Encouraging report on Afghanistan
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.
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.