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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (January 2008)

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A year in Helmand: 4m bullets fired by British
Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 13

The intensity of fighting in Afghanistan is laid bare today in new figures which reveal that almost four million bullets have been fired by British Forces in less than a year - almost double the number previously reported.

The Ministry of Defence has been forced to admit it misled Parliament over the huge amount of ammunition used, after an accounting error.

Opposition politicians said the revelation that almost four million rounds had been fired in Helmand province in less than a year told of fighting "of much higher intensity" than had previously been revealed.

The Tories said the figures, revealed by The Daily Telegraph today, contradicted Des Browne's statement to the Commons that the "security situation in Afghanistan is stable if fragile in places".

In October Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces minister, told MPs that 2.7 million rounds had been used in Helmand.

But the information was wrong and in a letter to Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, he apologised for the mistake, explaining that it had "now become apparent" that the ammunition originally counted was of the "most common types" and did not include other varieties such as tracer rounds...

The 25,000 artillery rounds used compare to 6,000 used by British forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During the most intensive period of urban fighting witnessed in Basra last summer, 4 Rifles, the battalion based in Basra Palace, fired 35,000 rounds of small arms - the amount used in three days by the 7,800 British troops in Afghanistan.

Col Tim Collins, who commanded an infantry battalion in Iraq, said the expenditure of ammunition reflected the fact that the system was "running white hot" to keep up with the pace of operations in Afghanistan.

"I don't think the Government deliberately lied but it was being economical with the truth not to reveal the ferocity of operations going on which it tried to avoid with the earlier Commons answer."

He added the huge number of rounds used showed the extreme pressure the logistics tail was under in getting bullets to the front line...

UK Troops Facing 'Decades' In Afghanistan
Sky News, Jan. 13

British troops could be fighting in Afghanistan for decades, Defence Secretary Des Browne has indicated.

His comments were the most explicit sign yet from the Government that the UK's commitments in the war-torn country may last more than 20 years.

Asked when troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan, Mr Browne told The People: "We cannot risk it again becoming an ungoverned training haven for terrorists who threaten the UK.

"But there is only so much our forces can achieve. The job can only be completed by the international community working with the Afghan government and its army."

"It is a commitment which could last decades, although it will reduce over time."..

Articles found January 13, 2008

Two Dutch soldiers killed in gun battle in Afghanistan
PM expresses shock in special statementby our Internet desk
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"The mission in Afghanistan is tough and full of risks. Each time, we feel the loss of Dutch soldiers is difficult to bear. Their relatives are confronted with immeasurable grief" - the words of Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on Sunday.

Dutch soldier leaves overwatch for a patrol as part of operation Spin Ghar, the recent ISAF offensive in the unruly Uruzgan province. (Photo: Dutch Defence Ministry/Gerben van Es)
In a special statement, Mr Balkenende expressed his shock at the deaths of two Dutch soldiers the day before. They were killed in clashes with Taliban insurgents in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.
The two, 20-year-old Wesley Schol and 22-year-old corporal Aldert Poortema, came under fire near their base in Deh Rawod, a Taliban militants' stronghold, after they found a weapons cache during house-to-house searches.

They were killed in a lengthy exchange of gunfire. Two Afghans were also reported dead. A third Dutch soldier was seriously injured in both legs.

Cause for concern
Both Prime Minister Balkenende and Defence Chief of Staff Dick Berlijn offered their sympathy to the families of the dead soldiers. The chief of staff said the situation in Uruzgan was unstable and a cause for concern.
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Taliban attack kills 8 police in southern Afghanistan; suicide bomber kills 1
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Taliban militants killed eight police officers Sunday in an attack on a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan, while a suicide bomber killed another policeman in a separate attack, officials said.

The militants stormed the police checkpoint in Maywand district of Kandahar province, said Sadullah Khan, a police officer in neighbouring Neven district.

After the attack, the militants took two police vehicles and the officers' weapons, Khan said.

In neighbouring Helmand province, a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body tried to enter the house of a regional police commander in a housing compound in the town of Lashkar Gah, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal.

Guards challenged the man, who then blew himself up, killing one policemen and wounding two children, four civilians and two other police officers, Andiwal said.

No Canadian soldiers are based in Helmand province.
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Soldier loved his job on Afghan mission
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GATINEAU, QUE. -- Family and friends gathered at a private funeral yesterday in Gatineau, Que., to remember a soldier killed late last month in Afghanistan.

About 300 people mourned gunner Jonathan Dion at the military ceremony that included a 12-gun salute.

A soldier walked over to Dion's mother, Lise Marcil, and kissed her on each cheek before handing her the Canadian flag that had been draped on the casket and folded by pallbearers.

Marcil walked towards her son's casket as it was being placed in the hearse, gently placed her right hand on it and cried before lowering her forehead to the casket for a moment.

She then released a white dove that flew over the hearse, past the honour guard and disappeared over a row of houses.

Dion, 27, died Dec. 30 after his light-armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb about 20 kilometres west of Kandahar city.

Childhood friend Kevin Graham, also a member of the Canadian military, said Dion loved his job and had no regrets about enlisting.

Graham, who met Dion 15 years ago in a Gatineau elementary school, said his friend did not know what he wanted in life until he discovered the military.
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Victoria commissionaires go to Afghanistan
Lindsay Kines, Victoria Times Colonist Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008
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For the past five years, Paul Crilly has been guarding history. Now he gets to be part of it.

The 55-year-old security sergeant at the Royal B.C. Museum departs Sunday morning for Afghanistan, where he and fellow Victoria commissionaire Howard Eames, 62, will help control access to the NATO airfield at Kandahar.

The men are part of a six-member team of commissionaires from across the country who volunteered for the one-year mission. The other four are from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia
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Dead soldier found his calling in Afghanistan, say mourners
Kathryn May, Canwest News Service
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OTTAWA — Gunner Jonathan Dion was something of a lost soul until he joined the army and found his mission in Afghanistan to “make a difference,” said friends as they mourned the soldier who was killed late last month.

More than 400 family and friends crowded into a small Gatineau church on St. Rene Boulevard West Saturday for the private funeral of Gunner Dion held with full military honors.

Dion, who would have turned 28 years old last week, died Dec. 30 during his first NATO mission after his light-armored vehicle struck a roadside bomb about 20 kilometers west of Kandahar city.

After an hour-long mass, his flag-draped casket was carried down the stairs of Jean XXIII Catholic Church by eight military pallbearers, followed by his mother Lise Marcil, stepfather Raymond Pelletier and sister Guylaine Dion, as a dozen members of his regiment, 5 Regiment d’artillerie legere du Canada, gave him the traditional gun salute.
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Canada will taste the U.S. appetite for change
TheStar.com -  January 13, 2008 Rudyard Griffiths
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For Canadians, the quadrennial race for the U.S. presidency is traditionally a spectator sport. The hoopla of the primaries, the wall-to-wall cable news coverage and preening candidates are all amusing but ultimately unsatisfying fare. After all, whatever we feel about our comparatively stodgy politicians, what matters in our day-to-day lives is how ably the Canadian federation is governed and not who won the New Hampshire primary.

Our usual benign indifference to U.S. politics could be in for a sea change if the last few weeks are any indication of what is to come in 2008.

For starters, the Republicans and the Democrats are falling over each other to position themselves as champions of the ailing American middle class. In both camps of presidential hopefuls, this has meant more than just the usual populist attacks on greedy lobbyists and "special interests" in Washington, D.C. This time, however, there is a heavy dose of protectionist rhetoric not only in the stump speeches of the Democratic front-runners but among the traditionally laissez-faire Republicans. These relentless bipartisan attacks on NAFTA and the outsourcing of American jobs do not bode well for a Canadian economy that sends three-quarters of all its exports to the U.S.

Canadians should also take note of the growing isolationist sentiment that is surfacing in both parties. It is not simply that a majority of Americans want their troops out of Iraq. Instead, at both poles of the political spectrum, voters are warming to candidates who espouse making deep cuts to foreign aid and either ending completely or scaling back overseas military missions so that more money and resources can be spent on U.S. domestic priorities.

None of this is encouraging news to our soldiers who are relying on a bigger U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in 2009 and beyond to turn around an increasingly tough situation on the ground and shore up a shaky NATO.

The biggest impact of the 2008 U.S. presidential race on Canada, however, will be on our own domestic politics. Based on the phenomenal voter turnout in Democratic primaries combined with George W. Bush's record low popularity, it is hard to see how Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will not go on to make history and become the first woman or black U.S. president.
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Medical technician dies in his sleep while serving at base in Afghanistan
By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer January 13, 2008
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They were up in the high country, floating across the lake in a houseboat. Nicholas Eischen wanted to know what his family thought he should do with his life.

He had worked at a pool service and at a few other short-term jobs. "All of them were things that didn't have a future to them," said his grandfather, Bob Pinion. "He was looking for a future."

By that time, in the summer of 2003, Eischen was already drinking the same beer as his father and grandfather, and listening to the same music -- "there are only two kinds," Pinion said, "country and Western" -- but he didn't want the same job as they had.

"His father and I," Pinion said, "are both plumbers. We didn't want him in the trade. He had better fish to fry. We didn't want him all broken up at 50 years old."

The clan from Clovis, adjacent to Fresno, gathered around hot dogs and steaks aboard the family's houseboat on Huntington Lake in the Sierra, helped him settle on a career in the Air Force.
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Canadian opposition wants non-combat role in Afghanistan
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KABUL (AFP) — Canada's opposition Liberal Party supports keeping troops in Afghanistan but not for combat missions, party leaders said Saturday during a visit to Kabul.

"We wanted to see with our eyes and hear with our ears what more we can do, how to continue to help Afghanistan after February 2009 with other missions, other development projects," other than combat, party president Stephane Dion told a press conference.

"We are here to see how we can contribute," party number two Michael Ignatieff added.

Canada's parliament has voted to keep its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2009 while considering its future policy. Seventy-six Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

Dion and Ignatieff visited Kandahar in the troubled south where Canadian troops are fighting Taliban militants alongside US and British forces.

They were received in Kabul by President Hamid Karzai, parliamentary speaker Yunus Qanuni and NATO ambassadors.
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Women earn respect in Afghanistan
Canadian Forces; Female security in demand at checkpoints
Allison Lampert,  Canwest News Service  Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008
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PASHMUL, Afghanistan - Once rejected by a culture that denies women's basic freedoms, Canada's female soldiers and military police are now in demand in Kandahar province.

Initially barred from working with male Afghans for fear of upsetting southern Afghanistan's conservative sensibilities, female security forces are now badly needed to search women at checkpoints.

With insurgents dressing up in burkas to escape detection, demand for female officers at police stations and Afghan military outposts is rapidly growing.

"We are always worried about people who disguise themselves," Canadian Forces Colonel Stephane Lafaut says.

"The use of Canadian women at police stations will help us. What we are hoping to have one day are female Afghan police officers [at the stations]."

There are now three Canadian women working as mentors to Afghan police officers at stations in Kandahar's Zhari district. One female soldier is working in a similar capacity with the Afghan National Army, said Col. Lafaut, commanding officer of the Canadian mentoring team that's working with Afghan police and soldiers in Kandahar.
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Troops use new technology
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The days of pinning locations on a map are drawing to an end for armed forces, and Canadian reserves from Quebec have descended upon Camp Shelby to learn the new digital field technology that makes this possible.

The troops - totaling 1,487 - began arriving in Mississippi on Dec. 27, and they will conclude their stay in the Pine Belt on Monday and then head home to Canada, said Maj. Sylvain Tousignant, the operation officer for the Canadian troops' exercise at Camp Shelby.

Tousignant said the troops are running exercises with a digital communication system in conditions that are similar to those in Afghanistan.

"Because of the climate we have this time of year back at home, it's a lot better to conduct this kind of training here," Tousignant said.

Tousignant said this is his seventh year to make the trip to train at Camp Shelby.
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Afghan aid projects bearing fruit: CIDA
Don Butler, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008
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Canada's development efforts are starting to transform the lives of Afghans, three members of the Canadian International Development Agency's Afghanistan task force said yesterday.

But, they warned at a public forum at the International Development Research Centre, there's still a very long way to go.

"My major message would be sustainable development takes a long time," said Diana Youdell, former head of aid for CIDA in Kabul. The same is true of strengthening security and governance.
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Soldiers speak from beyond
Raw first-person accounts conveyed in moving book from Afghanistan
Paul Gessell, CanWest News Service Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008
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OUTSIDE THE WIRE: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of its Participants,

Edited by Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren, Random House Canada, $32

Capt. Nichola Goddard was the quintessential Canadian, and not because she has entered history books as this country's first female soldier killed in combat. Her death came, at age 26, May 17, 2006, during a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan's Panjwayi district.
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Dozens killed by snow, cold in Afghanistan
Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:09am EST.
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The snow falls have also blocked roads connecting remote districts to urban areas in several western provinces, said Ghulam Mohammad Mujahid, an official of the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

Some 35 employees of a construction company, including Iranian nationals, have been trapped by an avalanche in Herat province close to the border with Iran, Mujahid said.

"Efforts are underway to rescue them," he told Reuters.

More than 15 people and thousands of head of sheep perished in various parts of Herat, while 20 people were killed in the rugged province of Uruzgan in the south by cold weather and snow.
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Manning the Army's Afstan mission
Friday, January 11, 2008
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What the Chief of the Land Staff faces:

...it is Leslie's job to find soldiers for each six-month rotation of the approximately 2,500 troops bound for Afghanistan.

"It gets more difficult as time goes on, not to send the same people back," says [executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, retired colonel Alain] Pellerin.

At most, the army has a pool of 9,000 to 10,000 full-time soldiers as well as several thousand part-time reserves to draw from to staff Afghanistan.

The army is responsible for a minimum of 2,200 of the 2,500 that staff each rotation, says Pellerin.

Compounding the challenge is the fact the rate of soldiers leaving the army has risen to 12 per cent from eight per cent.

But Leslie must do more than find warm bodies to ship to Afghanistan with a rifle. He must build a contingent of soldiers that can shoot to kill, deliver aid, and negotiate the cultural divide of that country.

"It's small unit warfare. You've got the young officers and the senior NCOs that have to deal with the population and have to deal with issues that go much further than military issues," says Pellerin.
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Dion meets Canadian soldiers in Kandahar
COLIN FREEZE Globe and Mail Update January 13, 2008 at 10:45 AM EST
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada's top two Liberal politicians visited troops around Kandahar this morning, meeting Canadian Forces soldiers, speaking with them, even briefly playing hockey with them.

But Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff came away upholding their party's position that the troops must cease combat operations in this restive southern province of Afghanistan by early next year.

"The military forces of Canada have a role to play after February 2009 — even though it's not combat, it will be for security," Mr. Dion told reporters.

He maintained Canada should continue to play a role in reconstruction in the future, but "the only difference is you don't proactively be in a situation to engage the enemy."
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Articles found January 14, 2008

Navy team combs Afghan dust for clues from bombs
Mike Blanchfield  Canwest News Service Sunday, January 13, 2008
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The Navy's underwater demining specialists are diving into the dust of Afghanistan, and their efforts are being heralded as heroic and life saving.

"The application of the type of naval de-mining training that they have is quite applicable in Afghanistan. They're everyday heroes over there, saving the lives of Canadian Forces personnel, and allies and Afghans," Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

Lt.-Cmdr. Roland Leyte once spent three weeks combing the depths of Peggy's Cove off the Nova Scotia coast, recovering body parts and smashed pieces of the airliner that was once Swissair flight 111, and has plumbed the black, debris-infested waters of Louisiana's inter-coastal waterway, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in search of survivors.

But Leyte's greatest challenge, after a decade and a half as a navy scuba diver specializing in bomb disposal, has come on the landlocked, battle-scarred terrain of southern Afghanistan. It started in earnest on March 22, 2006, and would end later that year - literally in the line of Taliban fire on a day when four more of his Canadian comrades would lose their lives.

On his first assignment, Leyte was struck by the size of the hole before him. Two metres deep and five wide, it was the product of four Russian-built anti-tank mines hooked to a radio-controlled detonator. Four of his Canadian comrades lost their lives there hours earlier while riding in their G-Wagon.

For the next 90 minutes, Leyte and his team of forensic experts gathered four garbage bags of evidence - bits and pieces of the bomb and the all-important radio detonator - strewn along the dusty track that skimmed along a creek bed north of Kandahar City.
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Dutch Troops Kill 4 in Friendly Fire
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BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) — Dutch troops in Afghanistan killed two of their own men during a nighttime battle, and separately two allied Afghan soldiers they mistook for enemies, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.

"Darkness, the weather conditions and the confused situation" played a role in the mistake Saturday in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, Gen. Dick Berlijn, the top Dutch military commander, said in a statement.

Opposing fighters were in between Dutch units during the fighting several miles northwest of Camp Hadrian, near Deh Rawod.

The two Afghan soldiers, who were not "recognizably in uniform," also were killed Saturday after they approached a wounded Dutch soldier six miles to the south, Berlijn said.

Military police were investigating both incidents.

In the most famous friendly fire case of the Afghan conflict, Pat Tillman, a former U.S. football player who became an Army ranger, was killed in April 2004 by fellow troops near the Pakistani border.

In August, a U.S. warplane mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on British troops after they called for air support in Afghanistan, killing three soldiers and seriously wounding two others.
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IED blast injures soldiers during Dion visit
Updated Sun. Jan. 13 2008 11:11 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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On a day when Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was in Kandahar insisting Canadian troops had done their share of fighting, four soldiers were injured by a roadside bomb.

The incident happened Sunday afternoon, when the soldiers struck an improvised explosive device while driving along a dirt road in Kandahar province's dangerous Panjwaii district.

They were working to clear mines from an area near the town of Zangabad, 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City, when the blast occurred.

All four men were taken by helicopter to the Kandahar Airfield hospital and have been listed in good condition. Two were quickly released, while the others are expected to be released Monday morning.

On Sunday, Dion maintained that the Canadian military should end its combat mission, and insisted that the government warn Afghanistan and NATO allies of that intention.
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For Afghan police, staying alive is the first priority
COLIN FREEZE January 14, 2008
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ZHARI, AFGHANISTAN -- When the sun rose over Kandahar yesterday, 10 Afghan police officers were found dead in their compound, killed in the middle of the night.

It was an all-to-common massacre. Suspected Taliban insurgents stormed an Afghan National Police checkpoint west of Kandahar at around 3:30 a.m., according to a police chief. They shot the ANP guardsmen, then entered the compound and killed everyone sleeping inside.

Cop killings occur with such frequency here that they barely register as news.

After the sun set over Kandahar, greater fanfare surrounded another event. Visiting Canadian politicians were wrapping up their trip, once again expressing hopes that the local security forces would hurry up and find their feet.
"At the end of the day, the goal is that they will take care of their country on their own," federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told reporters.

For NATO countries and their politicians, it has become a mantra: As soon as the Afghans become security self-sufficient, then Western soldiers will get out. But several days spent recently at one ANP outpost shows just how far this goal is from reality, as well as the struggles the police face to become self-sufficient.
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Nation owes it to troops to ensure mission justifiable
By SCOTT TAYLOR On Target Mon. Jan 14 - 5:14 AM
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I AM in the process of writing my memoirs and I must have the completed manuscript delivered to the publisher by the end of March. This project has naturally enough entailed numerous walks down memory lane and has required me to do a fair amount of self-analysis.

For instance, the 1964 Paramount Pictures movie Zulu remains one of the most powerful films I have ever seen. Seeing it as a young boy, I was overwhelmed with the matinee shoot-’em-up action. But when I revisited Zulu after my service in the military, I realized just how accurately the script writers, director and actors had captured the character and interplay of the enlisted men, non-commissioned officers and officers. More important, the movie correctly portrays the role that soldiers play in the big picture of an overall conflict.

For those not familiar with this classic film, the story is set in a remote corner of South Africa in 1879. The tiny British garrison at Rorke’s Drift has just been informed that the main British force has been annihilated by a massive Zulu army, and those thousands of warriors are now en route to their isolated outpost. As the soldiers nervously await the first attack, one terrified young private turns to his sergeant major and asks the age-old question, "Why? Why us?" The handlebar-moustachioed sergeant-major swells out his barrel chest, adjusts his swagger stick slightly and says, "Because we’re here, lad. Because we’re here."

It is a great dramatic moment in film, but it also summarizes what is expected of a soldier in service of his country. Perhaps Alfred, Lord Tennyson said it best in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, describing the senseless slaughter of British cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava: "Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die."
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Soldier's death in Afghanistan blamed on helicopter fault
Richard Norton-Taylor Monday January 14, 2008 The Guardian
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A British soldier bled to death in Afghanistan because of faulty equipment, compounded by incompetence, according to a military inquiry into the incident.
Corporal Mark Wright, who died from his injuries in a minefield after rescuing an injured colleague, could have lived if the helicopter summoned to help had been equipped with a winch, the inquiry reveals.

Wright, a 27-year-old paratrooper posthumously awarded the George Cross, was among seven soldiers trapped in a minefield in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, in September 2006. They had to wait five hours for a US Knighthawk helicopter to rescue them. Wright died before the aircraft reached a military hospital in Camp Bastion.
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US Envoy Meets Former Taliban Commander
By JASON STRAZIUSO – 5 hours ago
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MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan flew to a town previously held by the Taliban in the heart of the world's largest poppy-growing region and told the ex-militant commander now in charge there that Afghans must stop "producing poison."

Ambassador William Wood on Sunday drank tea and talked with Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Taliban commander who defected to the government last month and is now the district leader of Musa Qala in the southern province of Helmand.

Wood urged Salaam to tell his people to leave behind "the practice of producing poison," and said poppy production, the key element in the opium and heroin trade, was against the law and Islam.

"In Musa Qala the price of bread has risen dramatically. I won't say why — you know why," Wood said, alluding to farmers' practice of growing poppies instead of needed food.
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Time to shift away from Afghan combat role: NATO
Updated Mon. Jan. 14 2008 10:08 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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NATO agrees its time for the role of foreign troops in Afghanistan to shift away from one of combat to one of support, says a spokesperson for the international organization.

James Appathurai discussed the NATO position as Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff visited the war-torn nation and called for Canada to stay on beyond February 2009 when the mission is scheduled to end, but in a non-combat role.

"I think actually we all agree on the end state -- NATO and I think probably the political parties here too -- and that's transition," Appathurai, a Canadian, told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

"We want to move to a phase where the Afghans are in the lead and we provide support, training, close air support, emergency support but let them do the frontline fighting. It's a question of when."

Appathurai, who recently returned from a visit to the Panjwaii region of Afghanistan, said that transition -- which many see as no more than a distant and unlikely possibility -- may actually not be that far off.

"We have two Afghan battalions now, with Canadian troops, and taking an increasingly leading role. But the key is, from my perspective but also from NATO's perspective, we haven't reached a tipping point. We're not at the phase where we can take that step."

Canada has taken a lead role in the volatile south of Afghanistan, facing the Taliban head on and taking casualties, with 76 soldiers and one diplomat now killed since 2002 -- and several more injured over the weekend.
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Two dead following attack on Kabul luxury hotel
Updated Mon. Jan. 14 2008 10:30 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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At least two guards are reported dead following a suicide bomber's attack at a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The story is developing and the death toll could change.

The Taliban is claiming responsibility for Monday's attack at the five-star Serena Hotel, which may have also left some guards wounded.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said four militants were involved in the attack.

Three used small arms to create a distraction while a fourth entered the hotel compound to detonate his suicide vest.

They were targeting "senior foreign military officers," according to Mujahid.

There were reports of fighting between the attackers and the hotel's security guards. The assault occurred just after 6 p.m. local time.

Vanessa Valentino, an American working in the Afghan capital, said she heard a faint explosion, gunfire, another faint explosion and then a large blast.
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Japan Sails Again
WSJ, Jan. 14 (editorial)

The Japanese Diet voted Friday to resume an antiterror mission in the Indian Ocean -- to which we say, welcome back to the fight. It's a signal that Washington's staunchest ally in Asia hasn't abandoned its recent ambition to play a greater role in international security, especially in its own part of the world.

The legislation reauthorizes the naval refueling mission that Japan launched in 2001 in support of the U.S.-led coalition's military operations in Afghanistan. Tokyo ordered its ships home after the original law expired in November and the opposition blocked an extension.

The vote was the first big political test for Japan's new Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda. Mr. Fukuda fought hard to revive the antiterror mission, to the extent of dusting off a constitutional provision allowing a two-thirds majority in the lower house to override an upper house action. The "constitutional option" hadn't been used since 1951 and in Japan's consensus-driven political world it required so much political capital that Mr. Fukuda is unlikely to be able to use it again during his tenure.

From an operational standpoint, the role of Japan's ships isn't critical, and the coalition in Afghanistan has coped just fine in the past two months without them. But Tokyo's participation had sent a strong message to friend and enemy alike and its pullout was a symbolic blow.

Under the leadership of recent Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, Japan began to accept more responsibility for its own national defense and to play a larger role in international security affairs. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Fukuda fully shares his predecessors' vision of a revitalized, strong Japan, but last week's vote suggests he understands what's at stake.

Gates recommends additional troops for Afghanistan
Reuters, Jan. 14

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that additional troops be sent to Afghanistan to augment NATO forces, but no final decision has been made [emphasis added] on the deployment, defense officials said on Monday.

Gates has forwarded a recommendation to the White House in prelude to discussions with President George W. Bush and other top administration officials, the officials said.

But the officials said Gates would not issue a deployment order until after briefing Bush, who is visiting the Middle East until Wednesday.

"A recommendation has been forwarded for discussion. But at this point, no decision has been made. We're still waiting," Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Mark Wright told Reuters.

Wright declined to discuss details of the recommendation.

A relevant piece by a US Marine who served in Iraq:

The Lessons of Iraq


Allies Feel Strain of Afghan War
Troop Levels Among Issues Dividing U.S., NATO Countries

Washington Post, Jan. 15

The U.S. plan to send an additional 3,200 Marines to troubled southern Afghanistan this spring reflects the Pentagon's belief that if it can't bully its recalcitrant NATO allies into sending more troops to the Afghan front, perhaps it can shame them into doing so, U.S. officials said.

But the immediate reaction to the proposed deployment from NATO partners fighting alongside U.S. forces was that it was about time the United States stepped up its own effort...

While Washington has long called for allies to send more forces, NATO countries involved in some of the fiercest fighting have complained that they are suffering the heaviest losses. The United States supplies about half of the 54,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, they say, but the British, Canadians and Dutch are engaged in regular combat in the volatile south.

"We have one-tenth of the troops and we do more fighting than you do," a Canadian official said of his country's 2,500 troops in Kandahar province. "So do the Dutch." The Canadian death rate, proportional to the overall size of its force, is higher than that of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, a Canadian government analysis concluded last year.

British officials note that the eastern region, where most U.S. forces are based, is far quieter than the Taliban-saturated center of British operations in Helmand, the country's top opium-producing province. The American rejoinder, spoken only in private with references to British operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is that superior U.S. skills have made it so...

When Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier visited Washington late last month, he reminded Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Canada's Afghan mandate expires in January 2009. With most of the Canadian public opposed to a continued combat role, he said, it is not certain that Ottawa can sustain it.

Bernier's message was that his minority government could make a better case at home if the United States would boost its own efforts in Afghanistan, according to Canadian and U.S. officials familiar with the conversation.

"I don't think he expected an express commitment that day that they would draw down in Iraq and buttress in Afghanistan," the Canadian official said. "But he certainly registered Canadian interest and that of the allies involved."

According to opinion polls, Canadians feel they have done their bit in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Stephen Harper last fall named an independent commission to study options -- continuing the combat mission, redeploying to more peaceful regions, or withdrawing in January 2009. The commission report, due this month, will form the basis of an upcoming parliamentary debate.

With a Taliban offensive expected in the spring, along with another record opium poppy crop, the new Marines will deploy to the British area in Helmand and will be available to augment Canadian forces in neighboring Kandahar [emphasis added]...

Many Europeans believe that the United States committed attention and resources to Iraq at Afghanistan's expense. But U.S. officials say the problems of NATO countries in Afghanistan have roots in not investing sufficiently in their militaries after the Cold War. Canada, U.S. officials say, needs American military airlift for its troops in Afghanistan because it got rid of a fleet of heavy lift helicopters.

At the same time that they want more from their partners, however, U.S. defense officials often disdain their abilities. No one, they insist, is as good at counterinsurgency as the U.S. military.

U.S. and British forces have long derided each other's counterinsurgency tactics. In Iraq, British commanders touted their successful "hearts and minds" efforts in Northern Ireland, tried to replicate them in southern Iraq, and criticized more heavy-handed U.S. operations in the north. Their U.S. counterparts say they are tired of hearing about Northern Ireland and point out that British troops largely did not quell sectarian violence in the south.

The same tensions have emerged in Afghanistan, where U.S. officials criticized what one called a "colonial" attitude that kept the British from retaining control over areas wrested from the Taliban. Disagreement leaked out publicly early last year when British troops withdrew from the Musa Qala district of Helmand after striking a deal with local tribal leaders. The tribal chiefs quickly relinquished control to the Taliban.

Britain, with a higher percentage of its forces deployed worldwide than the United States, is stretched thin in Afghanistan. Not only did the British have insufficient force strength to hold conquered territory, but the reconstruction and development assistance that was supposed to consolidate military gains did not arrive.

"It's worth reminding the Americans that the entire British army is smaller than the U.S. Marine Corps," said one sympathetic former U.S. commander in Afghanistan...

...programs to provide rural Afghans with alternative income sources remain underfunded and poorly coordinated. Each of NATO's regional Afghan commands operates its own provincial reconstruction teams, and scores of nongovernmental organizations work in the country. But with few exceptions -- such as Khost province under U.S. command in the east, where military and reconstruction resources are meshed -- they share no overriding strategy or operational rules.

The United States has pressed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a high-level representative to coordinate non-military activities in Afghanistan. Karzai has resisted, and Ban is said to be worried about taking responsibility for what he sees as a worsening situation.

Diplomatic niceties aside, Karzai utterly rejects Liberal Afghan policy
Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 14

Behind their courteous pleasantries, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his senior cabinet reject the Liberal position that Canada should end its combat mission in southern Afghanistan by February 2009.

Following Saturday's visit to Kabul by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and deputy Michael Ignatieff, the Grit notion that Canada's military mission can somehow be changed to focus less on combat and more on diplomacy and development simply didn't fly with the Afghan government.

Karzai spoke of the need to continue fighting terrorism "head on," while his foreign minister and parliamentary house leader emphasized the need for the Canadian Forces to stick to their primary purpose in Kandahar - fighting the Taliban insurgency...

...a statement from Karzai's office in Kabul said that while the president welcomed the visit and praised Canada's contributions, he "also emphasized the need to maintain the momentum that has been created in the south, in particular in Kandahar, to solidify the gains and provide consistency and continuity for the population as well as the government."

Karzai added: "The events of Sept. 11 serves us well in reminding ourselves that not fighting terrorism head-on can have disastrous consequences for Afghanistan, the region and the world at large."

Foreign Minister R. Dadfar Spanta said that international nations "need to protect and defend" gains made on the ground since the defeat of the country's former Taliban rulers six years ago. "He also highlighted the need for Canada's presence in Afghanistan to defend peace, fight terrorism, and help with stability in the country and the region."

Yunous Qanooni, the speaker of the lower house of the Afghan parliament and a former presidential candidate, said after the Liberal meeting, "we will need to continue the mission by international forces, especially the mission carried out by the Canadian troops."

Dion and Ignatieff were not swayed from their party's position on withdrawal by February 2009.

"It was as if they had carefully arranged to not allow any evidence on the ground to affect anything they had already said. It was, I guess, so they could say, we have been there," said Jack Granatstein, the Canadian military historian and an analyst for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute...

Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say
NY Times, Jan. 15

Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

The unusual disclosures regarding Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI — emerged in interviews last month with former senior Pakistani intelligence officials. The disclosures confirm some of the worst fears, and suspicions, of American and Western military officials and diplomats.

The interviews, a rare glimpse inside a notoriously secretive and opaque agency, offered a string of other troubling insights likely to refocus attention on the ISI’s role as Pakistan moves toward elections on Feb. 18 and a battle for control of the government looms..

Articles found January 15, 2008

Canadian soldier killed by roadside bomb
Updated Tue. Jan. 15 2008 1:09 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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A Canadian soldier was killed and another injured in southern Afghanistan Tuesday when the heavily armoured vehicle they were travelling in was struck by a roadside bomb.

Trooper Richard Renaud, 26, of Alma Que., died in the blast, which occurred at around 7:15 a.m. local time.

Renaud and the injured soldier, along with two others, were travelling in a Coyote vehicle in the Arghandab district -- about 10 kilometres north of Kandahar city.

Renaud was a member of the 12th Regiment of Blinde du Canada, Val Cartier, Que.

"I would like to convey my most sincere sympathies to the families of our lost comrade," Brig.-Gen Guy Laroche told reporters in Kandahar.

The injured Canadian soldier, who has not been identified, was taken to hospital at Kandahar Airfield and has since been released, said Laroche.

The soldiers were part of a routine 'presence patrol' -- intended to demonstrate to local people and insurgents that Canadian forces remain active in the area.

"We go there often, it's something that we do on a regular basis following the operation that we conducted last November in the Arghandab district," said Laroche.
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NATO bickering over Afstan
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
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Further to this post on the Marines' going, there's this major story in the Washington Post, which devotes, unusually, a lot of attention to the US's allies:

The U.S. plan to send an additional 3,200 Marines to troubled southern Afghanistan this spring reflects the Pentagon's belief that if it can't bully its recalcitrant NATO allies into sending more troops to the Afghan front, perhaps it can shame them into doing so, U.S. officials said.

But the immediate reaction to the proposed deployment from NATO partners fighting alongside U.S. forces was that it was about time the United States stepped up its own effort...

While Washington has long called for allies to send more forces, NATO countries involved in some of the fiercest fighting have complained that they are suffering the heaviest losses. The United States supplies about half of the 54,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, they say, but the British, Canadians and Dutch are engaged in regular combat in the volatile south.

"We have one-tenth of the troops and we do more fighting than you do," a Canadian official said of his country's 2,500 troops in Kandahar province. "So do the Dutch." The Canadian death rate, proportional to the overall size of its force, is higher than that of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, a Canadian government analysis concluded last year.
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Envoy warns Dion on combat role
TheStar.com - January 15, 2008 Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Afghan ambassador says call for less violent mission could undo gains made by Canadians in the south

OTTAWA–Calls by the federal Liberals for a new, non-combat role for Canadian troops in Afghanistan could undo the gains made so far and mean the sacrifices made by slain soldiers have been in vain, says Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada.

Omar Samad says that message was delivered to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion when he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Saturday.

Dion wants Canadian troops to take on a less dangerous role once their current assignment in Kandahar runs out in a year. But Karzai delivered a pointed reminder to Dion that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had their roots in Afghanistan and warned that the country's stability is not yet assured.

"The Afghans do not want a relapse, especially to pre-9/11 conditions," Samad said yesterday in an interview.

"This type of threat, in the form of terrorism and extremism, needs to be dealt with directly and head-on. That point had been made by the president."

After his meeting on Saturday, Dion said Karzai would "welcome" whatever role Canada plays in rebuilding his troubled country even if it's not a combat mission.

But yesterday, Samad suggested that while Afghanistan would "respect" Canada's decision on the future of the mission, it might not welcome a decision to withdraw Canadian soldiers before Afghan security forces are ready to take over.

"Decisions have to be made in a co-ordinated fashion," Samad said. "Also we have to be mindful of timeliness, for example the readiness and capacity of the Afghan security forces to not only control the situation but protect civilians and be able to perform their duty."
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Tanks to hit the Yellowhead
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Tanks rolled through Edmonton's streets early this morning, clogging the Yellowhead before the rush hour started.

In preparation for exercises taking place in Fort Bliss, Texas, next month, 42 armoured vehicles drove in six convoys from CFB Edmonton to the Bissell Railyard where they were loaded on rails for the rest of their journey.


The convoys of seven vehicles each, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and other support vehicles, hit the roads between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

"We're doing it at four in the morning because we're trying to avoid impacting traffic," said Capt. Mark Peebles, public affairs officer for 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group.

"Armoured vehicles, especially 42 of them, take a fair bit of space so we're trying to avoid impact on civilian traffic."

The convoys drove south from the base along 97 Street before turning west onto the Yellowhead Trail to the railyards at 156 Street.
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Less combat, more diplomacy idea doesn't fly with Afghanistan's leader
Karzai reiterates need to stay the course, rejects goal of Canadian Liberal leader
Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service Published: 1:00 am
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Behind their courteous pleasantries, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his senior cabinet reject the Liberal position that Canada should end its combat mission in southern Afghanistan by February 2009.

Following Saturday's visit to Kabul by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and deputy Michael Ignatieff, the Grit notion that Canada's military mission can somehow be changed to focus less on combat and more on diplomacy and development simply didn't fly with the Afghan government.

Karzai spoke of the need to continue fighting terrorism "head on," while his foreign minister and parliamentary house leader emphasized the need for the Canadian Forces to stick to their primary purpose in Kandahar -- fighting the Taliban insurgency.
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Canadian military begins travel to Fort Bliss
Times staff and wire report Article Launched: 01/14/2008 02:59:48 PM MST
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A Canadian brigade along with 42 tanks, armored engineering vehicles and armored personnel carriers will be traveling through Edmonton Tuesday before making their way to Fort Bliss for training.
Exercise Southern Bear, taking place at Fort Bliss in February, will include two Canadian mechanized brigades.

The exercise, designed to prepare soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan in 2008, will involve roughly 3,300 soldiers, with the overwhelming majority of them based in Ontario at CFB Petawawa, according to a news release from Canada's Land Force Central Area - Dept of National Defence.

Involved in the exercise will be members of the Canadian Battle Group, Provincial Reconstruction Team, Observer Mentor Liaison Team, National Support Element and the Headquarters for Joint Task Force Afghanistan Rotation 5.
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Norwegian journalist killed in Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-15 06:25:14      Print
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    STOCKHOLM, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Norwegian journalist Carsten Thomassen was killed in a terrorist attack on Monday in Afghan capital Cabul, according to a statement posted on the Norwegian Foreign Ministry website.

    Thomassen was one of journalists who were accompanying Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere on his visit to Afghanistan, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said.

    "I was deeply saddened to learn that Carsten's life could not be saved following the terrorist attack on Hotel Serena," the Norwegian foreign minister said in the statement.

    "Carsten was dedicated to his work as a journalist. All of us who were together with Carsten in Kabul are filled with grief and despair," the foreign minister added.

    An employee of Norwegian Foreign Ministry was also wounded and was sent to a hospital for treatment together with Carsten Thomassen, according to reports reaching here from Oslo.
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The Wacko-Vet Myth
Now echoed by the New York Times.
by John J. DiIulio Jr. 01/14/2008 4:00:00 PM
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IN A PAGE-ONE STORY published Sunday, January 13, 2008, "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles," the New York Times reported on homicides by veterans of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven Times reporters contributed to the lengthy story, which was co-authored by Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez.

The Times "found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war." All but one case involved male veterans. They speculated that their research "most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings" were "reported publicly or in detail," and because "it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges."

The Times cited experts including Robert Jay Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who "used to run 'rap groups' for Vietnam veterans and fought to earn recognition for what became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD." The story noted that numerous "studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse--and criminality." It also quoted criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman: "The real tragedy in these veterans' cases is that, where PTSD is a factor, it is highly treatable. . . .
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Roadside blast kills former provincial governor in S Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-15 16:05:46      Print
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    KABUL, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- A roadside bomb blast triggered by remote-control has killed two tribal elders, including a former provincial governor, in Tirin Kot district of southern Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, the police said Tuesday.

    "The two were heading towards their houses from a mosque at around 7:00 p.m. (1430 GMT) Monday when the bomb exploded," Uruzgan's police chief Juma Gul Himat told Xinhua.

    Fazl Rabi once served as Uruzgan governor during the Mohammad Najibullah regime in the 1990s and deputy governor of Uruzgan in 2003-2004, Himat said.

    No one or group took the responsibility yet.

    Militancy-related violence left over 6,000 people dead in war-torn Afghanistan in 2007, the bloodiest year since the Taliban regime were toppled six years ago.

    Both Afghans and NATO commanders have expected more militants attacks this year in Afghanistan.
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Articles found January  16, 2008

Canadian soldier killed in early morning IED blast in southern Afghanistan 
BY TOBI COHEN The Canadian Press—Kandahar, Afghanistan
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Canada’s 77th soldier has died in Afghanistan after the vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device early Tuesday in southern Afghanistan.
Trooper Richard Renaud, 26, of Alma Que., a member of the 12e Regiment blinde du Canada was killed in the blast involving a Coyote light armoured vehicle.
Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche said Renaud and three other soldiers were involved in a reconnaissance patrol in the Arghandab district, about 10 kilometres north of Kandahar city, when the attack occurred around 7:15 a.m. local time.
One other soldier suffered minor injuries and was evacuated by land to hospital at Kandahar Airfield. He has since been released.
“This is a very emotional time for the family and friends of Trooper Renaud and our thoughts are with them,” Laroche said.
“Our brave men and women have a dangerous but important job to do but our determination to carry out our mission is stronger than ever.”
This was the third IED strike against Canadian soldiers in as many days but Laroche said the attacks have happened in different places and don’t appear to be co-ordinated.
Laroche said troops have been conducting regular patrols in Arghandab since beating back Taliban insurgents during an operation in late October.
While the lush fruit-growing region has typically been calm, insurgents sought to move in following the death of revered warlord and Taliban enemy Mullah Naqib.
Naqib’s son and newly appointed district leader Kareemullah Naquibi has since been struggling to win the support of his constituents.
Noting this doesn’t appear to be a sign the Taliban is moving back into the district which is considered a strategic gateway into Kandahar city, Laroche said IED attacks are simply the Taliban’s “weapon of choice.”
Improvised explosive devices are responsible for most of the 77 deaths suffered by Canadian soldiers since the mission began in 2002.
An IED attack in the volatile Panjwaii district Monday resulted only in property damage.
Four soldiers, however, were injured Sunday in Zangabad, about 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city, when their vehicle struck an IED that was planted along a dirt road.
The troops were involved in a road clearance patrol aimed at finding and defusing mines.
Jonathan Dion, a 27-year-old gunner with 5e Regiment d’Artillerie legere du Canada from Val-d’Or, Que., was the last soldier to die as a result of a roadside bomb Dec. 30.
It appears Taliban insurgents have escalated attacks across the country over the last few days.
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Canada eyes leaner role in Afghanistan
TheStar.com -  January 16, 2008 Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa bureau chief
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OTTAWA – Canada should reduce its contingent of combat troops in Kandahar and focus on training Afghan police and army officers to eventually take over security duties in southern Afghanistan.

That's likely to be among the chief recommendations when a federal panel created to study the future of Canada's Afghan mission after February 2009 releases its long-awaited report early next week.

The federal panel, led by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley, is likely to endorse the transformation of the mission from combat to training that is already underway.

"I hear the recommendations will support the mission in Kandahar with a transformation of the approach to the mission which is already happening," said Alain Pellerin, of the Conference of Defence Associations, a lobby group active on defence issues.
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Foreigners in Afghanistan now key targets for Taleban's suicide bombers
Nick Meo January 16, 2008
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A young Pakistan-based warlord with links to al-Qaeda was blamed yesterday for a suicide assault on a luxury Kabul hotel, as the Taleban threatened a new wave of attacks against foreign civilians.

At least one suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest as gunmen stormed into the Kabul Serena hotel, shooting guests and employees in an attack that appeared to mark a ruthless development in the tactics of the Taleban.

Two more victims died yesterday, bringing the total killed to eight, including a Filipina spa supervisor who was shot along with three guests in the hotel gym. A Norwegian journalist, three Americans and a French woman were also reported killed, as well as an Afghan woman employee, although there were conflicting reports of casualty numbers. Several more people were wounded.

Aid workers and diplomats are concerned at the prospect of a terror campaign directed against foreign civilians, who since 2001 have largely been spared the attacks. The suicide bombing has highlighted the problem of how to protect thousands of foreigners working on aid and reconstruction projects in Kabul, where there is no Baghdad-style protected “green zone”.
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John Turley-Ewart: Dion's misleading call to abandon Afghanistan
Posted: January 15, 2008, 5:42 PM by John Turley-Ewart
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When the tragic news of another Canadian death in Afghanistan was released Tuesday, federal Liberals praised the Canadian Forces for “put[ting] themselves in harm’s way to create a safe and secure world for the people of Afghanistan.” So what were the party’s two most powerful politicians doing in the country undercutting that very mission?
Stéphane Dion was promoted as a principled, honest political leader — an academic-turned-pol who would do politics differently from Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and their amoral lieutenants. Yet when he emerged from his Saturday meeting in Kabul with the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, Mr. Dion, flanked by his deputy, Michael Ignatieff, was sounding the language of cut-and-run.
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Taliban Resurgence Strains Alliance in Afghanistan
by Tom Bowman January 16, 2008
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates is sending more than 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan to guard against a possible Taliban offensive in the spring. This comes after the U.S. was unsuccessful in getting NATO to boost its own forces there. With the steadily rising violence in Afghanistan, there are deeper questions about the alliance itself.

More than six years after they were toppled in Afghanistan, Taliban forces are resurgent. An average of 400 attacks occurred each month in 2006. That number rose to more than 500 a month in 2007.

"It appears to be a much more capable Taliban, a stronger Taliban than when I was there," says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was the top commander in Afghanistan from 2003 through 2005. "Just the size of engagements, the casualties reflected in the Taliban [attacks] show a stronger force."
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Paddy Ashdown to become 'super envoy' in Afghanistan
January 16, 2008
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Paddy Ashdown was said today to have agreed terms for him to become the new United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the former Liberal Democrat leader, was said by United Nations sources to have accepted the role. A formal announcement is expected to follow, although his precise responsibilities have yet to be confirmed.

He has been keep to do the job but has insisted on been given enhanced powers to give him the scope and authority he felt were needed to undertake the role. Otherwise he felt the job would not be worth doing, he had told friends.

His conditions required extra negotiation and approval, particularly from the Americans. There were also sensitivities within the Afghan government about beefing up the role in a way that carries echoes of a British colonial-style governor.
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Admiral: Pakistan OKs bigger U.S. role
AP, Jan, 16

Pakistan is taking a more welcoming view of U.S. suggestions for using American troops to train and advise its own forces in the fight against anti-government extremists, the commander of U.S. forces in that region said Wednesday.

Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, said he believes increased violence inside Pakistan in recent months has led Pakistani leaders to conclude that they must focus more intensively on extremist al-Qaida hideouts near the border with Afghanistan...

"My sense is there is an increased willingness to address these problems, and we're going to try to help them," Fallon said. He said U.S. assistance would be "more robust," but he offered few details. "There is more willingness to do that now" on Pakistan's part, he said.

The Bush administration's anxiety about Pakistan's stability has grown in recent months, not only because of its potential implications for U.S. stability efforts in neighboring Afghanistan but also because of worry about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal...

"Our guys really get it," he said, referring to the 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He said they are making inroads against the Taliban insurgency and he sees prospects for more gains this year.

Asked to assess the performance of NATO troops, who are in charge of the overall security mission, Fallon demurred [emphasis added].

"I will not pass judgment" on NATO's efforts, he said, noting that he was aware of a Los Angeles Times story published Wednesday that quoted Gates as questioning the competence of NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan, heartland of the Pashtun tribal area that gave rise to the Taliban movement.

"I'm worried we're deploying (military advisors) that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations," Gates was quoted as saying in a Times interview.

In Washington, Gates' spokesman Geoff Morrell said the secretary had "read the article and is disturbed by what he read."

Morrell did not challenge the accuracy of the quotes in the story, but said he thought it left the wrong impression — that Gates had singled out a particular country.

"For the record he did not — to the L.A. Times or at any time otherwise — ever criticize publicly any single country for their performance in or commitment to the mission in Afghanistan," Morrell told Pentagon reporters in Washington.

Instead, Morrell said Gates had pointed out that "NATO as an alliance, does not train for counterinsurgency. The alliance has never had to do it before."

Fallon said he is overseeing a review of the Afghanistan mission, including not only the security effort but also the work in the political and economic realms [emphasis added]...

Lord Ashdown set for UN role in Afghanistan
Daily Telegraph, Jan, 17

Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, is on the verge of becoming the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan, it has emerged.

This key position would give Lord Ashdown a central role in the international effort to restore stability in Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban insurgency.

Lord Ashdown, 66, who previously served as the international community's high representative in Bosnia, would report directly to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general.

His formal title in Kabul would be Special Representative of the Secretary General...

Articles found January 17, 2008

You and Whose Army, Stephane?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
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Stephane Dion says if Pakistan won't clean the insurgents and terrorists out of its ungovernable tribal areas, NATO forces should go in and do it for them.

Say what?

This is what the National Spot claims Dion said: "We are going to have to discuss that very actively if they (the Pakistanis) are not able to deal with it on their own. We could consider that option with the NATO forces in order to help Pakistan help us pacify Afghanistan."

At the same time Dion proposed NATO take on a mission in Pakistan far tougher than the one it's currently bungling in Afghanistan, the Liberal leader reiterated that he wants Canadian troops out of their Kandahar combat mission very soon.

Is this guy serious? Just where does Dion think NATO is going to conjure up the masses of troops that would be needed to attempt to conquer and occupy Pakistan's tribal lands? Dion seems to think the answer is easy.

"For the mission to succeed, NATO must apply the principle of rotation. When a country is in the most difficult combat mission during three years, there must be a time for rotation," he said.
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Canada plays down Gates critique of NATO Afghan force
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OTTAWA (AFP) — Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay on Wednesday played down criticism of the capabilities of NATO troops in Afghanistan by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying Gates told him the remarks were reported out of context.

Noting that Gates praised Canada's military performance just the day before, MacKay said Gates had just told him by telephone that comments published in the Los Angeles Times that most NATO forces were ill-trained to fight insurgencies were "taken out of context."

"They were comments made of a general nature about the need to focus training of NATO and the alliance on counter insurgency," MacKay said of Gates' explanation.

"He made similar comments, quite frankly, when we were in Scotland at the RC south (the southern Afghanistan regional command) defense ministers conference talking about the need to specifically gear training of the NATO alliance towards counter-insurgency," MacKay said.

"And so his comments were certainly not directed at Canada."

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates said: "I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counter-insurgency operations" in Afghanistan.
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Despite string of local casualties, Quebeckers stand behind Canadian troops
INGRID PERITZ January 17, 2008
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MONTREAL -- The soldiers returning in flag-draped caskets have names like Longtin, Lévesque, Dion and now Renaud. Since CFB Valcartier's troops started shipping out to Afghanistan last summer, nine men from Quebec have paid with their lives.

Each casualty has left local communities grieving and spawned strong coverage in the Quebec media. Yet the death toll has not significantly altered public opinion in the province.

Before troops from Valcartier deployed, some expected a rising death count to cause support for the Afghan mission in Canada's most pacifist-minded province to collapse.

Yet as the troops' tour winds down, the death toll has neither inflamed anti-war passions nor sparked a burst of support-the-troops fervour.
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Afghanistan veteran saves man, dog from fire
UNNATI GANDHI January 17, 2008
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Corporal Spencer Curry had just grabbed a coffee and was about to make the 300-kilometre drive home to Sudbury from a job interview yesterday morning when he saw plumes of thick, black smoke coming out of a small Timmins apartment building.

While he doesn't find out until tomorrow whether he got the security position at a local mining company, the 35-year-old - who returned from a six-month tour in Afghanistan last year - is being hailed as a hero for saving a man and his dog.

The Canadian Forces Reserve soldier pulled his car over to the side of the road about 10:30 a.m., ran over to a man watching the flames and asked if anyone was inside. The Timmins Fire Department was on its way, he was told, but there might still be someone upstairs.

"I ran around to the back and there was smoke billowing out from the apartment, so I kicked in buddy's door and there was a little puppy there," Cpl. Curry said from Sudbury last night.
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No-nonsense Afghanistan envoy for UNFrom correspondents in London
January 17, 2008 03:30am Article from: Agence France-Presse
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PADDY Ashdown, who is to be appointed United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, ruled Bosnia with an iron hand during more than three years as the country's international envoy.

The former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats has carved out a new career as an international envoy, drawing on his military past and no-nonsense leadership skills.

Mr Ashdown, 66, enjoyed sweeping powers as Bosnia moved to update its system of government a decade after the Dayton peace accords that ended its 1992-1995 war.

Appointed in May 2002, the former British marine commando's authoritarian style led some analysts to label him a "colonial-style governor".

In June 2004, Mr Ashdown sacked 60 Bosnian Serb officials including the president of the main nationalist Serb Democratic Party and interior minister over suspicions they were part of a support network of war crimes suspects at large, notably wartime leader Radovan Karadzic.
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Fallen Canadian soldier remembered for his passion for military life, mission
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RIMOUSKI, Que. - One of two Canadian soldiers killed in a rollover accident earlier this month in Afghanistan was laid to rest Wednesday in his hometown in eastern Quebec.

An estimated 800 people filled Saint-Robert Church in Rimouski to pay their last respects to Cpl. Eric Labbe.

Labbe, 31, and warrant officer Hani Massouh, 41, died on Jan. 6 when their light armoured vehicle (LAV) toppled over on its side in wet, rugged terrain southwest of Kandahar city.

The eulogies touched on Labbe's commitment to the mission and his passion for military life.

It was Labbe's second mission abroad since joining the Canadian Forces in September 2001.

At the conclusion of the civic funeral service, a brief military ceremony was held outdoors and Labbe's beret and the Canadian flag that adorned his casket were given to his grief-stricken mother.

A military funeral for Massouh will be held in Quebec City on Thursday
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US ex-congressman indicted in terror funding case
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WASHINGTON (AFP) — A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted a former US lawmaker for his links to a charity that sent funds to an Afghanistan-based supporter of Al-Qaeda through banks in Pakistan.

Former Republican representative Mark Deli Siljander was named in a 42-count indictment against the Missouri-based Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), charged with "engaging in prohibited financial transactions for the benefit of US-designated terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar," the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

Siljander, 57, faces money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges in the case.

Hekmatyar is an Islamist rebel leader who received US aid in the 1980s to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He briefly served as Afghan prime minister in the 1990s and initially opposed the Taliban regime, but then switched sides after the October 2001 US-led invasion.

According to the indictment, in 2003 and 2004 IARA sent some 130,000 dollars to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan "purportedly for an orphanage housed in buildings owned and controlled by Hekmatyar" -- who is believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan while leading his Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) faction.
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Islamic militants capture Pakistani fort
McClatchy Newspapers
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Hundreds of Islamic militants overran and occupied a fort near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan in a bold assault that left as many as 47 people dead.

Wednesday’s loss of the Sararogha Fort was a significant blow to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s efforts to re-establish control over the frontier region of South Waziristan, which has become a base for Taliban and al-Qaida operations.

Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants fled after a U.S. assault drove them out of Afghanistan in 2001, is fast overtaking Iraq as the central front in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

U.S. officials are increasingly worried that if militants seize control of the region, they could establish an even more secure terrorist base than the one they already have and further destabilize Pakistan’s shaky central government.

A group of militants led by Baitullah Mehsud, a local chief who Pakistani authorities charge was behind last month’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The leader of the Mehsud tribe that runs much of South Warizistan, Mehsud commands thousands of men and heads the Pakistani version of the Taliban. Pakistani authorities say he also is closely linked to al-Qaida.

“This was a very intense attack, and the number of the militants this time was quite large,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistani army spokesman.
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Kabul hotel attack a shock but it's business as usual
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KABUL (AFP) — A deadly strike on a luxury Kabul hotel opened to fanfare two years ago as a high-security haven has driven home the Taliban's reach and shaken confidence in the restive nation, analysts and officials say.

They said Monday's attack -- the latest in a series of increasingly deadly Taliban suicide blasts -- may not ultimately significantly affect international efforts in Afghanistan.

But what most shocked people was that the extremists were able to penetrate the capital's most secure hotel, the Kabul Serena, previously seen as an oasis of peace and luxury in a troubled land.

"There were many guests who used to say to us they would never come to Kabul if the Serena did not exist," a hotel spokesman said on condition his name was not used.

"Of course they are going to find it difficult to come here in the future."

That the attackers came as visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was about to host a dinner meeting "is also going to have implications," he admitted.

Such was its status that Australia located its embassy there -- it has now moved its staffers out.
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Calgary reservists to join Afghan mission
Calgary Herald Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008
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As Calgary soldiers prepare to leave one of the city's biggest single military deployments in at least a half-century, Calgarians are being urged to show support for their local soldiers.

There are 115 Calgary soldiers bound for Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

They will join about 2,400 other Canadian soldiers in Kandahar in February.

More than half of this city's deploying soldiers are members of the Calgary Highlanders, a local infantry reserve unit.

"This is the largest Highlanders deployment since the Second World War," said retired lieutenant Barry Agnew, curator of the Calgary Highlanders Museum and Archives.

"History begins today."

The entire city is behind the soldiers, said Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

"It's an important mission."
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Army Chief May Shorten Tours In Iraq, Afghanistan by Summer
Washington Post, Jan. 17

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, said yesterday he hopes to shorten the 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan this summer. The move would end a policy, required by the buildup of nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq last year, that has placed significant stress on soldiers and their families.

Casey suggested that the withdrawal from Iraq of five U.S. Army combat brigades by July could allow soldiers once again to deploy for 12 months and then spend a year at home, although he cautioned that a decision will depend on conditions in Iraq...

Fight in Afghanistan
It's becoming clear that the war must be won by U.S. troops, and not by NATO.
Washington Post, Jan. 17

THE BUSH administration's decision to dispatch an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan raises the question of whether NATO's participation in the war has been a failure. Though the United States already provides more than half of the 53,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, the additional Marines are needed because no other NATO country was willing, despite months of pleading and cajoling by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, to commit fresh forces to the troubled southern provinces where the Taliban has made a comeback.

What's more, Mr. Gates and other senior Pentagon officials seem to have concluded that the three NATO countries that have been willing to operate in the south -- Britain, Canada and the Netherlands -- have been relatively ineffective...

...NATO's involvement in Afghanistan has done some good. Deployments in more peaceful areas of the country, as well as Kabul, fulfill a peacekeeping role that might otherwise fall to American troops. The commitment of 25 other NATO governments (as well as 13 other countries) to the Afghan mission makes the operation more palatable both to Afghans and to Americans. Though many countries restrict their troops from combat, the British, Canadians and Dutch have made contributions in blood, suffering a total of 177 fatalities; 480 U.S. soldiers have been killed.

It nevertheless is a good thing that Marines rather than European soldiers will deploy in Helmand [emphasis added] province this spring to head off any Taliban offensive. Defeating the Afghan insurgency will require the United States to take on a larger part of the fighting. Success will also require U.S. commanders to insist that a more coherent, nationwide counterinsurgency strategy be pursued -- including aggressive training of the Afghan army and police, economic development that is centrally coordinated, and a focused attack on the opium business that supplies most of the Taliban's funding. If that means downgrading NATO's role or bruising the feelings of some allied governments, so be it [emphasis added].

NATO Allies Bristle at Criticisms From Gates
Washington Post, Jan. 17

Some of the United States' closest NATO allies expressed anger and astonishment Wednesday at published statements by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates describing their forces as poorly trained for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Gates's comments, which were reported in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, came the day after the Pentagon announced it would send about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan because NATO allies had failed to contribute more troops.

The main forces fighting Taliban efforts to regroup in southern Afghanistan include some of Washington's staunchest allies -- Canada, Britain and the Netherlands.

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middlekoop, whose government recently extended its commitment in Afghanistan for two years despite increasing public opposition, summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain Gates's criticism...

In Britain, Conservative Party lawmaker Patrick Mercer called the remarks "outrageous," the Associated Press reported.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that the Dutch minister had summoned the ambassador, but he denied that the meeting had been "one of these sort of finger-wagging sessions and that it got emotional."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: "The secretary is not backing off his fundamental criticism that NATO needs to do a better job in training for counterinsurgency. But he is not -- nor has he ever -- criticized any particular nation for their service in Afghanistan."

"The article was wrong in suggesting that he criticized individual countries," Morrell said of Gates. "In fact, he has routinely praised the Canadians, the Brits, the Dutch and the Australians who are in the fight in southern Afghanistan. He appreciates their service. He's sympathetic for the losses they have suffered."

Morrell said Gates believes that NATO must train its troops better to deal with insurgents conducting asymmetric attacks and that, in particular, NATO training teams in Afghanistan must have such skills in order to properly teach and mentor Afghan security forces.

Gates telephoned the Canadian defense minister, Peter MacKay, Wednesday to explain what he had said. MacKay later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that Gates had expressed only strong praise for Canada's role [emphasis added]...

Dutch, Canadian, British, Australian and U.S. forces are conducting most of the military operations in southern Afghanistan, long the Taliban's stronghold. Rugged Uruzgan province, where many of the allied troops are based, is the home territory of the Taliban's one-eyed leader, Mohammad Omar.

The parliaments of the European countries with troops in the south had approved the deployments [I don't think there was any UK Commons' vote; the Brits rely on Crown prerogative, as we used to do] on the assumption that their forces would be involved primarily in nation-building projects to help Afghanistan recover from war. Instead, they have encountered some of the toughest combat in the entire Afghan theater...


Petty office politics at home may derail another part of our 3D strategy:


The long knives

The long knives in Ottawa are out for Canada's Strategic Advisory Team - Afghanistan (SAT-A), and the Globe & Mail eggs on those who would end this most effective mission:

The Globe's Christie Blatchford reported on Monday that Canadian diplomats have convinced officials at DFAIT and in the Prime Minister's Office to end the SAT's mission by the end of the year. There are suspicions that the push is intended to pre-empt the results of John Manley's report on the future of the Afghan mission. It is also suggested by some defenders of the SAT that internecine battles with other, civilian agencies of the Canadian government are responsible for the moves to shut the team down. Both are likely true. But regardless of the motivation behind any moves to end the mission, the decision is the right one. For all their talents, Canada's soldiers are best equipped to soldier.

From what I understand, all of it is true - except the part about it being the right decision. That's just not the case.

Oh, in a perfect world, you would have a self-sustaining Afghan civil service that could train their own. But after decades of war, the skill sets required to construct and operate a professional government bureaucracy simply aren't available indigenously. That's why Gen Rick Hillier set the team up in the first place (pdf):

An initiative of General Hillier, based on his International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) experience, the Strategic Advisory Team - Afghanistan (SAT-A) is a group of strategic planners that has been assigned to the Afghan Presidency to assist in the development of the kind of plans necessary to achieve the nation’s objectives. During his tenure in command of ISAF, General Hillier identified that Afghanistan had visionary leadership but that, at the same time, the machinery of government and the human capacity of the civil service had been decimated by three decades of conflict. To partially fill this critical gap, he provided military planners to the Afghan Minister of Finance to assist in the development of a both a long-term framework for development and the first post-Taliban national budget. This highly successful experiment was dropped by his more conventional successors in command and only rejuvenated after the now CDS visited Afghanistan and President Karzai in the Spring of 2005. During that visit, General Hillier committed to provide a small team for a year.

The help is largely mechanical - that is to say, the process-oriented planning so familiar to staff officers in professional militaries around the world:

It became clear that the people tasked to develop Afghanistan’s national development strategy were very bright but they had no planning experience. I told the team, stay out of the substance. We don’t know, for example, what this country needs in terms of the amount of water coming off the Hindu Kush each year; our job was to help put all of those inputs into a coherent plan.

There is a lot of international help in Kabul – technical assistance from big organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, various UN agencies – but they tend to act as consultants. I decided early on that we did not want to be competing or in the way of these organizations. There was enough high-priced help mentoring cabinet ministers, and being special advisors. Where the Afghans most needed help was at the working level. We’d work right in their offices. And if they did not assign Afghan counterparts to work with us fulltime we’d go somewhere else. We were going to help them build capacity; we weren’t there to replace capacity.

That quickly earned us trust and respect. They realized we were serious, that in typical military fashion our team would show up for work every morning. The Afghans are not used to that with internationals. We ate lunch and bonded with them. In Ramadan, we respected their culture by not eating or drinking in their sight during daylight hours.

Most importantly, we did not do it for the Afghans. For example, when they started work on the ANDS, the Afghans were trying to figure out how to coordinate all the various inputs they were getting from cabinet ministers, the World Bank, IMF, UN, and various academics and experts on Afghanistan working out of places like New York and Delhi. A young helicopter pilot and an infantry officer created the framework for a database in which all these inputs could be populate and cross-referenced, but the Afghans had to do the actual work – we couldn’t do it because much of the material was in Dari.

That initial year has stretched in a multi-year operation, at the request of the Afghan government. And now the reining-in of the Canadian Forces by our government and their hired hands continues, for no real discernable reason other than that some in Ottawa are concerned the CF is getting too big for its britches.

Resistance to this operation has been apparent since its inception, as Col (ret'd) Mike Capstick tells us, while reminding doubters of the very sound reasons the team is so effective:

Although the team does include a senior Defence Scientist as our analyst and a capacity development expert contracted by CIDA, it is essentially staffed by the Canadian Forces. Some have questioned the legitimacy of using military planners in this role, and there have been suggestions that other agencies would be better suited to the task. Although this concern is understandable, there are practical advantages to using the CF as the basis of the SAT. In addition to the obvious education, training and experience in disciplined and rigorous strategic planning techniques that military officers bring to the table, the CF is really the only arm of the Canadian government that can quickly and continually generate the requisite numbers of people with the training and will to work in an austere and, at times, unstable environment. Most importantly, the SAT-A initiative is explicit recognition that the character of armed conflict has undergone a major transformation since the end of the Cold War and that traditional concepts for the use of armed force are insufficient to establish a lasting peace. [my emphasis]

The team includes both military and civilian personnel. The CF members on this rotation were a mix of Regulars and Reservists from all three components. The planning team members brought a very wide range of training, education and experience to the operation and quickly demonstrated the intellectual agility and adaptability demanded by today’s operations.

Col George Petrolekas, another officer intimately involved with the genesis of the project, even provides a personal anecdote to illustrate the depth of the problem:

Former ambassador Chris Alexander, along with his key staff and high-ranking NATO officials whom I met to confirm Mr. Karzai's request, were unequivocal in endorsing the plan. Yet, even then, they cautioned that this team would become a lightning rod of envy for those who did not comprehend it or felt threatened by it. That warning sadly proved true, as ready access to the President's office, to important ministries and the unprecedented freedom that went with it, challenged the bureaucratic status quo. On one occasion, David Sproule, who succeeded Mr. Alexander as ambassador, had to send one of his staff back to Canada as this person objected to SAT members using the embassy swimming pool, not understanding that we are all Canadians in a foreign land.

The Globe & Mail's justifications for the potential disbanding of the team fall flat: that it's an inappropriate task for military officers to undertake. Everyone involved with the project, Afghan and Canadian, disagrees.

Col Capstick:

The level of influence, respect and access that Canada had in Kabul in 05-06 is directionally proportional to the reputations of the Canadians that senior Afghans know: you can’t talk to a senior Afghan without Gen Hiller, Gen Andrew Leslie, Chris Alexander or Nipa Banerjee being mentioned. Those people working together built Canada a superb reputation and gave us a lot of capital.

Equally important, this was a bilateral arrangement between Canada and the Government of Afghanistan; it was not part of the US coalition or ISAF. The minute Afghans learned that – that it wasn’t part of either of those two military headquarters in Kabul – doors opened that I’m sure would not have otherwise opened. We were not perceived as acting in NATO or US interests. It was a very interesting dynamic, and it would be hard to extract ourselves and still keep face.

Former CIDA team member Andy Tamas:

Gen. Hillier asked if the President wanted more of them, and when he said he did, the first formal SAT team was born. It included a CIDA contract officer, Andy Tamas, who was initially skeptical about how soldiers would manage the collaborative thinking traditional in the development field.

Mr. Tamas, who has more than three decades of development work under his belt, quickly became a convert, once saying, "The impact of their effort is plain as day. There's no doubt at all that it's very, very important. If what's needed to counter the insurgents is a functioning government, this [the SAT team] is probably the best return on investment that Canada or any other military is making."

Former CIDA head of aid for Afghanistan, Dr. Nipa Banerjee:

Ms. Banerjee, now a teacher at the University of Ottawa's graduate school of public and international affairs who returns to Afghanistan four times a year, was similarly dubious at the start.

"I'd never met an army person," she told The Globe yesterday. "In Canada, the army is invisible. I wasn't comfortable at first, but I decided I would try my best. And the army people were so co-operative.

"Civilians say they [soldiers] don't understand development, but I found they understand it better than many of us."

Ms. Banerjee also chalks up the internal efforts to disband the SAT to internecine jealousies, saying that because its members work on a daily basis with Afghans, "the army has access" that diplomats don't.

The Afghans themselves:

As I was present at the birth of this team, I was also privileged to be present in the last days of the first rotation. During a farewell party in Kabul, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection from members of non-governmental organizations that were also working in the capital, from key embassy staff and, most importantly, from Afghan ministers and lower-level civil servants. On his last night in Kabul, I saw Andy Tamas, the CIDA representative on SAT, eyes watering with intense pride as he said farewell, expressing his profound gratitude for having been able to serve Afghans with his military colleagues. I was so intensely proud of the Canadian flag on my shoulder that day.

In a perfect world, Canadian civil servants would be the ones providing support to the Afghan civil service, as even Col Capstick agrees:

We kept bouncing around the idea of putting together a Canadian team that would include people with the expertise that we didn’t have – expertise from the Public Service Commission or other departments in HR processes and staffing, in administrative processes and organizational design. I would like nothing better than to have a big program that other countries could contribute to, led by somebody like a former clerk of the Privy Council.

But Afghanistan isn't a perfect world. The CF is the only Canadian governmental institution that can consistently generate a steady flow of individuals with the required skill sets to operate in such a difficult situation. That means from a security standpoint as well.

The idea that the SAT-A should be dismantled is nothing more than a cynical Ottawa power-play.

I give the last word on the subject to Col Petrolekas:

Critics of Canada's military mission casually label it a combat mission, conveniently ignoring the roads, irrigation ditches, bridges, causeways, schools and orphanages that Canadian soldiers have built, not to mention the strategic advice the SAT has provided. Canadian values of humility and assistance, which are emblematic of the SAT team, might very well be sacrificed on the altar of vanity, envy and perceived competition. It is no wonder that our allies sometimes raise an eyebrow with respect to Canada. It is equally wondrous that we permit such rivalries to make a great nation small.

Hear, hear.
Articles found January 18, 2008

Dion will never be pal of soldiers
Article Link
From his visit last weekend to Afghanistan, it seems clear that if Stephane Dion ever becomes prime minister of Canada, the Armed Forces will be reduced to their previous depleted strength and their role limited as it was in the Trudeau years.

Jean Chretien, too, robbed the military -- preferring a $500 million penalty rather than honouring a contract to re-equip our soldiers and sailors with EH101 helicopters.

Unlike Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff, who accompanied him to Kabul and Kandahar for a quick look-see, Dion has little appreciation, empathy or understanding of soldiers or things military. Come to think of it, he probably viscerally and intellectually dislikes soldiers.

In his press conference on leaving Afghanistan, Dion seemed to think our role should consist of turning soldiers into social workers -- no more seek and destroy stuff our troops have been doing so effectively.

Instead he wants our troops building schools, enhancing women's rights, digging wells for fresh water, training and assisting local communities. Silly ass. What escapes Dion's limited comprehension is that our troops have been doing all this social work stuff from day one, as well as kicking butt of the Taliban.

How can there be effective reconstruction if the Taliban retain a strong and malignant presence?


Ignatieff seems to realize this, and while careful not to contradict his boss, has acknowledged that the Taliban are a malignancy that must be exorcised.

The weekend in Afghanistan was a first for Dion.
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Soldiers praised
Face a 'formidable enemy'
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A senior military leader heralded NATO's "made-in-Canada" spine yesterday at Edmonton Garrison in a pep talk to 1,300 soldiers destined for Afghanistan.

"You're gonna be facing a formidable enemy, who is increasingly discredited time and time again in Kandahar province," Brig.-Gen. Mark Skidmore, commander of Land Force Western Area, told the soldiers. "The enemy has learned that NATO does have a spine and that spine is made right here in Canada."

The official send-off was held due to the large number of local troops who will be part of Task Force 1-08. It will be comprised of 2,500 soldiers: 1,300 from Edmonton and 1,200 from Shilo, Man. Deployment will stretch into July.

Edmonton's last large deployment to Kandahar was in 2006.

Sgt. Keiron Sterner, 35, is among the first batch of soldiers leaving for Afghanistan next month. Sterner was joined yesterday by his two daughters, two sons and wife Kathy.

Sterner and his wife don't discuss the dangers of the deployment with their children.

"The boys don't have any idea what's going on, but my girl is getting the gist and she gets upset," Kathy said.

She said she has grown accustomed to her husband's being away because he has been deployed in Bosnia three times.

Meanwhile, Canada's Army commander defended U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates for his stinging criticism earlier this week.

Gates suggested Wednesday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Canadian, British and Dutch troops have been ineffective in Afghanistan.

"The secretary of defence's comments, I think, have been taken out of context," Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie told reporters. "As well, he did not criticize the efforts, the training, nor the expertise of the Canadian Army."

Leslie said he had lunch with Gen. George Casey, Jr., the chief of staff of the U.S. Army on Tuesday, and the general had nothing but praise for the Canadian troops.

"Gen. Casey was nothing but complimentary about the excellent work that those young men and women out there right now are doing in their preparations and contribution toward defeating the ruthless and cunning foe."
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Blair urges NATO unity amid Afghan friction
Thu Jan 17, 2008 4:42pm EST By Jonathan Spicer
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Thursday that NATO must challenge its enemies in Afghanistan firmly and in a united way, despite recent reports of friction among Western countries.

Blair urged an audience in Canada -- which is deeply split on its combat role battling Taliban militants in Afghanistan -- that it and other NATO members "have got to take a decision on this global fight on terrorism."

"Our determination to fight can't be in inverse relationship to theirs," he said.

Blair's comments come just days after Canada's death toll in southern Afghanistan rose to 77, and amid reports of discontent between the United States and its NATO allies.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted on Wednesday in a U.S. newspaper criticizing NATO's counterinsurgency abilities. But Washington moved quickly to smooth any ruffled allied feathers.

Gates called Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay to say the Los Angeles Times took his quotes out of context, and on Thursday he denied friction among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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Canadian military probes Afghan civilian deaths
TheStar.com - January 17, 2008 Tobi Cohen THE CANADIAN PRESS
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Canadian and coalition forces trying to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people face the prospect of a new kind of insurgency as a result of mounting civilian casualties from military operations.

Frightened residents in one village say tension is brewing after Canadian gunfire hit civilians during a battle with insurgents about five days before Christmas.

A 12-year-old boy said he was there when soldiers – whom he insisted were Canadian because he recognized their vehicles – shot and killed his father and 7-year-old brother while they tended crops north of Kandahar city.

"I said `Let's go. Let's run.' But my father said `What are you talking about? We have shovels in our hands, no one's going to shoot us'," said the boy, whose guardian asked that he use an alias, Niamatullah, for fear of reprisal.

It seemed the victims became caught up in a battle in the late afternoon when military vehicles rolled into the Arghandab district village.
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Pakistan blasts Dion for suggesting NATO role
TheStar.com -January 17, 2008 Joan Bryden THE CANADIAN PRESS
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OTTAWA – The government of Pakistan has blasted Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion for his "irrational" suggestion that NATO intervention might be necessary in the troubled South Asian country that borders Afghanistan.

"We are dismayed by the statement of the leader of Opposition," the government said in a statement released late Thursday by the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa.

"It shows a lack of understanding of the ground realities."

Dion, who made a brief visit to Afghanistan last weekend, said on his return that NATO will never bring peace to Afghanistan as long as Taliban militants are able to escape across the border into neighbouring Pakistan.

"If they (Pakistani leaders) are not able to do it on their own, it is something we could consider with NATO, how to help Pakistan help us bring peace to Afghanistan," Dion said Wednesday.

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre quickly clarified that Dion was not calling for military intervention in Pakistan but rather a diplomatic solution.

However, the Pakistan government was not mollified.
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Canada puts US on 'torture list'
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The United States has been listed as a country where prisoners are at risk of torture in a training document produced by the Canadian foreign ministry.
It also classifies some US interrogation techniques as torture.

The manual - part of a training course on torture awareness for diplomats - also includes Israel, China, Iran and Afghanistan on its watch list.

A government spokesman said the manual did not reflect the views of Canada, which is an ally of the US and Israel.

"The training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government," said a spokesman for Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier.

The manual lists US interrogation techniques such as forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and the blindfolding of prisoners under "definition of torture".

It also refers to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where a Canadian man is being held. Critics say it ridicules Ottawa's claims that Omar Khadr is not being mistreated.
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Liberal demand would endanger soldiers
Canadian troops would be at increased risk if ordered to protect civilians, and not engage the enemy
LEWIS MACKENZIE, Freelance Published: 8 hours ago
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After 36 years wearing her majesty's uniform, I am well aware that political direction, no matter how impossible or ridiculous, has to be obeyed - except in the rare circumstances when the order is illegal. Regrettably, in Canada, we have a dearth of any kind of military experience represented in Parliament in general and in the Liberal Party in particular.

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's latest opinion on Canada's future in Afghanistan calls for us "remaining engaged" in Afghanistan with roles including "training, protection of civilians and reconstruction."

The last time I received an order regarding the "protection of civilians" was in 1992 when the UN Security Council, as is its habit, came up with its usual lowest-common-denominator
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Afghanistan air force is 'reborn'
By Charles Haviland  BBC News, Kabul 
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that his country's air force has been reborn after inaugurating its new headquarters freshly equipped with new aircraft.
His announcement is a boost for Afghanistan's armed forces as their struggle against the Taleban and al-Qaeda continues.

There is a constant need for air power to transport and supply army troops.

The military has taken delivery of 26 new or refurbished aircraft, including Czech-made helicopter gunships.

'God has blessed us'

With US money the government has also acquired transport helicopters and Ukrainian military planes.

These will be added to the 20 or so helicopters the army already has.

Opening a new hangar at Kabul airport to house the fleet, President Karzai was jubilant.
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Bin Laden's son seeks to be peacemaker
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Omar Osama bin Laden, the 26-year-old son of the Al-Qaeda leader, tells the Associated Press that he wants to be an "ambassador for peace" between Muslims and the West. As part of his campaign, he and his wife are planning a 3,000-mile horse race across North Africa.

"It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind," Omar, one of Osama's 19 children, said in an interview in Cairo. "A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Osama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth."
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Pakistan troops reported to have fled border outpost
By Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad
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DOZENS of Pakistani troops are understood to have fled an outpost near the border with Afghanistan yesterday after receiving threats from Taleban militants who a day earlier overran a nearby fort.

If reports are confirmed, it would raise questions about the central government's ability to control the border area, where Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters are responsible for rising attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

An intelligence official said the paramilitary troops fled the roadside post without a fight after the militants warned them to leave or face attack.

Maulvi Mohammed Umar, a purported militant spokesman, said the troops surrendered after 500 fighters surrounded the post. "We released them (the troops) under the spirit of Islam," he said. "The Taleban have now hoisted their white flag on the fort."

A resident in Jandola said the troops had abandoned the post, citing accounts from other tribesmen who had seen it.

Militants overran the nearby Sararogha Fort in South Waziristan late on Tuesday in a battle that left seven soldiers dead and at least 15 troops missing. The British colonial-era fort, which the militants have since abandoned, is one of a string of positions held by the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary along Pakistan's porous border with Afghanistan.

The militants took it after blowing a hole in one of its walls.
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Scores dead in Afghan cold snap
By Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul 
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The number of people who have died due a cold snap in Afghanistan has risen to 200, government officials say.
Four large provinces in the western part of the country have been especially badly hit. Tens of thousands of livestock have also perished.

Local people are saying the winter conditions have been the most severe in decades. The cold spell is also affecting neighbouring countries.

People seem to have been unprepared for the heavy snow and low temperatures.

Most of the 200 dead are herdsmen - but women and children have also died.


Much of the west is quite low-lying by Afghan standards and the International Committee of the Red Cross says many people only expect a day or two of snow each winter.

Tens of thousands of sheep, vital for local livelihoods, have also perished in the cold.

At the other end of the country, the north-east, people say recent snowfalls have been the heaviest for 20 years.

A local member of parliament has told the BBC that many villages in this rugged territory are completely cut off and in need of food and medicine.

In the capital, Kabul, where temperatures are dropping, dozens of families who have fled the violence in Helmand in the south, are camping in tents in the streets, dependent on charitable handouts of clothing and food.
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Afghanistan: politics and policy (18 January 2008)
Conference of Defence Associations (Lot's of good, annotated, links)

Roadside bomb kills five Afghan civilians

Roadside bomb kills five Afghan civilians
Updated Sun. Jan. 20 2008 8:12 AM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

Five civilians were killed and three others wounded when the taxi in which they were riding struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan.

The explosion came late Saturday in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, where NATO troops and Taliban fighters have engaged in a number of several battles over the last 18 months.

Panjwaii district chief Shah Baran said such improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are often aimed at Afghan and NATO forces, "but this time it exploded on civilians."

Canada has about 2,500 troops operating in Kandahar province, one of the most violent regions in the country. Seventy-seven of them have died since 2002, along with a Canadian diplomat.

Most of the deaths have been the result of IED attacks.

Trooper Richard Renaud was killed on Tuesday, when a roadside bomb blew up his light-armoured vehicle while he was on reconnaissance north of Kandahar.

As many as 1,977 civilians were killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, according to a year-end report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.

The report said that suicide attacks, IEDs, gunfire, hangings and mortar fire killed 933 Afghan civilians. It also reported that international forces killed 525 civilians in ground manoeuvres and with aerial bombing.

With files from The Associated Press

Dion out of this world on foreign affairs
Toronto Sun, Jan. 20 , by ANGELO PERSICHILLI

"I'm not just positively surprised, I'm elated," a Liberal strategist told me when he heard about the surprise mission of his leader, Stephane Dion, last week in Afghanistan.

"For the first time in a long time we are taking an initiative on our own, developing a policy and not just criticizing the government."

Unfortunately, his satisfaction didn't last long because Dion seems incapable of making a right, without also making two wrongs.

Once back from Afghanistan, were he clearly stated Canada's military intervention should end by 2009, he hinted at the possibility of NATO forces going into Pakistan.

Speaking in French about the problem of terrorists hitting NATO troops in Afghanistan and taking refuge in Pakistan, Dion said, in refererence to Islamabad's leaders: "If they are incapable of doing it themselves, it is something that we could envision with NATO forces; how to help Pakistan help us bring peace to Afghanistan."..

Wow! A political leader whose nervous about Canadian military action in Afghanistan, who now entertains the possibility of extending the mission into Pakistan!

If some Conservative strategists were worrying about the changing tone of the Liberals for the upcoming parliamentary session, they can sigh in relief.

"The prime minister couldn't believe his ears," a senior adviser to Stephen Harper told me, adding he considered the statement by Dion "very dangerous.

"He's not worth the risk. You can't, as a potential PM, go around the country, or the world, and float ideas such as military intervention against a nuclear power."

Of course, few believed the "clarification" issued later by the Liberals saying Dion meant "diplomatic" intervention...

Dion's careless statement suggests yet again the vacuity and shallowness of the Liberal leader when dealing with important issues. It also confirms his eagerness to try stunts and gimmicks to get attention from the media and Canadians in general. The question is, what will he say next time to get more attention -- "let's invade Pakistan"?..

Dion's view on Afghanistan dangerously flawed
Toronto Sun, Jan. 20, by MICHAEL DEn TANDT

When people talk about Stephane Dion's difficulties they tend to talk about his personal style. But what if there's something more fundamental at work?

What if Dion's failure to catch on, especially in Ontario, relates directly to the mush, nonsense and outright falsehoods that he continues to perpetuate about the Afghan mission?

Consider the latest Liberal position paper on Afghanistan, unveiled in December. Since then Dion and his deputy, Michael Ignatieff, have dropped into Kandahar for a fact-finding mission. But neither man allowed the facts on the ground to interfere with their preferred story line.

As far as these two are concerned, this remains a "war-fighting" or "combat" mission. Their job, as they see it, is to help our misguided military reshape this into an entirely more peaceful operation, in which soldiers do not "proactively" seek out and engage enemy fighters.

This habit of "proactive" action, the Liberal brain trust says, is what makes the Afghan mission distastefully combative, as opposed to peaceful and supportive and righteous. Let's parse this notion for a moment.

Most of our casualties in Kandahar have been suffered in IED attacks [emphasis added]. A convoy of LAV-III armoured troop carriers rolls down a dirt road, en route to or from a forward operating base or to the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Kandahar City. It might be a resupply mission; it might be a convoy to an orphanage or a school; it might be a transport of aid workers, journalists, politicians or other civilians; or it might be simply to show a security presence on the roads.


There are only so many roads in Kandahar Province. The insurgents watch these routes and they know the ones our troops use. During the night, they booby-trap them with improvised explosive devices. These are sometimes made of reclaimed Soviet artillery shells wired together. Or they use more conventional modern explosives, shipped in from Pakistan. The IEDs pack enormous explosive punch. They're rigged with wireless detonators and can be set off using a cell phone signal.

Here's the point: The bulk of our military casualties in Kandahar are not taken in so-called "combat" operations. There are combat operations under way, to be sure: These are undertaken by a battle-group contingent, usually about 700 strong, within the larger Canadian force. These soldiers go "outside the wire" on missions to find, kill or disrupt insurgents. But they do this primarily for one reason -- to prevent them from importing, building and setting off lethal IEDs on Kandahar roadways -- because the roadways are the primary means of establishing security and advancing the reconstruction.

In other words, the "combat" operations so distasteful to Dion and Ignatieff are defensive, from a tactical point of view. They are intended to disrupt insurgents before they kill our soldiers and aid workers, and their Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army allies. The overwhelming focus of all Canada's military efforts in Afghanistan is peace and security support. This has been the case for many months now.

It's not a secret...

perhaps this is the true Liberal view -- we could look to the Americans to provide the muscle? Here's the trouble with that approach:

Canadian soldiers are better at this than Americans. The U.S. military too often uses blunt force, including air strikes, to impose security. Air strikes, the Liberals acknowledge, are a dangerously scattershot weapon in a counter-insurgency campaign.

Canadian soldiers are doing an extraordinary job in Afghanistan under extremely dangerous conditions. The political class in this country owes them a degree of unanimity. If Dion wants to be considered a leader in waiting, he should speak like a leader. That means, very simply, telling the truth...

Come clean on why we are in Afghanistan
Toronto Star, Jan. 20, by Haroon Siddiqui

Can't win, can't quite quit. Our quandary in Afghanistan has eerie parallels to the American quagmire in Iraq.

There is no easy way out, no matter what U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates or our own politicians – the dithering Liberals and the warmongering Tories – tell us.

The John Manley panel – stacked with people keen on keeping Americans happy, at all costs, to preserve our trade – will present its own spin in the next few days.

What we need most is to break the cocoon of dishonesty covering our combat mission in Kandahar.

We are not there to liberate Afghan women. They are the deserving beneficiaries of the Western presence, but not its raison d'être.

We are not there to spread democracy, either. That, too, is a by-product – if and when it takes hold.

We went there in 2001 as part of a post-9/11 United Nations-sanctioned military mission. We went into Kandahar in 2005 for a variety of reasons: to placate the Americans, having begged off the Iraq war and the missile defence program; to let Gen. Rick Hillier re-militarize the military; to oblige Hamid Karzai, desperate for a NATO cover for the unpopular American Rambo mission in southern Afghanistan.

Instead of levelling with Canadians, Paul Martin talked about rebuilding Afghanistan, Hillier about crushing Taliban "scumbags," Stephen Harper about the holy war on terror and Gordon O'Connor about seeking "retribution" for 9/11.

Canadians, seeing through the confusion and duplicity, just want the troops out, though many still want to help rebuild Afghanistan...

Paddy Ashdown, the blunt Briton who headed the United Nations Bosnia mission and has just been named the UN's top Afghan envoy, has conceded the Afghan failure. Even the U.S. has quietly launched a full-scale probe into it.

Only Harper, Hillier and their minions are still chirping about winning this hill or that fort from the Taliban. And they continue to brand their critics unpatriotic or disloyal to the troops.

As we await Manley's report, here's what we should be asking:

What, exactly, is our mission in Afghanistan?

Is it to side with the Americans, either to preserve our trade, or simply because Harper is ideologically wedded to George W. Bush's world vision?

Or is it about capturing Osama bin Laden and eliminating Al Qaeda and the Taliban? If so, what would it take? A mini-surge of 3,200 American Marines, just announced by Gates, won't do it.

Or is the goal less ambitious but still vital: preventing Afghanistan from becoming a failed state again?

If so, it's not victory we are after but a stalemate. "The role of the military in Europe during the Cold War was not to win but to contain the Soviet menace," as Janice Stein of the University of Toronto, co-author of Canada in Kandahar, told me Friday.

The objective, then, is to not concede Kandahar and environs to the Taliban. Bill Graham, who as Liberal defence minister authorized the mission, told me: "My fear is that we if lose southern Afghanistan, we may lose all of Afghanistan."

Maintaining the stalemate may take years. Iraq's defence minister has just said that the Americans need to stay there until 2018. Karzai couldn't give us an exit date either.

But a stalemate does buy time to: a) help rebuild the rest of the country, develop the economy and find workable alternatives to the opium crop; b) help clean up corruption and establish government authority; c) work on a political solution.

The U.S. thinks it cannot leave Iraq but should. Canada can quit Afghanistan but shouldn't. However, staying there without an honest appraisal and a coherent strategy is to let our soldiers die in vain.

Articles found January 21, 2008

Courageous and Courteous
Soldiers' writings reflect traditional canadian virtues
PAUL GESSELL, Canwest News Service; Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, January 19
Edited by Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren
Article Link

Random House Canada, 296 pages, $32 - - - Capt. Nichola Goddard was the quintessential Canadian, and not because she has entered history books as this country's first female soldier killed in combat. Her death came, at age 26, May 17, 2006, during a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan's Panjwayi district.
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Canadians see signs of progress in Afghanistan
Monday, January 21, 2008 Washington Times:
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When Canadian tanks and troops roll along the dirt tracks that connect villages in rural southern Afghanistan, many farmers turn from their grapevines and poppy fields to stare.

Some smile. Occasionally they wave.

It is the waving that thrills the soldiers of Battalion Royal, 22nd Regiment, Battalion Group. They take it as evidence that the locals sense a difference between them and the Americans who used to patrol these desolate rural villages.

"The best are the children," said Trooper Michael Hayakaze. "When the kids come running up to the road and they smile, it's the best.

"When we first showed up, you know, they used to run and hide, or they would throw stones at our tanks. And you know they get that from their parents, so if they're not afraid of us, that means it's getting better."

The 2,500 Canadian soldiers and their officers will not publicly criticize their U.S. counterparts; there is too much respect between the allies to allow for that.

But like many of the NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan, they find themselves in a two-front public-relations war — struggling for the cooperation of the Afghans as well as the support of a skeptical public at home. And in such a war, perceptions are as important as territory and body counts.
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The next rotation to Afstan
Sunday, January 20, 2008
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First, two news stories:

1) Edmonton Sun:

Soldiers praised
Face a 'formidable enemy'

2) Winnipeg Sun:

'Best-prepared' troops get send-off

Now the details:

Task Force 1-08 (Joint Task Force Afghanistan, Roto 5) composed of approximately 2500 soldiers will comprise of the following units:
• A 1000 soldier Battle Group in Kandahar, primarily from the
2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), which includes:

• Battle Group Headquarters – 2 PPCLI (Shilo);

• Two Rifle Companies – B and C Companies 2 PPCLI (Shilo) and elements of A Company 3 PPCLI (Edmonton);

• One Artillery Battery with two Surveillance and Target Acquisition ( STA ) troops– B Battery 1 RCHA (Shilo);

• One Field Engineer Squadron – 12 Field Squadron 1 CER (Edmonton);

• One Reconnaissance Platoon – 2 PPCLI (Shilo);

• One Reconnaissance Squadron – D Squadron 12 RBC (Valcartier);

• One Tank Squadron – B Squadron LdSH(RC) (Edmonton);.

•One Armoured Engineer Troop – 1 CER (Edmonton );

The majority of about 400 Reserve Force soldiers, will come from:

• 39 CBG from British Columbia - approximately 136 soldiers;

• 41 CBG from Alberta - approximately 145 soldiers; and

• 38 CBG from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario- approximately 117soldiers

• A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV) unit comprised primarily of personnel from 444 Close Support Squadron and 4 Air Defence Regiment
(4 AD Regt) based in Moncton; and .......
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This Afghanistan column has seven days
January 19, 2008
Article Link

A great piece by a great journalist:

BLATCHFORD'S TAKE: A WOEFUL WEEK [print version only]
...painful displays of ignorance and arrogance


...before the Liberal leader met Canadian troops and posed in the cute camo outfit (I would knock the block off whoever lent the gear to him, by the way) he had his mind made up - the combat mission, as the party's submission said, should end as scheduled in February, 2009. His visit there was a disingenuous and fraudulent exercise in bullshit public relations.

On Mr. Gates: The defence secretary's remarks to the Los Angeles Times, to the effect that some of the NATO armies in Afghanistan "don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations," were profoundly inaccurate and disrespectful, particularly of the British and Canadians, who have been running the show respectively in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

His absolute arrogance - that only Americans know how to fight - and ignorance aside, Mr. Gates ignored the indisputable fact that what the Brits and Canucks have run into in the fiery south is a direct result of too few U.S. troops having been left in the country after the so-called fall of the Taliban [well, they did fall to the Northern Alliance, with some US and UK help, and took some time to really start coming back]...
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Keep troops in Kandahar until 2011, Manley to recommend
BRIAN LAGHI From Monday's Globe and Mail January 21, 2008 at 12:47 AM EST
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OTTAWA — John Manley's report on Canada's future role in Afghanistan will likely recommend that troops stay in Afghanistan until 2011 while also criticizing the federal government agency responsible for delivering aid to the war-torn nation, CTV News reported last night.

The widely anticipated report from the former Liberal foreign affairs minister is also expected to criticize NATO for not taking on its share of the burden and will say that Canada's role should be reconfigured from counterinsurgency to training the Afghan police. The Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs will also come under fire for their aid programs, CTV said.

Mr. Manley, who was asked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to chair a blue-chip panel to make recommendations on the mission, is expected to issue his report Tuesday.
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Singing songs of Piccadilly, Strand and Leicester Square ...
Lorne Gunter, National Post  Published: Monday, January 21, 2008
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I'm with you and you're with me, so we are all together;

And we are marching to Islamabad, Islamabad, Islamabad;

Oh, we are marching to Islamabad, Islamabad, Hurrah!

Come on, Canada. Let's get our creative juices flowing. Now that Liberal party leader Stephane Dion has declared war on Pakistan, we're gonna need some great tunes our boys and girls in uniform can sing as they slog their way from the rolling sand dunes of the Thar Desert, through the mangrove swamps of the southern coast to the frigid peaks of the Himalayas and Hindu Kush.

There'll be pheasants over, the wide Hunza Valley; Tomorrow, just you wait and see ...

The goatsman will tend his kids. The opium will bloom again. And Rashid will go to sleep, in his own little room again.
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General calls Afghan-bound soldiers best prepared in Canada's history
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CFB SHILO, Man. - Family was the dominant theme as hundreds of Afghan-bound soldiers from Manitoba were recognized Saturday at a ceremonial farewell.

Hundreds of soldiers dressed in arid-pattern combat uniforms, many accompanied by loved ones, stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Brig.-Gen. Mark Skidmore talked to the departing troops at the Shilo base.

For Master Cpl. Michael Bursey, the farewell ceremony was important to his family, especially when Skidmore approached his sons - Noah, 9, and Damien, 6 - after the speech.

"That was certainly the highlight for me. He took the time when he was leaving to come over," the medic said, an arm around each teary-eyed son.

The closer it gets to the day he leaves, it gets a little scarier and a little more daunting, says Bursey's wife Sheila.

"I've been trying to put up a brave front right from the get-go, and saying it's no big deal," she said, adding quickly, "and I do. It's his job."

Because he joined the Canadian Forces after Sept. 11, 2001, she says the couple knew what they were getting into.

"We knew going in that he was joining a military that was going to war."

And that military, Skidmore told the soldiers, is the best-prepared force Canada has produced.
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Canada's role in depleted uranium weapons
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The Government of Canada is in non-compliance with the statutes and regulations of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), prohibiting the use of Canadian uranium in depleted uranium (DU) weapons. Moreover, Canada has a bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement with the US, under which uranium exports to the US may only be used for peaceful purposes, and not in weapons. This includes 'control over the high enrichment of Canadian uranium and subsequent storage and use of the highly enriched uranium,' a Foreign Affairs document states. The same rules that apply to uranium apply to depleted uranium, according to the CNSC.

DU weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction under international law. Thus Canada may be complicit in the US use of weapons of mass destruction in the 1991 Iraq war I, the 1998 Balkans war, the 2001 war in Afghanistan, and the 2003 Iraq war II, where the British medical journal Lancet estimates that one million civilians have died. In each of these wars, it is likely that depleted uranium in the DU weapons used by the U.S. and the UK comes from Canadian uranium exported to the US and processed in US enrichment plants into depleted uranium and subsequently manufactured into DU weapons.

The Americans and British have denied using depleted uranium weapons in Afghanistan. Canada says it eliminated depleted uranium munitions from its stockpile in 1998, in part because of the logistical challenges of storing the material, since it required special precautions.
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Bickering among politicians does nothing for real battle
STEPHEN MAHER Sat. Jan 19 - 4:47 AM
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WHEN YOU COVER federal politics for a living, you end up getting to know and like politicians in all the parties.

Many of them are admirable — for their intelligence, their hard work, their integrity, and their personality. They are, after all, are in the business of being likable, and an awful lot of them are here because they have game.

To be sure, some of them are stunned porch climbers whose biggest talent is for keeping their mouths shut, but for every dim-witted former small town mayor who was lucky enough to win a nomination, there is a sharp customer who wants to do good work.

But the nature of the business means that MPs — smart or not — spend a lot of their time spouting nonsense that they don’t believe and that they don’t expect their opponents to believe. Any complicated idea must be abandoned in the struggle to hammer home a simple point to disengaged television viewers.

It is difficult for a politician to express an intelligent opinion. Not only must he have one, it must be inoffensive both to voters and to party bosses.

And she must be always attacking her opponents — the very similar people in the other parties.

As Liberal backroom wizard Keith Davey once put it: "If the other guy says, ‘You’re fat,’ don’t say, ‘I’m not.’ Say, ‘You’re ugly.’ "
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True tales of courage
Our troops fight as well as anyone else -- if not better
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In the wake of a firestorm unleashed by NATO members against the U.S. defence secretary following his criticism of the alliance's performance in Afghanistan, one only hopes Canadian soldiers fighting there will do better than to pay attention.

As Calgary soldiers prepare to return home from Afghanistan in the next couple of months, and more than a hundred city troops prepare to replace them, they come home, and deploy, with the knowledge their job is among the toughest currently undertaken by any modern army.

Canadian soldiers have the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with Taliban fighters desperate to re-establish dominance along the Pakistani border, while mentoring the fledgling Afghan army and helping to rebuild Afghanistan's decrepit infrastructure and political fibre.

The job's tough and it's exacted a high price, with 77 Canadian soldiers killed and hundreds more injured.
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Bringing the war home
Anthology of first-person accounts from front lines of Afghanistan features compelling tales, hard truths
Richard Helm, The Edmonton Journal Published: Sunday, January 20
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With Canadian soldiers continuing to die in Afghanistan and NATO commanders facing new U.S. criticism of their fighting tactics there, Kevin Patterson thinks it's high time to bring the war home.

The B.C. doctor and author does just that with Outside the Wire, a new anthology of first-person accounts written by Canadian soldiers, doctors and aid workers from the front lines of the war in Afghanistan. Patterson co-edits the collection with Jane Warren, drawing on visceral, intimate material that features some compelling dispatches by soldiers, including Cpl. Gordon Whitton of Edmonton from his two tours there in 2006.

Some hard truths for home is also precisely what Patterson had in mind when he ran afoul of military brass last year with a published account of his experiences while volunteering with other civilian medical workers at Kandahar Airfield, the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan. In an article for the American magazine Mother Jones, Patterson related, in graphic detail, the operating-room death of Cpl. Kevin Megeney, a young reservist from Stellarton, N.S. Megeney was shot March 6, 2007, purportedly by another Canadian soldier. Cpl. Matthew Wilcox has since been charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and negligence in performance of duty.
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An updated listing of NATO troops and others !! Serving in AFghanistan
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The CBC Canada's national Media service has produced a well documented list of Canadian Operations in Afghanistan. Well worth the read for information and perhaps assist you in your thoughts of the Afghan Mission.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan
There are currently three Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan.

The largest is Operation Athena with 2,500 troops. This is Canada's contribution to NATO's International Security Assistance Force. According to the Canadian Forces, this operation includes:

A battle group in Kandahar.
30 CF members with the Multi-National Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron in Kandahar.
300 CF members with the National Command Element in Kandahar.
300 CF members in the National Support Element in Kandahar.
250 CF members with the Theatre Support Element in southwest Asia.
Health Service Support personnel at the Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar airfield.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar of approximately 250 military and civilian personnel.
Other countries in ISAF: ......
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Blast kills British soldier in southern Afghanistan
Last Updated: Monday, January 21, 2008 | 6:40 AM ET CBC News
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A British soldier was killed and five others were wounded when an explosion struck a NATO patrol vehicle in southern Afghanistan, according to Britain's Ministry of Defence.

The ministry said the soldiers' vehicle hit a mine Sunday northeast of Musa Qala, a town in northern Helmand province.

Musa Qala had been held by the Taliban for 10 months until U.S., British and Afghan forces retook it last month.

One soldier died at the scene and the five others were airlifted to NATO bases for medical treatment, the ministry said in a statement. The wounded soldiers were not in a life-threatening condition.

A total of 87 British forces personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001
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Desperate Afghans swarm Canadian health clinic
 Brian Hutchinson Canwest News Service Sunday, January 20, 2008
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SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan - An elderly man pulled a wooden cart through the crowd and stopped, exhausted, before the main gate to this dusty city's regional district centre.

In the payload of his wagon was a thin, frail figure: His ailing wife. "She is dying," said the man.

He brought his wife here Sunday in the hope she might receive medical attention from a team of Afghan and Canadian military doctors, dentists, nurses, and medical technicians.

The aged couple joined almost 300 other men, women and children clamouring for assistance. Ragged, poor, and ailing, they came from all around Spin Boldak, a city of 30,000 that's just six kilometres from the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, at the very edge of Kandahar province.

An initiative of the Canadian military, the so-called Village Medical Outreach (VMO) clinic was advertised on local radio and on roadside billboards. Word also spread by word of mouth and even reached nomadic Kuchi living on the city's fringes.

People came in droves; some walked to the clinic barefoot. Others limped along on crutches. Dozens of children arrived in the arms of their fathers, or their mothers, clad in blue burkas.
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More Articles found January 21, 2008

Pakistani forces say kill up to 90 militants
Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:32am EST By Augustine Anthony
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ISLAMABAD, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Pakistani forces killed up to 90 militants in two battles on Friday in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, the military said.

The clashes came two days after hundreds of militants overran a paramilitary fort in another part of South Waziristan, dealing the military a setback in its efforts to defeat the al Qaeda-linked militants.

In one incident on Friday, government forces attacked a large number of militants who had gathered to attack another attack fort in the region, at Ladha, killing 50 to 60 of them. The rest dispersed, said military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.

"The miscreants, these terrorists, wanted to probably attack another fort and they were gathering there. Therefore, the security forces took action in retaliation," Abbas said.

Security forces used artillery and mortars to attack the militants and suffered no casualties, he said.
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Aid groups warn war in Afghanistan ‘just beginning’
IAN BRUCE, Defence Correspondent January 21 2008
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The war in Afghanistan is "only just beginning", according to a report published this week by the international body established to oversee the work of non-governmental aid agencies in the country.

In contrast to Western claims that progress is being made, the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (Anso) says: "The consensus among informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one: 2007 will likely be looked back upon as the year in which the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight. With the Taliban resurgent, it has become obvious that their easy departure in 2001 after the US-led invasion was more of a strategic retreat than an actual military defeat," the report adds.

Taliban insurgents, fighting to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces, carried out more attacks over a wider area in 2007, Anso claims, and the best-case scenario for this year, is "more of the same".
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In pursuit of Afghanistan's poppy crackdown 
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul 
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The small digital display next to the clock on the car dashboard read -4C (24.8F). But then it was 0600 in Kabul, in January.

Officials believe 200 people have died in the recent cold weather
As the sun slowly started to pour light into the city we headed north out of the bustle of the slushy streets, across the Shomali plain near the big American air base at Bagram, and up towards the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush.

And as the sun gradually turned the white mountain tops shades of red, the thermometer drifted ever downwards -6C, -7C, -8C, before settling on a nice even -11C.

It was one of those beautifully clear days with a piercing blue sky.
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Pakistani Teen Suspect Reportedly Confesses Involvement in Bhutto Assassination
Sunday , January 20, 2008
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Authorities questioned a 15-year-old boy who reportedly confessed to joining a team that killed Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, while helicopter gunships attacked suspected militant positions close to the Afghan border, officials and witnesses said Sunday.

A villager said two civilians were killed in the attacks Sunday in the South Waziristan region, where a spike in fighting in recent days has killed about 100 people, most of them militants. But military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said there were no reports of casualties.

The arrest of the teenager in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan's North West Frontier province could be the first break in the investigation into Bhutto's killing on Dec. 27 in a gun and suicide bomb attack.

A senior intelligence official said the boy was arrested Thursday along with another militant suspect.

He told investigators that his five-person squad was dispatched to Rawalpindi — where Bhutto was killed — by Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader with strong ties to Al Qaeda and an alliance with the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Authorities have already accused Mehsud, who is believed to be hiding in South Waziristan, of organizing the killing.

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah also said the boy had confessed to involvement in the slaying. Both of the detainees were being questioned in an attempt to corroborate the confession, he said.

Bhutto's assassination triggered days of unrest that left 40 dead and thrust Pakistan into a deep political crisis at a time of surging attacks by Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. The violence came as the country prepares for Feb. 18 polls that many predict will weaken President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power.

Bhutto, who had returned to Pakistan in October after spending nearly eight years in exile, had vowed to support tough military measures against Islamic militants who have used the border areas as staging points for infiltration into Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the country's Shiite minority held processions and prayers to mark the festival of Ashoura, which in the past has been marred by attacks from Sunni extremists, who regard Shiites as heretics.

Tens of thousands marched and beat their bare backs with chains and blades, bloodying themselves in a sign of penitence. They said the threat of violence did not worry them.
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Roadside bombing kills 5 civilians, injures 2 in S Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-20 15:57:02      Print
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    KABUL, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- At least five Afghans were killed and two others injured when the van they took hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan's province of Kandahar, a local official said on Sunday.

    "It occurred on Saturday evening," said Haji Shabaran, the chief of Panjwayi district of Kandahar province. "The van hit the roadside mines which were supposed to be planted by Taliban who meant to attack NATO and Afghan National troops in Panjwayi district."

    However, the Taliban outfits, usually being reluctant to admit having done harm to local civilians, have not yet confirmed.
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Taliban kills gov't official, takes away 2 others in S Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-21 08:54:10 
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    KABUL, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants on Sunday intercepted the car of a government official, killing him and taking away his driver and one guard in southern Afghanistan's Zabul province, a provincial government spokesman said.

    Abdul Kayum Mujabadi, director of Commission for National Reconciliation, a body established by Afghan government to persuade militants to lay down arms and join the government's peace efforts, was shot dead in Shahjoy district of Zabul, Zabul provincial administration spokesman Gulab Shah Alikhail told Xinhua.

    "Mujabadi was on the way to Kabul with his driver and one guard when his car was stopped by the militants," the spokesman said.

    Local police are conducting a search operation to recover the two missing, he added.

    The Taliban has yet to make any comment.
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Pakistan gunships pound militant stronghold: residents
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WANA, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani helicopter gunships and artillery pounded militant positions in a restive tribal area bordering Afghanistan, residents and officials said.

The military said they fired artillery after coming under attack in Ladha village of restive South Waziristan district, where a Taliban commander linked to the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto is said to be hiding.

"At 0100 hours miscreants fired 12.7 millimetres gun from old Ladha to Ladha observation post. Security forces retaliated with artillery guns fire," a military statement said, but gave no casualties.

Residents however said that shells fired from six helicopter gunships killed two people and left seven others wounded, but officials were not immediately available to confirm the deaths.

The military said Saturday that troops captured 50 Islamist militants in an operation in the rugged Chaghmalai and Ladha areas of South Waziristan.

The clashes started after hundreds of heavily armed militants overran a Pakistani paramilitary fort on Wednesday, killing seven soldiers and leaving another 15 troops missing, presumed kidnapped.
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US to deploy 500 mine-resistant vehicles to Afghanistan
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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (AFP) — The US military plans to ship 500 roadside bomb-resistant vehicles to Afghanistan amid a reinforcement of 3,200 extra US troops to be deployed to fight Taliban militants.

While the mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles remain a top priority for Iraq, where US soldiers face frequent attacks from armor-piercing explosives, more MRAPs will be sent to Afghanistan, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"I think we are going to send more MRAPs to Afghanistan," Gates said Friday as he toured a military factory where every day 50 of those vehicles are equipped with electronic equipment.

But the defense chief emphasized that Iraq, where nearly 4,000 US soldiers have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion, is still "the first priority."

"IEDs are the tactic of choice of our enemies," he said. "They are cheap and deadly and difficult to detect and they have been the biggest killer of our troops in Iraq."

The V-hulled vehicle "is a proven life saver on the battlefield and provides the best protection against these attacks," Gates told employees of the factory with banners reminding workers that "Your Work Contributes to the War on Terrorism."
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Peter MacKay’s terrible day
ChronicleHerald.ca, Jan. 21, by Scott Taylor

...U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates was quoted in the Los Angeles Times making disparaging remarks about NATO forces letting down the Americans.

What Gates implied was that the NATO troops — particularly those in southern Afghanistan, where the Canadian contingent is based — were not experienced in counter-insurgency.

Gates compared the situation of the intensifying insurgency in NATO’s southern sector with the relative stability in eastern Afghanistan, which is under U.S. control. The implication being that the Americans know what they’re doing — NATO does not.

Using this logic, one would have to commend the German contingent in Konduz and the Italian military in Herat with having a tremendous grasp of counter-insurgency warfare because those sectors have been almost completely pacified since the Taliban was toppled in 2001.

Of course, Gates is fully aware of the vast regional ethnic diversity of Afghanistan, and his comparison of apples to oranges in this instance was aimed at placating a domestic U.S. audience. War-weary Americans have every right to wonder why 3,200 additional Marines are now being deployed to Afghanistan to fight a war they were told was won in November 2001.

At first, the Pentagon told us it was Pakistan’s fault that the insurgency in Kandahar was being rekindled; now Gates is telling Americans that it’s actually NATO’s fault for not being aggressive enough.

Canadian officers, familiar with the way in which the fiasco in Kandahar evolved, have called Gate’s comments the "height of hypocrisy." Even American Special Forces soldiers who participated in the battles that cleared the Taliban from Kandahar in early 2002 admit that the U.S. strategy was flawed from the outset.

When I visited Kabul last January, I was introduced to a U.S. Navy SEAL who had been assigned as an adviser to the Afghan Northern Alliance. When he learned that I was a Canadian, he had insisted on paying for my drinks. "We sold you guys a bucket of crap down in Kandahar, and for that I apologize," he said.

The SEAL explained that after the Taliban were chased out of the region, the U.S. left just one battalion stationed at the Kandahar airfield and fewer than 500 soldiers in all of Helmand province [emphasis added]. The Pentagon had been completely focused on the invasion of Iraq and, as a result, from 2002 to 2005, the once scattered Taliban were able to regroup and rearm.

Supplies and recruits came in from the Pakistani side of Pashtunistan, but the small U.S. garrison in Kandahar was only concerned with self-protection at the airfield itself [emphasis added]. Thus, when Canada accepted the change of location from Kabul to Kandahar, the Americans knew that the Canadians were walking into a veritable hornet’s nest of insurgents [?!?--emphasis added].

Gates’ comments in the L.A. Times inverted this sequence of events and made it sound like everything had been going swimmingly until NATO took over and made a bollocks of things...

Moving day Helmand style: how to turn a farm into a fortress
The Times, Jan. 21

Unknown to the Afghans, their home was the focal point of Operation Thunder, an ambitious British and Danish plan [emphasis added] to seize, hold and build on a chunk of territory in the Taleban heartland of the Upper Gereshk Valley, central Helmand. Their spacious compound just happened to be the intended base for FOB Armadillo, a new base of Nato troops. So they had to move. That very day.

There was compensation. After two hours of negotiation, with British troops keeping watch, the Danes agreed to pay the brothers a four-figure sum in dollars, followed by a relatively handsome monthly rent. Even so, the experience left a bitter aftertaste for many of the soldiers...

The Afghans departed with good grace. No sooner was the last out of the gate than British engineers and more Danish troops were inside it. As Warrior and [Danish] Leopard tanks [emphasis added] silhouetted the ridgeline above, bulldozers arrived to begin transforming the farm into a defensive and expansive strongpoint, complete with battlements, sangars, accommodation, artillery positions, an aid post and helicopter landing site.

The operation is the latest and most significant in a new strategy by a British-led brigade in Helmand that is tired of launching yet another offensive in the valley from which they later withdraw only to have the Taleban reoccupy cleared ground.

The area, known as the Green Zone because of the vegetation on each bank of the Helmand River, is regarded as the main Taleban sanctuary in the province and runs north from Gereshk up to Sangin and eventually Kajaki. Nato commanders want to build bases on both banks right through the region so that they can deny it to the Taleban and conduct reconstruction operations for the population. FOB Armadillo is the latest and farthest up the valley and leaves the gap to Sangin only nine miles (15km) wide.

Colonel Kim Kristensen, the Danish commander of the battle group [emphasis added], said: “We are getting very close to closing the final gap. It's a golden opportunity that we shall not miss.” ..

Attrition was another factor in the Taleban's reluctance to fight. They have suffered fearful losses in the valley over the summer and autumn, and as Royal Engineers shored up FOB Armadillo's defences, radio chatter revealed that some demoralised insurgents were abandoning their nearby positions, while a significant internal dispute brewed among Taleban commanders over how best to motivate their reluctant men to fight.

The Danes have brought 52-tonne Leopard II tanks to the area. Their sighting system is accurate enough to put a shell through the door of a Taleban-held compound with 95 per cent accuracy at a range of 2.5 miles (four kilometres), negating much of the reliance on close air support. Three weeks ago the tanks savaged a strong Taleban ambush, killing two senior commanders and many fighters.

“The Leopards have had exactly the psychological effect that I hoped they would, both on the Taleban and my men,” Colonel Kristensen added
[emphasis added]. “The Taleban know that when they start a contact they have between five and ten seconds before it's over. And far from frightening the locals, the elders in the shuras tell us that tanks are the best tools against the Taleban.” ..

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