Operation AthenaSoldiers from the 3 RCR Battalion Group deployed to Afghanistan along with a National Command Element and Brigade Headquarters staff to form rotation zero of Operation ATHENA, Canada’s first contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Battalion Group comprises two Light Infantry companies, one LAV III company, a combat support company, a field engineer squadron (from 2 CER), a RECCE platoon, a direct fire support platoon, and a civil-military cooperation detachment. The unit arrived in Afghanistan August 2003.
The 3 R22R Battalion Group replaces the 3 RCR Battalion Group between mid January and mid February 2004. As best as I am able to determine, the Battalion Group has the same composition.
Concerts sooth troops - 27 Nov 03
Mine clearing slow work - 24 Nov 03
Dangerous munitions destroyed - 19 Nov 03
Chilliwack familiy continues to serve - 18 Nov 03
Afghan kids lead to bombs - 17 Nov 03
Lack of firefighting equipment - 14 Nov 03
Troops refuse bribe demands - 10 Nov 03
Canadian Engineer escapes blast in Afghanistan - 29 Oct 03
Mine blast damages Engineer Vehicle - 29 Oct 03
New remote mine detection system hits the road - 22 Oct 03
Mine-busting robot impresses UN - 20 Oct 03
Revolutionary Canadian robot clears mines - 24 Sept 03
Anti tank mine killed Canadian Soldiers - 7 Oct 03
Sappers live with danger in their everyday work - 3 Oct 03
Engineers probe Kabul site - 3 Oct 03
Canuck describes Kabul rocket attack - 29 Sep 03
Tramp Tramp Tramping through Afghanistan - 4 Sep 03
All in a days work here in Afghanistan 31 Aug 03
Canucks on the hunt - 29 Aug 03
Canadians sweep mines from Kabul streets - 26 Aug 03
Anti tank mine stops Canadians in their tracks - 25 Aug 03
TAT returns to Canada - 31 July 03
Victoria beer specialists aid troops - 25 July 03
Canadian troops leave for Afghanistan - 19 Jul 03
Engineers celebrate 100th anniversary - 1 Jul 03
TAT prepares for arrival of troops - 25 Jun 03
By Andrea Macdonald
After arriving in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Theatre Activation Team (TAT) has been working around the clock to make the arrival of Operation ATHENA troops a smooth one.
On May 23, Defence Minister John McCallum announced Canada would be supporting the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and TAT was immediately sent to prepare and execute the reception, staging and integration of the Canadian Task Force.
"The Theatre Activation Team will establish the necessary in-theatre support infrastructure for Operation ATHENA," said Mr. McCallum.
With members from the CF Joint Headquarters (JHQ), the Joint Support Group and the Joint Signals Regiment, CFB Kingston, the TAT is a group of highly trained personnel ready to be deployed anywhere in the world on short notice.
On this operation the TAT is accompanied by a majority of India Company of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, CFB Gagetown.
"They have taken the task of defence and security of the TAT and they’re doing a great job," said Colonel Marc Pouliot, TAT commander.
TAT arrived in Kabul in four waves. The first to deploy in-theatre was the Liaison and Reconnaissance Team, who arrived in the end of April, and negotiated a contract for a piece of land in Kabul, which will be the Canadian Battalion Group Area of Responsibility.
"We have a very dynamic, experienced and professional team, but we also received a lot of help from the ISAF headquarters, the UK, and German contingents, and from many other troop contributing nations," said Col Pouliot.
The next three waves of TAT members occurred from May 24 to June 1.
Prior to Op ATHENA, the TAT has been sent on other missions such as Op ECLIPSE in Ethiopia/Eritrea and Op FORAGE in Macedonia.
"The key logistics guy with experience here is Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Bergeron who was with in the TAT for Eritrea and he also led the closing mission there," said Col Pouliot.
"Based on LCol Bergeron’s experience, we brought our own rough terrain container handlers. It turns out he was right," said Col Pouliot.
Thus far everything has been relatively on target. There have been a few challenges such as driving and the heat, as well soldiers having to wear flak vests with body armour while travelling outside camp.
"I call it a personal sauna," said Col Pouliot.
Last year, on previous operations, DND wanted help in supporting missions abroad. Therefore, the Canadian Contractor Augmentation Program (CANCAP) was developed to compensate for the reduced number of support trade personnel.
On Op ATHENA the TAT engineers from the JHQ and I CEU from Moncton, N.B. designed the camp, and SNC-PAE was hired to construct the camp using their own employees, as well as local Afghan workers.
SNC-PAE will be integrated into most of the camp support services for the duration of the tour.
Col Pouliot estimates that the TAT will remain in-theatre until the third week of August when he can hand over the camp to the arriving troops.
"The team is extremely focused. It’s a beehive in here. One of my tasks is to make sure that the team doesn’t burn out," said Col Pouliot.
Until the TAT returns home, families of team members are able to follow their progress by calling the Mission Information Hotline, for French and English messages.
"The response from the 1-800 number has encouraged me to continue leaving messages. It’s no small task. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s worth it," said Col Pouliot.
I made may way out the Canadian Camp in Kabul to witness and celebrate the CME flag raising on our 100th birthday. It would be my last CME function as a member of the regular force (I am officially retired on 6 July). The Engineers were busy so the ceremony was brief...at 1600 all CME personnel formed up at the main gate for the raising of the CME flag....a great mixed bag of geo, combat, construction, and airfield engineers...we even had an "old guard" - me and Bill Montague. We all knew that we would have the 100th birthday bragging rites, as we were 7 hours ahead of NL and therefore the undisputed "first in" for marking the 100th.
CHIMO! Gary Silliker
PETAWAWA, Ont. (CP) - There were hugs, kisses and plenty of tears as 150 troops said their goodbyes Saturday before departing on a six-month mission into the great unknown of Afghanistan.
The cooks, lawyers, medics and others - primarily part of the 1,900-member mission's service battalion - constituted the first deployment of main-element soldiers to the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"It's horrible," said a teary-eyed Dawn Townshend, whose husband Robert Beatteay is a sergeant with the signals corps on his third and last overseas deployment.
"It hurts to be apart like this and it doesn't get any easier. We take it one day at a time."
In fact, many family members said it will be harder than most deployments. Media reports have persistently reminded them that Kabul, where four German soldiers were recently killed, is an unstable, unsafe place.
Defence Minister John McCallum reiterated the point Saturday, acknowledging that Canadians will be in harm's way but reminding them that they are there for Canada's security as well as Afghanistan's.
"I can tell you that the international forces of which we are a component are the only thing standing between Afghanistan today and falling back into that failed-state status that would allow the re-emergence of the al-Qaida and the risk of further terrorist attack, whether on the United States or Canada or some other country," McCallum said.
"The world as a whole cannot afford to allow that to happen, and it is right that Canada step up to the plate and do its part."
Terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who made his base in Afghanistan, has specifically singled out Canada as a target of his al-Qaida operatives. At remote bases scattered throughout Afghanistan, al-Qaida trained and equipped the terrorists who committed the airliner atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.
A U.S.-led military operation scattered al-Qaida and Taliban fighters last year but they have re-organized and continue to menace the fragile government of Hamid Karzai as well as threatening further terrorist strikes against the West.
While the American-led efforts continue, primarily in the south and east regions, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, has patrolled Kabul. The 29-country, 5,600-member force has come under weekly attack and about 20 of its soldiers have been killed.
The military estimates between five and 10 Canadians will die over the course of two deployments in the next 12 months.
McCallum said afterward that he would resign his post if it is found that any Canadians died as the result of a lack of preparation or equipment. He said he is confident they have the best training and equipment available.
The government says no expense has been spared in assembling the mission, which includes unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, special radar units and artillery.
Those seemed of little comfort to many families. In spite of all the equipment, training and incessant news coverage, for some the mission came down to just one thing.
"I'm being left behind again," lamented Nicole Millar, whose husband Greg will serve as a captain in the battalion's operational headquarters on his third overseas mission, each of them six months.
The couple has three children, ages four to 16, and Millar said it's a big adjustment every time her husband goes away, but especially this time.
"The fear factor is big in this mission compared to the rest."
Master Cpl. Bonnie Muise, an administrative clerk from Codroy Valley, Nfld., on her second deployment said it's especially difficult leaving her family behind "not knowing what to expect over there."
"I'm nervous, but I'm a soldier and I'll go do the best that I can."
Her husband, mechanic Dennis St-Pierre, retired from the army six years ago after four overseas missions. The former sergeant said he knows the troops are well-trained and will look after each other.
"That's the thing - everybody looks out for the other one. It makes it a lot easier. It'll be hard but we'll work through it. Afghanistan is different."
Said Maj. Doug Kromrey, a medic and an 18-year veteran of multiple tours from Nanaimo, B.C.: "This is a different mission. It's a lot farther than I've ever gone and the situation's a little more tenuous at times."
The dire warnings have been harder on his children than him, he said.
However, Maj. Louis MacKay of Halifax, a legal advisor to the brigade commander, said the troops are well-equipped with what everybody is calling "robust" rules of engagement.
It is MacKay's job to interpret those rules for the Canadian contingent. He said the interpretations of "lethal force" vary among the nations involved but the Canadians, he said, "are equipped for everything."
"As in any mission, the rules of engagement cannot negate the inherent right of self-defence."
Each of the troops was issued a box lunch, a country familiarization booklet and an ISAF shoulder flash that includes the plain ISAF patch in English and Arabic and the insignia of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade with a fleur-de-lis and a cougar head.
Family members waved Canadian flags and wept as three buses left for Trenton, Ont., where the troops boarded an aircraft.
An Alberta oil patch company and a Victoria metalworking firm have combined forces on a rush job to make sure Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have plenty of clean drinking water.
A Hercules transport plane is scheduled to fly out of Victoria airport today with the six-tonne water treatment plant aboard, destination Kabul. FilterBoxx of Edmonton and Specific Mechanical Systems, a Victoria company better-known for building microbreweries, had just 30 days to create the filtration system.
It's normally a three-month project.
"It really came together," said FilterBoxx president Troy Lupul, at Specific's shop in the Keating Industrial Park.
Lupul called the partnership with Specific Mechanical president Phil Zacharias and his staff a good fit. "It's the best stainless steel shop for a job like this," said Lupul, praising local welders and fabricators working with his "hurry-up" crew.
"It's oil-patch design but it's built in Victoria."
The Canadian Forces gave the $350,000 water treatment plant job to FilterBoxx, which in turn brought Specific Mechanical in to assemble the various filters, build a stainless steel holding tank and the heavy-duty aluminum skid that everything fits on.
The two companies have worked together before, mainly for energy industry clients who needed compact water or sewage treatment plants for remote exploration camps.
Specifications required the system to fit inside a Hercules air transport craft, said FilterBoxx engineer Kevin Slough of Calgary, who designed the treatment plant.
The finished system is 7.62 metres long, three metres wide and three metres high and will fit on a flatbed truck for the 10 kilometre ride to the airport.
Filters including some "nanofiltration" systems will take out microbes and viruses, producing a water quality better than some municipal systems, even removing upwards of 60 per cent of dissolved salts. Water will also be chlorinated as part of the treatment.
The military isn't sure what the ground water is like in Kabul. Traces of gasoline and diesel fuel have been found in some samples. There's been deliberate contamination of wells in the tribal fighting, said Lupul.
"We had to design this thing for the worst-case scenario," Lupul said. It's going into a "hot zone," he said, referring to both the 35-degree heat and the continuing fighting in Afghanistan.
The portable filtration plant will pump out 350 cubic metres of clean water a day for the military, 250 litres a minute, about 380,000 litres -- or several swimming pools worth, said Slough.
"They just want something they can turn on and run."
Some of the water will be bottled to serve Canadian troops, and Dutch and German soldiers who are part of the Afghanistan security assistance forces whose job is to bolster the new Afghan government.
It's expected to supply 1,600 to 1,800 people with all their water, Slough said.
Lupul will fly to Kabul on the weekend to commission the system and ensure everything works.
Employees from both companies have worked side-by-side, sometimes as late as 4 a.m. to finish the job.
"We had a few 'Oh-my-Gods' at the end when pumps that were supposed to arrive last week came yesterday," said Slough. But the components have been assembled in time. "Now I just stand back like a nervous parent wringing his hands," he said with a smile.
The whole treatment plant was to be powered up and tested for the first time Thursday night, less than 18 hours before it's due to be winched aboard the Hercules. But the project team was confident.
Ryan Arsenault, the FilterBoxx employee who designed and built the electrical control panel, smiled when he said they've come up with their own military-style acronym -- RMAT, for "rapid manufacturing assault team."
© Copyright 2003 Times Colonist (Victoria)
OTTAWA - The Theatre Activation Team (TAT) for Operation ATHENA, comprising about 150 Canadian Forces (CF) members, will be flown back to Canada from Kabul, Afghanistan, between 24 July and 8 August 2003. The return of the TAT marks the end of the first stage of Operation ATHENA, Canada's contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.
"I cannot overstate the importance of the work of these dedicated men and women, nor how proud I am of them," said Minister of National Defence John McCallum. "They go into a place where there is nothing, in conditions that are extreme at best, and in a very short time build the facilities necessary to support more than 1,500 people."
"The work done by the men and women of the TAT adds enormous value to Canada's contribution," added General Ray Henault, Chief of the Defence Staff. "When our troops arrive, they find their quarters and maintenance facilities ready for them, so they can go right to work, fully focused on the mission at hand."
Canada has made a commitment to have a battalion group, a brigade group headquarters, and some additional CF elements fully deployed in Kabul in support of ISAF by late summer 2003.
ISAF comprises approximately 5,000 troops representing 29 nations, currently led by Germany and the Netherlands in co-operation. The mission of ISAF is to help maintain security in Kabul and the surrounding areas so the Afghan Transitional Authority and UN agencies can function. The mission also involves liaison with political, social and religious leaders to ensure that ISAF operations appropriately respect religious, ethnic and cultural sensitivities in Afghanistan.
The TAT was made up of soldiers from the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Group based at Kingston, Ontario, and a defence and security platoon from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, based at Gagetown, New Brunswick.
KABUL—It is midnight at Camp Julien and most of the 1,950 soldiers — those not out on operations or pulling guard duty — are fast asleep.
For once, it is quiet. The only sound is the reassuring hum of power generators.
Just before dawn, the wind will carry prayers from a nearby mosque.
Later, it will carry the sound of explosions as crews sweep the surrounding areas for land mines.
At night, there are other explosions. Close enough to see but too distant to hear. They fill the sky with amber light and soldiers spill out of their tents on Sapper Row, Royal Rd. and Joggers Lane to get a good look.
Nobody here knows where they're coming from.
"It's definitely no aurora borealis," says Lt.-Col. Don Denne, who commands the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment and looks like the coach of a winning football team.
Over the years, this ground has been fiercely contested by a kaleidoscope of forces: Soviets, mujahideen, Taliban and Coalition.
Before the Canadians moved in, Camp Julien was still a minefield situated near Darul Aman, the king's palace.
The other day, a group of combat engineers swept through its crumbled ruins, looking for booby traps.
All they found was a piece of bone and shoe where two men accidentally blew themselves up last May while planting an explosive device police believe was meant to target Canadian troops.
"A few months ago, these soldiers were in basic training. Today, they're looking for land mines in a king's palace," says Sgt. Rob Horton, a combat engineer walking through the ruins.
Retired Lt.-Col Mark Topliff was one of the first to arrive here last spring, as part of a reconnaissance team sent to search out a site for a Canadian base camp.
He remembers a roofless farmhouse, rolling hills and an old ammunition dump.
"We blew up any mines that were left and blasted apart that old ammo dump. We flattened the field and dumped $1 million worth of gravel on the ground to keep the dust down," he says.
It didn't work. When family back home ask what it's like here, dust is the first thing these soldiers describe.
It is laced with fecal matter from the dried-up Kabul Rriver. It coats the insides of eyelids and the wrinkles of socks. It clogs up the engines of the open Iltis vehicles and clings to C-7 rifles.
It makes the air hard to breathe.
Most afternoons, dust storms blow through the camp. Last week, the wind was strong enough to lift a tent clean off the ground.
Canadian soldiers have been living on this base camp for nearly a month. This means bacon and eggs for breakfast, maple leafs hanging anywhere they will stick and the Tragically Hip beamed in on satellite radio.
It means when they drink their regulation two beers at the Camel Lounge after a hard day's work, they choose between Blue and Kokanee.
It means talking about the coming hockey season with intensity that borders on insanity.
"Before we came here, we read media reports that there would be a lot to be scared of, but so far the only thing I'm scared of is this dust," says a young sapper who did not want to give his name for fear his commanding officer would read this.
Camp Julien is surrounded by perimeter fencing and razor wire.Stretching a full kilometre in length and half a kilometre in width, it is rumoured to have cost more than $100 million to construct.
There are rows upon rows of barrack tents and Weatherhaven structures. Materials were shipped from Canada to Turkey, then sent in trucks and railway cars to Kabul.
For now, soldiers are living in makeshift tents while more permanent barracks are being built.
Some sections of the camp are still under construction.
The other day, two unexploded ordnances (UXOs) were found in a pile of dirt a dump truck dropped off earlier in the day. The engineers were called in and the threat was removed.
"Looks like it was an accident, not an attack," says a soldier standing guard.
"I guess life goes on."
Marcia's Barbershop, the post office, the 24-hour-internet portals and the Chapel of Good Hope and Perseverance are open for business.
There is more mail going out than coming in.
The other day, a Frisbee arrived and the soldiers of the Royal Canadian Regiment played on the parade grounds, dust devils dancing in the distance.
At chapel service last Sunday, padre Barbara Putnam compared the flak jackets and helmets the soldiers wear on patrol to the protection of God that shelters them from harm.
"All of you are wearing God's armour, the armour of faith and truth and righteousness," she said in her sermon.
Sapper Joe Ross, a combat engineer with the 24th Field Squadron, talks about how the soldiers will have the chance — some for the first time — "to make a difference" in the world.
"Some people look at what we're doing here as fighting, but at least we're trying to bring some order to this place, so one day they can stand on their own feet," says Ross, who quit college to join the military.
If there's one thing he will always remember about this tour of duty, it will be the face of a half-starved kid he passed on patrol.
"He was just standing there with his dad. When he waved, I waved back and he smiled. I just think he was happy to see someone notice him. It made me feel like I was making a difference."
Soldiers can't leave the camp unless they are on duty. Many say that's fine by them.
"The city stinks. It's broken down and there are people everywhere. It's hard to imagine this is where people live," says an infantryman who has never travelled outside of Canada.
But most troops won't ever see the other side of camp gates during their six-month tour.
Canadian soldiers in civilian clothes on the streets of Kabul pose a security risk, officials say. Their green uniforms are one of the only things protecting them from locals who have been known to thrown rocks at American soldiers.
Instead, every weekend, a few merchants are allowed inside the gates to their hawk their wares to eager Canadians for American dollars.
The soldiers buy Afghan carpets, turquoise jewelry and burqas to send back home as gifts. They buy Baywatch and Universal Soldier DVDs, shower flip-flops and extra cigarettes for themselves.
At the front gates, soldiers are doing eight-hour shifts in the unforgiving sun. It's boring work and they take turns smoking cigarettes in the pale shade of a nearby tarp. They are polite to the Afghans who show up on bicycles and battered trucks looking for work.
So far, thousands have applied for temporary jobs as interpreters, labourers and kitchen staff. Successful candidates who clear medicals and security screenings will be paid five times the amount most of them earn giving private English lessons.
Here, they are called the Afghan backhoe. They clean the latrines, dig ditches, cook food and clean up.
For many, it is their first contact with Canadians.
Most are shocked to see women living and working as soldiers. The other day, they watched in stunned silence as a group of female soldiers clad in shorts, tank-tops and belly-button rings erected a Weatherhaven.
"Our commanding officer came over and joked how we had nearly caused an international incident," says Cpl. Hollie Butticci, a camp medic.
Slowly, life at Camp Julien is beginning to settle into some kind of routine.
At sunrise, soldiers jog around a makeshift track with C-7 rifles or lift weights in the desert dust.
There are organized sports and clubs — bagpiping, lure-making, woodworking and yoga. Due to lack of interest, a reading club was cancelled and replaced by archery.
When graffiti depicting exaggerated anatomies surface on the walls of the port-a-potties, the drawings are promptly sanded down.
And at the front gates, Canadian flags have only just begun to fade in the sun.
Friday, August 29, 2003, by Canadian Press
MOUNTAINS NEAR KABUL -- By vehicle and by foot, Canadian troops penetrated deep into mountains near Afghanistan's capital, searching caves, ravines and mountain passes for evidence of a suspected Taliban and al-Qaida buildup.
The reconnaissance, or recce (pronounced REK-ky) troops didn't find all they were looking for, but they returned safely and gained valuable on-ground intelligence of an area unseen by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force or the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism for more than a year.
The mission, the first major operation of the troops' deployment here, came a week after the 1,950-member Canadian contingent almost doubled the size of its area of interest, encompassing remote regions far from the city streets where troops have been patrolling since mid-August.
ATTACKS CREEPING NORTHWARD
ISAF has had reports since early July of groups of between 20 and 30 Taliban and al-Qaida slipping into the country from Pakistan. More recently, the incursions have shrunk to threes and fours.
Attacks and other incidents have been steadily creeping northward toward Kabul in recent weeks.
And while the U.S. coalition has been concentrating its efforts to the east, many of the remote areas around the capital have been left unattended.
For the Canadians, patrolling the area is a force-protection measure as much as anything.
"We're the only guys out there," said the platoon leader, Lieut. Tim Partello, a native of Guelph, Ont. "And that puts it on our plate, regardless of whether there is an intent out there or not."
The platoon-sized, long-range reconnaissance mission, accompanied by combat engineers and forward controllers with U.S. aircraft and Canadian howitzer guns at the ready, set out in the predawn hours Wednesday.
While most recce missions are conducted covertly, this one was purposely overt. Heavily armed and well-manned, part of its objective was to exert an intimidating ISAF presence in the area and perhaps draw out hostile forces.
The convoy of about eight vehicles headed directly to a suspected Taliban area within striking range of Camp Julien, the Canadian base in the city's southwest corner.
The route wound through mountain passes taken by centuries of invading armies - Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviets.
Along the way, they found caves set in the mountainsides and teams were dispatched to investigate. The initial cave was among the most interesting. The first of at least two chambers was about 1.5 metres high, three metres wide and five metres deep. The second appeared to be smaller.
Cpl. David Rowsell, a native of Campbellford, Ont., had the unenviable job of forging into the blackness.
"You couldn't see around the corners too well with the lighting and the equipment that we had. But we're trained for it. You hope for the best, expect the worst and just hope everything you learned carries you through and you make it out OK."
Rocks were stacked in front of the cave and also sealed off an antechamber to the right and in back of the initial room. Inside, the floor was stacked with dry leaves and the air was ripe with the sickly sweet smell of death.
What appeared to be a knife handle was sticking up. The mine detector was going crazy, whining and bleeping as if it were imparting an alien message.
"That's not good," one of the engineers told Partello outside the cave.
The room appeared to be a tomb, but the engineers couldn't be sure. Gun smugglers or hostile forces are known to have put dead carcasses of one kind or another in caves with their stash to ward off the curious.
They decided further investigation wasn't worth the risk.
Late yesterday, they went through another sprawling Taliban village. While the place was almost destroyed, people still lived there and young girls went to school among the ruins.
Cemeteries are everywhere. Lone graves lie by roadsides, on mountaintops, in battlefields.
The soldiers saw it all as they continued toward another creek bed over rough, rocky terrain, their Iltis vehicles tossing and rocking like ships on a changing sea.
Partello ordered his troops to walk to "save the vehicles." They had already lost one on Wednesday. At the end of a long, hot day, they humped 1,500 metres up a steady grade.
All stopped and took a knee on occasion, searching the surrounding cliffs for hostile forces as a tiny stream trickled and gurgled, the only remnant of a once-tumbling creek after more than six years of drought.
As the snipers took to high ground for about the sixth time that day, the others bedded down for the night in a ravine, eating rations, sleeping on rugged scree faces, rotating watches every three hours.
The star-filled sky lit up repeatedly, apparently from far-off American air strikes on hostile positions.
Yesterday, the Canadians left the ravine, moving out across a forgotten battlefield past the hulks of destroyed tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy artillery.
Chris Wattie National Post Monday, August 25, 2003
KABUL - Everything was going smoothly for Master Corporal Rob Kettlewell and his team of Canadian military engineers. After spending almost three hours sweeping an abandoned building for booby traps in the burning Afghan sun, they were on their way home for a well-deserved break.
Then the lanky 34-year-old from Picton, Ont., spotted a squat, ugly cylinder sitting by the side of the gravel road from his perch atop an LAV III armoured engineer vehicle. "Stop! Mine!" he shouted, loudly enough to be heard even without his helmet intercom.
The massive vehicle came to a sliding halt, so quickly the occupants were sent tumbling and another vehicle following behind bumped into the engineers' LAV with a crash that shook the 17-tonne carrier. "Everyone all right?" he asked urgently, then twisted in his station to glare malevolently at the mine, a sand-coloured plastic cylinder about a foot in diameter lying well off the road in plain view.
After checking the area for signs of other mines, Master Cpl. Kettlewell noted its position and continued to camp.
"Friggin' mines," he swore vehemently over the LAV's intercom. "I hate mines."
The anti-tank mine was found less than a kilometre from the home base for the Canadian mission to Afghanistan, on a route heavily travelled by soldiers patrolling the Afghan capital as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The powerful Italian-made explosive, designed to penetrate even the thick armour of a main battle tank, was later destroyed and spokesmen for the Canadian battlegroup said they did not believe the mine was planted to attack one of their vehicles or foot patrols.
"It was visible from the road and quite far off the road ... [so] the local people could have put it there so that we would get rid of it," said Major Roland Lavoie, spokesman for the Canadian contingent. "It would be very unlikely that this would have been put there with an intent to harm."
It certainly harmed the good mood of Master Cpl. Kettlewell and his team of sappers from the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.
They had already spent a busy afternoon, crawling through a bombed-out building looking -- ever so carefully -- for booby traps in the area of Camp Julien, home to most of the 1,900 Canadian troops in Kabul.
They were clearing the structure, which, like so many in Afghanistan, was all but destroyed during two decades of warfare, for use as an observation post by other Canadian troops. More than two decades of war have left the nation littered with hundreds of thousands of land mines, explosives and unexploded shells or bombs, and Canadian soldiers are forbidden to enter areas until they have been cleared by the contingent's squadron of engineers.
Even before their sudden discovery of the anti-tank mine, Master Cpl. Kettlewell had warned his men to watch out for danger as their LAV climbed up a winding road to the top of a ridge near the Canadian base on the outskirts of the Afghan capital. "Remember, guys," he told his two mine specialists, "the whole side of this ridge is mined."
When they reached the top, Corporal Jeff Isaac, of Campbellford, Ont., jumped out the back with his partner, Sapper Damien Kachur, 21, of Scarborough, and began unloading his kit of probes, lights and other specialized gear to help them find land mines, unexploded weapons or booby traps.
With Spr. Kachur close behind, carefully stepping in the same footprints, he began checking almost every square inch of the area. Patches of sand were delicately prodded with a long thin probe, looking for anything metallic or out of place beneath the surface. Loose rocks were carefully examined from every side, including the bottom, before being placed aside.
"It's tiring doing this," Cpl. Isaac said. "You can only do it for about 20 minutes at a time, then you start to get the shakes ... it's stressful.
"But this is our bread and butter, it's what we do."
A branch across the steps leading up to what is left of the front door took Cpl. Isaac several minutes to declare safe -- clear of trip wires or hidden explosives. A pile of loose rubble inside took longer, and in minutes his dark hair was plastered to his skin beneath his helmet and Spr. Kachur took over, pulling out a selection of telescoping probes and flexible lights from his case.
"It's no problem taking your time," Cpl. Isaac said while catching his breath. "No problem at all. You don't want to hurry, believe me."
Master Cpl. Kettlewell, watching their work from a safe distance, said there are enough mines and unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan to keep his sappers busy for a long, long time. "The stuff's everywhere. Look," he said, pointing to a rusty cannon shell lying half-buried in the dirt a few metres away.
"American anti-tank round, probably depleted uranium. It's just everywhere."
© Copyright 2003 National Post
SONIA VERMA Toronto Star Aug. 26, 2003
Kabul—Sgt. Mike Cotts unfurls his map and surveys the route his team of combat engineers will take to do a job others would dread — finding land mines before the weapons find patrolling Canadian soldiers first.
The combat engineers have only have a few weeks to sweep the streets of Kabul so soldiers from the 3rd battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment can patrol more extensively, keeping the city safe as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"The only way to figure out what's out there is to have a look for ourselves," says Cotts, 34, from Chalk River, Ont.
More than two decades of war means Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country in the world. An estimated 10 million mines stud its cities and countryside, killing or maiming roughly 150 people every year.
The soldiers clamber into a Nyala, an armoured reconnaissance vehicle built to withstand the equivalent of two simultaneous anti-tank mine blasts.
"If you hit something the tires will blow off and you might roll over, but you'll live. And under the hood, there's two of everything, so you should be able to drive yourself away," says Cotts, who joined the military out of high school.
Cpl. Ian Renals from Ottawa jumps behind the wheel and Sapper Jimmy MacNeil from Cape Bretton mans the gunner's turret. Cpl. Hollie Butticci, a medic from Petawawa, rides in the back.
Cotts climbs in the front next to the driver with his map. Patrol routes overlap like spider webs stretching across the western part of the city. Minefields and suspected minefields are also marked but long stretches of the road ahead are still unknown.
The only official mine records the Canadians have to go on were rescued from a torched United Nations office and information handed down from a team of German combat engineers who swept these streets before them.
Last May, a German peacekeeper was killed and another one wounded when their vehicle hit an underground landmine in this area. The accident weighs heavily on these soldiers minds.
"I'm still a bit nervous about leaving the camp, but you just have to stay vigilant," Butticci says.
As the Nyala ventures further from camp, the team sees evidence of mines everywhere. Some threats are in plain view — rusting unexploded ordnance from Soviet tanks and signs from local mine-clearing agencies warning of danger.
Others are less obvious — piles of painted rocks, walls spray-painted with unknown symbols and empty, grassy fields where no Afghan will tread.
Cotts takes careful note, but what he's really interested in is what lies ahead: an old minefield planted by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who claims to have a force of thousands of men and has launched a fresh campaign against President Hamid Karzai's government and its foreign allies.
The Nyala comes to a checkpoint manned by three men dressed in tattered clothes who are wielding AK-47s. Cotts climbs out of the vehicle, smiles and motions with his hands, asking permission to pass. The men, who do not understand English, gesture angrily at the soldiers to turn back.
The combat engineers don't have a translator. Eventually Cotts gives up and the Nyala turns around and heads back to camp. Operation Athena is a peace support mission and that means the soldiers can't use force to pass.
"I don't know who those guys were; they weren't there before," he says.
And further along the road, Cotts sees something else that grabs his attention. A long convoy of tan Toyota pick-up trucks with heavily armed, fierce-looking men in the back. They are wearing uniforms, but not the colours of the Afghan National Army.
"Did you see those dudes? They looked pretty hardcore," Renals says.
Back at Camp Julian, Sgt. Cotts surveys his map again and the job ahead. So far his team hasn't found anything they didn't already know about, but their job has just begun and some of their equipment isn't working.
The ILDS, the engineers' brand new remote mine detection system, is out of commission. It will take at least three more weeks to prove the rest of these routes so the Canadian battle groups can safely patrol.
And for now, Cotts is still thinking about what lies beyond that checkpoint.
Mountains Near Kabul — Canadian and Afghan soldiers combing mountains near the capital spotted possible insurgents making their way toward the city and traced access routes they suspect are being used by guerrilla fighters.
The sighting came on the second day of a tortuous three-day reconnaissance mission this week that took members of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment reconnaissance platoon and three Afghans 30 kilometres through ravines, over peaks and into caves.
They found landmines, booby traps and unexploded bombs — likely leftover from the Soviet war 20 years ago. They were confronted by cobras, vipers, scorpions and poisonous porcupine quills 25 centimetres long.
And they humped over peaks more than 2,650 metres high, descended 900 metres into valleys and ravines, and then went back up again.
On Wednesday, while half the platoon was out on patrol, lookouts spotted three men coming in from the west. One was armed with a long-barrelled weapon, likely an Enfield rifle or its Russian equivalent.
The three high-tailed it back the way they came when they spotted the Canadians watching them from their mountain-top patrol base. They could have been hunters, said one sniper, but their behaviour suggested otherwise.
"We proved you can walk through those mountains, that you can start at one end and walk into the city," said the platoon commander, Lieut. Tim Partello. "The fact that we saw three suspicious people confirms it more."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is responsible for the security of Kabul. It has had reports since early July of groups of between 20 and 30 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters slipping into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Recent incursions have involved groups as small as threes and fours.
Attacks and other incidents have been steadily creeping closer to Kabul in recent weeks.
U.S.-led coalition forces — not part of ISAF — have been battling insurgents mainly to the east, but many of the outlying areas around Kabul had been left unattended.
This is where the Canadians come in.
On Aug. 20, the area of interest assigned to the contingent of 1,950 Canadian soldiers serving under ISAF was almost doubled in size to encompass regions far from the streets of Kabul.
Patrolling these remote areas is a measure to protect the NATO force itself, as well as the city.
This week's mission began in the predawn hours Tuesday. The troops, accompanied by three members of the Afghan government military force, were trucked out to the mouth of a dry creek bed.
There, they began a four-kilometre hike uphill under a hot sun to a patrol base among boulders and scrub at the foot of a mountain. They constantly watched the cliffs around them for evidence of any threats.
Engineer Sgt. Mike Cotts, a flatlander from Watrous, Sask., walked point — took the lead position — the whole three days, leading the reconnaissance platoon through some potentially dangerous ground.
"I'm just glad he's got size 10 and I've got 8½.," said Sgt. Mark, a native of St. Thomas, Ont., who didn't want his last name used. "He's a good asset for us. I don't worry about looking on the ground. He's looking on the ground and I'm looking up."
Drawing on six tours' experience, Sgt. Cotts found landmines, deactivated a Russian antipersonnel mine inside a cave and discovered a booby-trapped bounding fragmentation mine alongside it — which he left alone. Sgt. Cotts had sat outside for a calming cigarette first before dealing with what was inside the cave.
"My heart was going; I can't imagine his," said Sgt. Paul Ogilvie, a native of Petitcodiac, N.B., who entered the cave with Sgt. Cotts. "I got the hell out of there."
The mission included a Canadian soldier fluent in Farsi, who acted as an interpreter with the Afghans and others the platoon came across — primarily goat herders.
Early Tuesday, the soldiers came across an elderly goat herder who warned them that the high ground had been heavily mined. But after Lieut. Partello set up his patrol base in the rocky creekbed, two of the Afghan soldiers requested a meeting with the platoon commander.
The high ground wasn't mined, they told him. And the base where he intended to spend the night was vulnerable to attack from above. "An ambush here would wipe out everybody," one of the Afghans said.
Lieut. Partello, a native of Guelph, Ont., countered that technology would rule the day — or night. The Canadians have night-vision equipment and they would see hostile forces before they would ever see the Canadians.
Canadian snipers were keeping watch higher up and the Canadians could call in American air strikes if necessary.
The Afghans were unconvinced. The Soviets did similar things and look what happened to them, they argued.
Besides, they said, come nightfall this low ground would be crawling with spiders, snakes and scorpions.
Lieut. Partello agreed to lead a reconnaissance patrol up the mountain. With Sgt. Cotts leading, a small patrol headed up more than 450 vertical metres and scoured the ground up for mines or unexploded munitions. They found none, and Lieut Partello ordered the patrol to move up to make the higher ground a patrol base, with an area large enough for the German helicopter resupply.
"They presented me with a very effective argument," said the lieutenant. "They said the chance of having a contact is greater than the chance of finding a mine."
No sooner was that said than the snipers found what they thought was a trip wire in the middle of the patrol base. As Sgt. Cotts checked it out, though, Warrant Officer Dave Hood of Port Hope, Ont., found a kite. The "trip wire" was a kite string, probably carried up from the village four kilometres down the ravine.
The tired soldiers ate army rations and bedded down, the starry sky and chirping of crickets broken by U.S. military jets passing overhead and thunder flashes from air strikes on positions far to the east and south.
Early Wednesday morning, Lieut. Partello and Sgt. Cotts took a reconnaissance patrol of about a dozen Canadians and one Afghan on a route west and north through the mountains, looping around south back to their patrol base.
What was intended to be a four-hour patrol turned into more than eight hours, taking them on a tortuous, sun-drenched journey along mountainside goat trails, through creekbeds and up cliff faces to the edge of the ISAF patrol boundary.
Lieut. Partello, Sgt. Cotts, Sgt. Mark, Sgt. Jack Durnford of Francois, Nfld., Cpl. Marty Lessisk of Toronto and Capt. Nick Williams of Ottawa shed their heavy web gear and scrambled to the top of a 2,662-metre peak for a bird's-eye view of the terrain.
The Afghan who accompanied the patrol suggested the Canadians were looking in the wrong places if they wanted to find Taliban or al-Qaeda insurgents. He noted there was no water where they were looking and said mountain fighters would always position themselves near water.
The nearest water was a river, reduced to a trickle by seven years of drought, in an area patrolled by Afghan government soldiers several kilometres away. Or the insurgents could be hiding in villages at either end of the range the Canadians were patrolling. That was a job for another day.
Lieut. Partello suggested it wouldn't be hard for insurgents to slip through checkpoints by either bribing soldiers or disguising themselves.
"The city's full of guns and bombs and mines," said Lieut. Partello. "It's people who are infiltrating the area; they don't need weapons to do that."
The patrol covered about six kilometres on the map but it took much out of some soldiers — bodies were soaked in sweat, skin was rubbed raw from equipment, muscles quivered from glucose starvation.
Communications in the mountains were a constant source of misery. Lieut. Partello's message that the patrol would stay out four hours longer than originally planned, relayed through their Kabul base, never reached the mountaintop patrol base.
But Cpl. Lessick, who humped the 15-kilogram main radio as well his own kit for three days, managed to maintain some communication by taking circuitous routes up and down hillsides — doubling his own misery.
Radio communication, said Lieut. Partello, "is as much an art as it is a science."
Wednesday ended with the medic, Sgt. Kevin McLean — a self-described air force brat who spent most of his formative years on the prairies — administering first aid to the troops.
Others took care of each other, patching up raw feet, passing out bottles of water.
The journey out of the mountains lasted nine hours under a hot sun, with most of the soldiers carrying 50-plus kilograms in rations, equipment and ammunition.
Along the way, Sgt. Cotts came across pineapple-style mines that had been washed into the creekbed from the cliffs above. He left them for another day.
The Afghans showed the Canadians different plants — a spikey-leafed weed whose roots they chewed into gum for water; another that settles upset stomachs.
The platoon also stumbled on a two-metre-long cobra, as big around as a pop can, slithering into a crevasse off the trailside. A metre-long viper scooted across the trail in front of another hiker later in the day.
By the time the troops hiked down 670 metres to the valley floor, they were exhausted. Then they found out the trucks that were supposed to meet them hadn't left camp. That unit, it turned out, did not want to venture out into so-called "Indian country" to get them even though the site was within their area of operations. The reconnaissance troops had to walk another kilometre into a village and set up a security zone before the trucks would come for them.
Lieut. Partello said the platoon obtained some important intelligence and learned a lot about mountain operations in the process including tactics, movement and endurance.
Cpl. Chris Hamilton of London, Ont., left a career in the navy, spent time in a mechanized reconnaissance platoon, then went to the infantry.
"I wouldn't say it's pleasant, but it's camping," he said. "Where else would you get paid to sleep outdoors and see the world?"
Said Sgt. Cotts, the engineer who walked point the entire mission: "It was like being on a stair-climber for three days."
A soldier originally from Stony Plain says his sleep was shattered Sept. 11 during an attack aimed at Canadian and other peacekeepers in Afghanistan.
"My guess would be someone ... doesn't like us. I don't know if they were Taliban or anyone else," Sapper Kevin Lloy, 21, told The Sun from Camp Julien in Kabul.
"I wasn't too worried. We have good training and truly there isn't much you can do when the rockets are landing. Have peace with God and hope they don't hit the camp," said Lloy, of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, which is usually based in Petawawa, Ont.
The Sept. 11 attack - on the second anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center - put Canadian troops on "the highest state of alert" for several hours.
Reports at the time said two 120-mm rockets were fired at Camp Warehouse, the main NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force base in Kabul.
Later that night, an explosion hit southeast of Camp Julien where Lloy is posted.
"I was in bed asleep - when the loud- speakers and sirens went off," said Lloy. "We all got out of bed, got dressed, put on all of our kit, then ran to the front gate. The loud- speaker was going off telling all to put on their safety gear and that this was not a drill and to turn off lights."
At the front gate, Lloy and his comrades were told what happened, but weren't sure what was next.
"No one really knew what to expect. Were we next or was that it?" said Lloy. "We then finished our shift all in the dark. I drove the four-wheeler around the camp with a C-9 gunner. We both had night-vision glasses. We checked the fence and the perimeter for anything that was out of the ordinary. We found nothing."
At the time, Lloy was also wanting to contact loved ones back in Stony Plain.
"All I wanted to do was call home to let everyone know that I was OK so that when they saw the news they would know ... not to worry," said Lloy, adding he wasn't too concerned.
"The rockets that they are using aren't very accurate. They are fired by remote and nine out of 10 times they are simply laid up against rocks and pointed in the general direction of their target."
Besides rocket attacks, Lloy has also helped check for mines and boobytraps at a former king and queen's palace, which is outside Camp Julien - just across the street.
Although Lloy spent a day in the palace - which is now used as an observation post - no boobytraps were found.
"The palaces are really destroyed," said Lloy.
"Nowhere near Buckingham."
Lloy has been in Kabul since the end of August and is expected to leave in February
KABUL (CP) - Canadian combat engineers wearing face masks and crawling on their bellies continued the painful, painstaking and dangerous process Friday of piecing together what blew a jeep apart, killing two soldiers.
Troops on the scene said it could be a week before the cool-headed sappers complete their work, clearing mines and combing the ground for fragments over a radius of 200 metres around the creekbed where a light Iltis vehicle was blown beyond recognition Thursday. Equipment and pieces of the unarmoured jeep were strewn everywhere in the dusty, scrubby, rolling hills 3.5 kilometres southwest of the main Canadian base in Kabul.
The vehicle was still burning Friday morning, almost 24 hours after Sgt.Robert Alan Short, 42, of Fredericton and Cpl. Robbie Christopher Beerenfenger, 29, of Ottawa were killed and three other paratroopers were wounded in the blast.
Soldiers said the engine block was so hot that it still couldn't be touched late in the day, when pipers and pallbearers were back in camp practising their roles for a Saturday memorial service on a hastily built parade square.
"If you didn't know what an Iltis looked like, you wouldn't know it was an Iltis," said one soldier, who asked not to be identified.
The engineers hope to determine through forensic examination and crater analysis what it was that killed Short, the platoon commander, and Beerenfenger, a mechanized infantryman on secondment to Para Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
Incredibly, the driver of the lead vehicle, Cpl. Thomas Stirling, 23, of Assiniboia, Sask., was thrown clear and survived the blast with cuts, bruises and third-degree burns to his hands.
He will be moved to a military hospital in Germany Saturday and will return to Canada sometime after the bodies of his fallen comrades.
Some of the dead soldiers' closest colleagues were to make the trip back to Canada with them while the NATO peace-support operation continued in Kabul. They were expected to arrive in Trenton, Ont., on Sunday.
Two paratroopers in the second vehicle, 20 to 30 metres behind Short's Iltis, received minor cuts and bruises, Canadian military officials said.
They are Master Cpl. Jason Cory Hamilton, 33, of Regina and Cpl. Cameron Lee Laidlaw, 25, of Oromocto, N.B. A third soldier in the second vehicle was uninjured. Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, said Friday a decision as to whether Laidlaw and Hamilton will be allowed to stay in Kabul will be made later.
At Camp Julien, home to the 3RCR Battle Group, soldiers did as soldiers do - burying themselves in tasks. Grim as they were, they were resolute in their attitudes as they planned ceremonies and launched still more patrols.
The Iltis is the main mode of transportation for Canada's light-infantry soldiers - small enough to travel Kabul's narrow alleys and streets, and with enough kick to negotiate dry creekbeds and rugged goat trails.
It has, however, been the object of derision among the troops for its propensity to break down and its cramped, open seating that leaves them vulnerable in the capital's crowded markets and choking traffic jams.
In Ottawa, Canadian Alliance MP Jay Hill attacked Defence Minister John McCallum in the House during Friday's question period about the vehicles chosen for the patrol.
"The question remains: why were these soldiers out in that area with these unprotected, unarmoured, rusted-out dunebuggies rather than light-armoured vehicles?" Hill said Friday outside the Commons.
But no one at Camp Julien had anything to say about the Iltis' lack of armour, at least in this case.
The magnitude of the blast - seen and heard at the base just after lunch on Thursday - suggests the jeep was taken out by an anti-tank mine or its equivalent, designed to disable vehicles 17 tonnes or more.
No light infantry vehicle in the 32-nation International Security Assistance Force could have withstood the impact.
Nor, apparently, could it have been prevented, short of not going there at all, and that, said Lt.-Col. Don Denne, the battle group commander, was not an option.
"It is a piece of ground where I needed to have some sort of a presence on what I consider to be on a daily basis," Denne said. "That's why that patrol was out there.
"Do we need to be there? You bet we do."
The dusty foothills track the soldiers were driving passed through territory commanders believe could be used as a rocket launch site for attacks on Kabul and the Canadian base, he said.
"Camp Julien (is) in the centre of an array of sensors, some of which are electronic, some of which are thermal, some of which are radar," said Leslie.
"The most reliable sensor in the world is a well-trained soldier with eyes on the ground. And that's what those soldiers were doing."
Canadian engineers in jeeps and armoured vehicles travelled the route taken by the ill-fated army patrol at least six times in the 24 hours leading up to the fatal explosion.
Members of 24 Field Squadron also monitored the area, talked to residents, consulted Soviet records and met with mine-clearing agencies in their attempts to gauge the state of the seven-kilometre track, the officer commanding the unit, Maj. Keith Cameron, said Friday.
Short, an experienced light engineer known as a pioneer, had walked the route earlier Thursday and the last engineering vehicle passed through two hours prior to the blast.
The so-called route-proving measures are not as thorough as an outright mine clearance, but have served the 1,950-member Canadian contingent well since they began operations here Aug. 22, as they have other missions.
"There's always a risk," said Cameron, a native of Petawawa, Ont. "We can never guarantee 100 per cent. We can't drive every square inch of the road.
"There is a residual risk that we can't get everything (and) certainly we cannot control what happens to any road after we've been there."
Outside the Commons Friday, the Defence Minister said that since at least one or two vehicles had passed along that road hours before the accident, it's unlikely the road wasn't properly cleared of mines.
"So we do not yet know whether it was because somebody placed a (explosive) device on the road or because the vehicle swerved or somehow went off the road," McCallum said. "But that matter is currently under investigation."
The explosion could have been triggered by remote control - a cellphone or other device that detonated it on command, military officials said.
The engineers hope their forensic work can identify the source of the blast, when the device was planted and by whom.
Dan Kelly of Newcastle, N.B., who has served as program director of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan for 4 1/2 years, said Friday there are several known minefields in the area.
"That part of the city was one of the most heavily bombed and mined areas," Kelly said in an interview. "Some of the minefields go back to the Russian era, as well - '79 to '89 - and the Russian encampments there."
There is not a significant problem at the site of the Canadian camp, he said, but there are still many mines in the surrounding hills.
"I personally know of two anti-personnel minefields that are there that are under clearance now," said Kelly. "This was definitely bigger than an anti-personnel mine."
The blast left a crater no bigger than a beach ball, but the Para Company commander, Maj. John Vass, described a devastating scene as engineers in protective gear lay on their bellies and probed the area for other mines.
"The site was very disturbing - extremely surreal," he said Friday. "It was unbelievable. It looked like something that we would set up for an exercise but, of course, unfortunately this was not an exercise."
Vass of Kingston, Ont., said his soldiers were taking the loss hard, describing the mood as "solemn and filled with sadness."
He added, however, that his troops understand the nature of their work and the risks involved.
"We're pulling together as a team," he said. "We understand when we join the military that there is an inherent risk associated with the profession we've chosen and we also understand that the mission here does go on."
Estimates range between five and 11 million mines in Afghanistan, but Kelly said nobody really knows.
"What we do know is what the impact of mines and unexploded ordnance have on this country and that's 850 square kilometres of suspected mine area that Afghans cannot go back to," he said.
"The other major impact is on victims. It is confirmed today that there are over 100 mine and unexploded ordnance victims per month in Afghanistan - definitely, definitely the highest victim figure in the world today."
But getting better. In the mid-1990s, the figure was 300 victims per month.
Anti-mine groups aim to have the country effectively mine-free by 2012, at a cost of about $500 million.
Matthew Fisher, The Ottawa Citizen, Friday, October 03, 2003
Moments before going on a mine-clearing mission with sappers from the Second Combat Engineer Regiment last week, a soldier surveying the sun-baked, barren landscape surrounding the Canadian camp described it as a "junkyard of landmines and other unexploded ordnance."
That was especially true of the dusty, narrow tracks that wind through the mountains behind Camp Julien, the main Canadian base in the Afghan capital.
Stones painted red near the tracks indicated places where mines were known to be, or where their presence was suspected. Closer to the path were white stones, indicating combat engineers believed the area to be safe.
It was along such a narrow corridor in the mountains, on what was a very hot afternoon that Sgt. Robert Short, Master Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger and four other airborne troops from 3RCR's Para Company drove yesterday.
In a sad twist of fate, Sgt. Short walked only hours before on the same track where he died, to ensure it was safe for the mounted patrols that would follow.
Patrols in the mountains, such as those conducted by Para Company, have been considered a high priority by Canadian commanders because they provide an ideal platform from which terrorists could launch rocket attacks on Kabul or on the Canadian camp.
The dangers that are found everywhere in Afghanistan are apparent long before reaching the network of trails that zigzag behind Camp Julien. One of the ways to reach the tracks, which are used by farmers moving cattle between grazing areas, is to drive through a base once used by the Red Army, which had as many as 118,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan before it was chased out of the country by the mujahedeen in 1989.
A fantastic symbol of that colossal misadventure, the base is full of billboards with faded patriotic communist slogans and twisted or burned-out hulks of what once were tanks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters.
Next into view after the abandoned base is a steep mountainside, dotted with several dozen Afghan de-miners prodding the hardscrabble earth under the supervision of mostly ex-military combat engineers from countries such as Canada, Britain and the United States.
Until yesterday, the mood at Camp Julien was very upbeat. The patrols were going well and relations with the citizens were mostly cordial. But there was no joy at camp last night, just the whine of the generators and a grim determination on the part of the 2,000 troops that form the Canadian battle group here to get on with the job.
Every soldier knows searching for unexploded ordnance is often like searching for needles in a haystack. It is well known mines can suddenly resurface as the result of wind or erosion. And there is every chance someone with links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda or a warlord went out and buried a fresh mine overnight.
There is much to admire in all of the Canadian soldiers here, like the engineers from CFB Petawawa, CFB Gagetown, N.B., and CFB Cold Lake, Alta.
Among the bravest of the brave, the sappers spend hours "proving" the roads and paths as well as disarming or blowing up mines, missiles, shells and other unexploded munitions all over Kabul and in the surrounding hills.
Following the explosion, on what suddenly became a very chilly night, teams of engineers searched in the dark for other mines at the crash site.
That is the way of all the Canadian troops here. Within minutes of the accident, every one of them was back at his or her post, working in an extremely dangerous environment, very far from home.
© Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen
KABUL (CP) - An explosion that killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded three others last week was caused by at least one - and possibly three - anti-tank mines, the head of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday.
Canadian units, along with British and German forces, assisted Kabul police in arresting the man they think is responsible early Tuesday. His name is Abu Bakr, the senior most commander in Kabul of Afghanistan's third-largest terrorist organization, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin or HIG.
A preliminary report on the mine blast that killed Sgt. Robert Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger was released to embedded media by Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie at the main Canadian encampment southwest of Kabul.
The forensic and technical investigation continues into what caused the blast in a creek bed 3 1/2 kilometres southwest of the base.
A board of inquiry has been called to look into the broader issue of practices surrounding route clearance and approval by Canadian engineers.
The report said the explosion was most probably caused by at least one Soviet-made TM-57 anti-tank mine "designed to kill or immobilize a main battle tank."
Such mines weigh about nine kilograms, but due to the shape of the crater, investigators suspect that up to three explosive devices were involved. The nature of the two others have yet to be determined.
The two Iltis jeeps involved in the incident did not deviate from the trail prior to the explosion, the report said.
Pictures shown to embedded reporters showed devastating damage to the jeep in which Short and Beerenfenger died.
The vehicle was burned raw, broken in half, twisted and barely recognizable.
The back-rear right quarter was completely missing. It lay eight to 10 metres from the main crater and pieces were found up to a 150 metres from the blast site.
The crater itself was about several metres across, about the size of a hot tub. There were three blast marks inside.
Investigators also found a shipping plug lying on the ground nearby. Leslie noted that it was not buried as it would be if had been lying there for a long time, but rather it was covered in a light layer of dust indicating it was likely removed from the mine within a short period before the blast.
The last Canadian engineers passed over the site about 2 1/2 hours before the incident.
Canadian military authorities are reviewing all patrol routes, standard operating procedures and threat assessments.
Bakr, a discipline of terrorist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has also been linked to the suicide bombing of a German bus last spring in which four German soldiers were killed and 29 others wounded.
"We have indication he is under orders to orchestrate attacks on ISAF personnel using rockets and mines," Leslie said.
"We may well have apprehended the man who ordered" the suspected attack on Canadians last Thursday.
Bakr is being held in a secret location. Meanwhile Canadian soldiers are proceeding with patrols throughout their area of responsibility where upwards of 800,000 Afghans live.
Kabul. — Mine detection entered the 21st century this week in a country that looks like something out of the Stone Age.
An ungainly Canadian robotics contraption with magnetic sensors success fully “proved” several kilometres of a dusty mountain trail overlooking the Afghan capital to be mine-free.
Part of Canada’s novel contribution to the evolving high-tech war to locate and destroy landmines is a highly modified, unmanned armoured vehicle with a collection of black cylinders housing sensors mounted behind a four-metre wide cow catcher-like flail. These sensors trick a mine into thinking it has encountered a vehicle and explode it seven metres ahead of the flail.
“This is a great step forward. I wish we had had it 15 years ago,” said Sgt. Kelly MacKinnon of the 4th Engineering Support Regiment in Gagetown, N.B. “We now can take our sappers out of harm’s way. It means we can save lives.”
The improved landmine detection system or ILDS, as the army calls it, had never been used on what had been a real battlefield. Nine years in the making, the Canadian army purchased four ILDS at a program cost of $31 million.
Each ILDS includes a second remote- controlled vehicle with sensors and an air-conditioned truck from which two combat engineers steer the robots on a three-second time delay by watching video from cameras installed on the robots. Meanwhile, a senior engineer uses information from the magnetic sensors, infra-red sensors and radar to create an unprecedented picture of the dangers that may lay buried ahead.
“This is a revolutionary system and the only one of its kind in the world,” said Jim Thomasson, one of two General Dynamics technical experts from Calgary helping to bring the new equipment online in Canada and Afghanistan.
“We’ve taken three different characteristics of mine clearance and put them together.
“I don’t know how many we could export because each country wants its own system, but they have all come to Canada to look at what we are doing because ours is the first. Other countries are now where we were in 1996.”
Canada’s driver-less M-113 has cruise control and can be driven at speeds up to 40 km\h from several kilometres away. But as it lurched its way along paths often used by goats, the ILDS went no more than five km\h.
The Americans are developing higher speed, remote-controlled anti-mine vehicles but with a different purpose. The Canadians’ intention is to make roads safe in peacetime. The Americans want a high-speed device that can be used during the breech, or opening phase of a ground offensive.
Many countries have vied for the dubious distinction of being declared the most heavily mined place on earth. Cambodia and Mozambique have claimed the title at various times. Afghanistan was a serious contender even before the Red Army invaded this central Asian nation in 1979.
Mine clearing is one of the biggest occupations in Afghanistan. There are 18, mostly Afghan, companies doing the work at present. Each day exactly at noon they explode what they’ve discovered during the morning.
“The threat is everywhere, for sure, said MacKinnon, the 4ESR detachment leader and a veteran of mine-clearing operations in Croatia, Rwanda and Eritrea. “Mines here were planted 20, 30 even 40 years ago. If you go off the beat en track, you are probably going to get killed. There are millions of mines spread everywhere.
On their way to “prove” one of the many trails here for use by NATO troops, the Canadians encountered swarms of Afghan de-miners combing the mountainside on their hands and knees. The Afghans were looking for Yugoslav, Italian, Egyptian, Israeli, American, British and Soviet mines.
“The reason the mines come from so many places is that the CIA bought them wherever they could for the mujahedeen to use against the Soviets,” one of the Canadian engineers said.
“This is going to work out especially well for the Afghans. It is good to have a task that helps us and also helps them,” said Cpl. Jamie Martin, a Port aux Choix, Nfld., native.
Until this week, the Canadians have been using a big-wheeled South Mrican vehicle which looks like an SUV on steroids to “prove” roads to be mine- free. The Nyala could sustain a direct mine hit, but sometimes left those inside injured. The M-113 that operates as lead vehicle in a three-vehicle ILLS convoy would probably sustain only minor damage in a mine strike and no engineers would be hurt.
Still, landmines will remain a constant hazard for the Canadian battle group now deployed around Kabul.
“I don’t want to lose anybody, hit it is not possible to clear every road. There is always a degree of risk,” said MacKinnon, who is from Cape Breton. ‘But if Canadians can ride safely along roads like this for however long we are out here, this system will have been great success.
“I know mines and they are trouble. Two Canadian engineers have been killed in mine clearance. With this sys tem, there can be very little damage to the vehicle and there is no chance that a Canadian soldier will get injured.
“Mines may be a great area-protection weapon in a war, but the ones we see as peacekeepers do far more damage than good. They are awful for civilians, especially children. The man in the village just up the road has a kid who was injured by a mine.”
Matthew Fisher The Ottawa Citizen Monday, October 20, 2003
In BAGRAM, Afghanistan - As the UN's top mine expert in Afghanistan looked on, a Canadian army robot gloriously passed its first major battle test last week, blowing up a landmine about once every 75 seconds as it trundled along the edge of the huge U.S. air base in Bagram.
"It's very impressive how much work they can do in a short time," said Dan Kelly, the 56-year-old program manager for the Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan and, before that, a Canadian army combat engineer for 18 years.
The remotely controlled robotic M-113 armoured personnel carrier, known by the acronym, ILDS, was outfitted with a fortified plow embedded with magnetic sensors. The airfield where the ILDS was working is reputed to be one of the world's most heavily mined places.
And it certainly looked like it as the contraption, built by General Dynamics of Calgary for $31 million, made its way through a marked Soviet-era minefield at about five kilometres per hour. A driver controlled the ILDS from the safety of an air conditioned truck about one kilometre away, using three cameras on the robot to guide him. Great puffs of dust were thrown up as the robot moved forward, followed about one second later by the crack of an explosion.
"The density of this minefield is unheard of and everything is going far better than I expected," said Sgt. Kelly MacKinnon of the 4th Engineering Support Regiment in Gagetown, N.B., as he watched images from the robot's cameras and made a note of each of the more than 100 explosions in a ledger. "Every time another mine goes off out there today, that is one more person who is going to keep a limb."
Maj. Keith Cameron, the top-ranking Canadian engineer in Afghanistan, had driven 50 kilometres from Kabul to watch the robot at work.
"For its intended purpose, it's great," Maj. Cameron said, but pointed out that the machine
isn't suitable for all mine-clearing. "In my opinion nothing will ever replace an intelligent sapper breaching a minefield."
Capt. Jason Gale of Codroy Valley, Nfld., who oversaw the work at Bagram, said: "What I love about this system is that it doesn't put any soldiers at risk. Such systems have to be the way of the future in mine clearing."
Also observing the fireworks was Maj. John Bigley, the U.S. army engineer responsible for Bagram airfield.
"Anyone willing to take mines out, we'll entertain them," Maj. Bigley said with a genial laugh. "They are a terrible problem. We're getting six to 10 casualties per week in Bagram with at least one limb lost traumatically.
"There are about 16 million square metres of minefields to clear inside the wire (the base perimeter). We have only done about half that, and figure that there is at least four more years work here."
Most of the mines at Bagram were planted by the Soviet Union to maim intruders. There were sown as close as one metre apart in many different places for many hundreds of metres. Canada's robot, which is to spend a week at the U.S. air base, is among other experimental systems being tested, such as a German steel-wheeled vehicle and an American laser that melts fuses.
The U.S. army has also set up its first dog mine school in Afghanistan. It is already using 250 dogs for mine detection and has another 64 dogs and their handlers in training.
Such developments please Mr. Kelly, who keeps a home in Sydenham, Ont., but has been in Afghanistan for the UN for five years. Before that he did mine clearance work in Bosnia and Cambodia.
"They used to say that Angola had the most mines with 20 million," Mr. Kelly said. "Some claim there are between 15 million and 20 million mines here. The truth is nobody knows the truth. What is important to us is their impact. How many areas are there where people cannot go back to their homes and how many victims are there?"
By this measure Afghanistan is an extremely dangerous place. There has never been a survey, but the UN gets reports of 100 people killed or maimed every month. Because many parts of Afghanistan are no-go areas, it suspects the real numbers are about double that. The UN has documented the clearance of 3.7 million explosive devices. These include about 350,000 anti-personnel mines, 25,000 anti-tank mines and more than three million other pieces of ordnance. It believes Afghanistan still has about 850 square kilometres of heavily mined areas.
In a perfect world, Mr. Kelly said he would like the UN to buy the robotic system. "If we got some of this equipment it would be very useful. We could move them from country to country with it. But it is a major cost and it would then cost a lot to maintain them," he said, pointing toward the 10 Canadian soldiers and two Canadian civilians running the robot.
And Maj. Bigley of the U.S. army hinted broadly that the Canadian sappers and their robotic armoured personnel carriers would be welcome back at the airfield at Bagram any time they wanted to come.
© Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen
The following was the Photo caption, photo not available - A remotely controlled robotic M-113 armoured personnel carrier, outfitted with a plow with magnetic sensors, blows up a landmine in a field on the Bagram air base, where American forces are stationed in Afghanistan. It blew up a mine about once every 75 seconds
On the hilly trails to the west of Camp Julien in Afghanistan, Sergeant Kelly MacKinnon and the improved land-mine detection system (ILDS) section from 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) have, for the first time in-theatre, begun proving potentially mined roads using this new technology.
ILDS is the first of its type in the world. A suite of three vehicles and a multitude of sensors, ILDS achieves remotely, what was once done by a troop of sappers: clear roads and open areas of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines through accurate detection and indication.
ILDS does not remove mines. It uses a combination of infrared cameras, minimal metal detectors, ground penetrating radar and a thermo-neutron activator to sense buried mines. Once sensed and confirmed to a prescribed confidence level, the system spray-paints the location of the suspected mine for following engineers to clear. Most importantly, these follow-on troops can be confident that where there is no paint mark, there is no mine.
4 ESR, based at CFB Gagetown N.B., provides the subject-matter experts on the system, and has been instrumental in developing the tactics, techniques and procedures for its use. On this occasion, the protection vehicle (PV) and control vehicle (CV) deployed to an unproven, rutted, and narrow route that winds its way past abandoned Soviet tank run-up pits and collapsed trench systems. The roads and surrounding countryside were littered with destroyed armoured vehicles, dud munitions, and shell casings from 100 mm guns, all relics of past battles in this area.
Corporal Corey Willcott took the controls of the PV and, from the back of an enclosed command vehicle, lowered its plow and guided it along the narrow ridge. Sapper Mike Maynard and Lieutenant Jeff Allen were perched on a hilltop to guide the PV through the spider web of trails and paths. It was evident this was a mined area by the carcass of a dismembered goat laying on a nearby hillside, and the red-painted rocks left by civilian de-mining agencies who had been in this area before. Unfortunately, the route proved by ILDS was not the road leading to a small village to the south, but it did open up a valuable road for 4 ESR patrols, which now have freedom of movement to the ridgelines surrounding the camp.
The first ILDS mission concluded the following day, when the PV scarified a section of washed-out gravel road leading to a small village northwest of the camp. Although the terrain was difficult, the ILDS operators were pleased with the PV’s performance, and hope to bring the entire suite into action soon, preferably on a flatter piece of ground. Plowing uphill, as can be imagined, is never easy.
Lt Allen is with 24 Fd Sqn, Op ATHENA Afghanistan
KABUL (CP) -- A Canadian combat engineer escaped injury Wednesday when his lightly armoured vehicle struck an explosive device west of the Canadian military base in the Afghan capital.
The incident occurred at 12:35 p.m. local time as combat engineers were clearing the route on which two Canadian soldiers were killed by at least one anti-tank mine Oct. 2.
The engineer, whose name was not immediately released, was taken to a field hospital at nearby Camp Julien for observation.
The vehicle involved in the incident was a Zettelmeyer front-end loader equipped with a bucket and had been preceded down the track through rolling foothills by combat engineers on foot.
Officials said they did not know if the vehicle struck a landmine or another type of explosive device. An investigation was under way.
The engineers were conducting mine-clearance operations in efforts to reopen the heavily mined sector to Canadian patrols.
The front-end loader was scraping the track when it hit the explosive device. It sustained some damage, including a blown tire, military officials said.
© Copyright 2003 Canadian Press
A Canadian combat engineer describes seeing smoke and a blast when the vehicle he was driving struck an explosive device near Kabul. He escaped injury in the incident.
Sgt. Rene Grignon, 38, was driving a Zettelmeyer front-end loader equipped with a bucket on a heavily-mined track near the Afghanistan capital Wednesday, when it was stopped by the explosion.
"I happened to hit something, and the vehicle all of a sudden came to a stop," Sgt. Grignon told CTV Newsnet. "I saw smoke and I saw a blast."
Grignon and other Canadians were carrying out an intensive mine-clearing operation aimed at reopening the sector to Canadian patrols.
"There were some engineers out in front of the vehicle doing a visual inspection of the track. The vehicle itself was scraping behind them" when the incident occurred Canadian Press reporter Stephen Thorne said.
Grignon, a heavy equipment supervisor and operator with 24 Field Squadron, is a native of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec was not injured in the blast. But he was taken to a field hospital at nearby Camp Julien for observation.
The 30-tonne vehicle sustained some damage, including a tire blown at least six metres from the Zettelmeyer. Military officials said the loader could be repaired.
Grignon says he is undaunted by the experience. "My heart didn't race," he said in an interview. "I always wanted to be in that piece of equipment and have something go off to prove that it is a safe piece of equipment."
An investigation is underway to determine whether the explosion was caused by a mine, or other explosive device. The incident happened at 12:35 p.m. local time, on the same route where two Canadian soldiers were killed by at least one anti-tank mine Oct. 2.
Sergeant Robert Short and Corporal Robbie Beerenfenger were killed and three others injured when their vehicle struck an explosive device on the track about 3.5 kilometres southwest of the main Canadian base in Kabul.
The soldiers were patrolling in a lightly-armoured Iltis vehicle. In Canada, the incident sparked a national debate about its suitability to the Afghan mission.
A board of inquiry is still investigating that blast.
Sgt. Grignon says efforts are being made to ensure no more lives are lost -- and this incident was just part of that job. "With all the attention to this, we are trying our best to make the road safer for our infantry," Grignon said. "And in doing such we encountered this."
© 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Paghman, Afghanistan — There's a new twist to the way money problems plaguing Afghanistan's national government are reflecting on peace-support efforts in the war-torn country.
Already known for graft and other corruption, Afghan police and military, some of whom haven't been paid in months, have begun asking for reward money for turning in illicit weapons and ammunition to Canadian soldiers, serving as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
It happened Monday in the mountainous region northwest of the capital, where Sergeant Peter Albert took a section of armoured troops to collect some rockets, anti-tank rounds and mortars from the local Afghan secret police headquarters.
“It's been a political nightmare trying to get this stuff out of here,” said Sgt. Albert, a native of Georgetown, Ont. “We were told in September this stuff had been taken in a raid two weeks earlier.”
“It has taken us to November to get the job done. They said they wanted it for ‘evidence.' What they really wanted was to sell it to us.”
Sgt. Albert didn't pay, and ended up taking away 13 mortar bombs, 11 recoilless rifle rounds and 10 rockets anyway.
Most of the ammunition was Soviet-made, according to a weapons manual that Sergeant Michael Thompson has dubbed Little Mikey's Book of Bombs. Sgt. Thompson is one of two engineer detachment commanders who, between them, have destroyed 1,400 rounds since August.
Sgt. Albert's section waited patiently for the area governor to arrive, feted him with photographs and then carted the 34 pieces of munitions away to a sandbagged truck for transport, storage and ultimate destruction.
Soldiers like Corporal Bryan Toope of Ottawa cradled the 122-mm rockets the way they were taught — just like a baby. It made for a stark comparison with a burka-clad woman passerby who was carrying her baby in much the same way.
Some of the rounds were rusting, and one was leaking so badly it was considered too volatile to transport any further than an Afghan army outpost a few kilometres away. Sgt. Thompson, an Alberta native, and Master-Corporal Sean Benedict of Windsor, Ont., wired it and blew it up.
Sgt. Albert took the opportunity to lecture the two Afghan soldiers manning the outpost on the evils of extortion. He had no proof, but he suspected the pair were extorting cash after they stopped a truck and appeared to take money. One of the Afghans said he hadn't been paid in eight months and claimed the money was a Ramadan gift. The Canadian sergeant wasn't buying his story.
“People who do this are just creating a lot of resentment and bad feeling among (ordinary) Afghans,” Albert told them through an interpreter.
Soldiers and police are known for setting up illegal checkpoints at key entry points to the capital, some even issue receipts, but Sgt. Albert said he had few illusions about the effect of his lecture.
“Every little bit counts for something,” he said. “I know we can't fix the world but whatever little effort we can make to patch it, it's a start.”
By Terry Pedwell / The Canadian Press Friday, November 14, 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited
Kabul - The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan lack proper firefighting equipment, and military brass don't seem to understand the need for it, the civilian deputy fire chief at Camp Julien said Thursday.
Gary Lovett said he has grown frustrated by what appears to be bureaucratic confusion in trying to get proper gear for the main Canadian military base in Kabul.
The former Washington, D.C., firefighter, who now works for SNC-Lavalin PAE, a group of companies based in Los Angeles, said the Canadian military needs a fire truck or at least a heavy-duty pickup truck that can be fitted with the proper equipment.
His crew of five firefighters has been told it could get that equipment as early as next week, but delivery plans have fallen through several times before.
"We have been promised a very neat package, what they call the Gator package," said Lovett.
However, Capt. Dave Parker, the officer in charge of preparing Camp Julien, said the firefighting equipment isn't high on the military's "to-do" list.
"You have to understand that everything that's brought into country is flown in, and there are priorities," said Parker.
"Right now, some of our armoured vehicles and other mission critical equipment has superseded some things like foam packages for the Gators."
The Gator was developed by the United States military for quick response in rough terrain for downed helicopters. It uses a high-pressure pump with a foam-water solution that Lovett describes as "incredible."
Lovett said he is concerned soldiers' lives could be at risk, especially if the base was shelled or if a fire was started during a wind storm.
"That is one of my worst nightmares, that we have a northeaster come through and one of the tents catches on fire," Lovett said. "It's gonna go from tent to tent to tent like a forest fire would."
Parker acknowledged the camp should have the equipment it needs to fight a large blaze. "We should have that firefighting capability here," he said.
Still, he discounted Lovett's concerns, pointing to the many other ways of dealing with fires.
"We have workarounds," said Parker. "We have water reservoirs, we have various other pumps, we have quick-connects at our ablution centres and we can fight any fire that would break out here."
"With the containment we have using blast walls, we can limit (a fire) to about a 100-square-metre area."
As well, practically every tent or building in the camp is outfitted with fire extinguishers.
But Lovett said the military's backup plan for fighting a major fire isn't much of a plan.
"We have the ability to call in the 'Z' and have them bulldoze a firebreak right through the middle of the tent city," he said with sarcasm in his voice.
The 30-tonne German-made Zettelmeyer, or Z, is a military version of a front-end loader - the same kind that struck a mine late last month while troops were on patrol on the edge of Kabul.
The 23-year veteran of District of Columbia Fire Department professed that he and the other members of the fire department are more than willing to "put it on the line" to protect the camp at all costs.
"But if we just had the tools of our trade, then we could do it," Lovett said.
"You don't send a LAV (light armoured vehicle) out to do an op without ammunition, so why have a fire department without the proper equipment?"
Copyright © 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited
KABUL (CP) - Canadian soldiers collected and destroyed dozens of explosives on a mountainside just outside the capital of Afghanistan on Monday after discovering children carrying mortars like prized toys.
On a routine patrol near Kabul, military engineers were hoping to pick up one or two explosives believed to be in a dried riverbed.
However, after two solid days of rain, water was flowing in the river, making it impossible to search for munitions. Just as the soldiers were preparing to move on to their next stop, a few children began bringing them mortar shells.
One by one, almost as if it were a game, the smiling children handed the soldiers the unused ordnance.
"Where did you find those?" asked Sgt. Mike Thompson through an interpreter.
The answer led the Canadians to a nearby mountain, where dozens of mortars and missiles were strewn among hundreds of empty, rusting, green metal ammunition containers below an abandoned bunker.
Thompson, no stranger to munitions discoveries in Kabul since Canadian troops were deployed to Afghanistan during the summer, appeared amazed at the sheer number of weapons. "It's just like picking blueberries," said Thompson, as he and other soldiers gathered the highly volatile devices.
"The stuff is just scattered everywhere. There's another one a kid just found."
Estimates of the number of unexploded ordnance, or UXOs, in and around Kabul range in the tens of thousands and include grenades, mortars, missiles and mines.
Thousands of sites within Kabul city limits have already been marked with signs warning of landmines or have been cleared of the deadly explosives.
One piece of ordnance collected Monday by the 24 Field Squadron members was a 122-mm Russian HE rocket, dug out of a pathway by Master-Cpl. Matt Pronk.
"That's pretty nasty stuff," said Pronk as he lifted the missile into place between sandbags in the back of a Canadian Forces truck.
"There's a piece that's missing from the end of it. Still pretty dangerous."
Once collected, the ordnance was carefully placed in a pile high on the mountainside and destroyed using C4 plastic explosives - after Thompson made sure local residents were well back.
Earlier in the day, Thompson had the unpleasant task of removing what appeared to be a small, feces-laden bomb from a human waste pit in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.
"Some of the elders, they put it in places like this so the kids don't play with it," he said. "Just makes it a bit disgusting having to fish it out."
Unsure of what he was dealing with, Thompson brought the device back to Camp Julien - the largest Canadian base in Afghanistan - for closer examination.
Copyright © 2003, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc. All rights reserved.
Hundreds of recoilless rifle rounds and munitions were removed from the streets of Kabul in late October, thanks to some solid co-operation between the soldiers of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group and members of the Afghan National Army. The removal and destruction of the ordinance highlights the level of co- operation that exists between Canadians and local authorities in Kabul.
Most of the rusting ammunition was found in caches buried in farmer’s fields, and in remote mountain areas surrounding the Afghan capital. Almost 500 anti-tank rounds were discovered by local residents and turned over to police for safekeeping. Canadian troops tried to acquire the rounds on several occasions, but Afghan officials refused to surrender the ammunition, citing administrative excuses.
Seeking ways to cut through the red tape, Major Kevin Caldwell, officer commanding Charles Company, sought the assistance of Brigadier-General Juyande, the deputy commander of the Afghan army’s southern operations area. Maj Caldwell had met with the deputy commander several times and was impressed with the level of co-operation being offered. He decided to put the budding relationship to the test.
“I asked Gen Juyande for his help in recovering the rounds and that same day we were able to secure and dispose of them,” said Maj Caldwell. “Those rounds were a potential danger to us, a danger to civilians, and a danger to Afghan authorities.”
BGen Juyande believes that the rounds belonged to insurgent groups such as the Taliban and Hekmatyar. “We want to explode all bombs that threaten our people,” he said. “We have co-operated with ISAF many times and I am always happy to do it.”
The deputy commander’s willingness to support members of the Canadian contingent was clearly demonstrated a few days before the rounds were collected, when a LAV III became stuck in his area. BGen Juyande himself stayed with the vehicle crew until 4 a.m., when the vehicle was finally able to be recovered.
“I think we are working very well together,” said Maj Caldwell. “I don’t believe they tell us everything, as we don’t tell them everything, but if they warn us of a threat or tell us there is a mine that might be placed against us, then it’s worthwhile.”
The commander of the Afghan southern operations unit, Gen Gul Hyder, was also very pleased that the munitions had been destroyed. “Sometimes kids play with these things and it’s very dangerous,” said Gen Hyder. “Because of things like these, I lost my foot and many others are disabled.”
Canadian sappers from 24 Field Engineer Squadron destroyed the rounds in a controlled detonation in late October.
Capt Janzen is the 3 RCR Battalion Group PAO.
Canadians have always led the way in peacekeeping and rebuilding around the world.Brian Jonson, Chilliwack Progress Tuesday 18 November 2003
When Afghanistan was first making headlines two years ago, Chilliwack raised thousands of dollars for the poverty- stricken and war-weary people of that country.
But while for most people the situation in Afghanistan has been largely overshadowed by developments elsewhere in the world, for one Chilliwack family the struggles of the country remain front and centre. For them, the needs are being met not with gifts of food or money, but with the service of their son.
It came as no surprise to parents Paul and Elizabeth Orr when their son signed up for the Canadian Armed Forces right after he graduated.
Clinton has three generations of military men behind him. His father was in the forces for 21 years, and his grandfather and greatfathers also served. He spent much of his childhood on military bases, and spent some time with the local air cadets in junior high. A military career was almost inevitable.
“He talked about it the last couple years of high school, when they started making their career choices,” said Ms. Orr. “He talked about being a pilot, things like that, but he always aimed towards being in the military.”
Clinton was born in Chilliwack, but lived in other places in Canada before returning with his family in 1989. Months after finishing Grade 12 at Chilliwack Senior Secondary and just weeks after he turned 18, he was sworn in and on his way to boot camp at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N. B.
When he finished his basic training, he was assigned to the 2 Combat Engineer Regiment at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, ON where he learned to be a sapper - a private in an engineer regiment. He was coming to the end of the third year in a three-year term without a foreign assignment, when Canada was called upon to take on a bigger role in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Operation Athena, as the Canadian mission is known, began in August 2003 with more than 1,900 troops being based to Camp Julian in Kabul. One of the regiments assigned to provide engineering support was the 2 Combat Engineer Regiment. Clinton was going to Afghanistan.
His parents greeted the news with the expected mixed emotions. On one hand, they felt unquestionable pride that their son would be serving his country in so worthy a manner.
“We’re proud of him,” said Mr. Orr. “That’s what he wanted to do, and he isn’t going to have any problems over there.”
But they also worry about him.
“My biggest concern is his safety,” Mrs. Orr said. “I always say to him: ‘please be careful, be alert, keep your wits about you and keep your eyes open.”
His father’s concerns are based on his own experience as a combat engineer. He also served with the 2 Combat Engineering Regiment, and went on peacekeeping missions to Egypt and Cyprus.
He said his concerns aren’t so much the threat of a direct attack — even after a couple of rockets landed inside Camp Julian earlier this year. He knows the work his son is doing poses a great enough threat in itself.
The official mission of ISAF is to maintain security and assist in rebuilding the country.
As a sapper, Clinton’s duties include clearing mines, destroying unexploded ordnance and other weapons, and re building bridges. It’s dangerous work in a theatre already fraught with hazards for foreign troops.
With his son risking his life, Mr. Orr can’t help but reflect on the training Clinton received before he went. He said that until recently, budget cuts to the military had reduced the training opportunities available to new recruits like Clinton.
He thinks things have improved in terms of funding and support for the military since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but he knows there is a big difference between a classroom and combat zone.
“Training in a classroom, or at Petawawa is one thing, but continually going on exercises and actually doing what you are trained to do is something else,” he said. “With the way the budgets are and things like that, the training, the exercises, the projects we used to go on — they get less of that than we got.”
At the same time he also knows how it is important for soldiers to leave behind the relative boredom of garrison life in Canada for the challenges field experience. The work and the environment are giving Clinton a chance to learn some thing he couldn’t have learned at home.
“It is his first time in a situation like that, and he is facing the reality of what the world all about,” said Mr. Orr.
To soften the blow of living in a strange place, Mrs. 0rr does what she can to provide Clinton with the bits of Canada he misses most.
She knows what he likes.
“Gatorade,” she said laughing. “Kraft dinner, Canadian staples like that.”
Clinton has already been the lucky recipient of a few care packages, and the one Mrs. Orr was working on last week had a Christmas theme, complete with a little tree.
Getting ahold of Canadian delicacies one thing, keeping in touch another.
Communication with Afghanistan, even in this day and age, is a challenge. The huge delay between questions and answers on the phone created by poor infra structure and huge distances can make it hard to have a normal conversation. But the family finds ways to work around it.
“He e-mails us and talks to us on the phone and lets us know he is okay, so it is a lot easier than it use to be,” said Mrs. Orr.
Quick phone calls are especially important when something tragic happens, like the time two Canadian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck an explosive device.
“We were really worried at that point, but he phoned and left a message to let us know he was okay,” said Mrs. Orr. “When we hear news of things happening over there we get very concerned and worried until we hear from him.”
Now at the halfway point of his six-month posting to Afghanistan, Clinton is on his mandatory ‘R and R.’ He will spend three more months in Afghanistan before returning to Canada in February — but his service won’t stop there. Just before he deployed in August, he re-enlisted for an additional three-year term. He is looking ahead to taking a QL5 course and becoming a corporal. Where he goes from there is anyone’s guess, but wherever it is, Clinton can rest assured he has two proud, supportive parents backing him all the way.
“He believes in what he is doing,” said Mrs. Orr. “They have a lot of pride in what they are doing, making it a better place and a safer place.”
“We’re proud that he is over there,” said Mr. Orr. “He’s doing what he is as signed to do and he is more than capable of doing it.”
Canadian forces work where comrades died
Remote-operated vehicles, bare hands usedTerry Pedwell, Canadian Press, 24 Nov 03
KABUL Using remote-controlled vehicles, prodding sticks and sometimes their bare hands, combat engineers began the painstakingly slow process yesterday of "clearing" the road near Kabul where two Canadian soldiers were killed.
The road, where Sgt. Robert Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger died Oct. 2 when their unarmoured, two-tonne Iltis Jeep struck a suspected anti-tank mine, is to be reopened for military patrols this week.
"We need to be able to move through that ground," Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie said.
From the private who sifts through the sand, checking for potential land mines, to the highest-ranking Canadian officer in Afghanistan, revisiting the road is a difficult journey.
"We all feel, quite frankly, emotional about what happened to Sgt. Short and Cpl. Beerenfenger," said Leslie, the top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan and deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
"But there's a time for icy cold logic ... and the battalion has to be able to patrol down there."
A seemingly barren stretch of dirt that winds through a mountainous area less than four kilometres southwest of the Canadian Forces' Camp Julien, the road is strategically important.
It is a connecting link to the volatile southern Afghan provinces and choice ground for potential terrorist attacks.
"That is the prime area from which to launch small rockets either against Camp Julien or against the southwest corner of Kabul," Leslie pointed out.
It's also the road where a Canadian Forces German-made Zettelmeyer front-end loader struck what is believed to have been a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, in late October. No one was injured in the blast, but the vehicle was damaged.
Before Short and Beerenfenger were killed, the road was opened based on visual assessments and recent travel patterns.
"We don't necessarily clear every route," explained Maj. Keith Cameron, commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Regiment's 24 Field Squadron.
"We'll observe them, and we'll make an assessment based on that observation and compare it against mine records from previous conflicts (to determine) risks associated with travelling that road," Cameron said.
After the Oct. 2 mine strike and the RPG hit taken by the Zettelmeyer the road was closed until military engineers could conduct a full clearance operation.
In Afghanistan, the Canadian military is for the first time using a set of remote-controlled mine-clearing vehicles, called the Improved Landmine Detection System.
"It can detect deep-buried anti-tank mines with a metal detector and a ground-penetrating radar, as well as a forward-looking infrared camera," said Sgt. Kelly MacKinnon, who's in charge of operating the system's remote-detection vehicle.
"It will go deeper, but it can (detect) 18 inches (45 centimetres) below the ground surface," he said. "That's very deep ... but the potential is there for a mine to be that deep over the years."
Once the remote vehicles do their job, pointing to potential hazards by painting yellow dots on the ground, engineers move in and carefully prod the surface, slowly feeling their way around the dots.
Most times, they turn up nothing. Occasionally, they find a chunk of metal or a metallic rock. But each dot represents a potential explosive threat.
Even with their best efforts, there is no guarantee the clearing operation will turn up every hazardous device.
"There's always a risk that, despite our best procedures, our best equipment that we have, that we may miss something," Cameron said. "But we aim to, as far as possible, reduce any further risk to our own troops."
There is also nothing preventing someone from planting an explosive device in or near a roadway once the clearing operation has been completed.
"So you constantly have to be aware when you're driving roads that you're looking for changes in the road condition," said Cameron.
Despite the calculated military effort to clear the road, some sentiment has been attached to the operation.
"We've called this Op Overthrow," said Cameron.
The name comes from a line in a Rudyard Kipling poem called "Hymn of the Breaking Strain" a verse all Canadian military engineers recite at their Iron Ring graduation ceremonies.
"It has clear engineer meaning," said Cameron. "It invokes the spirit of when all you've tried doesn't succeed, we try again."
A report from the board of inquiry investigating the Oct. 2 mine strike has been submitted to the defence department, but has not yet been made public.
With files from Associated Press
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Days after being on high alert, a soldier from Stony Plain got to briefly relax in Afghanistan thanks to a show by stars like Edmonton's Adam Gregory.
"He was great. I had a chance to talk to him after the show," Sapper Kevin Lloy, 21, told the Sun from Camp Julien in Kabul. "A great showthat raised morale. All in all a good time," added Lloy of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, which is usually based in Petawawa, Ont.
On Saturday, one of Kabul's few upscale hotels was rocked by a powerful explosion. Some of the guests in the 140-room building were knocked from their restaurant chairs and windows were shattered.
"Our camp was put on high alert," said Lloy. "We sent out extra patrols and the observation posts were keeping a close eye on the surrounding camp."
No injuries were reported and no group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.
A day earlier, two rockets were found in a nearby palace, said Lloy, who some nights hears machine-guns.
But on Monday, Lloy got to enjoy performers like Gregory and singer Jana Jana performing for the camp. Lloy said he spent most of his time after the show with an old acquaintance - Gregory's fiddler.
"His fiddler comes from St. Albert and went to the same high school I went to," said Lloy. "To top it all off, I played hockey with his cousin."
Mom Patricia Lloy said like any parent she's concerned for her son while he's in Afghanistan.
"We're confident in his training. Fate can be his friend or enemy," she said. "What will be, will be. We're hoping for the positive."