Operation Archer

Canadians strengthen base in Kandahar

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 The Halifax Herald Limited 

By Terry Pedwell / The Canadian Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Soldiers are fortifying the compound that is home to Canada's new provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan, braving the Kandahar heat to further prevent potential attacks from Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents.

Military engineers erected razor wire around the PRT compound's inner perimeter Tuesday as steel mesh security barriers were filled with sand and rock inside the camp's walls.

Most of the work has been done in the early morning hours to take advantage of slightly cooler temperatures. By lunch hour, the sun bakes the compound, with the heat reaching 45 C or higher.

An American team, also known as a PRT, has used the compound since late 2002, but focused more of its attention on protecting people travelling outside the camp, said Lieut. Andrew Bone, one of the Canadian Forces members responsible for security.

"(The Americans) had a smaller contingent here with a different mission. They didn't have the manpower to go out and start putting up the wire.

"We're doing it because we can, and that gives us more security in this location."

U.S. forces did have some protective measures in place, and American officials said they felt relatively secure within the compound walls. But Canada's military wanted more, said Capt. Kerri Iwanonkiw, an engineer with the PRT.

"They did have barbed wire on top of the walls. We just wanted to make it a little more stable and more secure," she said

The U.S. team had fewer than 100 people. Canada's PRT has 250 soldiers, and will soon include members of the RCMP, Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency.

The PRT is Canada's newest foray into Afghanistan's volatile southern Kandahar region, with an aim of improving security in the region and helping to rebuild local and national government infrastructure.

The added security measures for the camp might reassure soldiers inside, but their biggest worry lies on the other side of the wire.

A major potential threat comes from the use of improvised explosive devices, what the military refers to as IEDs. "That's the biggest fear," Bone said

Canadian troops in Kandahar aim to win 'hearts and minds' of Afghans

By Terry Pedwell  (CP)
July 29, 2005

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Canadian soldiers have begun deploying to their new home in Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar region - a site that so far looks more like a druglord's compound from a low budget Mexican b-movie than a military camp.

"Well, it's different (than Edmonton)," said Pte. Charlie Burge as his eyes wandered for the first time around the location of Canada's first provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan.

The compound, just outside Kandahar, will house about 250 soldiers, along with RCMP officers, foreign affairs and international development workers, who started arriving this week at the nearby U.S.-run Kandahar air field.

Canada is taking over the site from the U.S. military, which has housed a team of roughly 100 people there. Most of the Americans - and some Romanian soldiers - remain at the camp while the Canadians move in, so space is at a premium.

To make room for the soldiers who began arriving Friday, Canada has set up several weather havens, oval-shaped, enclosed tent-like structures that are all too familiar to soldiers at Camp Julien in Kabul, north of Kandahar.

Others, however, are being crammed into small cement rooms inside rustic warehouse buildings within the walled compound.

Military engineers have been working feverishly to add space, and in particular to increase the capacity of the site's sewage treatment system and power grid.

They'll also need a new kitchen, after discovering that it will be too difficult to expand the existing food service area.

For now, though, increasing the size of the camp has been a bit like trying to renovate a house while the owners are still living in it, said Capt. Robin Keith of the Canadian Forces' 1st Engineering Support Unit.

"It's always more difficult to do renovations, particularly since the Americans are still living here, said Keith, who has been working seven-day weeks since being brought into the camp in early July from Moncton, N.B.

Tonnes of materials have been shipped into the camp to make the changes. Some things, such as electrical generators, were sent over from Canada in June.

Much of the rest has been taken from Camp Julien, which is being slowly torn down as Canada moves its main operations in Afghanistan.

"One of the biggest challenges was getting the material in, because we put in a 60 Hz electrical system, and that material had to come from Canada, said Keith.

An estimated 1,500 soldiers will bolster the numbers of Canadians in the Kandahar area by February, although it's expected they will have to establish a new, much larger camp.

Leaving the worries of creature comforts to others, many of the soldiers moving into the site this week are looking beyond the compound walls, thinking about the challenges ahead, and how they can make a difference in the lives of local residents.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier has maintained that the military's approach in Kabul - a campaign aimed at winning the hearts and minds of local residents - can also work in Kandahar, despite a much greater risk of attacks by insurgents and continued U.S. military operations in a region that was the birthplace of the Taliban.

"We're hoping it'll work," said Pte. Burge, as he pondered the task Canadians face.

"Don't go in with a kick-in-the-doors attitude," is the way he sees it.

"Taking a friendly approach with the locals," he said.

"Not necessarily going by their rules, but at least respecting their way of life."

His first tour of duty as a soldier, Burge, 30, hopes his wife Nicole will continue supporting his work in Afghanistan over the coming six months.

"She understands that this is what I joined to do," he said.

"She's been really supportive, and hopefully she remains supportive."

Operation ARCHER

In July 2005, a Theatre Activation Team of about 220 personnel from the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Group based in Kingston arrived in Kandahar to provide the support and install the infrastructure necessary for the arrival of the PRT.

Starting in August 2005, a Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team begins operations in Kandahar, where it is expected to remain for 18 months. The PRT brings together personnel from the Canadian Forces (CF), Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in an integrated Canadian effort.

Under Operation ARCHER, the Canadian contribution to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the PRT will reinforce the authority of the Afghan government in and around Kandahar and help stabilize and rebuild the region. It will also help monitor security, promote Afghan government policies and priorities with local authorities, and facilitate security sector reforms.

The PRT is being established in Kandahar City, and some of its support elements will operate from Kandahar International Airport. The PRT will include about 250 soldiers, drawn largely from Land Forces Western Area and 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group based in Edmonton, Alberta:

  • An infantry company from the 3 rd Battalion, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI);
  • An engineer squadron from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER);
  • A combat support company from 1 Service Battalion (1 Svc Bn) and 1 General Support Battalion (1 GS Bn);
  • Health and medical support from 1 Field Ambulance (1 Fd Amb); and
  • Other specialized elements from various CF units.

The PRT will also help lay the groundwork for future Canadian missions in Kandahar with a view to creating a stable society under Afghan governance.

Operation ARCHER also comprises a small cadre of CF instructors helping train the Afghan National Army at Camp Julien.