The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

War in Afghanistan 2007 Week Eight

Can you believe it? It's been one year since Canadian troops arrived in Kandahar province as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

A new rotation of soldiers is underway and Week Eight of 2007 gave the newbies a little taste of almost everything they can expect.

The week started with a bang. And a bang. And a bang. A three-vehicle collision, in other words. Except that the vehicles were armoured military vehicles.

They were moving in convoy through the streets of Kandahar City just before dawn when the accidents happened. 13 soldiers were injured, nine of them from from 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment based at CFB Gagetown, outside of Fredericton. Six were choppered to the main military hospital at Kandahar Airport so doctors could have a closer look at them. All were expected to be back on duty right soon.

And you've got to wonder how many of that unlucky 13 were in the convoy that got hit by insurgents shortly after 11 p.m. the same night. Now that would be bad luck.

Major Dale MacEachern said the convoy was near the governor's palace when hit by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. Afghan police say insurgents were attacking a checkpoint or police station in the area when the Canadians rolled into the three-way intersection, forcing the Taliban to redirect their fire. The vehicles pushed through the attack, shaking off hits by the anti-tank rockets. Nobody was hurt.

Then about half an hour later, the convoy stopped to repair damage to one of the Canadian vehicles. They got ambushed a second time, this time by small arms fire only. In the confusion, an Afghan police officer and a local beggar were shot and killed by Canadian soldiers.

The attacks were the first time Canadians have come under sustained small-arms fire inside the provincial capital itself. Until now, Taliban insurgents relied on suicide bombers or improvised explosives in Kandahar city.

It's obvious that Canadian forces, especially those new in theatre, have been told to be aggressive with anyone who ignores signals to keep away from convoys, moving or stopped. A spate of suicide bombers and the disruption of bomb plots (see our earlier Afghanistan 2007 reports) has put everyone on high alert.

Just last week a soldier new to Afghanistan wounded the driver of an Afghan army pickup truck east of Kandahar when he tried to pass a security cordon around a disabled Canadian RG-31 Nyala vehicle. The truck was peppered with a blast of 7.62-millimetre machine-gun fire from the Nyala's turret. The driver was hit in the arm and leg and showered with broken glass.Lt.-Gen. Rahmatullah Raoufi, a senior Afghan commander, said such incidents increased the strain between the allies "(But) the Canadian who shot our man must be punished according to Canadian army law."

Week Eight wasn't finished with the Canadians yet. Friday morning 10 to 15 insurgents engaged Canadian troops in a firefight near the village of Hawz-e-Madad. Several Taliban fighters were killed and one captured. Canadian forces have been dug in east of Hawz-e-Mada for weeks since the last big military operation in Kandahar province in December.

Maple Leaf in the Bullseye

Canadians in Afghanistan can be excused for feeling as if they're in the bullseye---because by all accounts they are.

Mullah Dadullah (you gotta love the name), the Taliban's operational commander in southern and eastern Afghanistan, was on Al Jazeera T.V. this week spouting the usual terrorists rhetoric, which, however, often contains nuggets of real information.

He said the Taliban had completed their "war preparations" and were ready to begin their "feared Spring Offensive (TM.)" and the attack would include all of Afghanistan, but would focus on the south, where most of the troops are British and Canadian, in order to take control of entire cities.

Murray Brewster, who is covering Afghansitan for Canadian Press, was more specific:
"For weeks U.S. commanders have been warning that extremists, most of them based in neighbouring Pakistan, were preparing to unleash a bloody offensive aimed at driving NATO out of the southern region and capturing the crown jewel of the fundamentalist movement, Kandahar city."

Dadullah's threats, said Brewster, "caused a flurry of panicked, unsubstantiated rumours in Kandahar that aid organizations and foreigners were being targeted."

"Canadian troops on the ground will readily tell you they expect to be fighting this spring and summer in Helmand province... But they will also tell you that if the battles are in Kandahar province, in Panjwaii and Zhari districts - places already paid for with Canadian blood - then NATO's war is in trouble.", Brewster concluded ominously.

Ground Zero

The British in Helmand, next door to Kandahar, spent Week Eight in almost constant combat of one form or another.

The village of Musa Qala remains in Taliban hands since insurgents overran the local police three-and-a-half weeks ago. There's been a blackout on news from the area so we can only speculate at what NATO's strategy is.

Initially they waited until they got a shot at the leader of the insurgents, then they dropped a bomb on his head. Two commanders went down in quick succession. There were reports of probing by Special Forces and that NATO troops had located themselves about 90 minutes from Musa Qala. Then---- nothing.

Are they content to leave the estimated 200 Taliban fighters alone and isolated where they can keep an eye on them, and Special Forces can pick them off if they try to leave? Are they waiting for a top Taliban commander to surface? We can only keep watching.

The Taliban overran another small village, Baqwa in Farah province next to Helmand, the third this month (after Washir last week). They drove off the district police chief and security guards, stayed barely 30 minutes, destroyed a vehicle, stole a stash of light weapons and set the district building on fire.

"At 11:30, we lost telephone and radio contact with our police in Baqwa district. According to the people of the town, our policemen escaped in different directions, and the Taliban are in the district, although not in the center for fear of bombardment." Said Baryalai Khan, the secretary to the provincial police chief.

The next day about 160 Afghan police and soldiers, backed by a 12-man US special forces team, "retook" the village. NATO officials weren't too concerned about the new takeover which one spokesman descrimed as "more drug lord-inspired than Taliban extremist-inspired."

"We know that the Taliban extremists are connected to the drug trade, but for the most part, these were thugs who did not like what the police were doing in their area, so they intimidated them and perhaps called in some Taliban allies to help them push them out of the town," he said.

A greater concern is that the police in Baqwa warned their provincial headquarters of the Taliban's approach in large numbers, but NATO failed to respond. Given the ISAF's control of the skies, the absence of an immediate retort is a significant failure which only builds the Taliban's image and plays into their propaganda.

However elsewhere in Helmand, the British were taking the battle to the insurgents.

More than 250 British soldiers, supported by Afghan artillery units for the first time, attacked and wiped out a key Taliban headquarters around the southern Afghanistan town of Garmsir which one officer called "the Taliban gateway to Helmand.

"Starting late Saturday the battle last much of Sunday as troops from Z Company, 45 Commando, cleared three compounds, while a reconnaissance force made up of I Company, Royal Marines, and C Squadron, Light Dragoons, held off Taliban reinforcements.

The three large compounds were linked by trenches and underground tunnels. British troops were surprised at how extensive the Taliban's defensive complex was, with trenches 125 feet long, three feet wide and more than six feet deep with a network of firing points and cover positions.

"The area is littered with Taliban prepared positions; it's almost like a First World War battlefield in appearance said Major Jules Wilson, who co-ordinated the operation.

NATO Casualties

One 23-year-old Royal Marine was killed last Wednesday when he stepped on a mine while on routine patrol in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

A female soldier from Spain was killed when a land mine blew up the armoured ambulance she was driving near the town of Shindand in Heart province. Two male soldiers were injured. They were in a convoy of four ambulances on their way to support an Italian team training Afghan army troops.

Spain has almost 700 soldiers based in western Afghanistan as part of the 35 000-strong Nato force there.

A U.S. soldier died in a firefight Monday in Kunar province. Sixty-six U.S. troops were killed in action in Afghanistan in 2006Three men were killed in Helmand on suspicion of being U.S. spies. Two were beheaded and the third hanged. A reporter for Al Jazeera said the hanged man was killed for carrying an ID card from the US government development agency USAid.

Taliban plans

In his interview broadcast Thursday on Al Jazeera, Mullah Dadullah said 6000 fighters have been deployed in Afghanistan awaiting the spring offensive. James Bays, the news agency reporter, was taken to a rally of insurgents arranged for him to film.

"It was somewhat unnerving standing in the desert with such a large group - over 400 Taliban fighters. They were even youngsters holding weapons. Some were no more than 12-years old while others carried their ammunition in UN food bags."

Dadullah said the Taliban will counter NATO's superiority in weaponry with a campaign of terror bombing using car bombs, motorcycle bombs and explosive vests on suicide bombers.

"Praise be to Allah, who gave us this great power of self-sacrifice, among Arabs and non-Arabs," he said. But the one armament that terrorizes the insurgents is NATO airplanes and UAV's.

Air War

Even as a Taliban commander boasted to the Al Jazeera reporter that his forces controlled Helmand province, appointing their own governor and running their own hospitals and religious schools, they raced in fear from location to location.

"The journeys are often at break-neck speed - because of the risk of Nato air strikes," wrote Bays for the Al Jazeera website.

And NATO planes were busy in Week Eight. A B-1B Lancer disrupted a Taliban ambush near Kajaki Dam, the major reconstruction project in Helmand province. F-15E Strike Eagles helped the British ground troops in Garmsir. And when troops clearing a booby-trapped bomb in Uruzgan fought off an insurgent ambush, the Taliban fighters ran into a cave to hide; a NATO jet dropped a one-ton bomb on the cave.

Suicide Bombers

There was only one report of a suicide bombing attempt in Week Eight.

As 150 people gathered at the main government hospital in the city of Khost for the ribbon-cutting opening a new emergency ward, security personnel stopped a man disguised as a doctor who was trying to get in.

He started running, and NATO troops shot him several times. One soldier literally wrestled him to the ground and held him long enough for the crowd to escape the area. The soldier broke away before the bomber detonated his explosives. Two other soldiers were injured by the explosion, which, of course, killed the bomber.

Reports of suicide bombings are usually short on detail. But this week we came across two, one in a mainsteam newspaper and the other on the internet, which gave new perspectives on earlier this month.

The first, from Tom Coghlan of the Telegraph (U.K.):

Few foreign aid agencies are prepared work in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. Two weeks ago, a white clad figure approached the sandbagged guard post outside the compound of one agency. Very politely the man explained that he was a suicide bomber. "I have no problem with you," he told the local guards, opening his jacket to show the bomb strapped to his body. "Just let me go inside and kill the foreigners."

The nearest guard shot him in the chest and the man collapsed against the sandbags, detonating the device as he did so. Though shrapnel peppered the surrounding walls, only the bomber was killed.

The next, from the Internet, compared to the official story that ran in newspapers across the world.

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, January 18, 2007
Two Afghans thwarted a would-be suicide bomber from attacking a U.S. base in Kabul on Tuesday, according to a news release from Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan.The incident happened when a driver tried to ram a vehicle filled with explosives through the front gate of Camp Phoenix, the news release says.

Realizing this was a terrorist attack, an Afghan security officer and an interpreter on the scene were able to stop the driver from detonating the explosives, said a Task Force Phoenix spokeswoman
in the news release.

"With the assistance of the U.S. Security forces, they dragged the terrorist from the vehicle where U.S. security force soldiers then detained him," said 1st U.S. 1st Lt. Cathrin Fraker

U.S. and Afghan forces then cordoned off the area, and the bomb later went off as Explosive Ordnance Technicians tried to disarm it, the news release says.

"If it wasn't for the quick actions of the local nationals working for the U.S. Forces, several lives would have been lost," said Col. David B. Enyeart, the deputy Task Force commander.

Another side of the same story:

E-mail from afganistan 2/23/2007 Friend serving in AfganistanHi everyone.

I'm still alive but freezing my tail off. We got 8 inches of snow last week and it reached 5 degrees below zero that night. That's not why I'm e-mailing though. You may have heard about a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul last Thursday. It was at one of our FOB's (Forward Observation Bases) about 27 miles from here. But the real story is why no one was killed.

We employ several thousand Afghans on our various bases. Not to mention the economy that is fed by the money these locals are making. Some are laborers and builders, but some are skilled workers. We even have one Afghan that just became OSHA qualified, the first ever. Some are skilled HVAC workers.

Anyway, there is this one Afghan that we call Rambo. We have actually given him a couple of sets of the new ACU uniforms (the new Army digital camouflage) with the name tag RAMBO on it. His entire family was killed by the Taliban and his home was where our base currently resides. So this guy really had nowhere else to go. He has reached such a level of trust with US Forces that his job is to stand at the front gate and basically be the first security screening.

Since he can't have a weapon, he found a big red pipe. So he stands there at the front gate in his US Army ACU uniform with his red pipe. If a vehicle approaches the gate too fast or fails to stop he slams his pipe down on their hood. Then once the gate is lifted the vehicle moves on the 2nd gate where the US Army MP's are. So he's like the first line of defense.

Last Thursday at 0930 hrs a Toyota Corolla packed with explosives and some Jack Ass that thinks he has 72 Virgins waiting for him approached the gate. When he saw Rambo he must have recognized him and known the gig was up. But he needed to get to that 2nd gate to detonate and take American lives.

So he slams his foot on the gas which almost causes the metal gate to go up but mostly catches on the now broken windshield. Rambo fearlessly ran to the vehicle, reached thru the window and jerked the suicide bomber
out of the vehicle before he could detonate and commenced to putting some red pipe to his heathen ass. He detained the guy until the MP got there. The vehicle only exploded when they tried to push it off base with a robot but no one was hurt.

I'm still waiting for someone to give this guy a medal or something. Nothing less than instant US citizenship or something. A hat was passed around and a lot of money was given to him in thanks by both soldiers and civilians that are working over here.

I guess I just wanted to share this because I want people to know that it's working over here. They have tasted freedom. This makes it worth it to me.

{Name redacted for security reasons},
CPT, US Army

Yes, Rambo is a real person. You can see what he looks like at

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