vital to the army, whose previous operations have largely failed.
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« Reply #32 on: May 20, 2009, 09:30:08 am »




'Taliban hate our guts': Canada's top soldier
 
 
By Brian Hutchinson, Canwest News ServiceMay 8, 2009 4:02 PM
 
 

 
A Canadian-built strong point in Mushan was dismantled during a complex, well-executed coalition operation that ended April 30. The strong point's 64 Afghan National Army soldiers and eight Canadian military mentors were redeployed closer to Kandahar City.
 
A Canadian-built strong point in Mushan was dismantled during a complex, well-executed coalition operation that ended April 30. The strong point's 64 Afghan National Army soldiers and eight Canadian military mentors were redeployed closer to Kandahar City.
Photograph by: Brian Hutchinson, Canwest News Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Villagers in a Taliban-controlled area west of Kandahar City are applauding last week's drawback of Canadian and Afghan troops, saying the presence of coalition forces in their communities had only complicated their lives.

"Canadian and Afghan soldiers did not bring peace into the area where we are living," said a landowner in Mushan village, western Panjwaii district.

A Canadian-built strong point in Mushan was dismantled during a complex, well-executed coalition operation that ended April 30. The strong point's 64 Afghan National Army soldiers and eight Canadian military mentors were redeployed closer to Kandahar City.

Even though insurgents in western Panjwaii are now "walking around freely and with rifles, (residents) are more relaxed than when the fort was here," the man added.

It's not a flattering assessment, but one that Canada's top soldier accepts.

Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk told Canwest News Service in an interview this week the Mushan strong point did not have its intended effect, which was to help clear the area of Taliban.

Instead, the installation drew insurgents to Mushan like moths to a flame.

"The Taliban hate our guts," noted Natynczyk. "So if we're in there, the Taliban will come. You have the Taliban who can move into some areas and intimidate people, which makes it very hard on them.

The folks out there are really on the edge. I mean, I think they've been banged up a lot by the Taliban."

The landowner added: "We were living in fear when the fort was there. The Taliban would attack it, and of course the Canadian and Afghan army would react. Civilians suffered casualties."

Panjwaii is a key area of Canada's military responsibility, and officers acknowledge a large portion of it is now overrun with Taliban insurgents.

And fear still pervades the area.

The landowner says he and his family loathe the Taliban but they are afraid of retribution; he requested that neither his name nor a description of his farmland be used in this article.

The firefights and IED attacks that terrorized Mushan have stopped.

"With the presence of the fort, we were not in peace. We were in trouble because of the fort."

Natynczyk said he found it "interesting that (the farmer is) saying that, with regard to the reduced tension."

Made largely of sand bags and lumber, the Mushan strongpoint was built two years ago, in response to persistent Taliban activity in the region.

Two other Canadian-built strong points just to the east also were built in 2007, in the villages of Zangabad and Talukan. They were dismantled last year.

In a briefing Sunday, Canadian officers told reporters that all three substations were constantly under siege. The situation was "untenable," one said.

The Mushan installation was left in place longer than the others, said Natynczyk, because "we thought it would have a bit more of an effect. There seemed to be some (normal community life) in the area."

Another consideration was that the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (2-2) was deployed just to the east of Mushan, in the Maywand district of Kandahar last year.

The Mushan substation "was kind of a linkage," said Natynczyk, who visited Kandahar Air Field briefly on Thursday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "But as 2-2 became much more mature in their area, Mushan lost its relevance."

It was the Afghan National Army's decision to dismantle the Mushan substation and to leave the area, he stressed.

Handing to the Afghans decisions such as the Mushan drawback "is about allowing them the flexibility to actually exercise their command and control, their plans, their initiatives," said Natynczyk.

Canada's military engagement in Afghanistan ultimately will be judged on whether it has left the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police prepared to properly do their jobs.

This may be lost on villagers in Mushan, at least for now. The village and surrounding communities are suffering, thanks to the insurgency.

"We have lost our relatives, we have lost our orchards, houses, the system of agriculture has been deeply damaged," said the landowner.

"If you could see the area you won't find happiness or signs of progress. You won't see many people."

Families with enough resources have fled to Kandahar City, or to more distant places.

"Those who remain are financially weak," said the landowner, who moves between Mushan and Kandahar City, where he was interviewed.

"Most are unable to afford renting (a home) and buying food in the city. They are compelled to live in the villages under any kind of circumstances."

The Taliban now control "not only Mushan but also Zangabad and Talukan," adding he did not know how many Taliban were in those areas.

"They are not staying in one place. They moving around, from one village to other."

Late this week, the Taliban disabled a number of cellphone transmission towers in western Panjwaii, apparently in an attempt to prevent villagers from reporting their movements to authorities.
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« Reply #33 on: May 20, 2009, 09:30:41 am »


Troops welcomed home to sea of red pride

 
 
By David Gonczol , The Ottawa CitizenMay 9, 2009


PETAWAWA, Ont. — About 500 well-wishers rallied in Petawawa Friday for what Defence Minister Peter MacKay said was “a wonderful celebration” of “what our brave men and women in uniform do for Canada.”

It was dubbed the “Wear Red Friday Welcome Home Troops Rally” in conjunction with the return of about 1,800 troops from Afghanistan to CFB Petawawa this spring, including a contingent arriving today. A drizzle of rain that eventually gave way to sunny skies couldn’t keep away soldiers, military families, admirers and school children from saying thanks to soldiers who have served overseas.

There were dozens of service men and women who received repeated cheers from the crowd. Master Cpl. Jody Mitic, 32, lost the lower parts of both legs after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan on Jan. 11, 2007 when he was on foot patrol with his sniper team in Panjawaii District. His wife, Alannah Gilmour, originally from Ottawa, was one of the responding combat medics when he was injured and the pair eventually started a family together in Canada.

“I get a good kick out of these things,” Mitic said. “I joined in 1994 and back then it was almost like army was a four letter word. But now, things have come full circle and people are trying to make up for lost time with us. It’s really touching to have someone come up to you and want to say thanks,” said Mitic.

Moments after arriving at the rally, MacKay crossed the parking lot of the Moncion grocery store, site of the rally, when he saw Mitic and went to chat with him for a few minutes. Mitic was in a wheelchair because he is recovering from surgery, but he is usually walking with prosthetics.

The event featured the arrival of dozens of runners who ran about 200 kilometres to the rally in an effort that raised $33,000 for the Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre. The run was organized by Commissionaires Ottawa.

Other special guests at the rally included Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet, John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Cheryl Gallant, MP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, CFB Petawawa base commander Lt.-Col. Bill Moore, Col. Dean Milner, commander of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group at CFB Petawawa. Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of defence staff, was expected to attend but was called away to accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his current trip to Afghanistan.

MacKay told the rally that it was a truly Canadian event.

“This is truly an expression of Canadians wanting to reach out and embrace and send those important messages of appreciation to our troops,” said MacKay.

“You are sending a visible signal that you support them and their families. This is an indication of the strength of feeling that Canadians have. There has been an awakening in the country to the value and appreciation of military service and our men and women in uniform are feeling it,” said MacKay.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
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« Reply #34 on: May 20, 2009, 09:31:32 am »


Taliban command of Afghan terrain makes fighting conditions difficult


By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, May 10, 2009

ZANGABAD, Afghanistan — Two companies of American soldiers accompanied Canadian forces on a recent four-day operation into Kandahar province’s Panjwayi district, where some of the sharpest fighting has occurred against the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan.

The American mission was to help secure a narrow dirt track that led to the village of Mushan, about 10 kilometers to the west, where the Canadians would tear down a small outpost that had been occupied since late 2006 by eight Canadian advisers and 60 Afghan soldiers.

According to U.S. and Canadian officers, the small force had not been able to do much to counter the Taliban in the area. The fort had been under frequent attack. So the troops would be pulled out as part of a new NATO strategy to reposition forces around Kandahar and other major population centers in southern Afghanistan.

By early afternoon on the third day, the mission was almost complete. The engineers had finished their work, and the armored column of more than 400 Canadians, 200 Americans and 100 Afghans was beginning to move out.

Then a Taliban bomb struck a Canadian tank, wounding two soldiers and putting the tank out of action.

There was no way for the rest of the convoy to move around the wreckage. The high-walled compounds and deeply trenched opium and wheat fields along the road gave almost no room to maneuver. With most of the column bottled up behind the disabled tank, the convoy was stalled for most of another day as recovery specialists worked to extract the vehicle.

"It’s amazing that 10 dudes with shovels can stop a whole battalion," said Capt. Chris Brawley, commander of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, commenting on how a single Taliban bomb had brought the convoy to a halt.

The column moved safely out of the area the next morning. Soldiers with Company A engaged in three firefights, but suffered no casualties. A soldier from Company D had been slightly injured in a blast, one of several bombs that had either exploded or been found along the route.

By any measure, the mission had been a success, but it bore out a fundamental challenge that U.S. and other NATO forces face in southern Afghanistan: While western troops have the technology, the Taliban own the terrain.

Although U.S. and NATO troops enjoy the edge over the Taliban in almost every respect — superior weapons, communications gear, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and air support by fighters, bombers, helicopters and unmanned drones — those tactical advantages are often offset by terrain that favors guerrilla tactics and a lightly armed, highly maneuverable enemy.

"The fighting conditions here are amazingly difficult," said Brawley, 28, of Ellington, Mo. "The enemy pretty much has free rein down here, and there’s just endless places to hide."

Another complicating factor in the Mushan operation was that "there’s only one way in, and there’s one way out," said Brawley, allowing the Taliban to detonate bombs along the route that were probably buried weeks and months ago.

Panjwayi district lies about 40 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Kandahar and has long been considered a Taliban stronghold. During Operation Medusa in 2006, Canadian and other NATO forces fought one of the bloodiest battles so far of the eight-year-old Afghan war in Panjwayi and nearby Zhari district.

The area is heavily cultivated with wheat, grapes, opium, marijuana and other crops. The fields are partitioned by thick mud walls, and irrigation ditches crisscross the landscape like a maze. A group of soldiers on patrol in a grape field can suddenly drop six to 10 feet into a series of trenches in which an enemy can move undetected.

Rows of open slats in the two-story structures the soldiers refer to as "grape huts" offer the Taliban ready-made firing ports that they use to fire on NATO forces from concealed positions. The thick mud walls of the buildings can withstand multiple hits from all but the heaviest ordnance.

"[The enemy] definitely has the advantage down here," said Company A 1st Sgt. Christopher Kowalewski, 36, of Chicago. "[Despite] all of the technology that we have — all of our helicopters — he still has the advantage down here."

Soldiers from Company A engaged in three gunbattles with Taliban fighters over a two-day period during the Mushan operation. An estimated 10 fighters ambushed about 30 soldiers on the first day, keeping them pinned down for about two hours. The firefight ended only after American troops called for mortar and artillery fire, support from Kiowa helicopter gunships and, finally, an airstrike.

At one point, the Taliban were firing on the Americans from three sides. First Lt. Ashton Ballesteros, of 3 Delta platoon, said Canadian troops familiar with Taliban tactics in the area had told him the fighters typically "cloverleaf" around NATO forces during a fight, probing for weak spots.

"That’s exactly what they were trying to do to us," said Ballesteros, 24, of Grayson, Ga.

U.S. mortar teams fired more than 30 rounds of 60 mm high explosives and nearly 30 rounds of white-phosphorous smoke, according to Staff Sgt. Jason Calman, 27, of Las Vegas. Fire batteries at a nearby Canadian camp fired nearly 30 rounds of high-explosive 155 mm artillery rounds and another 18 rounds of white-phosphorous smoke. A NATO jet dropped a 500-pound bomb.

The soldiers used the smoke to cover their retreat. They made their way back to their patrol base through fields of wheat, opium and grapes, the latter with trenches that were deeper than the soldiers were tall.

"You could sit out an artillery barrage in this stuff and probably survive everything but a direct hit," one soldier said during a short rest break.

A second gunbattle broke out a couple of kilometers to the south when 2nd Platoon of Company A was ambushed by another group of Taliban fighters. The platoon was hit for a second time the next day not more than 100 meters from its patrol base.

An Afghan man with a child was spotted several times at various points during the second day’s action. The soldiers believed the man was acting as spotter for the Taliban and using the child as a shield.

"They know we’re not going to shoot him when he’s with a kid," said 1st Lt. Jared Wagner, 25, of Hillsborough, N.J. "It’s frustrating."

With so much Taliban activity around Zangabad and Mushan, Brawley predicted that NATO forces would have to "retake this whole area" at some point.

With Canadian forces scaling back their presence in Panjwayi and with more American forces coming into the south, that job will very likely fall to U.S. troops.
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« Reply #35 on: May 20, 2009, 09:32:16 am »


Pakistani civilians flee Swat valley as major ground offensive draws closer


The Pakistani army ordered residents to flee the Swat Valley during a lull in fighting , triggering a further exodus of frightened people and raising expectations of a significant ground offensive against the Taliban.

Miles of traffic jams snaked out of the war-torn valley as tens of thousands of people fled using all available means, from donkey-drawn carts to rickshaws.

In the battlezone the army said it had killed another 200 militants, most of them in a strike on a training camp in Shangla district and 55 in Swat. The fight is being closely watched from the US.

General David Petraeus, head of the US central command, ,warned that the Taliban posed a threat "to the very existence of the Pakistani state".

Petraeus said al-Qaida's central leadership had moved to Pakistan but he denied that generous military aid was linked to a possible US deployment. "This is not about us putting combat boots on the ground," he told Fox News.

The exodus out of Swat added to a humanitarian crisis that is rapidly swelling beyond earlier fears. Officials in Mardan, on the lowland plains below Swat, said that 250,000 people had registered for help, more than double the total on Friday.

Including 550,000 people displaced by earlier fighting, officials said they feared as many as 1.3 million people could soon be homeless in North West Frontier province. The aid group World Vision said it had found "intolerable" conditions in some of the six hastily opened camps, pointing to high temperatures and a lack of toilets and electricity.

The army said that between 12,000 and 15,000 security forces – regular army and paramilitary frontier corps – are stationed in Swat, pitted against between 4,000 and 5,000 Taliban guerrillas, the bulk of whom are concentrated in Mingora.

The the militants used the nine-hour pause in fighting to deepen their defences against an expected army ground offensive. In Kanju, a strategically important village beside the river Swat, fighters surrounded a police checkpoint near the army-controlled city airfield.

Further along, fighters sheltered under overhangs and thickets of trees to avoid being detected by helicopter gunships buzzing overhead. They warned residents to leave the area immediately.

Absent was the militants' leader, the charismatic preacher Maulana Fazlullah, who villagers speculated was hiding in the Tharan Valley, 10 miles to the west bordering Upper Dir district. Fazlullah continues, however, to make use of the FM radio broadcasts that helped him rise from obscurity two years ago, employing them to issue coded instructions to battlefield commanders and threats to perceived enemies.

The army launched a full-scale operation on Thursday, following the collapse of a fragile peace deal that saw militants fanning out of their Swat stronghold into neighbouring districts such as Buner and Dir. It was a fight "for the survival of the country", the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said on Saturday. The offensive came as President Asif Ali Zardari visited the United States to reassure a nervous Obama administration that Pakistan was committed to fighting militancy.

The operation has also enjoyed an unusual level of support at home, even from conservative forces previously reluctant to criticise the Taliban.

A conference of religious clerics in Rawalpindi endorsed the military campaign as a "jihad against the enemies of Islam".

Turning points in public opinion included the release of a video showing a Taliban fighter flogging a teenage woman, and a declaration by Sufi Muhammad, a senior pro-Taliban cleric, that democracy was an "infidel" concept.

The provincial government had released the 78-year-old jihadi cleric from prison last year in the hope he would persuade the Taliban to lay down arms.

One of the few voices publicly opposing the campaign is the former cricketer Imran Khan, who leads a small party and has aligned himself with rightwing forces in recent years.

Allegations of Talibanistan in Frontier province were "nonsense", he told the Guardian.

"This whole thing is very sinister," he said, accusing the government of "setting up this idea that Islamabad was being threatened and the Taliban were coming with their way of life and cutting of throats".

Khan's stance has antagonised left-leaning Pakistanis. "He is very foolish," said Talat Masood, a retired general and analyst. "He is just trying to build up his image by criticising a military operation. But he is doing a great disservice to himself."
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« Reply #36 on: May 20, 2009, 09:33:20 am »

Canada's commander in Afghanistan: no job like it.

 
By Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service May 11, 2009
 
 

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Matieulla Qatey couldn't quite believe it.

The commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan was in the threadbare, heavily fortified headquarters of the beleaguered Kandahari police chief to discuss a joint operation against the Taliban that would involve a helicopter assault.

``I am so happy my body just got bigger and my uniform just got smaller,'' Qatey gushed as he shared raisins, nuts and a glass of tea with Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, clearly surprised and honoured that the Canadian task force commander had come to visit.

Vance gets his orders from Ottawa and from senior NATO commanders in Afghanistan, including a Dutch two star who is responsible for the country's four insurgent-plagued southern provinces.

A top priority is to improve the performance and reputation of the much maligned Afghan National Police, which has long suffered from corruption and insufficient funding and training and has fared badly in the national psyche compared with its much more highly regarded cousin, the Afghan National Army.

But encouraging Qatey, a brave and tenacious police officer confronting difficult odds, is only a small part of the duties of a commander of Task Force Kandahar.

On one morning Vance and Canada's senior diplomat in Kandahar, Ken Lewis, met at Gov. Tooryalai Wesa's palace with senior police and army officers to discuss security issues and better ways to engage local elders as well as funding for a new mosque in the city and the governor's plans to eradicate the coming poppy harvest.

The general and the RoCK - Representative of Canada in Kandahar, as Lewis is known in this insular world of acronyms - also inspected the site of a bloody suicide car bombing in the provincial capital along with Canadian explosives experts and the governor.

Later, Vance drove out to a Canadian forward operating base and choppered from there to a more distant outpost to co-ordinate battle plans with an American infantry light colonel under his command. As he does almost every day, back at his headquarters at the Kandahar Airfield, Vance received a daily briefing from about 40 staff officers and diplomats with high security clearances on diverse topics, such as:

* the availability of C-17 transport aircraft

* a small prison where Canada sometimes holds detainees

* The suicide bombing of a pregnant woman by the Taliban

* plans for ongoing or upcoming operations

* frictions between the Afghan army and police rank and file

``My job ranges from being chief cheerleader to chief mourner to coach to general manager,'' Vance said. ``But I don't do it all myself. The great thing about this job is the team. At my fingertips are the best people I know. Whether military or civilian, they are focused. It is a wonderful thing to work with highly motivated soldiers and civilians.''

Vance, whose headquarters is mostly drawn from Western Canada, although its current infantry battalion is the Van Doo from Quebec, is the fifth brigadier- general to hold the post since the Martin government shifted Ottawa's focus from Kabul to the Taliban homeland in Kandahar early in 2006.

Two more brigadiers will follow him, serving nine-month tours each before Canada concludes its current combat mission in Kandahar sometime late in 2011. In fact, the next rotation, which is to mostly have senior leadership from Quebec and is to begin with Alberta's Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, has already begun preparing to deploy in November.

There may be no tougher assignment in the Canadian Forces than running TFK, as the soldiers and civilians attached to Task Force Kandahar call it. One part of the job involves leading about 2,800 Canadian soldiers, airmen and sailors and 1,000 U.S. soldiers who are confronting a ``persistent, lethal enemy.''

Another involves maintaining very close relationships with major Afghan government officials and NATO allies.

A third aspect is to harmonize key priorities with a quickly expanding, Foreign Affairs-led civilian component which, like the military, is trying to help one of the impoverished parts of one of the poorest country's on Earth to get back on its feet after three decades of war.

There are frequent conversations with officials at Canadian Expeditionary Force Command in Ottawa, the organization that oversees all Canadian deployments overseas, and sometimes with force generators such as Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the army commander.

At the same time, Vance, who has served most of his career as an infantryman with the Ontario-based Royal Canadian Regiment, has consulted constantly with Lewis and Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffman, on Ottawa's vision for Afghanistan. He also hears from and directs a small legion of colonels, light colonels and majors responsible for everything from tactics and strategy to delivering air power and artillery, and ensuring that vehicles have been repaired and that logistical convoys were ready to roll.

Several generals who preceded Vance have said that their troops had done better than those before them. But they have quickly added that they were certain that the rotation that followed them would do even better because of the experiences that were being passed on.

``We are a learning organization for practical reasons,'' Vance said. ``If we don't learn, we die, literally and figuratively. The commander and the team on the ground do the best to set the conditions for the next guys because this mission evolves. It does not remain static. There are many factors at play including some that you can't control - like the enemy.''

The 45-year-old general's tour has coincided with arrival of transport helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones demanded by John Manley's blue ribbon panel. It has also come as the insurgency has picked up momentum and as U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 troops to southern Afghanistan to help overstretched Canadian, British and Dutch forces.

``New orders are coming down,'' Vance said. ``The American inflow, the growth of the ANA forces, the government of Canada priorities, CDS (chief of defence staff) direction, we put it all together in a mission analysis.''

One of the biggest changes over previous rotations has been a dramatic surge in the number of civilian experts from Canada who now work alongside the military in the Kandahar City-based Provincial Reconstruction Team, which has become the centrepiece for Ottawa's most well-funded foreign aid program - and is to continue to have primacy over all of Kandahar even as Canada's area of military responsibility shrinks with the arrival of a U.S. army brigade this summer.

``The people in the PRT, the civilian directors, are amazing,'' Vance said. ``They have a lot of experience and a lot of heart. They are great team of people and provide great advice. I had been expecting that, but I had not had any practice with this.''

The value of having a seriously beefed-up civilian component was echoed by Sgt.-Maj. Stan Stapleford, who is inseparable from his boss as they make their daily rounds at the various Canadian headquarters and on almost daily trips ``outside the wire.''

``I had thought that being a regimental sergeant major to a battle group was a great job, but this job has opened my eyes to so much more,'' the crusty, good-humoured 34-year army veteran said. ``To see the organization that they have, with DFAIT (Foreign Affairs), CIDA and the RoCK, to be honest, I did not know they existed. I had heard about them but I didn't know. The 'whole of government piece' is not just about going out and killing the enemy, but about getting the people to govern themselves and get on with their lives.''
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« Reply #37 on: May 20, 2009, 09:33:49 am »

Soldier's death at Kandahar base cloaked in mystery
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 | 3:59 PM ET cbc


Nearly three weeks after the death of a senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, the Canadian military remains silent on what happened, and friends of the officer fear they'll never learn how she died.

Maj. Michelle Mendes, 30, was found dead on April 23.Maj. Michelle Mendes, 30, was found dead on April 23. (DND)

The body of Maj. Michelle Mendes, 30, was discovered April 23 in her living quarters on the military base in Kandahar.

Mendes, who was based in Ottawa with Defence Intelligence, was only days into her second tour of duty in the war-torn country.

Canadian Forces officials have said only that her death did not involve enemy action. The military has still not revealed the cause of death publicly and her family remains unaware of how she died, according to a military spokesperson in Kingston, Ont.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, an independent unit, is handling the case.

Published reports have speculated about health problems or an accident, or possibly suicide. A military colleague of Mendes told CBC News, "None of us believe that."

Neither does Bill Patchett, a family friend who knew Mendes when she was young.

"I think that we have to wait and see what the outcome is," said Patchett. "I believe that we will never hear what happened. I really do."

Military colleagues and family alike were stunned by Mendes's death. At a May 2 memorial service in her hometown of Grafton, Ont., she was described as a bright and energetic person.
Rose quickly through intelligence ranks

Learning more about Mendes has proved difficult. Of the dozens of people contacted by CBC News who knew Mendes, Patchett was one of the few who would speak on the record, though a handful of others shared their thoughts privately.

"Once she got in the Armed Forces, she would never discuss it because it wasn't hers to discuss. It was quite confidential. And she was very good at keeping a secret," said Patchett.

Mendes, who had a master's degree in international affairs from Ottawa's Carleton University, rose remarkably quickly through the military ranks to become a major with the Chief of Defence Staff intelligence unit by the age of 30.

Her first tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006 was cut short, though the reasons for that are still unclear.

Mendes's commanding officer declined to be interviewed, as did the chief of defence staff.

Instead, the office of the chief of defence staff referred CBC News to Capt. Jodi-Jane Longley, a friend of Mendes from military college who works at National Defence headquarters.

"It's tragic to lose anyone, anyone especially young in their career, someone as promising as Michelle," said Longley.

It's such promise that makes speculation about suicide hard to believe for Mendes's friends and colleagues.

But they say that without an explanation, it will be impossible to come to terms with her death.
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« Reply #38 on: May 20, 2009, 09:34:48 am »


NATO’s politicians ‘AWOL’ over Afghan war: U.S. commander

Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent, Canwest News Service  Published: Thursday, May 14, 2009

A U.S. Marine patrols a village in Golestan district of Farah province on May 11, 2009.Goran Tomasevic/ReutersA U.S. Marine patrols a village in Golestan district of Farah province on May 11, 2009.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's senior military leader has bluntly accused the alliance's politicians of going "AWOL" in the battle against Afghan insurgents.

AWOL, or "absent without leave," is a military term for someone who has abandoned their post.

General John Craddock, NATO's outgoing Supreme Allied Commander, was referring to the complaint that countries like the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are doing almost all the fighting in Afghanistan's most dangerous regions.

"I'm probably being harsh here, but I also believe that much of this is due to the fact that political leadership in NATO is AWOL," the U.S. army general said in a speech earlier this week.

"I think that in many cases political leaders have to determine what is in the best interest of their nation," the American general told the Atlantic Council of the United States, a Washington-based think-tank.

"And if it's not popular with their citizens, then it's their role as a political leader to convince the citizenry to support the government position. And I think that far too often [with] many of our members and partners that is not the case, and that is why, to a great extent, this imbalance exists."

Gen. Craddock said that, without better leadership, NATO could be supplanted by the 27-nation European Union, which is taking on an increasing military role.

"I think what happens is we put NATO at risk," he said in response to a question about the implications of weak NATO political leadership.

"One, it will weaken. And then ultimately I think it's at risk to potentially a stronger regional organization, a rival -- the EU, if you will."

Gen. Craddock, who has been NATO's top military leader since December 2006, was believed to be speaking more frankly than usual because he's being replaced by Admiral James Stavridis as part of President Barack Obama's overhaul of American strategy in Afghanistan.

Gen. Craddock noted that the EU, which like NATO is involved in anti-piracy efforts off the Somali coast, quickly obtained clear "rules of engagement" that allowed military ships to not just stop vessels but arrest the pirates.

The NATO fleet, which includes Canada, has slowly followed suit but still, he said, can't arrest pirates until it signs agreements with governments in the region that are prepared to accept the pirates for trial, he said.

One of the reasons why the 28-member NATO alliance is often slow to take action is that it is weighed down by rules requiring consensus decision-making.

NATO also erred, he suggested, in letting member countries set caveats on where their soldiers could go in Afghanistan and under what conditions they could use lethal force.

He outlined as a gross example of systemic NATO problems his efforts to shrink the 80-week wait-time for commanders in Afghanistan seeking delivery of their "urgent requirements." He said he got it down to 60 weeks, with the goal of bringing the wait to 35 weeks -- which he said is still too long.

The experience is "one of those things that makes you go, ‘hmm, this is just simply, simply untenable. We cannot do this,'" he told his audience.
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« Reply #39 on: May 20, 2009, 09:35:35 am »


Afghan mission may extend past 2011, defence minister says


COLIN FREEZE

Globe and Mail Update

May 17, 2009 at 11:51 PM EDT

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD — Canada may well stay in Afghanistan beyond its 2011 military mandate, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay today, as he left a NATO base in Afghanistan where Ottawa is planning to buy up hundreds more beds for next year.

As U.S.-led forces and the Taliban brace for what may prove the deadliest summer yet, Mr. MacKay said Canada's role is changing to delivering aid to city dwellers “rather than simply focusing on holding swaths of land.”

“I believe there are a number of roles Canada can play well into the future,” the minister said, capping off a three-day visit, but added that's subject to the will of the people. “We've said time and time we're going to respect Parliament's voice on this,” he said. “We can't come to Afghanistan and help them develop their democracy and not respect our own.”

Public documents tendered this month on a government website indicates Defence Construction Canada wants to buy 400 more beds at the Kandahar Air Field by next year, at a cost of $5-million, with an option to build 400 more. The documents don't state who the beds are for.

Under their current military mandate, which expires in two years, nearly 3,000 Canadians soldiers bunk down at this sprawling air base, now growing by leaps and bounds to accommodate an American surge. Thousands of U.S. soldiers are flooding into Kandahar and its environs, after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to quell a growing Taliban insurgency with more firepower – and more aid.

During the past three years, Canada has tried to hold a sprawling, restive province with a rotating contingency of soldiers that amount to the size of one U.S. combat brigade. Outposts set up in rural regions outside Kandahar City have lately been pulled down as Canadian soldiers redeploy to major bases and to be stationed inside the city.

“Rather than simply trying to take property and hold it, we're trying to work into areas and bring that ‘whole-of-government' concentration,” said Mr. MacKay.

“The focus is on the population centres,” he said.

During his visit, the minister announced programs meant to thwart improvised insurgent bombs in Kandahar, as well as Canadian programs aimed at giving help to veterans.

He said Canada will continue to mentor Afghan police and soldiers, and “we're going to build the schools, provide the immunization programs, and work with organizations to get microfinance credit available.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made similar remarks as he visited the base earlier this month.

Civilian casualties caused by U.S. air strikes are emerging a major irritant between Washington and Kabul, prompting local lawmakers to make noises about passing stricter rules-of-engagement for NATO forces.

Canada's Defence Minister says his officials can help cool down the tensions, before the issue boils over.

“First and foremost, Canada is not engaged in air strikes,” said Mr. MacKay. “We obviously take great pains not to have civilian casualties in any instance.”

“But,” he added, “can Canada be influential in these discussions at NATO? Absolutely.”

“Can we work close with our allies and with the Afghan government to play a positive role and ensure that everyone is engaged in these efforts to protect the public? Yes.”

Afghan authorities are claiming that more than 100 civilians were killed by U.S fighter planes this month in southwest Afghanistan, as the Taliban took refuge amongst villagers following a firefight.

This was not an isolated incident, and civilian casualties caused by both sides have been climbing.

Mr. MacKay did not criticize use of U.S. airpower and added that the Taliban “doesn't play by any rules of engagement.”

“This is a very insidious type of warfare the Taliban has engaged in” he said, adding they “deliberately try to place themselves in populations and use human shields.”
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