* Has NATO actually formed a 27,000 member army to stabilize Afghanistan?
* Will Prince Harry be serving in Afghanistan in the Canadian zone?
These are a few of the questions we came up with while putting together a primer ahead of the debate in Parliament on Canada's commitment to Afghanistan. The answers might surprise you.
- Currently, over 21,000 forces from 21 nations are in Afghanistan. This will increase to an army of 27,000 under NATO control by about August. The United States will provide 16,000 troops, Britain 6,000 and Canada 2300.
Canadian Gen. Ray Henault says NATO has agreed it will take at least 10 years to rebuild the basic infrastructure of war-devastated country while overcoming the resistance of drug lords and the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban.
In February, Canada took command of a multi-national task force in southeast Afghanistan. Called Task Force Aegis, we are leading a force of about 6,000 solders from Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, the U.S., Romania and Estonia.
The Headquarters element stationed at Khandahar airfield,one of only two major military air bases in Afghanistan, is committed to a nine-month stay (until November, 2006). The 900 member battle group, Task Force Orion, will be deployed for two successive six-month rotations, which likely means any future extension of the Canadian commitment will mean another debate in Parliament next January or so.
- Canada is responsible for securing six provinces, including Helmand and the neighboring provinces of Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan, the hotbed of Taliban militias. More than 100 people including 13 U.S. soldiers and one Canadian have been killed here since the beginning of 2006.
Helmand's terrain, the rugged mountains that characterize Afghanistan, are popular hiding places for Taliban fighters who find it easy to slip back and forth to Pakistan. Mullah Omar, former leader of the Taliban when they ruled Afganistan was once thought to be hiding out in Helmand, where he has family and tribal ties.
Col. Chris Vernon, the British chief of staff to the Canadian multi-national brigade commander. told CTV Newsnet the region is "key" to the Taliban's communication lines.In Helmand, the Taliban have formed a marriage of convenience with drug traffickers.
Drug traffickers pay the Taliban to fight government forces to keep security forces so tied up fighting guerrillas, that they won't have time to fight the drug trade. In return, the Taliban guard heroin factories and provide armed guards for drug convoys heading south into Baluchistan in Pakistan. This alliance has left the Taliban in Helmand flush with cash and arms. -- http://robertlindsay.blogspot.com/2006/03/war-continues-in-afghanistan.html
British forces will be stationed in Helmand province. They've started arriving in the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah at a rate of about 100 a day to build barracks and bunkers for the main force of six thousand. Along with reconstruction, the Brits will be training a 3,000-strong Afghan National Army brigade.
- In January, England was atwitter over the possibility that Prince Harry will join the forces in Afghanistan when he leaves Sandhurst Military Academy in April. He's currently in Cyprus along with 200 other army cadets undergoing battle training. Upon graduation he will become a second lieutenant in the Blues & Royals- a regiment of the Household Cavalry.
A troop of Scimitar and Spartan light tanks from the Household Cavalry will be stationed in Helmand province.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman told the press: "If he joins the squadron after Sandhurst, he'll be off to Afghanistan."
But in February came news that Prince Harry was not bound for Afghanistan. He was going to Iraq. Defence sources said Harry will join the Army's 1st Mechanised Brigade, which will be deployed in Basra in May 2007. As a troop commander in the Blues and Royals, he will have charge of 11 men and four light tanks.
This no doubt came as a great disappointment to Taliban commanders like Mullah Razayar Noorzai. In an interview given to a journalist from the Italian news service Adnkronos International (AKI), Noorzai said the chance to fight British troops was "a great honour."
"We have already prepared 600 suicide bombers alone for the Helmand, and you'll see that we will turn it into their graveyard."
In a story for AKI last month, reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote that he was told that in the past two years, about 500 Taliban fighters were sent to Iraq in groups to be trained in terrorist tactics.
Taliban spokesman Mulla Abdul Latif Hakimi confirmed that Afghani militants had adopted the tactics of Iraq. He told Aljazeera:
"...the focus was now on the training suicide bombers to target government officials, foreign forces and aid workers in major cities and to infiltrate agents into security organs to carry out sabotage."
(He may regret opening his big mouth. He was arrested in Pakistan last October and turned over to Afghan authorities later in the year.)
And the Sept. 26, 2005 issue of Newsweek carried an interview with Taliban commander Mohammed Daud, 35. "I'm explaining to my fighters every day the lessons I learned and my experience in Iraq... "I want to copy in Afghanistan the tactics and spirit of the glorious Iraqi resistance."
- Daud and other Taliban leaders tell NEWSWEEK that the Afghan conflict is entering a new phase, with help from Iraq. According to them, Osama bin Laden has opened an underground railroad to and from jihadist training camps in the Sunni Triangle.
Self-described graduates of the program say they've come home to Afghanistan with more-effective killing techniques and renewed enthusiasm for the war against the West. Daud says he's been communicating a "new momentum and spirit" to the 300 fighters under his command.
* In 2005, there were at least 13 suicide attacks, more than double the number from 2004, according to the New York Times. As in Iraq, bombers have increasingly targeted civilians.
Last June, a suicide bombing at a Khandahar mosque killed 19 and wounded 52. There have been 19 suicide bombings across the country since last November, killing more than 80 people, including a Canadian diplomat.
In November, two suicide attackers rammed car bombs into vehicles carrying NATO-led soldiers in Kabul. One German soldier was killed.
In early March a guerrilla suicide bomber in a vehicle attacked a Canadian LAV III armored vehicle in Kandahar, wounding 5 Canadian soldiers. The attacker was an Afghan from Kandahar who had the name of a Pakistani Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, written on his chest.
* Canada has had one soldier killed in combat, 22 year old Private Robert Costall. Details of what happened the night he was shot are few and far between. Here's what we have been able to piece together from various sources:
- In the evening of Tuesday, March 28th, an Afghan convoy headed to reinforce Forward Operating Base Robinson, a tiny piece of nowhere, was ambushed. Six Afghan soldiers were killed. Or eight. They were attacked four kilometres south of the base. Or 13 kilometres away. Accounts vary, obviously a lot.
The soldiers fought their attackers off. A roadside bomb destroyed the road ahead of them, cutting off their escape to the base. They were able to call for help and Kandahar air field dispatched two British Harrier fighter bombers and two U.S. Apache attack helicopters to provide air support.
- What happened to the convoy has been lost in translation. What we know next is that at 10 p.m. that night, a Canadian Quick Reaction Force was mustered. This consisted of 38 men of 7 Platoon, Charlie Company of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. They were carried the 110 kilometres to the battle area in Helmand's Sangin district by U.S. helicopters.
At 1:30 a.m. the base came under attack from three directions. Taliban militants rushed from the north and west, and even came across the Helmand River on small craft. Canadian, American and Afghan National Army troops opened fire.
The battle raged for a long time. An Afghan soldier was killed. Twenty minutes into the battle, a Vermont National Guard soldier, medic Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone, 52, was killed by small arms fire, shot in the torso despite wearing full body armour. He was on his third tour in Afghanistan and was directing soldiers when he was hit. He had been stationed at the base about six weeks.
- At least five coalition forces were wounded, including three Canadians and an American soldier, officials said. And Pte. Costall died in a hail of bullets. An autopsy showed he was shot in the back of the neck, with the bullet exiting out his mouth. He was also shot in the mid-chest area, this bullet exiting about armpit level. Military officials said he was shot as his section moved to reinforce a corner of the base.
- U.S. war planes dropped 11 guided bombs on about 20 militants At least 12 Taliban militants were killed in the initial attack.
When the Taliban militiamen broke off the attack, they were chased about two kilometres by coalition forces. The militants tried to take refuge in some buildings in a compound. But a B-52 strike ended that plan. Another 20 Taliban fighters were killed.
Coalition forces discovered large caches of munitions as they overran the Taliban compound, including more than 450 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, used in improvised explosive devices.
"The capturing of these two compounds with boots on the ground produced significant intelligence and allows us to continue to put pressure on the enemy," Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, said.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Mike Cody said the Taliban attackers used rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles, and - -- mortar artillery. The use of mortars in an assault like this is something new and strengthens claims by the U.S. military that pro-Taliban militants are getting equipment and training from insurgents in Iraq.
* Three of the four coalition troops were quickly back in action. But it was the wounded Canadians who sparked several investigations into the events at FOB Robinson.
The first indication authorities had that friendly fire might be involved came from wounded soldiers who spoke with Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, who rushed to their bedside after they were airlifted to hospital the coalition airfield in Kandahar. "I think we were shot by our own side," one of the troops reportedly told him.
A preliminary review of the disposition of troops during the battle supported the allegation and it was decided to launch a further, more detailed investigation. (Canoe, April 4)
The Canadians took casulties, but their attitude is fiercer than ever.
Major Bill Fletcher, company commander said it best: "There's going to be a lot of crap in this area, the most lethal and potent of which is us.''
* There's a lot of good reporting from Afghanistan by reporters embedded with the Canadian forces. But for our money the best is coming from Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno. Search her stories out for journalism at its finest.
This came out today and seems pretty relevant to our post.
'When we kill enough ... they will quit'
Toronto Star > 04/09/06
MURRAY BREWSTERKANDAHAR, Afghanistan - As MPs gather in Ottawa to discuss Canada's more combative role in southern Afghanistan, a senior Taliban official and coalition commanders painted two disparate images Sunday of where the war is headed. In a weekend interview with The Canadian Press, insurgent spokesman Qari Yuosaf Ahmedi said the Taliban are convinced the resolve of the Canadian people is weak.
As suicide attacks and roadside blasts increase, the public will quickly grow weary, he said. "We think that when we kill enough Canadians, they will quit war and return home," Ahmedi said in an interview, conducted through a translator, over a satellite telephone. Given the fact troops are already deployed, Ahmedi suggested Monday's House of Commons debate as a sign of indecision among Canadians.