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Welcome to Pretendahar
It's not Kabul, but the 'suicide bombers' of this local training centre seem terrifyingly real

Melissa Leong in Toronto
National Post

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Canadian soldiers are shopping in a marketplace under the shade of green tarps, speaking to vendors at tables cluttered with books, tires, clothes and strips of carpet.

The troops are approached by women peddling tiny socks and jumpers outside the local school. "Canada great," a woman veiled by a green scarf says repeatedly.

The appearance of a man carrying a box and walking into a nearby intersection goes unnoticed by civilians. He heads for a police officer at a checkpoint in the centre of the roundabout, ignoring orders to stop.

Pulling out sticks of explosives, he lobs them at the officer before detonating a bomb strapped to himself. They both disappear in a cloud of smoke.

The chaos of women wailing and locals fleeing is all part of a drill the soldiers are practising inside a new training facility in Toronto -- a local brigade's latest response to the changing way Canadian troops are fighting overseas.

This is Pretendahar: The Indoor Urban Operations Training Centre, which officially opens today inside one of the original aircraft hangars of the old CFB Toronto. It is designed to prepare Canadian troops for overseas deployment with actors, a mock "set" of a Kabul suburb and simulated gunfights and explosions.

Critics outside the military have charged that Canadian soldiers have not been sufficiently prepared for what military officials call the three-block war -- where peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts coincide with a high-intensity battle in which the enemy is often hidden within the local population.

However, Colonel Gerry Mann, commander of the 32 Canadian Brigade Group based in the Greater Toronto Area, said, "For years, we were incongruent with the kinds of things that we've been asking our soldiers to do. Our history has really not been war fighting. Where we've been going is assisting in failing states where humanitarian assistance is needed, where we've got a government that needs some form of assistance to provide stability."

For soldiers, that often means immersing themselves in the area, interacting with inhabitants while watching for insurgents.

"All of our training in our past has been about force on force," said Sergeant David Williams. "There was always a cut-and-dry good guy/bad guy scenario, and we had very little to do with the public or residents in the towns that we were operating in. What's going on overseas now demands that the guys [interact] with locals."

The imitation Kabul inside this 50,000-square-foot building has a refugee camp, a mosque, two open-air markets and a shantytown made of wood and corrugated metal sheets. The idea to transform the hangar into a training centre, the first indoor facility of its kind, came from a few soldiers in the Toronto- based unit. Units across the province will be able to rent the space for their own training.

Although soldiers preparing for overseas duties now go to Petawawa for pre-deployment training and then finally to a sprawling outdoor training centre in Wainwright, Alta., this new indoor centre will be their first opportunity to practise under pressure.

"Every bit of that realism, that stress, helps your memory -- it's almost like your muscle memory," said Sergeant Dorothy Wojtarowicz, a 31-year-old combat engineer trained to deal with mines and explosives who spent six months both in Bosnia and Afghanistan and is now teaching at the centre.

"An urban area is very complex," said Major Mark Walsh, standing in the middle of the fake town. "We don't know who our enemy is. We don't recognize them."

Sgt. Williams, acting as the security team commander, led a tour of the facility yesterday for members of the media, who donned helmets, jock straps and neck guards as they were embedded with soldiers for the exercise.

"Security is better all round and the market has come back to life," he said, walking down a strip flanked by a row of sea containers and market stalls. "It's a safe place to be ? the market shopkeepers are all quite happy to see foreigners in town."

Minutes later and metres away, the insurgent with the explosive box came along. There was a loud pop, followed by smoke. A fake hand and leg landed nearby.

"Take cover! Take cover! Take cover! Stay down! Get off the streets!" a soldier yelled.

A woman wailed. One soldier dragged a fallen comrade by his jacket to safety.

Meanwhile, several soldiers exchanged gunfire with the insurgents -- one hiding amid a pile of crates, another behind a tank. Ammunition casings bounced off the tarps and wooden structures. Soldiers and insurgents in Pretendahar are armed with C7 rifles loaded with "simunition" rounds -- liquid-filled projectiles.

A soldier hoisted his wounded colleague on to his shoulders and carried him away.

"We find that very early on they are getting hit with the paint ? and it becomes an eye-opener for them," Col. Mann said. "If I did that and these were real, I could've been injured or I could've been killed.

"It's a way to give our soldiers the wake-up, the awareness they need."


Visit our homepage for an exclusive gallery of photos from Pretendahar.

© National Post 2007
Competitor's version, shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.

Training for the 3-block war
New training centre simulates urban warfare for both police and soldiers

Bill Taylor, Toronto Star, 26 Jan 07
Article Link

It's an old aircraft hangar at Downsview Park. But what's in it could be a slum in Kandahar. Or a subdivision in Brampton or Barrie.

The scenarios may be very different but there are common elements to a firefighter in a crowded urban area in Afghanistan and a police takedown in a suburban Ontario shopping mall.

Which is why yesterday's opening of the Canadian Forces' new Indoor Urban Operations Training Centre attracted about 30 police officers from forces all over the region, including the OPP and RCMP. Many belong to emergency task forces.

"I'm curious to see what this might offer for police training," said Insp. Mark Neelin, of Barrie Police Service. "We're always interested in new techniques."

The cops lined up to put on helmets and face masks for a short "patrol" in what looks like a labyrinth shantytown of rundown houses and shops. In 10 minutes, they encountered a suicide-bomber, a flurry of gunfire (all blanks) – death and dismemberment. "That," said one burly officer, "was intense."

That's the idea. The training centre, the brainchild of 32 Canadian Brigade Group reserves and the first of its kind in Canada, is meant to recreate "the edge of a typical urban space in a failed state," according to a Canadian Forces statement. There's an open marketplace and a warren of narrow alleys and tiny rooms; imminent peril around every corner, behind every doorway.

With trained role-players portraying townspeople and insurgents, Sgt. David Williams, who oversaw the building of the project, led a mixed group of police officers and soldiers through – the troops armed with rifles. They passed windows with laundry hanging from them and into a "street" with stalls selling everything from tires to clothes. Scrawled on a plywood wall: "Go home, Canada. Die, die."

Suddenly, out of nowhere a man was advancing toward a checkpoint, ignoring the order to, "Halt! Halt! Halt!" He threw something, there was a flash, a bang, and a cloud of smoke (talcum powder). Then an arm and leg flew through the air. The soldier manning the checkpoint slumped over the sandbags.

Williams ordered everyone down as his troops opened fire. One soldier went down and was dragged to cover. One of the officers was ordered to put a compress on his leg. Meanwhile, two insurgents were rushing forward shooting wildly. The troops returned fire and the men went down. As the area was "secured," the wounded soldier was carried to safety.

Maj. Mark Welsh, who is also an OPP constable, has served in Somalia and Rwanda. "It's always been in urban areas," he said. "That's where 80 per cent of the world's population lives.

"It's not about being out in the woods and digging trenches anymore. We needed this kind of training area for everything from crowd control to chasing down bad people. Risk assessment, dealing with a bad guy in a crowd... there are a lot of parallels with police work.

"The aim is never to set anything off. A show of force, maybe, or peaceful negotiation, but nothing more than that if it can be avoided. Better to gain trust and build rapport.

"A police officer is often in exactly the same sort of situation so we're hoping a lot of them will come and train here."

Col. Gerry Mann, commander of 32 CBG, said the centre will also give his forces the chance to train with local fire and ambulance departments "to give a domestic response capability in the event of, say, a train derailment where you need to evacuate people quickly. In a domestic emergency, a natural disaster or whatever, civilian resources can be overwhelmed."

It was soldiers returning from Afghanistan who came up with the idea for the indoor training centre. It's taken a year to build, at a cost of $58,000. There are other urban-training facilities in Canada, including in Meaford, Ont., and Edmonton, but "none of them simulates the current operations overseas; what you might call the three-block war," said Mann.

"Within a three-block area, you could have peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and war-fighting going on simultaneously. That's today's reality."

A local imam will do diversity training, said Capt. Julie Misquitta. "Something as simple as, when you go into a mosque you take off your footwear," she said. "We can even have people playing embedded reporters and teach soldiers how to deal with them."

Indoor Sim ranges seem to be popping up across the country.  In the Maritimes there's a similar range in Aldershot thats been there a couple years, it has smoke dischargers and cameras for AARs.  In Gagetown there is a range in one of the old RCR buildings and another in LFAA TC's HQ building.  Its relatively simple to get a building cleared for a simunition range now that the bugs have been worked out by certain units that have already fought the battle.  There were issues at first with getting Fire Marshalls to clear it but last I checked the only real concern was that a soldier could only be exposed to 3000 rounds a day since the rounds discharge a gas when fired.  I never got an answer on whether that was 3000 rounds fired by an individual or on the entire range.
Rent a training area??? new way to get money for a budget you  rent out a training area?
"The imitation Kabul inside this 50,000-square-foot building has a refugee camp, a mosque, two open-air markets and a shantytown made of wood and corrugated metal sheets. The idea to transform the hangar into a training centre, the first indoor facility of its kind, came from a few soldiers in the Toronto- based unit. Units across the province will be able to rent the space for their own training."
How the world has changed. During the " Cold War "phase of my military career, the only training we got was " place head between legs and kiss ass go bye."  It is good to see our military using tools to better train our soldiers. It's to bad it has come to this.
I have trained inside that hanger.

The mock town looks very impressive and offers a lot of training value.

They mention Kabul twice in the article as if that's where all the action is, that just an oversight on their part? or is it meant to be in there? I noticed that yesterday when I was reading it at work.
J. Gayson said:
I have trained inside that hanger.

The mock town looks very impressive and offers a lot of training value.

Question: I assume that Bde G3 manages it in some way. Is there a permanent 'range staff' for this facility? Great idea, let's set them up all across the country.
In general, yes. From posting #2 it looks like 32 Bde HQ runs it.

However, it's still not clear to me if it's run by a full time training cadre provided by Bde HQ, or if units provide DS to be trained by the trainers, and then run their own people through. I'd be interested in hearing what the resource commitment would be to keep this going given that we're sucking the well dry to do regular training as well as staff up various overseas deployments.
When I used it, my unit provided the staff.  I think this is how it's going these days.

To bad the roof collapsed from snow.
No way!!

Must be catching... BC Place thundered in too. That would make a very realistic scenrio: urban CQB with the whole building coming down around you.
Any other units out there have modular buildings with wooden walls that you slap together?

From what I've seen we're not really maximizing the use of these facilities.  There should be well thought out collective trg range practices laid out in an Urban Ops trg document.  They should follow a range logical progression going from crawl to run.  Reading "Training at the Speed of Life" opened my eyes to how thoroughly planned and controlled this trg should be.  I don't think we're even close to the level that we should be at. 

The UOIs seem to focus on the individual skills level and they've got that sorted out, but the collective trg I've seen seems to be too "off the cuff".
FormerHorseGuard said:
Rent a training area??? new way to get money for a budget you  rent out a training area?

Just about everything requires a Fin Code these days WRT training.  Unit A wants to train at Unit B's facilities, the cost comes from Unit A's Budget...

Heck,  its almost imposible to get a meal at the mess with out the proper Fin code these days...But that's another story...

Its one crap hole city setting after another. It is about time we learned that in cities is where we need to train, not just the open fields of Gagetown and Wainwright. Not to mention indoor simunition training, esp force on force, highlight both good and bad training habits that will affect soldiers when reality strikes.
Here are the links to the Army News stories  for "Pretendahar" (print and video) that we did back in December.