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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (July 2007)

MarkOttawa

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SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH THE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE GERMAN ARMY
'Our Sacrifices Do Not Leave Me Cold'

Spiegel Online, July 23
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,496426,00.html

Schneiderhan: Naturally our enemies are familiar with the discussion in Germany. They aren't exactly living in the Stone Age. They read newspapers and they probably read SPIEGEL ONLINE more quickly than I do. If they see a chance to damage the solidarity within the international community because the Germans immediately enter into a fundamental discussion calling the whole operation into question whenever something like the Kunduz attack happens, then they exploit that opportunity.

SPIEGEL: The threat against Germans is described as "considerable" in situation reports coming from Afghanistan. Do you anticipate further attacks leading up to the parliamentary decisions in September about Germany's Afghanistan mission?

Schneiderhan: It's certainly something I cannot rule out. We are dealing with enemies who do not abide by any of our legal or even moral rules of engagement, and who have only one goal: To spread fear and terror, and thus force us to give in or withdraw...

SPIEGEL: Opinion polls show that the tactic is working. The majority of Germans want German forces to withdraw [emphasis added] from Afghanistan. Many members of parliament plan to vote this fall for an extension of the NATO mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), but not for Germany's continued participation in the counterterrorism operation [the Germans have some 100 special forces fighting under US command]...

SPIEGEL: You could soon be providing even more support -- by sending troops to the more volatile south.

Schneiderhan: We have no intention of doing so. This is not open for discussion.

SPIEGEL: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is already pushing for such a move.

Schneiderhan: The foreign minister has said that he wants to hear the military's recommendations first. We are discussing the issue with him for that purpose. We do agree that we need to and want to improve the training of Afghan security forces.

SPIEGEL: Does this also apply to the south?

Schneiderhan: My concern lies with the northern region, because that's the area for which we are responsible. The attack in Kunduz demonstrated that we do not have any stabile Afghan security forces around our bases. There is an urgent need for local police and military forces. We are very happy to train them, and we are even prepared to do so in regions where neither ISAF nor Afghan security forces are at the moment. Two of the nine northern provinces are bigger than (the German state of) Hesse! Our goal is security in the whole of Afghanistan...

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the allies are pushing for German troops to be deployed to the front in the south.

Schneiderhan: And they're certainly free to do so. But just imagine the public debate in Germany if a German training team were to accompany Afghans into the interior to fight other Afghans. The Germans get involved in the fighting and call in air support. OEF sends in planes and there are innocent civilian casualties. I shudder to think what the reaction in Berlin would be.

SPIEGEL: Is Germany's highest-ranking military commander advising against a deployment in the south merely because this would be unacceptable to the German public?

Schneiderhan: No. My argument is based more on a military perspective. But if you're saying that the Germans should finally go south to improve their image, then we could end up paying a high price. The level of danger in the north is already high enough for me [emphasis added] to fear the worst every time the telephone rings at an unusual hour. We shouldn't be trying to do everything at once. The real question is much more: Where exactly is the "front" when you are fighting an asymmetrical conflict with terrorists? [funny--I thought the fighting front was in the south and, to a lesser extent, the east--MC]..

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Canadian army plan to upgrade used Dutch tanks snagged by lack of expertise 
MURRAY BREWSTER
Article Link

OTTAWA (CP) - The Conservative government's $200-million plan to refurbish almost half of the 100 surplus Leopard 2 tanks being purchased from the Dutch has hit a snag.

There's currently no company in Canada capable of quickly improving up to 40 Leopard 2A4 armoured vehicles in order to meet the rigours and dangers of Afghanistan.

An undetermined portion of the contract will likely have to carried out overseas, says a senior defence official.

"Obviously, we'd like to do as much of it in Canada as possible but, of course, we currently don't have any capability in Canada to do heavy armoured vehicle work, and so there is consultation with industry taking place," Dan Ross, assistant deputy minister of materiel at National Defence, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We're going to have to determine what can be done."

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Public Works Minister Michel Fortier announced in April that the army's aging Leopard 1 C2 tanks would be replaced at a cost of $650 million.

Under the program, Canada would borrow 20 armoured vehicles from the Germans and purchase 100 slightly used tanks from the Netherlands. A month later, O'Connor revealed there would be an additional $650-million, long-term support contract - bringing the total pricetag to $1.3 billion.
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MarkOttawa

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An old enemy falls drop by drop
Canadians Help Inoculate Children Against Polio

Don Martin, National Post, July 26
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/columnists/story.html?id=9188da8f-894a-46f6-81ad-efea8679a607&p=1

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan -The traffic jam at this border crossing is a surreal lineup of emaciated donkeys pulling carts filled with used tires, parents pushing wheelbarrows carrying malnourished children, and peeling jingle trucks threatening to topple under the weight of their lopsided cargo.

This is the main port of entry between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a chaotic and dangerous gateway for opium exports and al-Qaeda imports that makes most of the Third World look civilized.

But Canada is working to stop a different plague from sneaking across the political boundary between the two filthy and impoverished regions.

Contaminated water, open sewers and generally sanitary-free conditions make this one of the last breeding grounds for polio, a potentially paralyzing viral infection on the verge of global eradication.

There are only four countries in the world where active cases are still being discovered, and this border straddles two of them. India and Nigeria complete the list.

While Canada struggles to wipe out the Taliban, it appears to be having greater success eliminating polio, with a $5-million Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) contribution to a program run by UNICEF and Rotary International. Modest as that sounds (the funds wouldn't be enough to buy two Light Armoured Vehicles), it makes Canada by far the most generous of the international security force countries here.

The border program took effect last year when Afghanistan recorded a sudden spike of 29 polio cases, after seeing only a single-digit count the year before. So far 2007 has seen only two cases, both in this area.

The vaccine is simple enough to deliver. Two-drop doses delivered by mouth two or three times to children under the age of six put resistance to the highly infectious disease in place for life.

The trick is finding the kids and convincing their parents to allow the vaccination to be administered amid a campaign of misinformation and fear. Some elders and religious figures whisper that the vaccine is ineffective or causes impotence.

The free-flowing border crossing seemed a logical catchment area. In periodic blitzes of this city, 7,000 health workers go door-to-door looking for young children to vaccinate.

On my Tuesday morning visit, the log sheet showed the half dozen workers, each paid $3 per day, had already inoculated more than 200 babies and toddlers.

The parents seemed remarkably calm when officials pried open their children's mouths without warning or permission papers and delivered the drops, although plenty of kids were raising howls of protest.

All told, the program delivers about 10,000 doses a month at a border open 12 hours per day...

This initiative appears to be precisely the sort of humanitarian effort Canadians are talking about when they tell pollsters their support for the military mission is contingent upon improving Afghan living conditions.

While CIDA has, rightly or wrongly, been the butt of criticism for being slow off the mark in Kandahar, it seems to be finding niches where modest dollars, funnelled through established agencies, are having a larger impact...

...delivering a big bang for our foreign aid bucks, in tandem with an effective show of military force, is the only way this mission can hope to have a happy ending.

More than 50 Taliban killed in Afghan south: U.S.
Reuters, July 26
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070726/ts_nm/afghan_violence_dc;_ylt=AqfSYraHzOpQ_gfqiMFSHNp34T0D

U.S.-led troops, backed by air power, killed more than 50 insurgents in a battle in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
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There were no casualties among coalition troops in the 12-hour battle with Taliban militants which finished early on Thursday, it said in a statement. No civilian injuries were reported, it added.

More than 160 insurgents have been killed in Helmand's Musa Qala district since Sunday, the military said.

The Taliban, who are leading an insurgency against the government and foreign troops, could not be reached for comment and because of the remoteness of the region there was no independent verification of the report.

Two residents phoned a Reuters reporter in the south to say that 17 people, 16 of them civilians, were killed in the bombing...

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Deep in Taleban Country
A reporter embeds with the Taleban to see the brutal evidence of war in Greshk.
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal (ARR No. 261, 23-July-07)
Article Link

The image I cannot erase is a burqa in the ashes of a bombed-out house. When I close my eyes I can still see it, that bit of blue cloth specked with blood amid the blackened soot that used to be someone’s home.

I had come to Hassan Khan Kalay with the Taleban. It was the only way of getting there, as this village near Hyderabad in the Greshk district is under their control, and journalists cannot go there without their permission.

The negotiations took about a week. First we called Qari Yusuf, the Taleban spokesman, and he passed us on to others, who referred us in turn to the local commanders.

Finally we got the go-ahead. But our Taleban contact told us on the phone to be very careful about what we filmed and who we talked to in Hyderabad.

“If they don’t like what you are doing, you won’t live,” he said simply.

Greshk is about 40 kilometres north of Lashkar Gah. According to the Afghan government, the district has been captured and recaptured many times over. At the moment, it seems that not a single day passes without some sort of incident there.

Hyderabad is completely ruled by the Taleban. Our first problem was getting out there. When I went to the bus station in Lashkar Gah, I could not find a driver willing to take us. They all looked at us suspiciously, maybe because we did not have turbans or the right kind of clothes. I was just wearing a Kandahari hat, and I had a big bag with my camera and recording equipment.

Finally, a driver in a yellow Toyota Corolla asked whether we had permission from the Taleban to go to Hyderabad. When I said yes, he told us to get in.

Once we crossed into Greshk and entered a desert area, our driver, who was wearing a white turban, began looking around anxiously, smoking one cigarette after another.
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INSIGHT: Intelligent intelligence —Ejaz Haider
Article Link

It is all too tempting to be tactically brilliant while losing the larger strategic focus. What needs to be discussed — and at multiple levels — is the cost of keeping certain intelligence assets: does the cost exceed the benefit; what is the nature of such assets; is there absolutely no other policy approach and so on

The one-legged Pakistani Taliban commander, Abdullah Mehsud, is dead, reported to have killed himself July 24 by detonating a hand grenade to avoid capture when intelligence agents closed in on the house where he was hiding. The house, in Balochistan’s northwestern Zhob district, just south of South Waziristan, belonged to Sheikh Ayub Mandokhel, a leader of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e Islam. Mehsud’s two brothers and a third Taliban leader were arrested.

These are now known facts. But recapping them is important because of the pointers they contain. Consider.

Mehsud was intercepted while returning from Afghanistan through the Zhob corridor. Anyone with even little knowledge of intelligence work would know that this kind of operation is not serendipitous — i.e., the security forces did not just chance upon him. Quite the contrary. They were monitoring his movement, had the means to keep the trail hot and got him when he entered Pakistan and was relaxing in transit before crossing north into South Waziristan.

Corollary: Pakistani intelligence has elements within the jihad international which it can use, and does, when the moment to take someone out is propitious.

On May 12, NATO-ISAF troops killed another one-legged top Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan after he had crossed over into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Dadullah was Mullah Omar’s number 2. It is now known that the tip-off came from Pakistani intelligence, though at the time NATO spokespersons had declined to comment on where the information had come from.
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More troops may be needed in Afghanistan
Daily Telegraph, July 27
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/27/nafg127.xml

The head of the Armed Forces hinted yesterday that troop levels would have to be increased in Afghanistan.

The news came as a second British soldier was killed in as many days.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said the current force of almost 7,700 troops was likely to expand as British influence spread across Helmand province.

"I suspect that we will, over time, as we develop more opportunities, as we spread our influence, want to increase our capacity in one or two areas to take advantage of those opportunities," the Chief of the Defence Staff told the BBC.

While the year-long fight in the lawless province had "come an enormously long way" he conceded that compared to where Afghanistan needed to get "it looks as if we've come hardly any distance".

His comments came as a soldier from the Grenadier Guards was killed during a major British offensive to push the Taliban out of the upper Gereshk valley that lies between the key towns of Lashkar Gah and Sangin. He was the 66th British fatality from the conflict...

Sir Jock also expressed his "frustration" yesterday at the failure of other Nato countries to send more troops to the region. If Britain's allies did not have the stomach for fighting then they should send equipment such as helicopters to assist the operation, he said [emphasis added]. But "it would be nice if people would do more on the military front", he added...

David Miliband in Taliban policy split with US
Daily Telegraph, July 27
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=ZXWPU3EVL41MHQFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/07/26/wpakistan126.xml

Differences between British and American strategy in dealing with Taliban militants emerged yesterday during the Foreign Secretary’s first visit to Pakistan.

David Miliband, the newly-appointed Foreign Secretary, emphasised that a purely military solution to violence in Pakistan’s tribal areas would not alone quash the insurgency.

“Britain has a strong interest in the stability of Pakistan, in defeating extremism and in the development of tribal areas,” said Mr Miliband after talks with President Pervez Musharraf.

“Counter-terrorism is about military force but we also need economic and social development,” he added.

Pakistani officials underscored the difference in approach between the two allies by stating that Britain understood that political agreements were also needed to bring peace.

A peace in agreement in North Waziristan tribal area signed by the government and militants recently collapsed and a series of clashes between militants and security forces has cost over 200 lives.

President George W Bush said that the agreement had been a failure. However, Pakistani officials are attempting to revive the agreement.

Pakistani officials said that Britain’s historical experience in India and Afghanistan had lent a greater understanding of the region.

“The British have a history in the area and dealt with the tribal areas and Afghanistan,” said Tasnim Aslam, a senior Pakistani foreign office official. “They therefore have a better understanding of the ground reality”.

She added that British commanders had tried the same approach in Afghanistan. “Even if it failed it bought peace for a period.” ..

Yesterday Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, reacted to the pressure by launching a blistering attack questioning American motives for criticising Pakistani commitment fighting militants.

“It may be election season in the United States but it should not be at our expense,” he said.

The US has proposed a $750 million development funding for the restive tribal areas but critics have questioned how that will be implemented if Pakistan launches a full military operation at America’s behest.

British officials, rivately acknowledged that the North Waziristan peace agreement had failed, but said that Britain shared Pakistan’s “holistic” approach to subduing pro-Taliban tribesmen in Pakistan’s border areas.

British commanders and diplomats in Afghanistan have expressed reservations about America’s overwhelmingly militaristic strategy in Afghanistan [emphasis added]...

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Freed prisoners return to jihad, says US military
Ian Munro Herald Correspondent in New York July 28, 2007
Article Link

AT LEAST 30 former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been killed or recaptured after taking up arms against US and allied forces following their release, the US military says.

They have been discovered in Afghanistan and Pakistan but not in Iraq, a US Defence Department spokesman said yesterday.

Lieutenant-Commander Jeffrey Gordon said that while in custody the men had falsely claimed to be farmers, truck drivers, cooks, small-arms merchants, low-level combatants or had offered other false explanations for being in Afghanistan.

"We are aware of dozens of cases where they have returned to militant activities, participated in anti-US propaganda or engaged in other activities," said Commander Gordon.

His comments follow the death this week of a Taliban commander and former prisoner, Abdullah Mehsud, who reportedly blew himself up rather than surrender to Pakistani forces.

In December 2001 Mehsud was captured in Afghanistan and held at Guantanamo Bay until his release in March 2004. He later became the Taliban chief for South Waziristan.

Commander Gordon said the US did not make it a practice to track prisoners after their release but it had become aware, through intelligence gathering and media reports, of many cases of released prisoners returning to combat.

"These former detainees successfully lied to US officials, sometimes for over three years," Commander Gordon said.

"Common cover stories include going to Afghanistan to buy medicines, to teach the Koran or to find a wife. Many of these stories appear so often and are subsequently proven false, that we can only conclude that they are part of their terrorist training."
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Articles found July 28, 2007

Top general vows to tell it like it is
PAUL KORING July 28, 2007
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Brigadier-General Tim Grant says he's ready to tell Canadians tough truths about what it's going to take to win in Afghanistan.

"I'm not interested in just being a cheerleader or parroting government policy," said Gen. Grant, the Canadian contingent commander, who heads home next week after nine months in Afghanistan.

The general has some pretty well-formed ideas of what's been achieved, what hasn't and, most important, what lies ahead in the tough counterinsurgency war being fought by Canadians in the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar.

While Canadian firepower has smashed the Taliban's capacity to seize and hold territory, the toll from their fallback tactic - suicide bombs and IEDs - threatens to erode international support for the mission, the general said. And while he's heartened by the still-evolving transformation of the Afghan army into a vital fighting force, the woefully corrupt police force in Kandaharposes the biggest impediment to bringing stability, he said.
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War critic questions Defence surveillance
David ********, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Friday, July 27, 2007
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DND kept tabs on left-wing analyst, planned counter views to his speeches

But lawyer and Access to Information specialist Michel Drapeau said what happened to Mr. Staples is not right. "Is there something illegal here? Not really, but it's the impropriety of having an officer on the public payroll doing fundamentally what could be seen by some as a surveillance operation," said Mr. Drapeau, a retired colonel and author of a law book on the Access to Information Act. "It's something that doesn't seem right for an officer to do."

He said there have been other incidents in which the department has claimed records don't exist, only to have them turn up when investigators from the Information Commissioner are called in. That, Mr. Drapeau said, should make people suspicious about what is happening with the documents.

The Defence records on Mr. Staples has opened the debate on to what extent Canadians can publicly challenge the military and government about the war in Afghanistan. Some military officers have privately told the Citizen that Mr. Staples shouldn't be allowed to raise dissenting views at a time of war. One former soldier is now circulating an e-mail that calls Mr. Staples a traitor.
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Afghans may use force if hostage talks fail
Samar Zwak, Reuters Published: Saturday, July 28, 2007
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GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A female hostage among the remaining 22 Koreans held by Taliban fighters appealed on Saturday for a speedy end to their ordeal, as a senior Afghan official said force may be used to free them if talks fail.

The woman, one of 18 female hostages among the South Korean Christian volunteers kidnapped in Afghanistan more than a week ago, spoke to Reuters on the mobile phone of a Taliban fighter.

"We are tired and being moved from one location to another," she said in broken Dari, one of the main languages in Afghanistan.

"We are kept in separate groups and are not aware of each other. We ask the Taliban and the government to release us," she said. Pronunciation of her name could not be understood by a Reuters reporter who spoke to her.

Earlier Munir Mangal, a deputy interior minister, said negotiators were attempting to hold more talks with the Taliban.

"We believe in the talks and if dialogue fails then we will resort to other means," he told Reuters. When asked if that meant use of force, he replied: "Certainly."

Mangal also leads a government team tasked to secure the release of the South Koreans.

He said mediators included Islamic clergy who were trying to persuade the Taliban to free the hostages without conditions.

He also ruled out bowing to the Taliban demand to free insurgent captives held by Kabul.
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Senator proposes change to military role in Afghanistan
Jack Aubry, CanWest News Service Published: Friday, July 27, 2007
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OTTAWA — An influential Conservative senator is suggesting that Canada alter its military role in Afghanistan after February 2009 by reducing its ground forces while increasing its naval and air force support — which would include patrols over the troubled country in manned and unmanned Canadian aircraft.

Hugh Segal, a former chief of staff for Brian Mulroney, said Friday that he will present the new options for the country’s military commitment at the Conservative caucus retreat in Prince Edward Island in August.

“The bottom line is that at some point, Afghanistan has to be run by the Afghanis and we have to ask ourselves as a NATO partner: How do we calibrate our presence going forward so that it is sustainable and how do we not desert our core national security obligation?” said Segal.

“One of the choices obviously is to use more air surveillance and to use more naval in some of the adjacent areas to make sure there aren’t any large concentrations of Taliban or al-Qaida forming ... and that does not necessarily require endless convoys on the ground and endless boots on the ground in an endless sort of process that seems to have no apparent end.”

Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets were a successful part of the spring 1999 NATO mission in the former Yugoslavia, taking part in the 78-day aerial bombardment of the war-torn country in order to stop the systematic violence directed at ethnic Albanian Muslims in the province of Kosovo.

Segal said there has been some upgrading of the CF-18 in terms of its avionic suites and smart munitions.
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Stay in Afghanistan: RCMP Afghan trainer
By CP
Article Link
http://www.edmontonsun.com/News/Canada/2007/07/27/4373626.html

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Afghanistan is in the “middle of an insurgency” and countries like Canada that are rebuilding it shouldn’t make a hasty exit, says the RCMP officer helping train Afghan police recruits.
The war-torn country risks going backward if international forces leave before it’s self-sufficient, said RCMP Supt. David Fudge.

Fudge is a police officer with 30 years of experience and his job is to help train Afghan police recruits who are often illiterate and arrive in tattered clothes and flip-flops.

He has been on the job in Afghanistan for a year as part of Canada’s provincial reconstruction team, a multi-level unit that includes soldiers, police officers and officials from Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency.

“Afghanistan is in the middle of an insurgency,” Fudge said in an interview at the unit’s headquarters, about 18 kilometres from the multinational base in Kandahar.

'The job is not done yet'

“The job is not done yet. And if we leave too early, we very much stand the risk of going back to ground zero or even worse, as we’ve seen in Haiti, where we had to go back and start rebuilding from zero again.”

Fudge said the foundations of a civil society have been progressively established in Afghanistan since the international community began working on reconstruction in 2002.

The Canadian mission in Afghanistan is slated to end in February 2009. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won’t extend the mission beyond that date if he doesn’t have a consensus from the four main political parties in Ottawa, a difficult goal in the face of stiff resistance from the opposition.
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Expect more Canadian soldiers to die in Afghanistan: new commander
By CP July 27, 2007
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The proliferation of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan will make it difficult to prevent the number of Canadian deaths in the conflict from rising, says Canada’s new military commander in the war-torn country.
Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche made the comment in Kandahar on Friday as he arrived to replace Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, who is leaving after a nine-month stay.

Laroche’s remark echoes comments made by politicians in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government doesn’t treat military deaths lightly but that it won’t alter its plan to maintain the current operation until 2009.
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British soldier dies in southern Afghanistan
The Associated Press Saturday, July 28, 2007
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LONDON: A rocket attack killed a British soldier during a military operation in southern Afghanistan, Britain's Ministry of Defense said Saturday.

The soldier was a communications specialist supporting the operation against Taliban forces in Gereshk Valley in Helmand Province when he died in the attack on Friday, the ministry said in a statement.

It occurred in a compound between Heyderabad and Mirmandab, and the victim's identity was being withheld pending notification of his relatives.
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Canadians Can't Trust the Conservative Government on Afghanistan
July 27, 2007 Liberal Party of Canada (press release)
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MONTREAL – The Conservative government’s campaign of dishonesty, secrecy and propaganda continues to mislead Canadians with confusing and contradictory statements on the question of whether the Canadian combat mission will come to an end in Afghanistan in 2009, Liberal Defence Critic Denis Coderre said today.

“For the last month, the Harper government has worked hard to lure Canadians into thinking that the combat mission will be coming to an end. The Conservatives have not moderated their position. The only thing that has changed is their political spin,” said Mr. Coderre. “If any of this propaganda was true the Conservatives would commit unequivocally to Canadians that the combat mission will end in February 2009. Canadians clearly cannot trust this government.”

Last night on CBC’s The National, Allan Gregg of the Strategic Counsel summed up the Conservatives’ strategy of obfuscation and misleading propaganda, saying it is similar to the strategy used to mislead Canadians on the Conservatives’ failure to act on the environment: "When they're faced with something they know they're in political difficulty, such as they are there this issue, they tend to try to moderate their position so they don't look as extreme... So I don't expect anything substantively to change, just the messaging."

Mr. Coderre pointed to the Conservatives’ secrecy surrounding documents held by the Department of National Defence and their evolving statements on Afghanistan over the past several months as overwhelming evidence that Canadians simply can’t trust them.
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2 killed in Afghanistan believed to be U.S. troops
From the Associated Press July 28, 2007
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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Two soldiers believed to be American were killed and 13 were wounded Friday in a major clash in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, while fighting in the south was reported to have killed as many as 50 suspected militants and more than two dozen civilians.

A U.S. AH-64 Apache attack helicopter supporting the evacuation of wounded troops in the east made what NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, labeled a controlled landing after possible engine failure. Insurgent activity was reported nearby, and the Taliban claimed it had brought down the helicopter.

Nuristan provincial Gov. Tamim Nuristani said militants had ambushed international troops, sparking a fight that included airstrikes. He said he had a report that 25 militants were killed in the clash in Kamdesh district, which borders Pakistan.
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Face of war has given the Tories a fright
'I sense cutting and running,' historian says, despite PM's earlier declaration

Mike Blanchfield, Ottawa Citizen, July 28
http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=579adb73-3d08-44dc-b39c-526998a9b00e

On March 13, 2006, against a backdrop of armoured vehicles at Kandahar Air Field, Stephen Harper told an assembly of hundreds of Canadian and international soldiers -- and a country that had just elected him listening back home -- that Canada would not "cut and run" from Afghanistan as long as he was prime minister.

On June 22, Mr. Harper told a press conference on Parliament Hill that, unless the House of Commons reaches a "consensus" on the future of the mission, it will end as scheduled in February 2009.

So, what happened in those intervening 15 months to soften the prime minister's resolve? Only Mr. Harper himself knows for sure, but one fact is clear: 50 Canadian soldiers lost their lives on Afghan soil in that interval.

The signals Mr. Harper is sending about Canada's future military involvement in Afghanistan are as clear as a Kandahar sandstorm. Still, this much is apparent: Canada's "new government" now envisions a less robust military commitment to Afghanistan, less fighting, more training of Afghan security forces, and greater emphasis on the diplomatic front. In other words: less dying.

"I sense cutting and running," says Canadian military historian and author Jack Granatstein. "We are clearly preparing to end or greatly minimize our combat role. It's obviously too politically damaging.

"I don't think Canadian public opinion can withstand massive coverage of every death."

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said last weekend that Canadian troops are all but done as warriors when he remarked that he expects newly trained Afghan troops may be able to take over leading security duties from Canada as early as next year. The suggestion was immediately shot down by military analysts at home, and called into question by Canadian Forces commanders in Kandahar.

The suggestion that Canadian soldiers now seem to face less fighting -- and, by extension, less death -- comes as support for the mission wanes in public opinion polls. Moreover, the Conservative's political opposition, especially the Liberals and NDP, have made it clear they aren't interested in reaching any "consensus" on extending the mission beyond February 2009.

That has left Mr. Harper with only one path: try to sell a softer version of the mission to Parliament, so he can keep some sort of Canadian military footprint on Afghan soil, while priming the public and Canada's NATO allies for the inevitable end of combat operations.

"I don't have any doubt that he's been damaged by the casualty returns. I think a change in role before an election will probably help," says Mr. Granatstein.

When Mr. Harper touched down in Afghanistan in March 2006, just five weeks after being sworn in as Canada's 22nd prime minister, he had already dealt with the deaths of two Canadian military personnel on his watch less than two weeks earlier. By then, the Canadian death toll stood at 10 soldiers and one diplomat.

Though history offers a sense of proportion (more than 40,000 Canadians were killed in the Second World War), that is cold comfort, politically, for the Conservatives.

"It doesn't appear to matter. The coverage wasn't the same in the Second World War or Korea or the First World War. The immediacy of coverage on the national news every night is impossible to overcome," Mr. Granatstein says [emphasis added].

If the media focus on combat deaths is bad for the government's political fortunes, the scarcity of information the government is offering to the Canadian public about the mission is also eroding support [emphasis added]. This criticism comes not only from the political opposition, but also from military pundits who have traditionally been supportive of Canada's intervention in Afghanistan.

"What is needed is regular briefings like we had during Kosovo," says Alain Pellerin, head of the Conference of Defence Associations.

Mr. Pellerin says the government tends to restrict communications to news releases issued at the time of a Canadian casualty, typically reaffirming the importance of the mission and the soldier's part in it.

"Between these dates when people get killed there's no flow of information," he says. "Because there is a vacuum, there is a lot of speculation." That's what happened after the Tory defence minister predicted in a television interview last week that, by years' end, Canada would have trained an extra 3,000 Afghan soldiers in the south and could take a step back and become more of a reserve force. Military analysts and the Liberal opposition criticized that as a rosy assessment that bore little resemblance to the realities on the ground...

Mr. O'Connor's prediction seemed to fly in the face of the official numbers [emphasis added ?!?] that NATO and the Afghan government have set for the desirable size of an indigenous security force -- 70,000 soldiers and 62,000 policemen. The alliance is roughly half way toward meeting those predictions.

Canada's Commons defence committee commented in its latest Afghanistan report last month that a lack of information about the mission can fuel public intolerance.

"In the end, the committee came to think that uninformed impatience at home might have some adverse impact on our national will and, therefore, have a negative influence on our determination to what is required to achieve strategic objectives set by government," the committee noted...

...it appears that a majority of Canadian parliamentarians would not buy an argument from Mr. Harper that Canada must stay the course, and not cut and run.

"He will try to get a new mandate but it will be a different mandate. Our combat role will end as of February '09. It sounds like we're staying there, but we're staying in a different way," predicts Mr. Granatstein.

But, the historian noted, such a response would not be good for Canada.

"It reinforces the 'all we do is peacekeeping' mythology. To have a government forced out of a combat role by a sort of know-nothing, 'anything the Americans do must be bad' attitude is really damaging to our sense of self."

Mark
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ARTICLES FOUND JULY 29

Children starving in Kandahar area
Refugees in camps around city have little access to food, sanitation and government aid

Don Martin, CanWest News Service, July 28
http://www.canada.com/components/print.aspx?id=bfea35c6-830e-41ca-a4b7-30b15fd8c410

KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan -- With crying babies filling every bed, she waits for treatment in a plastic tub dangling beneath a weigh scale, weakly trying to smile.

The reading above the two-year-old's failing body could well be her tombstone. It puts her at seven kilograms. The pediatric chart I consulted said the average weight for a healthy female her age should be about 12 kilograms. The doctors here peg her chances of survival at 60 per cent.

Kids are starving in Kandahar and the surrounding refugee camps. And the allegation levelled by the Senlis Council, an international think tank now branching into humanitarian relief, is that the Canadian government won't help and doesn't care.

Such incendiary accusations must be proven, so the Swiss-funded agency, founded by Vancouver lawyer Norine MacDonald, provided a fast driver and an armed guide so I could tour the darkest underbelly of Kandahar's missing social safety net.

Our day-long trek began at the malnourishment ward in Kandahar's main hospital, where the children's wing is so full, they put two babies to a cot. Sadly, it does not appear overcrowded: These babies, all of them over a year old, are barely newborn size.

Dr. Mohammed Sidiq tells me the number of starvation cases in his ward has almost doubled to 22 in the past year, but he isn't about to declare a crisis.

"It may just be that it's easier to get into the city for treatment now," he shrugs.

Nor is it about a scarcity of food. "They have food, but don't know how to utilize it. We've found mothers breastfeeding until their child is two years old and that's not sufficient [empasis added]."..

...ask Sidiq about a wish list from Canada and he pauses. True, he needs more medication for parents to take with them after their child is discharged. But he's not inclined to condemn Canada or any other country for failing to help enough.

"I'd suggest help fighting illiteracy so the mothers know how to care for their child."

Ironically, perhaps, that's a key CIDA program in the city
[emphasis added].

Our next stop is the Marghar refugee camp, 18 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City. My guide nervously fingers the trigger on his AK-47 as we approach the camp, muttering about Taliban roaming nearby.

"Don't worry," he grins, "before they kill you, they'll have to kill me." Funny. I'm still worried.

An elder waves us inside a mud hut to talk about the 8,000 people living on this rocky mountain slope. They used to be nomads who roamed southern Afghanistan plains to find green pasture for their herds. But as one drought year became six, their livestock livelihood was decimated and their temporary villages grew permanent.

Preferring not to accept this sad fact, the national and provincial governments have tried repeatedly to bulldoze the settlements.

There is no electricity, schools, health care or sanitation facilities and only two wells for the entire camp. People work at occasional day jobs in gardens or as day labourers in the city. But the elders say things are more desperate now, more than a year after United Nations aid stopped coming.

"You could search this entire camp and won't find two bags of flour," says the elder. There are no signs of toys or a single diversion for the kids, so I sparked a near riot by handing out pencils, pens and candy...

We end the day on a upbeat note at another Kuchi tribe on the edge of a river, downstream from Kandahar. The children appear better fed, goats wander the compound, and the parents show plenty of affection and concern for their children. The proof is in how they line up for hepatitis B vaccinations for themselves and their children in a pilot project by the Senlis Council.

Even so, the whole day was an unsettling and depressing experience. In a land where life is cheap, the Kandahar region's starving refugees are the fire sale. Thousands are clearly unwanted, denied government assistance and trapped in hopeless, lifelong situations.

Could Canada make a difference? Absolutely. Should it do more? Seems obvious to me -- darned right.

But the Kandahar pediatrician makes an interesting observation.

"I haven't been to many places, but from what I've read, I don't think we're any worse off than any other Third World country. There are hungry children all over the world [emphasis added]."

How sadly true. And that puts Canada in the dilemma of having to pick where it feeds the world from its severely limited financial ration.

NATO helped save 40,000 Afghan children: Grant
CP, July 28
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070728/canada_afghanistan_070728/20070728?hub=TopStories

Canada's outgoing military commander in Afghanistan says Canadian and NATO efforts there have helped save the lives of 40,000 children.

And Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant says that's a "conservative estimate."

In an interview with The Canadian Press at the multinational base in Kandahar, Grant said he's handing his successor, Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, a country more "confident" than it was a year ago.

"There's 40,000 babies in Afghanistan more this year than . . . last year," said Grant, whose return to Canada is days away. "That's a big number."

He attributes the success to improvements in health care, which has led to a drop in the region's infant mortality rate.

Grant says the international community helped put a vaccination program in place and increased access to doctors, particularly for women
[emphasis added].

Meanwhile, even as Taliban activity remains prevalent in Kandahar province, the level of confidence has surged among the city's inhabitants, he said.

"The town was empty," Grant said of Kandahar 12 months ago. "Now you go there, (it's) like Kandahar City is a successful little town.

"The shops are open, kids going to school, people have gone back to a normal life. We see farmers have returned in large numbers, thousands of people have gone back to live in their homes."

He also said villagers in the Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar City, who fled last year after fierce fighting broke out between insurgents and NATO forces, have returned.

"The streets are full, people are going about their daily lives," Grant said. "Yes there are risks, but people have a sense that the situation is manageable, much better than last year, and its getting better." ..

Three British soldiers dead in a week: the bloody Battle of Kajaki Dam
British troops are paying a heavy price in the war against the Taliban amid accusations that they do not have the numbers or the support of Nato allies to do the job. Raymond Whitaker reports on a war without end

The Independent on Sunday, 29 July
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2814762.ece

The latest casualty, who has not yet been named, was a member of 14 Signals Regiment. His death in a mortar attack on the compound where he was working in the upper Gereshk Valley on Friday brings British losses in Afghanistan since 2001 to 67, all but five since the beginning of 2006. Two other soldiers were killed in the same area within 24 hours earlier in the week. All were taking part in Operation Chakush (Hammer), which aims to drive back the Taliban in a strategically crucial part of Helmand province, the main theatre of British operations.

Some 29 Nato troops have been killed this month in Afghanistan, with the US and Canada bearing the brunt of the casualties. France, Norway and the Netherlands have also lost soldiers. Away from the battlefield in southern Afghanistan, there has been a spate of suicide bombings and kidnappings, often in areas previously considered relatively safe. Commanders argue that these show the Taliban is being forced to adopt other tactics, because it cannot win in head-on clashes, but there have one or two unsettling developments on the military front as well.

Among last week's British casualties was the first soldier to be killed while travelling in a Vector, one of the new generation of armoured vehicles intended to replace the unsafe "Snatch" Land Rovers [emphasis added]. And a report yesterday said an American C-130 Hercules transport aircraft narrowly avoided being shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Nimroz province, which is bordered on one side by Helmand and on the other by Iran. If the Taliban has managed for the first time to obtain shoulder-launched missiles from Tehran, the danger to Nato forces would increase drastically.

Last week the head of Britain's armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, hinted that more troops might be needed in Afghanistan. As the current force of almost 7,700 spread its influence and "developed more opportunities" across Helmand province, he told the BBC, "I suspect that we will ... want to increase our capacity in one or two areas to take advantage of those opportunities."

Sir Jock and his commanders still contend that the conflict in Afghanistan is "winnable", the implication being that this is in stark contrast to Iraq, where the military leadership would prefer to draw down forces as soon as possible.

But others question whether sending in more troops will deal with one of the worst problems in Afghanistan – the mounting toll among civilians caught up in military operations, which the Taliban has exploited for propaganda purposes. Christopher Langton, an Afghanistan expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said Nato constantly replied that the enemy killed more civilians. "This brings us down to their level in the minds of the population, which is a mistake when we are trying to claim the moral high ground," he warned.

There are many disagreements among the 36 countries seeking to stabilise Afghanistan, from the refusal of many Nato members to send their troops into combat to sharp differences over tackling the drugs trade, but there is near unanimity on one point: even Britain's defence chiefs agree that the solution does not lie in fighting. Mr Miliband said: "The military effort is vitally important, but it cannot work on its own – it must go hand in hand with economic and social development [emphasis added]."

Barnett Rubin, a leading US expert on Afghanistan, went further, telling the IoS: "Conceiving of the effort in Afghanistan as a 'war' is a major error and the source of many problems ... Military means will play a part, but not the main part, in any effort to stabilise Afghanistan and assure security to both its people and the international community."..

After the disastrous impression created by the former defence secretary, John Reid, who hoped UK troops could complete three years in Helmand "without firing a shot", the Government has been at pains to emphasise that the Afghan mission will be long and difficult. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the diplomat recently chosen to head a beefed-up British presence in Kabul, spoke of the task lasting a generation.

The new Foreign Secretary is promoting the same message. While pointing to successes such as five million children, more than a third of them girls, in school compared with 400,000 in 2001, and that 80 per cent of Afghans now have access to basic healthcare, against 9 per cent five years ago, he agreed opium cultivation, particularly in Helmand, and corruption were big problems. "Achieving our aims is a long-term task," he added, but it had to be done for the sake of Britain and the international community as well as the Afghans.

The commitment of many other countries may not be as great, however. As negotiations drag on over the fate of 22 kidnapped South Korean Christian Aid volunteers, 18 of them women, whose leader has already been killed by the Taliban, the country has already said it will probably pull out its small force later this year. Colonel Langton fears that Britain risks being caught between the "war weariness" of European countries "who feel they have been in Afghanistan a long time", and America's inclination to use force in pursuit of quick solutions [emphasis added]...

Pakistan's attempts to use force against Taliban and al-Qa'ida influence in its tribal areas have been disastrous, resulting not only in heavy losses of its soldiers but also in greater militancy of the kind that led to the siege at the Red Mosque in the heart of the capital. Mr Miliband, who added Pakistan to his itinerary, was seen by his hosts as sympathising with their dilemma: he saw the need for political negotiations, according to Pakistani officials, thereby distancing himself from American sabre-rattling...

But when two such close allies appear to have such different ideas about what constitutes "doing good" in Afghanistan, critics will ask whether there is any coherent strategy [emphasis added]...

More on Vector:
http://www.pinzgauer.uk.com/default.php?category=News&pageName=29&detail=true
http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/MilitaryOperations/DefenceSecretaryOrdersNewVehiclesForTroopsInIraqAndAfghanistan.htm
http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/07/corporate-manslaughter.html

Third British soldier in three days killed in mortar attack in Helmand
The Independent on Sunday, 29 July
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2814744.ece
...
The sergeant's death brought the number of British troops lost in Afghanistan to 67. It followed those of Guardsman David Atherton on Thursday and Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins on Thursday, amid fierce fighting in Helmand's upper Gereshk Valley. All three soldiers were taking part in Operation Chakush (Hammer), launched last week to drive out the Taliban from an area of strategic significance. The aim is to create a safe area for engineers to restore the Kajaki dam, which could supply hydroelectricity to much of the southern part of the country and provide irrigation for farmers in an effort to lure them away from growing opium.

But last night opposition MPs accused the Government of making British soldiers vulnerable to attack by failing to plan properly and send in reinforcements. Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark and Retford, said the Government's failure to send more troops to Afghanistan was putting soldiers at unnecessary risk.

According to the former army officer, who used to train soldiers at military college, the battle plan was so badly thought out that he would have failed anyone who proposed it. He said British troops needed more helicopter support and reinforcements.

"We went into Afghanistan horribly undermanned, and therefore very vulnerable," he said. "If you concentrate your troops in vehicles you become vulnerable; if you have more troops on the ground you become less vulnerable. You have to have more firepower in the shape of more troops, and more manoeuvrability in the shape of helicopters [emphasis added]. If this plan had been written by a student of mine I would have failed them."..

Mark
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Articles found July 30, 2007

Face of war has given the Tories a fright
'I sense cutting and running,' historian says, despite PM's earlier declaration
Mike Blanchfield The Ottawa Citizen Saturday, July 28, 2007
Article Link

On March 13, 2006, against a backdrop of armoured vehicles at Kandahar Air Field, Stephen Harper told an assembly of hundreds of Canadian and international soldiers -- and a country that had just elected him listening back home -- that Canada would not "cut and run" from Afghanistan as long as he was prime minister.

On June 22, Mr. Harper told a press conference on Parliament Hill that, unless the House of Commons reaches a "consensus" on the future of the mission, it will end as scheduled in February 2009.

So, what happened in those intervening 15 months to soften the prime minister's resolve? Only Mr. Harper himself knows for sure, but one fact is clear: 50 Canadian soldiers lost their lives on Afghan soil in that interval.

The signals Mr. Harper is sending about Canada's future military involvement in Afghanistan are as clear as a Kandahar sandstorm. Still, this much is apparent: Canada's "new government" now envisions a less robust military commitment to Afghanistan, less fighting, more training of Afghan security forces, and greater emphasis on the diplomatic front. In other words: less dying.

"I sense cutting and running," says Canadian military historian and author Jack Granatstein. "We are clearly preparing to end or greatly minimize our combat role. It's obviously too politically damaging.

"I don't think Canadian public opinion can withstand massive coverage of every death." Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said last weekend that Canadian troops are all but done as warriors when he remarked that he expects newly trained Afghan troops may be able to take over leading security duties from Canada as early as next year. The suggestion was immediately shot down by military analysts at home, and called into question by Canadian Forces commanders in Kandahar.

The suggestion that Canadian soldiers now seem to face less fighting -- and, by extension, less death -- comes as support for the mission wanes in public opinion polls. Moreover, the Conservative's political opposition, especially the Liberals and NDP, have made it clear they aren't interested in reaching any "consensus" on extending the mission beyond February 2009.

That has left Mr. Harper with only one path: try to sell a softer version of the mission to Parliament, so he can keep some sort of Canadian military footprint on Afghan soil, while priming the public and Canada's NATO allies for the inevitable end of combat operations.

"I don't have any doubt that he's been damaged by the casualty returns. I think a change in role before an election will probably help," says Mr. Granatstein.
More on link

NATO troops killed in Afghanistan
Posted Sat Jul 28, 2007 7:38am AEST
Article Link

NATO says three of its soldiers and an Afghan trooper have been killed along with several insurgents in Afghanistan, while a helicopter gunship made a forced landing in a seperate incident.

The deaths among the troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) bring the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 124.

ISAF does not release the nationalities of the soldiers killed before their native country has been notified.

An official statement from the military force said a third NATO soldier was killed in the south of the country.

A second spokesman for the troops in eastern Afghanistan said 13 ISAF soldiers were injured in addition to 24 militants who were "killed or wounded".

"Two ISAF soldiers and an Afghan army soldier have been killed, 13 ISAF soldiers and a civilian have been wounded in the operation," the spokesman said.

The force also said in a press statement that an ISAF AH-64 Apache attack helicopter made a "precautionary landing" in eastern Kunar province bordering Pakistan today.

"The helicopter is secured and the crew was safely recovered with no injuries," it said.

The helicopter carrying a two-man crew was providing support for a medical evacuation of ISAF personnel when the crew made the controlled landing after noting a possible failing engine.

"Insurgent activity was reported in the vicinity where the helicopter was supporting the medical mission," it said.

A reporter said he could see the helicopter with smoke billowing from its tail, with several medical evacuation helicopter signs flying back from the operation site, apparently evacuating casualties.
End of Article

Third British soldier in three days killed in mortar attack in Helmand
By Raymond Whitaker and Marie Woolf Published: 29 July 2007
Article Link

The third British soldier to be killed in southern Afghanistan in as many days was named last night by the Ministry of Defence. Sergeant Barry Keen, 34, from Newcastle, was fatally wounded in a mortar attack on a compound near the village of Mirmandab in Helmand province on Friday.

Sgt Keen, of 245 Signal Squadron, 14 Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals, was reorganising with his team in a secured area after acting in support of the Afghan National Army when a single mortar round landed next to him. Despite receiving immediate medical treatment, his injuries were too severe for him to survive.

The sergeant's death brought the number of British troops lost in Afghanistan to 67. It followed those of Guardsman David Atherton on Thursday and Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins on Thursday, amid fierce fighting in Helmand's upper Gereshk Valley. All three soldiers were taking part in Operation Chakush (Hammer), launched last week to drive out the Taliban from an area of strategic significance. The aim is to create a safe area for engineers to restore the Kajaki dam, which could supply hydroelectricity to much of the southern part of the country and provide irrigation for farmers in an effort to lure them away from growing opium.
More on link

February handoff would be a 'challenge': Hillier
Updated Sun. Jul. 29 2007 10:30 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Article Link

Canada's top soldier says handing over front-line fighting duties to Afghan soldiers by February will prove to be a "significant challenge."

Gen. Rick Hillier told CTV's Question Period that it's unlikely Canada's frontline presence will be scaled back because of the significant time commitment needed to train Afghan forces to take over security in the country.

Hillier effectively downplayed comments by Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who said last week on Question Period that by the time the 22nd Regiment takes over the mission in Afghanistan in August, the Canadian military will be shifting from combat to the classroom. And Afghan soldiers would take up the bulk of the fighting around Kandahar.
More on link

Soldiers overwhelmed patrolling Afghanistan border
Updated Sun. Jul. 29 2007 10:34 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Article Link

Canadian soldiers are helping prevent the Taliban from crossing between the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, but their task is proving difficult by extremists who kill and intimidate assisting local forces.

The Taliban mostly leave the Canadian soldiers alone. They don't want to engage in military combat as the insurgents don't want to draw attention when they move weapons, drugs and combatants between the two countries.

"We know that Taliban activity goes back and forth across the border on a regular basis and we're here to try and stem the flow," says Maj. Steve Graham, Royal Canadian Dragoons Squadron Commander.

One of his units recently returned from an outpost in northern Kandahar Province where the Taliban continue to intimidate the Afghan army and local police officers with threats and violence.

"We have suffered so much," says the village leader, "so we are grateful for the help."

The porous border stretches hundreds of kilometres, and is a gateway for gunrunners and drug dealers.

"Are we able to reduce it? Yes. Can we stop it? No," Graham says.
More on link

Returning Van Doos receive warm welcome
Updated Sun. Jul. 29 2007 10:19 PM ET Canadian Press
Article Link

CFB VALCARTIER, Que. -- Friends and family greeted 85 Quebec-based soldiers who returned from Afghanistan on Sunday.

Troops from the famed Royal 22nd Regiment, also known as the Van Doos, arrived at CFB Valcartier following an eight-month tour.

A convoy of police and armoured military vehicles escorted buses carrying the troops from Quebec City's Jean Lesage Airport to the base.

Returning soldier Cpl. Jean-Rene D'Amours told Radio Canada when risks ran high in Kandahar he thought of his family back home.

He says thinking about seeing them again helped him do his job.

International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner was also on hand to welcome the troops.

A company of Van Doos has been working at the provincial reconstruction team base since November.

Another contingent of 80 soldiers is expected to return Tuesday.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 soldiers from the Quebec City-area base are currently making their way to Kandahar.

The new rotation of troops assumes official command of the mission next month.
More on link

Afghan leaders plead for release of female hostages
Updated Sun. Jul. 29 2007 2:39 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Article Link

Senior Afghan religious and political leaders invoked Afghan and Islamic chivalric traditions by pleading with the Taliban to release 18 female South Korean hostages.

A purported Taliban spokesperson said the plea would have no bearing on the new deadline set for the hostages' lives, which is Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT.

Taliban militants seized 23 Korean hostages from a bus on July 19. The rebels killed 42-year-old pastor Bae Hyung-kyu on Wednesday and say the remaining captives will meet a similar fate if 23 Taliban prisoners aren't released.
More on link

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Canadians must stay until job is done
Don Martin, Ottawa Citizen, July 30
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=fea3877a-7bf1-42d2-bba1-5127db1e39e9
...
Seven weeks in southern Afghanistan is but an observational blink in a country that's been at war within itself for most of the last 30 years, but as I leave Kandahar today, trends and patterns are possible to detect and decipher. Some are hopeful. Others border on hopeless.

Right off the bat, let me argue that Canada cannot impose a political timetable on successfully ending this military mission.

It's like picking a date before the Normandy invasion for Canada to withdraw from the Second World War, yet we're just 18 months from a House of Commons vote to retreat with no obvious heir to our responsibility for the dangerously volatile Kandahar province. Canadian-assisted progress on redevelopment, political change, army training, police education and humanitarian relief will be terminated for political expediency, not measurable accomplishment. Canadian soldiers will be demoralized by any tail-between-the-legs departure, and billions of dollars worth of upgraded military equipment purchased specifically for the Afghanistan climate and terrain will be left without an active purpose. Perhaps they could be parked alongside the Soviet equipment here as our contribution to Afghan military history.

- Prime Minister Stephen Harper should not revisit Kandahar any time soon.

His sudden wimpiness on the file, replacing unconditional support for the mission with a shrugged surrender to a fix-is-in consensus of Parliament, is seen as inexplicable here.

Soldiers who believed they had a Churchillian prime minister now know he's just another political weather vane, twisting in response to the winds of public opinion.

A return visit would not receive a warm welcome, even in the scorching summer.

- Canada is transferring leadership of military operations to the Afghan army.

While Afghan soldiers only receive rudimentary three-week training and $100 a month for a paycheque, they are nevertheless improving as a military force. Canadian commanders are giving them considerable say in setting military priorities and targets. During the only combat reporters witnessed recently, Afghans were leading the charge against the Taliban while Canada provided backup firepower...

...Reconstruction and mentoring teams are being beefed up, and their efforts praised in every second breath from military brass. The Canadian International Development Agency, often under attack for dragging its heels on feel-good projects, appears to have found a firmer footing in health, education and women's projects.

- The war against the poppy is lost...

- The Taliban are not beaten.

The combined air and ground firepower of the joint forces here is a sight to behold. How so much destructive technology can be neutralized by a few thousand religious extremists armed with ancient rocket launchers, last-generation rifles and old anti-tank mines boggles the mind. Yet the Taliban, while no longer surfacing in large military formations, are having considerable success in planting bigger and better roadside bombs to put security forces on edge, slow reconstruction efforts and, most importantly, prevent Afghans from any sense that their lives are returning to normal. And pity the poor villager in the faraway hills of southern Kandahar. Every month or so, Canadian soldiers show up to declare themselves their protector while Taliban watch from the sidelines. But without reliable, well-armed detachments of Afghan military or police based near villages, the Taliban will return the minute Canadians leave.

- OK, so I left the brightest development for last, but Kandahar City is on an economic roll, booming in population and bursting with building activity.

The lineup of truck traffic outside the city's customs terminal is a sight vaguely reminiscent of a Windsor border crossing, albeit with colourful jingle trucks in lieu of 18-wheelers. There are billboards extolling the virtues of a university education over becoming a suicide bomber. It is, veteran observers say, an echo of what happened in Kabul several years ago when the capital prospered and security concerns abated. If the south's largest city can thrive in spite of chronic security problems, hope springs anew that the entire region will stabilize and revitalize.

But know this for sure: If Canada pulls out in early 2009 as expected, hope for Kandahar will fade. As Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, commander of Canadian expeditionary forces, told reporters yesterday: "I don't think anybody believes the job is going to be done by February '09 from an international community perspective. Nobody's under any illusion that Afghanistan will be self sustaining and self sufficient by February '09."

Nato rethink as Taliban proves skilled adversary
Financial Times, July 30
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ae9ee61a-3df5-11dc-8f6a-0000779fd2ac.html

When Nato officials talk of their Taliban foes, they do so with a mixture of contempt and grudging admiration.

Contempt, because of the Taliban tactics that have become so shockingly familiar over the past six years, beheadings and hostage-taking among them. There is also a sense that the “Taliban” is not a homogeneous organisation but a series of interlocking groups that include drug traffickers and other criminals as well as religious zealots.

Grudging admiration because, over the past 18 months, the Taliban has not just reasserted itself in parts of Afghanistan but also taken the alliance by surprise with its tactics.

Last year, Nato found itself facing the insurgents in set-piece battles of a kind it had failed to anticipate, as James Jones, then Nato’s top military official, admitted.

This year, Nato chiefs say that the Taliban has set out on a new path, of deliberately increasing civilian casualties by hiding among Afghan villagers and sometimes holding them in Taliban bases against their will.

“We see that the Taliban have changed tactics: they realise they cannot win militarily and they are now deliberately forcing civilians into situations in which they get them killed to undermine support for Isaf [Nato’s force] in Afghanistan,” says Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato’s secretary-general, in an interview. “That means that we also must adjust; we cannot avoid it.”

The Taliban’s chosen new battlefield is, in a way, one of hearts and minds. One goal is to estrange the population from a Nato force whose mission is to foster development and build support for the government.

Another Taliban aim, in some Nato officials’ interpretation, is to test the resolve of western governments who have grown tired of hearing Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan president, denounce their troops’ conduct and whose publics are also increasingly worried about the death toll on all sides of the conflict.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer argues that the Taliban’s new tactic means Nato must be more patient and use less firepower – specifically, smaller bombs – so as to reduce civilian casualties...

He adds that a separate 8,000-strong US force in Afghanistan that focuses more on tackling al-Qaeda is “singing from the same hymn sheet” in terms of adopting a more restrained approach [emphasis added]. He says Dan McNeill, the US general who leads Nato troops in Afghanistan, has been in contact with Admiral William Fallon, the head of US central command, over the issue.

The new instructions came from Nato’s military chiefs, Mr de Hoop Scheffer stresses. “We cannot and will not micromanage military operations,” he says. “We trust our commanders in the field.”..

Nato plans smaller bombs for Afghanistan
Financial Times, July 30
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/44aaa8be-3e01-11dc-8f6a-0000779fd2ac.html

Nato plans to use smaller bombs in Afghanistan as part of a change in tactics aimed at stemming a rise in civilian casualties that threatens to undermine support in the fight against the Taliban.

The head of the alliance, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, acknowledged in an interview with the Financial Times that mounting civilian casualties had hurt Nato and alliance commanders had recently instructed troops to hold off attacking the Taliban in some situations where civilians were at risk [emphasis added].

“We realise that, if we cannot neutralise our enemy today without harming civilians, our enemy will give us the opportunity tomorrow,” he said, adding that Gen Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato’s 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, had given the new instructions to his troops. “If that means going after a Taliban not on Wednesday but on Thursday, we will get him then.”

Mr de Hoop Scheffer indicated that the alliance was also planning to use smaller bombs in certain instances. He said Nato was “working with weapons load on aircraft to reduce collateral damage” although it was impossible to avoid civilian casualties entirely.

“If you put a 250kg bomb rather than 500kg bomb on the plane that could make a huge amount of difference,” [emphasis added] said a Nato diplomat. Other Nato officials say that the alliance will also increasingly leave house-to-house searches to the Afghan army to reduce the risks of confrontation...

Mark
Ottawa

 

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ARTICLES FOUND JULY 31

Local ranks too thin to take on Taliban
Just 1,400 will be fully trained when fighting season begins - less than half the number O'Connor predicted

Globe and Mail, July 31
http://www.rbcinvest.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/PEstory/LAC/20070731/AFGHANMAIN31/International/international/international/6/6/32/

Afghan soldiers are tough, brave and willing to fight, say Canadians who have watched them take on the Taliban. The proof is grimly evident in the surgical ward at the main NATO base hospital where wounded Afghan soldiers fill nearly every bed.

But what they have in courage they lack in numbers, which argues that the Afghan National Army is far from ready to take over the battle against the Taliban from Canada and its allies.

There will only be 1,400 fully trained - and still woefully under-equipped - Afghans ready for battle by the time fighting season begins next year, according to officials here [emphasis added].

That's up from roughly 500 available last fall, thanks to a ramped-up training program, say Canadians shaping the effort, and the army is vastly improved.

Still, even that is far from a fighting force capable of replacing the combat punch of the heavily armed Canadian battle group with its tanks, artillery, night-fighting ability and tight integration with helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers capable of raining death from the skies. And it's far short of the 3,000 combat-ready Afghan soldiers that Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor predicted would be operational early next spring [emphasis added].

Even as the Afghan forces grow in numbers and fighting ability, they still have no armoured vehicles, no body armour, sometimes no helmets, no artillery bigger than mortars and no way of calling in air strikes. They fight with worn Kalashnikovs and drive around in open pickup trucks.

"They are making great progress," said Lieutenant-Colonel Wayne Eyre, who heads Canada's 70-soldier Operational Mentor Liaison Team (OMLT), attempting to transform Afghan soldiers deployed in Kandahar into combat-capable formations that will eventually supplant the heavily armed foreign forces now leading the fight against the Taliban.

"These guys can fight - it's almost a joy to watch them fight their way through enemy positions," Lt.-Col. Eyre recounts front-line Canadian commanders as saying.

The ANA - at least that part of it that most concerns Canadians - has come a long way since last fall. Then, a single, under-strength kandak (an Afghan infantry battalion) with perhaps 500 soldiers - although about one-third of them would be absent, usually visiting their homes halfway across the country - was the sum total of the Afghan National Army in Kandahar province.

Since then, teams of Canadian trainers embedded with and fighting alongside the Afghans, coupled with close pairing of small Afghan units and elements of the Canadian battle group, have transformed that kandak into what Brigadier-General Tim Grant calls the "best Afghan battalion in the entire Afghan army."

Trouble is, there's still only one fighting infantry kandak in Kandahar. Another, consisting of raw recruits who have just finished basic training, will deploy in a few weeks. The brigade's third infantry kandak doesn't yet exist. However, on the plus side, both the combat support and logistics kandaks needed to round out the brigade are functioning [emphasis added]...

So far, building that ANA is a campaign of much promise, modest success and a long way to go.

Much of the progress may seem mundane, but it's vital to developing a capable army. Afghan units fighting alongside the Canadians in Kandahar now organize and provide their own convoys, plan their own (small) operations and are slowly integrating the combat support and logistics elements.

"The new leadership is good. ... They understand the fundamentals of fighting a counterinsurgency, including the importance of keeping the population on side," Lt.-Col. Eyre said...

...the AWOL (absent without leave) rate has dropped from a stunning 30 per cent to a still-intolerable - by NATO standards - but much better 10 per cent.

But the process will be gradual and it will be years before the Afghan army - even under the most optimistic of predictions - can project the kind of combat punch provided by 40,000-plus NATO troops backed by the world's most sophisticated warplanes.

Canada has ramped up its training effort. More than 130 officers and soldiers will be assigned to the OMLT during the current rotation based on the Van Doos battle group. That's up from 70 in the current OMLT. Still, that's only a fraction of the 1,000-soldier-plus Canadian battle group. However, deployed Canadian units will work alongside, and, it is hoped, in support of Afghan units.

"2008 will be the transition year," predicts Lt.-Col. Eyre. "I'd like to see them in the lead by the summer of 2008.
"  [emphasis added]

Mark
Ottawa

 
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