En­cour­ag­ing report on Afghanistan

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Stanstead East

To­day, there are over 800 Cana­dian mil­i­tary men and women in Afghanistan as part of the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force (ISAF). This Cana­dian mis­sion falls un­der the NATO Train­ing Mis­sion which is made up of over 4000 troops from thirty-nine na­tions.

In De­cem­ber, Bri­gadierGen­eral Robin Gagnon (ret’d), of Stanstead East, in his role as Colonel Com­man­dant of the Cana­dian In­fantry, vis­ited Cana­dian troops in Kabul, Afghanistan, tour­ing sev­eral camps and cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas with them. He was part of a vis­it­ing party which in­cluded Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Richard Giguere, Com­man­der of Land Forces Que­bec Area, Ma­jor-Gen­eral (ret’d) Alain Fo­rand, Colonel of the Royal 22nd Reg­i­ment, Colonel Rock Pel­letier, Com­man­der of the Cana­dian Mis­sion, sev­eral other mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and two artists to en­ter­tain the troops: Cana­dian Idol win­ner Eva Avila and FrenchCana­dian singer Richard Petit.

“We spent two days tour­ing camps. When we’d ar­rive we’d have cof­fee and min­gle with the troops. The artists sang Christ­mas songs. Richard Petit has been to Afghanistan be­fore and to the Balkans to en­ter­tain troops; he brings a dif­fer­ent artist with him ev­ery time. It was Eva Avila’s first con­tact with the Cana­dian Mil­i­tary and she looked a lit­tle sur­prised when we first ar­rived and were given steel hel­mets and flak jack­ets to wear. We’re a tar­get there and we could have been am­bushed at any time,” ex­plained Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Gagnon in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal.

“I thor­oughly en­joyed my visit and I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the high level of con­fi­dence the troops have in the Afghans to con­tinue in their role to main­tain se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity once NATO leaves,” con­tin­ued Bri­gadierGen­eral Gagnon.

The Cana­dian Mis­sion is in­volved in the NATO train­ing mis­sion in five key ar­eas of ac­tiv­ity: men­tor­ing and de­vel­op­ing the Afghan Na­tional Army ( ANA); men­tor­ing and de­vel­op­ing the Afghan Na­tional Po­lice (ANP); strate­gic men­tor­ing at the Min­istry of De­fense and the Min­istry of In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity; men­tor­ing and de­vel­op­ing the ANA Health Care Sys­tem; and men­tor­ing and de­vel­op­ing the Afghan Air Force (AAF).

“There has been a dra­matic aug­men­ta­tion in Afghan se­cu­rity forces; one aim is to em­power the lo­cal peo­ple. It is the exit strat­egy of the mis­sion: the build-up of the lo­cal army and law en­force­ment.” The growth statis­tics of the var­i­ous se­cu­rity forces in Afghanistan are im­pres­sive. Be­tween 2009 and 2012, the Afghan Na­tional Army has gone from 97,011 troops to 184,676; the Afghan Na­tional Po­lice has gone from 94,958 to 149,339; and the Afghan Air Force went from 2,800 to 6,172. The Afghan Spe­cial Ops Forces, non-ex­is­tent in 2009, now num­ber 15,525.

The pay rate of the se­cu­rity forces is one rea­son there is a strength­en­ing of the num­bers. A re­cruit be­gins with an an­nual pay of the equiv­a­lent of $1,980 while the other lev­els of su­per­vi­sion can earn be­tween $2,580 and $10,000, mak­ing join­ing a se­cu­rity force a re­ward­ing ca­reer choice. The an­nual re­quire­ment for an Afghan fam­ily of four is $2,640. “It is a well-paid job within the so­ci­ety. It is im­por­tant to main­tain and re­tain ro­bust po­lice forces in Afghanistan,” added the Bri­gadier-Gen­eral. As an added mea­sure, the pay che­ques of Afghan sol­diers and po­lice agents are di­rectly de­posited into their bank ac­counts, re­mov­ing the risk of fraud.

Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Gagnon was also pleased to make sev­eral other dis­cov­er­ies about the mis­sion, in­clud­ing the facts that: “The Afghan in­sti­tu­tions be­ing trained and men­tored by Cana­di­ans were highly sat­is­fied with the Cana­dian ap­proach; and that the Cana­dian mil­i­tary men­tor­ing teams in­clude mil­i­tary women…hav­ing a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence to­wards shift­ing men­tal­i­ties. The Afghans were ini­tially sur­prised to be men­tored by women, but now they ac­cept it.”

“The Cana­di­ans are help- ing to set up a med­i­cal school for the army, for train­ing medics and all med­i­cal per­son­nel needed in a mil­i­tary set­ting. They learn how to evac­u­ate the in­jured, about triage; it is a com­plex sys­tem that is nec­es­sary for an army.”

Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Gagnon learnt that the Cana­dian sol­diers in Afghanistan were not for­got­ten by their fel­low com­pa­tri­ots back in Canada. “We saw boxes and boxes of let­ter s from Cana­di­ans that had ar­rived in De­cem­ber – there were not enough sol­diers to read them all.” He con­tin­ued: “We ex­plained to the sol­diers that we vis­ited that we weren’t there for in­spec­tions, we just wanted to be with them over the hol­i­days to have a good time and spend Christ­mas with them. They really ap­pre­ci­ated that.”

Many of the sol­diers now serv­ing in Afghanistan are on their third or fourth tour of duty there and so are, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­gadierGen­eral, in a good po­si­tion to eval­u­ate the progress that has been made. “Ev­ery per­son that I spoke with, from sol­diers to gen­er­als, had a high level of con­fi­dence and op­ti­mism about the mis­sion.”

The Cana­dian mis­sion in Afghanistan will end in March, 2014.

Photo courtesy

This pic­ture was taken with the Cana­dian group of men­tors re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing the Afghan Air Force at the NATO camp lo­cated at Kabul Air­port. Within that NATO camp, Canada has its own fa­cil­i­ties.

Seen in front of the flags of the na­tions tak­ing part in the NATO mis­sion are (l. to r.), Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer Philippe Tur­bide; Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer Jean-Marc Godin; Ma­jor-Gen­eral Alain Fo­rand; Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Richard Giguère; Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Robin Gagnon; singer Eva Avila; and singer Richard Petit.

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