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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (January 2007)


Fallen Comrade
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A nice post today--on thanks from allies--at his blog, Outside the Wire, by Doug Schmidt of the Windsor Star in Afstan (see photo at end of link).

MASUM GHAR — Today was a good day. Had a couple hours to kill after arriving at this military forward operating base overlooking the vast former homeland valley of the Taliban, so went for a little climb. The Canadians spilt much of their own blood taking and holding this steep and craggy bluff in the Panjwaii District during Operation Medusa last fall (something the Soviets' Red Army failed to do against the Mujahedeen two decades ago).

Other Canadian soldiers arriving by convoy in the middle of the night with me last night after a couple days out awoke to a big surprise — the Americans and South Africans who work with the bomb-sniffing dogs here spent that time constructing a giant maple leaf flag using rocks they then painted. It's on a hill overlooking the camp.

"It's our thanks," said dog handler Van Thames of South Carolina. He admits he had "reservations at first" when told he and his dog would be working with the Canadians. But the experience proved rewarding: "I've met a lot of good, life-long friends here, Canadians."

"When I saw it this morning, I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty cool,'" said Master Cpl. Kris Schroeder, an Edmonton soldier attached to the Petawawa-based engineers of 23 Field Squadron. He had a good view from his perch halfway up the steep ridge...

On the same day the dog handlers are putting the finishing touches on their labour of love — white-painted boulders will be placed along the bottom and sport the names of Canadian soldiers killed here — the valley is starting to fill up with people. The growing season is starting and between sunrise and sundown today, an estimated 2,000 more war-exiled residents will have returned to their homes...



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Articles found 3 February, 2007

Afghan town's residents fear clash is imminent
Updated Sat. Feb. 3 2007 8:10 PM ET Associated Press KABUL, Afghanistan
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Hundreds of villagers fled a southern Afghan town overrun by Taliban militants, fearful of a NATO attack on the insurgent fighters who have hoisted their white flag over the town's ransacked government centre, residents said.

NATO's outgoing commander, Gen. David Richards, said "very surgical and deliberate'' force would be used if needed to solve the crisis in the town Musa Qala and Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said: "If there is a need for an operation, there will be one.''

Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said Saturday that NATO was watching the situation but no forces were in Musa Qala. NATO troops pulled out of the town in October after the government and village elders signed a peace agreement.

"It is only a matter of time before (the) government re-establishes control,'' Collins said.

However, he said NATO had reports Taliban militants had reinforced their defensive positions.

Abdul Baqi, a villager who fled Musa Qala with five family members Saturday, said residents fear a bloody clash is imminent after the Taliban fighters swarmed the town Wednesday and Thursday, temporarily taking village elders hostage.

"I'm going to stay with my relatives and will return only if the situation gets better,'' Baqi said while sitting in his pickup truck in the nearby district Gereshk.

Resident Mohammad Wali said Taliban fighters hoisted a white flag over the damaged government compound and villager Lal Mohammad said hundreds of residents fled.

British troops fought intense battles with Taliban fighters in Musa Qala in the second half of last year. The clashes caused widespread damage to the surrounding town of about 10,000 inhabitants, most of whom were forced to flee.
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Kandahar cops learning street smarts: RCMP
Updated Sat. Feb. 3 2007 2:14 PM ET Canadian Press
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Afghan National Police are making progress towards standing on their own two feet, despite a recent series of ambushes and targeted assassinations of officers in Kandahar province, say RCMP trainers.

Over the last few weeks, more than a dozen police have been killed in at least three separate attacks in which Taliban militants have claimed responsibility.

The death toll might have been higher had not been for the training provided by Canadian police based at the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) base.

"We try as best we can to improve their survivability by teaching the in-service skills we do here,'' said Supt. Dave Fudge, whose unit has spent over a year mentoring local cops.

"I think we are progressing. The sentiment on the street is the security situation in Kandahar is improving. That's very positive.''

Fudge said he's seeing a more-disciplined force emerging, especially when it comes to handling roadside bomb attacks, but noted they still have a long way to go.

Canadian police officers have provided training in survival skills, tactics, policing, public safety skills and suspect search, among other things.

"They're being more disciplined at IED (improvised explosive device) sites regarding scene management and actual evidence gathering,'' he said.

This time last year, as Canadian troops were first deploying to this volatile region, the Taliban were on a killing spree, targeting lightly armed police checkpoints. In the course of 52 days last winter and spring a total of 41 officers were killed.

Fudge said it's too early to say whether the recent deaths of 13 officers, including two senior commanders in Kandahar and one in Panjwaii, constitute a trend similar to 2006 _ or simply a spasm of unfocused violence.

"It's certainly raised our eyebrows,'' he said in an interview. "It's a concern, but we have no indication right now that they're related.''

But the police commander in the Zhari district, a former Taliban stronghold, had no hesitation in calling the attacks a trend.

Col. Akarasool said he has been targeted in the past and fully expects to remain in the cross-hairs of militants.

"They don't want me to be safe (and) they try to kill me and other police commanders,'' he said through a translator.

"I have been bombed by Taliban. My hands were hurt. I was injured by Taliban, so I hope I catch Taliban. They are my enemy.''

Asked if he feared for his life, Akarasool said with a bravado laugh: "Almost.''

The day he was interviewed, the chief had just returned from sweeping the road between this tiny, arid village and nearby Sangiser. After receiving reports that insurgents had laced winding gravel lane with mines, Akarasool took a dozen of his 200 officers in three pickup trucks and went for a drive, but found no explosives.
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Looters still ransacking in Afghanistan
February 3, 2007 · Last updated 12:49 a.m. PT
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- More than five years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the plundering of Afghanistan's archaeological sites and museums not only continues but has evolved into a sophisticated trade that could be financing the country's warlords and insurgents, experts say.

The International Council of Museums, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the world's natural and cultural heritage, on Friday published a "red list" of Afghan antiquities at risk, urging collectors, dealers and museums to be vigilant when they come across objects that might have been stolen.

The list includes pottery and statuettes from the 3rd millennium B.C., golden reliquaries from the 1st century and Islamic panels from the 13th century.

"Ancient sites and monuments, ranging from the Old Stone Age to the 20th Century, are being attacked and systematically looted," the Paris-based organization of museums said in a statement.

Some of the artifacts have turned up in fancy auction houses and antique shops in London, Tokyo and New York, the group said.

"Afghanistan is now at serious risk from organized destruction and plundering," said ICOM Secretary General John Zvereff.
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Islamabad warned against nursing hegemonic ambitious towards Afghanistan
London, Feb 3 (ANI)
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Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta has warned Pakistan against 'nursing hegemonic ambitious towards Afghanistan', and advised it to stop "using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy". 

Some circles in Pakistan in their self-interest were out to destabilize Afghanistan "because they subscribe to a hegemonic policy against us which is a continuation from the days of Taliban," the Dawn quoted him as saying.

Spanta, who here on his first visit to the UK, asked Pakistan to reduce and control what he termed as cross-border terrorism and to stop financing terrorist cells which (according to him) were being used to train the terrorists.

He said that Afghanistan had been discussing with Pakistan about this matter to remove all the misunderstandings and misperceptions. "We want to be friend of Pakistan, we are ready to open all our roads. Today our bilateral trade has reached over a billion dollars whereas during the Taliban days it was only 23 million dollars," he added.
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Afghan peace in tatters as Taliban seize district
GRAEME SMITH From Saturday's Globe and Mail
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters smashed government buildings, frightened away villagers and declared a new round of hostilities with foreign troops on Friday as the only peace deal in southern Afghanistan crumbled.

In a district touted by some military officials and Afghan leaders as a model for pacifying the volatile region, insurgents on tractors hauled down walls in a cluster of buildings that housed the police headquarters and district administration of Musa Qala, where a fragile agreement with the Taliban had endured for three months.

“Now the Taliban control Musa Qala, and the people are afraid,” said Rahmatullah, one of several local residents who described the scene by telephone. “All the shops are empty, the houses are empty.”

British troops agreed to leave the Helmand province district in October, on condition the Taliban withdraw and allow tribal elders to rule. Residents say the insurgents never left, however, and the elders' authority seemed shaky in recent weeks.
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Reserves may not last through Afghan mission
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CALGARY — A continued reliance on army reserve units to fill a growing need for fresh troops in Afghanistan could create a shortfall if Canada's mission is extended through 2009, the Senate committee on national security and defence was told Thursday.

Colonel Art Wriedt, commander of the 41 Canadian Bridge Group, said as many as 220 soldiers are already in line to be rotated into Afghanistan in the first part of 2008, but 2009 “is going to be very problematic.”

He said that makes recruiting new reservists key.

There is no formal program for that, and the job has been primarily left to individual units. But since going to Afghanistan is voluntary for reservists, a continuation of the war could result in a dwindling supply of those willing to go.
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The Taliban
Graeme Smith ventures into the infamously lawless Pakistani province of Baluchistan to meet foot soldiers of the Taliban
GRAEME SMITH From Monday's Globe and Mail
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QUETTA, PAKISTAN — The two men sat cross-legged on a carpet in a room filled with birdsong and sunshine.

Their hands were soft, their words polite, but their story served as a chilling warning for Canadian soldiers trying to bring peace to Afghanistan's troubled south.

In a rare meeting marked by unusually straight talk, the men described how they manipulate Afghan tribes, turn local officials against their own government and channel the frustrations of ordinary people to drive foreigners away from their ancient lands.

They spoke from personal experience. The two, relaxing at a private home in a secret location in the infamously lawless Pakistani province of Baluchistan, are foot soldiers in the Taliban insurgency.

During the first visit to Baluchistan by a Canadian news media organization since Canada sent troops to nearby Kandahar at the beginning of the year, the midlevel insurgents outlined their ideas about how the Taliban aims to defeat the foreign troops.

With no permission from their superiors to talk with journalists, and fearing the Afghan intelligence agents widely believed to be hunting Taliban in the tribal areas, the two insurgents gave fake names: Mullah Azizullah, 34, and Mullah Manan, 37.

"There is a big difference between Canada and the United States," Mr. Azizullah said, tapping his fingertips together in a pensive gesture.

"If we attack the Canadians, they call for aircraft and bomb everything in the area. The U.S. only tried to kill the Taliban. The Canadians try to kill everybody."

Wearing pinstripe vests, gold watches and neatly trimmed beards, the two men looked different from front-line Taliban fighters encountered near the battlefields of Kandahar.

Like many of their comrades, they were born in the rebellious district of Panjwai -- they boasted about having returned three times to the lush farmland in recent months to lead attacks against the Canadians and their allies. But while many Taliban fighters are simple farmers, rough men with dirt under their fingernails, Mr. Azizullah's nails were trimmed and neatly painted with henna. He spoke a little English, too, and said he had worked as a senior official in the old Taliban regime
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Bomber kills Pakistani soldiers
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Two Pakistani soldiers have been killed in a suicide car bomb attack in the north-west of the country, police say.
The bomber rammed a military convoy on a road near Tank, about 50km (30 miles) west of the city of Dera Ismail Khan, near the Afghan border.

The convoy was reported to have been heading for the restive tribal area of South Waziristan.

North and South Waziristan are believed to be strongholds of pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

Six soldiers were wounded in the attack, police said.

A Reuters journalist at the scene said the bomber's car had been totally destroyed by the force of the blast.

No-one has admitted carrying out the attack.

Controversial peace deals have been reached with pro-Taleban militants in the area, but last week the air force bombed a suspected militant camp in South Waziristan, which is thought to have killed about 20 people.
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Taliban overrun town as peace deal fails
Declan Walsh in Islamabad Saturday February 3, 2007 The Guardian
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· Locals flee after militants disarm new police force
· Offensive happens two days before Nato handover

British strategy in Afghanistan suffered a blow when the Taliban overran a town in northern Helmand where a controversial peace deal had been signed.
Hundreds of insurgents stormed into Musa Qala on Thursday night, disarming the local police, burning government buildings and threatening elders, officials and residents said.

The Taliban offensive appeared to catch troops off guard just two days before Britain hands control of Nato forces in Afghanistan to an American, General Dan McNeill. "The Taliban entered the town last night. The current situation is unclear," said Mark Laity, a Nato spokesman in Kabul.

British commanders always insisted that the Musa Qala deal, which was brokered between the provincial governor and local elders last September, was risky. After a summer of fighting that claimed several British fatalities, British forces and the Taliban agreed to withdraw from the town centre. In return, elders said they would guarantee security through a locally recruited tribal police force.
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2 million Afghan citizens registered amid final extension
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ISLAMABAD: A total of 2 million Afghans have been registered in Pakistan in the largest-ever such exercise by a host government.

Revising the registration's cut-off date today, the government has announced a final extension of the deadline to mid-February.

The 2 million people registered since October 2006 account for over 80 percent of the target population of 2.4 million Afghans in Pakistan. Nearly 65 percent of those registered are in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 20 percent in Balochistan, 10 percent in Punjab/Islamabad, 5 percent in Sindh and the rest in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (AJK).

In terms of numbers per province, almost all eligible Afghans in Punjab/ Islamabad have been registered, more than 90 percent of those in Sindh, some 85 percent of those in NWFP, over 60 percent in Balochistan and more than half the eligible Afghan population in AJK.

The registration exercise has ended in Sindh, AJK and most of Punjab. It is expected to be completed in Attock, Chakwal, Islamabad, urban Quetta and Peshawar and other parts of NWFP by mid-February. The deadlines vary in each location based on the eligible population remaining to be registered.

Only Afghans who were counted in the Pakistan government census of February/March 2005 are eligible for registration. Those registered receive Proof of Registration (POR) cards that recognize them as Afghan citizens temporarily living in Pakistan. Valid for three years, the card does not confer additional rights or status on the bearer.
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NATO considering bolstering Afghan border police: Canadian commander
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KANDAHAR: NATO allies are examining ways to shore up and expand the Afghan border police to combat the influx of Taliban insurgents from Pakistan, says a senior Canadian officer.

The alliance has been under political pressure to beef up military border patrols and use high-tech surveillance to interdict the flow of illegal munitions and suicide bombers.

But Col. Mike Kampman says the long-term solution lies in building up border guards in much the same way the Afghan National Police and the Afghan army are being reconstituted.

"This is a big border area and a lot of people don't fully appreciate how easy it is to cross," said Kampman, who is chief of staff to Brig.-Gen. Ton van Loon, the commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.

"It's going to take a lot work and a lot of effort to build up a robust network of surveillance and presence on this side of the border."

A consensus seems to be building among NATO partners for each country take over responsibility for the improvement of the border police in their individual provinces.

For example, Canada could take a lead role in Kandahar province, while the British handle volatile Helmand province, said Kampman in an interview with The Canadian Press.

If available, experts in border security and specialized trainers from each host country could be brought in and combined with military mentors, he said.
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NATO to step up efforts to control Afghan border
Saturday February 03, 2007 (0510 PST)
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LONDON: NATO forces are getting ready to step up efforts to take control of the Afghan side of the country's border with Pakistan, the alliance's military chief said in an interview published in the Financial Times on Friday.
'NATO needs to work with Pakistan for a reduction if not elimination of the unlawful and illegal movement across the border,' General John Craddock, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, was quoted as saying by the business daily.

In an interview conducted on a flight back to Europe after a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Craddock was also asked if NATO was planning any military action to temper the flow of insurgents across the border.

'ISAF is developing plans for that very effect,' he responded, referring to the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led grouping made up of about 33,000 troops from 37 nations.

During his visit to Pakistan, Craddock met with Pakistani military commanders in Islamabad, describing the discussions as 'frank, candid and promising.'
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U.S. hands major weapons supplies to Afghan army
Saturday February 03, 2007 (0510 PST)
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KABUL: The Unites States handed over thousands of weapons and hundreds of vehicles to Afghanistan's fledgling national army, as part of its strategy to boost local security forces in the fight against the Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended the handover of 800 High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles and other trucks, and 12,000 heavy and light arms in Kabul.

"This is the first time that we have received such major help for strengthening our army," Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said after the ceremony.

Karzai described the package as "part of the tip of the iceberg" of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.

The U.S. government is asking Congress for an extra $10.6 billion for Afghanistan -- $8.6 billion of that for helping the army and police -- over two years.

Ahead of what U.S. and Afghan commanders warn will be a bloody spring offensive by the Taliban within months, Washington also doubled its ground combat troops by extending the tour of duty for some of its troops here by four months.

The moves come as the United States prepares to take over the 33,000-strong NATO-led force here from the British on Sunday and after the bloodiest year since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
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Runway at Helmand airport being reconstructed
Saturday February 03, 2007 (0510 PST)
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KABUL: Work on reconstruction of runway at the Helmand airport was launched the other day.
Reconstruction of the landing strip will be completed at the cost of $70,000 provided by the British-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT).

Helmand airport was constructed 40 years ago, but it was bitterly damaged during jihad or holy war against the Soviet forces and the years of internecine.

Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, provincial Governor Asadullah Wafa said the airport would be opened for civilian flights once the airstrip was constructed. He said the government-owned Ariana Airlines would resume flights between Kabul and Helmand.
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Militants torch school in Afghanistan
Friday February 02, 2007 (0057 PST)
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LOGAR: Insurgents burned down a primary school in southeastern Afghanistan, police said the other day, in the second such attack this year targeting the country's struggling education system.
The primary school was set ablaze overnight in the Kharwar district of Logar province, the Afghan interior ministry, which controls the police, said in a statement.

"The ministry condemns this unforgivable action of foreign mercenaries," it said, without referring to any particular country or group.

Similar attacks in the past have always been blamed on the remnants of the Taliban regime. The Afghan government says the militants are supported by circles in neighbouring Pakistan.

The fundamentalist Taliban have waged a bloody insurgency since they were toppled from power by a US-led offensive in late 2001. The violence claimed over 4,000 lives in 2006, the worst year since the invasion.
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Fallen Comrade
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82nd chief takes command in Afghanistan
Army Times, by Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press, Feb 2

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Maj. Gen. David M. Rodriguez took command of U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Friday as part of a routine rotation that has seen the bulk of 10th Mountain Division troops replaced by soldiers from the 82nd Airborne...

On Sunday, [UK Gen. David]  Richards will turn over [ISAF] command to U.S. Gen. Dan K. McNeil [emphasis added], who will take charge of the more than 40,000 ISAF troops from 37 nations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has about 24,000 troops in the country, including about 12,000 under the command of NATO’s ISAF.

NATO troops to recapture Afghan town
Toronto Star, AP,  Feb 03, 2007 07:46 AM

NATO forces will recapture a southern Afghan town overrun by Taliban militants, but the operation will be careful to avoid civilian casualties, alliance officials said Saturday.

Gen. David Richards, the outgoing British commander of the NATO-led force, said his troops will not "use kinetic force in the way I think some people are concerned about" in trying to recapture the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, which British troops left after a contentious peace agreement in October...

Richards said NATO would be careful in planning the offensive to take back the town to protect "the lives and property of the people of Musa Qala." He said the Taliban tactic of temporarily over-running a town was not unique.

Meanwhile, Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said the situation in Musa Qala was not clear. He said local elders – who were in charge of security as part of the October peace deal – may have already pushed the Taliban out of the town.

"If there is a need for an operation, there will be one," Wardak said...

U.S. Gen. Dan McNeil was set to replace British Gen. David Richards on Sunday as the commander of more than 40,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan. Military officials have said privately that the change of command will mark a new approach in dealing with resurgent Taliban militants [emphasis added].



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Articles found 4 February, 2007

Canadian soldier’s legacy lives on Afghani babies helped by generosity of Sooke Quilters
By Pirjo Raits Sooke News Mirror Jan 31 2007
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photo below: A soldier is shown with a tiny Afghani baby wearing one of the “Boomer” hats made by people in Canada and sent to Afghanistan on military planes

When there is a need, it seems one can always count on the people in Sooke. Last fall there was a call for Boomer hats — tiny knitted hats for babies. These hats, along with assorted blankets and other items, were handmade by women in Sooke and sent through the military to Afghanistan to be gratefully received by mothers.

The hats were called Boomer hats because of one young soldier stationed in Afghanistan. His name was Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom (Boomer) and he was killed in August 2006 while on duty saving lives. His letters home spoke of the ongoing need to help.

During one of his phone calls home, he said, “Mom, people in Canada have no idea of what having nothing means, even our street people have more than those in Afghanistan.”

Who was Boomer?

A young man with a big goofy smile, one who was kind and caring. He was just one of the many dedicated men and women in our military who are willing to risk their lives for a bigger cause, who are willing to be there for their comrades and to help those far less fortunate.

Part of an email from Andrew:

“Well, I finally got the picture you have been waiting for. About two weeks ago a little girl brought her infant sister to the UMS while I was on duty. She had second degree burns on her hand from touching a kettle. I bandaged her hand and after gave a doll that your friend made to her. She instantly stopped crying and started sucking on the nose of the doll. A special thanks goes from her older sister to your friend for such a wonderful gift; and a thanks from me for being the one to accept her gratitude. Making the children happy is the most rewarding thing about this tour. Love Andrew”

His last sentence is what this is all about....”The Canadian Military is in the south, and through the work of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams they are making a difference for the women, men and children in the southern Kandahar area, so much more is needed to be done – what can we do – you and I?”

June Wesley of the Sooke Quilters has been keeping her hands busy and her heart full as she and the other quilters knit, crochet, sew and put together small items to send to Afghanistan. The military uses its planes to deliver the hats, blankets and other items.
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Where Defence and Development meet
Saturday, February 03, 2007
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Apparently, some Canadians think our CF should be digging wells instead of fighting murderous and fanatic misogynists in Afghanistan.

Well, here's a photo for you: Seen at bottom of todays listings

You see what I did there? A pun on the word "well." Oh, come on, it was funny...OK, clever at least...

My point in posting this? Not much of one, except to say the CF can - how to put this delicately? - create insurmountable difficulties for Taliban fighters to take even one more breath, and at the same time dig wells and win hearts and minds. Concurrent activity, folks. Walking and chewing gum.

Not that putting the Taliban thugs into a shallow grave doesn't win hearts and minds, because it does. Imagine: your village has been terrorized by these butchers, your elders threatened, your teachers shot, your neighbours forced to grow opium crops by a bunch of thugs.
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Women weavers in Afghanistan find rugs loom large in future
Houston woman's project helping faraway people
Feb. 2, 2007, 8:29PM By MAGGIE GALEHOUSE  Houston Chronicle
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Life definitely takes strange turns that you can't predict," says Connie Duckworth.

In 2003, not long after retiring from Goldman Sachs in New York, the Houston native flew to Afghanistan as a member of the newly created U.S.- Afghan Women's Council.

The Taliban had fallen in November 2001, and Duckworth was familiar with the abuses suffered by Afghan women under that repressive regime. The atrocities included sexual and physical violence, and women were subjected to rigid rules of dress and behavior.

Duckworth knew that she wanted to use her business experience to employ women in this central Asian country not quite as large as Texas. A Wharton graduate, Duckworth has also chaired the Committee of 200, a professional organization of the country's top women executives and entrepreneurs.

On the airplane home from Afghanistan, she started drafting a business plan that soon became Arzu Inc., a nonprofit company that now employs more than 700 Afghan women. Based mostly in rural villages, the women weave contemporary and traditional rugs. The company's profits provide health care and education to people in remote areas of Afghanistan.

Arzu visits the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft this week, offering rugs for sale along with demonstrations, photographs, and lectures.

"The starting premise is that we pay an above-market rate to the women, so they are generating cash income that can help pull them out of debt," says Duckworth. "We provide materials. The yarn is from Afghanistan, and we ship it to the areas where the women work."

The rugs cost $900-$16,000, depending on size and complexity, with traditional, tribal and modern patterns available. Duckworth says the modern designs, which range from solid colors to freestyle patterns created by individual weavers, sell fast.
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Local troops train for Afghanistan
Alan Hustak  Montreal Gazette Friday, February 02, 2007
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CFB FARNHAM – Air Force Master Cpl. Normand Daigneault struggled to lift the body of Cpl. David Tran-Hu and throw him over his shoulder to carry him 100 metres along the tarmac.

But under the weight of Tran-Hu’s 140 pounds, Daigneault stumbled and both men ended up splayed on the ground.

“I had him, but I didn’t have him properly, he was sitting on my arm instead of on my shoulders, and we fell,” Daigneault said. “It shouldn’t have happened. I had to pick him up again and reposition. Something like that in combat can cost lives.”

Daigneault, who is with the 438 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (438ETAH), was taking part Friday in a routine physical training exercise at Canadian Forces Base Farnham, 60 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

The drill is ongoing work for the flight (what the air force calls a military squadron), made up of 15 of the so-called primary forces – men and women who could be in combat when they are shipped to Afghanistan in August – and nine others who are being put through the same paces and will serve as backups.

As a helicopter swirled overhead, they set off before dawn Friday in full combat gear on a 13-kilometre march, slogging their way along gravel and dirt roads, up and down hills, with a rifle over their shoulders and a 25-kilogram pack on their backs.

Once they reached their destination, they had to carry each other the final 100 metres, as they would have to do if they were under fire and one of their buddies was wounded.

“The walk itself is not hard, but it is demanding,” Cpl. Jimmy Lagüe said as he high-fived one of his colleagues after completing the exercise. “Anyone who is in good physical shape can do it. You can get a sore back and blisters on your feet, for sure, but that’s about it.”
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Why Canada must muscle up
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Whose War Is It?
How Canada Can Survive in the Post-9/11 World
By J. L. Granatstein - HarperCollins, 246 pages, $34.95

Not too long before 9/11, Henry Kissinger published one of his habitual surveys of the world. Troubled by the apathy of his wealthy, contented fellow Americans in the wake of the Cold War, Kissinger provocatively entitled his book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? With unprecedented domestic prosperity and the absence of a serious foreign threat, Americans no longer held much interest in their role in the world. Some, such as the conservative populist Pat Buchanan, even questioned the need for one at all. Ever the realist, Kissinger warned that a nation as powerful as the United States could not hide from its international challenges and obligations. Did America need a foreign policy? The answer, naturally, was yes.

J. L. Granatstein, Canada's most prolific writer on national defence and the military, is also a realist. In recent years, he has used his high profile and astonishing productivity to sound alarm bells about our own apathy, namely Canada's declining stature in the world, the deterioration of our armed forces and our decreasing capability to safeguard our own domestic security. Like Kissinger, and for basically the same reasons, Granatstein envisions an active international role for his country.
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Trick your ride: customizing the LAVIII
Thursday, February 01, 2007
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Earlier this month, I noticed an article online by Captain Nicole Meszaros, an Air Force PAffO, that talked about a sky-blue engineering unit being used to cut steel armour for use on the Army's LAVIII:

More than 100 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV III) had their existing armour improved thanks to the addition of specially cut pieces of steel.

"Based on mission changes, a natural phenomenon, the Army asked us to help manage their changing needs," said Lieutenant-Colonel Frances Allen, Commanding Officer of ATESS [Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron]." Generally, we support Air Force initiatives, but in this case the Army has turned to the Air Force and the Navy to improve their deployed equipment."

This is the first time ATESS has been involved in such a tri-service initiative. "The focus within the Canadian Forces has been adjusted to a CF-first focus so as the CF prioritizes, we could get involved in such future projects away from those that are strictly Air Force," said LCol Allen.

I didn't post about it, because the subject invites misinterpretation. I'll explain how in a moment.

Today, I've received information from the east coast that some journalists have been sniffing around the shipyards on what is either a similar project or an extension of this one. Which means that information on this project is going to be out there in a couple of days. And I'd bet good money that the way that information is presented is going to be wrong.

When I first saw the Air Force piece, I realized that someone wanted to talk about how one branch of the military is helping another. I suspect that's why the folks who wear the deep blue uniform on the east coast granted interviews on this project as well - to remind everyone that no matter which colour of uniform they wear, the Canadian Forces work together.
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Sexsmith proclaims Red Friday in honour of soldier
By DEREK LOGAN Herald Tribune staff
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When Pte. Farrel Starkey heads over to Afghanistan next week, his only major link back to his family in Sexsmith will be his laptop computer.

Although the Canadian Forces have digital link-ups at the Kandahar base, the wait times on them are long and the allotted time to talk to family is limited. Starkey's superiors suggested he get his own computer.

"He bought himself one with a webcam so he's hoping to be able to contact home more so we can see him because we don't know how good phone calls are from there," said his mother, Donna Starkey.

There is some anxiety in the family as the 24-year-old private heads off for his first overseas tour of duty Feb. 6. For the next seven months, Farrel will be an apprentice of sorts with the explosive ordinance disposal unit for the combat engineer regiment (4-CER) from his home base, CFB Gagetown near Oromocto, N.B.

Although his primary role is to drive one of the armoured Bison vehicles, he will also be assisting the ordinance team in clearing landmines and explosives for the frontline combat units.

For his family, which includes two brothers and 13-year-old twin sisters, there will be a lot of anxiety and concern to deal with over the coming months. The Taliban have been regularly leaking announcements of heightened aggression against the Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan.
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U.S. gives 8 attack helicopters to Pakistan, bolstering counterterror capability
The Associated Press Friday, February 2, 2007 ISLAMABAD, Pakistan
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The United States gave eight attack helicopters to Pakistan on Friday, bolstering the key U.S. ally's ability to combat Taliban and al-Qaida militants suspected of attacking neighboring Afghanistan from Pakistan's border areas.

The Pakistani army took possession of the Cobra AH1-F helicopters at Qasim air base, near the capital, Islamabad, the U.S. Embassy said. Another 12 Cobras are to be delivered later in a military aid package worth a total of US$50 million (€38.4 million), it said.

The refurbished helicopters, which are specially equipped for nighttime operations, are "important weapons in our common fight," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said at the hand-over ceremony, according to an embassy statement.

Afghanistan, the United States and the NATO-led coalition fighting Taliban and al-Qaida rebels in Afghanistan are urging Pakistan to do more to stop the insurgents from using Pakistan's remote border areas to launch attacks.

Pakistan insists it is doing all it can, pointing to the loss of hundreds of soldiers in operations against militants near the border with Afghanistan. President Pervez Musharraf said Friday that Pakistan will soon begin erecting fencing to reinforce the long, mountainous frontier.
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Residents respond to soldier’s request for help
By Paula Vogler Thursday, February 01, 2007 - Updated: 11:20 AM EST
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With boxes stacked to the ceiling in every nook, cranny, and corner in his small room as well as on the bed and under the bed, Captain Benjamin Tupper said he does not have room for any more.

The good news is that children in Afghanistan, where Tupper is stationed, are benefiting from the huge outpouring of aid Easton residents have sent in response to Tupper’s plea for winter clothing and small toys for these children.
“Of all the newspapers and community groups that responded to my appeal, by far Easton stands out as the town that responded the strongest,” said Tupper in an email. “To date I’ve received close to 40 boxes from Easton and I’m expecting another 40 in the coming weeks. I hope those who supported this project can appreciate what a significant impact a pair of shoes or an old floppy winter hat can have on a child without these items. The smiles, and the look of amazement on their faces when they receive them, are beyond explanation.”
Tupper said he and his fellow soldiers were able to distribute clothing on one recent mission to approximately 300-400 children with the items people have sent. They used a school in the village of Zaran Sharanwhich serves more than 400 local children as a distribution center.
“All boys, no girls allowed,” said Tupper, “which is unfortunately common here. However if the school served girls, it would have been burned down already by the Taliban.”
Tupper had to first secure the site and clear any booby traps or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). He said there were already close to 200 children milling around when he first arrived.
“In order to properly secure the site, we (had) to move all these kids about 200 meters away from the school grounds, which I can tell you was harder than herding cats,” Tupper said. “After an hour, the kids were outside the cordon, the area was deemed safe, and the trailers full of your items rolled into the school grounds.”
He said every child left with something; many barefoot children left with their first pair of winter boots. A lot of the items were pre-packaged in large plastic bags to speed up the distribution.
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US Military Kills 7 Insurgents in Southern Afghanistan
By VOA News 02 February 2007 
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The U.S. military in Afghanistan says coalition forces have killed up to seven militants preparing to launch a rocket attack in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border.

A military statement says coalition forces fired mortars and carried out airstrikes after spotting a group of militants setting up rockets in Bermel district of the eastern province Friday.

The military says a ground patrol went to the site and confirmed that two militants died on the spot and another five were presumed dead.

On Thursday, the United States gave thousands of weapons and hundreds of armored vehicles to Afghanistan's army as it braces for renewed fighting with Taleban insurgents in the coming warmer months.
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Editorial: Now’s not time to forget about Afghanistan
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The war in Iraq has been very costly to America. According to the Associated Press, 3,083 American troops have been killed in Iraq as of Jan. 31, and 23,279 have been wounded in fighting since the war began in March of 2003. In January alone, at least 82 U.S. personnel were killed.

Let’s not forget the Iraqi civilian deaths, which are estimated at more than 54,000. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports 34,452 Iraqis were killed in 2006 alone.

The price of the war has been just as frightening, with more than $350 billion having been spent in Iraq. Combine that with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere and the cost has topped at least $500 billion.

While the war in Iraq continues to haunt Americans, it seems many people have forgotten about the U.S. service members who have been killed fighting in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S. invasion in late 2001.

As of Friday, close to 300 U.S. military members have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, according to the Defense Department. Of the nearly 300 service members killed, the military has reported 192 were killed by hostile action.
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US takes over NATO in Afghanistan
(Reuters) 4 February 2007
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KABUL - The United States, which has just doubled its combat troops in Afghanistan, took over command of the 33,000-strong NATO force in the country on Sunday amid warnings of a bloody spring offensive by the Taleban.

The Taleban leader in a key southern district was also killed on Sunday as part of a NATO offensive to recapture the town of Musa Qala from the rebels, the alliance and residents said.

U.S. General Dan McNeill now heads NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after taking over from British General David Richards, who saw the force grow from just 9,000 as it expanded into the Taleban’s southern heartland during his nine-month command.

Last year was the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban government in 2001, and U.S. and NATO leaders warn of a bloody spring offensive in what analysts say will be the decisive year in the battle for Afghanistan.

More than 4,000 people died last year and the Taleban warned this weekend they have 2,000 suicide bombers ready for what they say will be the bloodiest year yet for foreign troops.
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Caring for Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan Will Cost $662 Billion Over 40 Years
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According to Linda J. Bilmes, a former chief financial officer and assistant secretary of the US Commerce Department, it will cost $662 billion over the next 40 years to care for returned veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.   
Bilmes, who now lectures on public policy at the John F Kennedy School of Government, accuses the Bush administration of being unprepared for what disability benefits and medical care will cost for veterans.   
The costs are increased by the fact that more soldiers are surviving their injuries. In Vietnam the wounds per death ratio was 2.6:1, now it is 16:1. In addition there is a large number of soldiers who have disabilities as mental health conditions.

Successes and Setbacks in the "Long War"
By David Huntwork on Feb 02, 07
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A year ago the Pentagon released its Quadrennial Defense Review. It was essentially a strategy for a 20-year “long war” and a generational battle plan designed to prepare the military for a Cold War type struggle against the forces of militant Islam.

According to the official unveiling:

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation has fought a global war against violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice, and who seek to destroy our free way of life. Our enemies seek weapons of mass destruction and, if they are successful, will likely attempt to use them in their conflict with free people everywhere. Currently, the struggle is centered in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will need to be prepared and arranged to successfully defend our nation and its interests around the globe for years to come.

It is apparent that the United States and its assorted allies are still seeking to adequately define its enemy, reach a consensus on tactics, and achieve some sort of victory in (or graceful exit from) Iraq. In this age of round the clock news and information it is easy to get caught up in the crisis of the moment. But it is also important that we examine the big picture in the War on Terror and take the time to look back at some of the successes and setbacks experienced since 9-11.


* The United States exposed and virtually eliminated the Pakistani Khan Nuclear Proliferation Network which peddled nuclear weapons designs and related technology, as well as delivery systems, throughout the world. Client states included Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya as well as attempted sales to Saddam’s Iraq.
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General calls for more troops
The Observer, Feb. 4

The British general who has been commanding Nato forces has called for a major reinforcement of the multinational coalition efforts in Afghanistan, saying he has 'always been without the resources [he] would wish for' during his nine months in charge and calling a crucial battle against the Taliban last autumn 'a damned near-run thing'.

Interviews from the most senior to the most junior levels in Afghanistan by The Observer have revealed a chronic lack of troops, which will be only partially allayed by the dispatch of extra Nato soldiers announced by American, British and Polish governments in recent days. A series of European governments have refused to send more troops and the UK has only enhanced the 6,000-strong British deployment by around 350...

This newspaper has been able to piece together an account of what happened at the critical battle at Panjway, close to Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan, late last year. The battle, in which it is estimated more than a thousand Taliban fighters were killed, is now described by Nato spokesmen as the engagement that established a crucial 'psychological ascendancy'. However, victory only came after five days of fierce fighting during which the Taliban came close to forcing heavily outnumbered Nato forces to give up their attack.

With troops committed to essential operations around the country, only one company of Canadian soldiers was found to spearhead the assault. Fighting was so fierce that the ammunition reserves for the entire operation were almost exhausted within 24 hours [emphasis added]. Successive attempts to cross the crucial Argandhab river and advance into Taliban positions failed, with casualties being inflicted both by enemy ambushes and by a friendly-fire incident involving a coalition jet...

British fear gung-ho Americans
The Sunday Times, Feb. 4

SENIOR defence sources have voiced fears that an imminent push by the United States in Afghanistan will force British soldiers to adopt an overly aggressive approach that will damage relations with ordinary Afghans and play into the hands of the Taliban.

The extent of “frictions” between US and British commanders are revealed in the latest edition of Pegasus, the journal of the Parachute Regiment, in which an unnamed senior officer accuses the Americans of undermining British strategy during last year’s handover.

British troops had planned to focus on reconstruction to win hearts and minds among the local population, the article states. However, American commanders “forced” them to take part in an offensive.

“The UK taskforce arrived in theatre immediately prior to Operation Mountain Thrust, an offensive operation being planned by the US commander to destroy and defeat the Taliban,” Pegasus says. “Despite our ‘ownership’ of Helmand and our request to conduct ops in ‘the British way’ we were unable to prevent Mountain Thrust occurring. As a result of the threat of unilateral action and in order to ensure our own force protection, UK taskforce’s involvement was forced.”

The article goes on to suggest that Mountain Thrust caused more problems than it solved. “This operation forced a change in the security dynamic in a number of areas across the province and played, to a certain extent, into the hands of the Taliban,” it argues.

“Consequently the operation created a dent in the UK taskforce’s reputation with the local population and meant an indifferent start to the mission.”

As US Army General Dan McNeil takes over command of Nato forces today, British defence sources fear that the switch will herald tougher tactics [emphasis added]. While a number of prominent US commanders have commended “the British approach” to counter-insurgency, the bulk of the US military has tended in both Iraq and Afghanistan to be more aggressive...

Pegasus journal here--article does not seem to be online:

Job done: Taliban ‘are on the run’
The Sunday Times , Feb. 4

At Nato headquarters in Kabul yesterday, they were putting a rather desperate spin on events [emphasis added], saying the incursion proved to critics such as the Americans that the Musa Qala agreement had not been a peace deal with the Taliban. “We will take it back but in a manner and timing of our choosing,” said Mark Laity, a spokesman. “It’s a question of if, not when.”

Whoever ends up with their flag flying over Musa Qala, the general will not be returning home as “Richards of Afghanistan” as he clearly hoped when he arrived last April. But he has acquired widespread respect from both Afghans and diplomats as well as a nasty bout of whooping cough topped with viral pneumonia.

“General Richards has done a good job,” said President Hamid Karzai yesterday. “He’s tried hard and the situation is much better. But I don’t think we can declare victory.”..

Via Norman's Spectator: