Op Athena Rotation 2

August 2004 – February 2005
Lord Strathcona's Horse (LdSH(RC)) Battalion Group. Most of the personnel deployed come from Land Force Western Area. 

 

And you thought your field trips were rough… Maple Leaf Nov 04
Weapons cache stuns Canucks Toronto Sun Oct 04
Cleaning up Afghanistan—One round at a time Maple Leaf Oct 04
Huge weapons find Edmonton Sun Dec 04
Canadian soldiers recover Afghan artillery shells Edmonton Journal Dec 04
Sappers improve Afghan school Western Sentinel Nov 04
Disposal of deadly traps in Kabul Western Sentinel Nov 04
Fixing Kabul Schools Western Sentinel Dec 04
Afghan clean up continues Western Sentinel Sep 04
Explosives to go Maple Leaf Jan 05

And you thought your field trips were rough…

Maple Leaf Nov 2004

By Sgt Steve Stamp

KABUL, Afghanistan — In the middle of a Taliban minefield, on top of a hill called Tapa-Bibi Mihros, littered with rusted-out anti-aircraft guns and other debris, is where 16 members of 11 Field Squadron (11 Fd Sqn) found themselves on September 12.

Members of 11 Fd Sqn conducted a professional development session on UN Humanitarian Demining, which included surveying, mine clearance, documentation and community liaison and the removal of mines and unexploded ordnance, before the handover of cleared land to the community. The squadron also got to observe the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR)—a local company—conduct demining operations on Tapa-Bibi Mihros, otherwise known as Minefield HQ-763.

The UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan is working on clearing the millions of mines (more than 12 million in Afghanistan and an estimated 110 million mines world-wide) and unexploded ordnance left behind from decades of conflict in this country. Many homes are metres away from minefields, and with refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran, there is a shortage of safe land in Kabul.

Demining is a slow and systematic process that requires patience. “In demining, there is no second chance,” said Sultan Moad Laufi, quality assurance officer with OMAR.

The deminers wear an apron-type fragmentation vest and a Canadian-made helmet and blast visor from Med-Eng Systems Incorporated. They work in individual, one-metre-wide lanes, and are equipped with a mine detector, a prodder (a thin rod used to actually locate the mine), and basic digging tools. So far they have cleared 6 110 m2 of land and destroyed 116 anti-personnel mines.

Besides the mines, scrap metal is also removed and each metallic item cleared is logged. At the end of the day deminers blow in place any mines found that day. Their procedure for conducting live demolitions is not that different from ours. We watched as they diligently evacuated the neighbouring village of people using red flags, loud speakers and sirens. We stood in the safe area and witnessed the familiar sights and sounds of high explosives detonating and removing two more mines from the earth.

11 Fd Sqn is a sub-unit of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, Edmonton and arrived in Afghanistan late July. 11 Fd Sqn provides close engineer support to Task Force Kabul (TFK). This opportunity to witness local demining efforts was important for members of the squadron, to help develop a greater awareness of the local mine threat.
 
TFK is the formation that comprises all CF units and sub-units committed to Operation ATHENA. Canada is assisting International Security Assistance Force in the maintenance of a safe and secure environment in Kabul and the surrounding area to support the internationally recognized Afghan Transitional Administration.

Sgt Stamp is an Edmonton firefighter, an Army Reservist with 8 FER and currently serving as the mine countermeasures NCO with 11 Fd Sqn, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Weapons cache stuns Canucks

Fri, October 15, 2004

By PETER WORTHINGTON -- For the Toronto Sun

Canadian soldiers attached to the Afghan National Army (ANA) have stirred up a hornet's nest in Kabul by being too efficient. 

They've "discovered" a huge Soviet ammunition dump a few kilometres from Camp Julien with the potential of obliterating the camp, as well as most of Kabul. 

That may sound like hyperbole, but I was with the Canadians who discovered the cache -- soldiers (mostly Princess Pats and combat engineers) who are training and working with the ANA and consider themselves to have the best job in the army. 

In the dusty foothills, 10 minutes drive from Camp Julien (population 2,000), 82 buried bunkers, each 20- metres long, housed thousands of Soviet FROG missiles (one step down from Scud missiles), and every variety of rocket and mortar shells.

Some of the FROG missiles were still in their original cases. Some heaped in the open. Some stacked to the roof in the unlocked, open bunkers. Much of the ordnance had warheads removed to collect the explosive for homemade bombs -- or for blasting at a nearby quarry. 

"Unbelievable!" was Maj. Brian Hynes' reaction when he saw them. "We (troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)) have been here some two years, and no one knew this was at our back door. Unbelievable." 

In truth, the Soviet bunkers were well-known in an area supposedly under control of the Afghan Militia Force (AMF) -- not to be confused with the ANA. The AMF is paid by various warlords and so their loyalty is to them.

The hero of the discovery was combat engineer Sgt. Mike Mazerolle of New Brunswick, who has run the observation post for eight days with ANA soldiers. They watch the valleys leading to Kabul.

He saw people to his rear so he investigated and found the 82 bunkers "loaded with ordnance, and here I am sleeping next to a FROG!" 

He informed his boss, Maj. Hynes and -- eureka -- the cache was discovered.

Many of the rockets, missiles and shells had been pried open for the explosives, which are used peacefully to blast mountain rock into gravel, and by those who want to make bombs that disrupt Kabul.

"These bunkers have been known for two years but no one bothered to check them," said Maj. Hynes.

"To me, that's incompetence." 

"To me it's criminal," said Sgt. Power, who works with the major in training the ANA. 

I've never seen anything like it. The feeling is that AMF soldiers were selling access to the dump or permitting friends to enter it. 

Littered with burned out Soviet military vehicles, the whole area is a junk pile strewn with every sort of live ammunition, fuses, unexploded shells, rockets, etc., all supposedly under the authority of Belgian troops (at the moment), who ignored it.

In the midst of examining the bunkers and taking photos, a Swedish UN guy, a French major and a German colonel arrived to make a fuss and order the Canadians to leave. The French major insisted his government had a deal with the Afghan government for the area, and ISAF had no business being there.

This cut little ice with Maj. Hynes, who is responsible -- not to the commander of Camp Julien, Col. Jim Ellis -- but to the ANA, which has now moved in to secure the site.

The French major was clearly bluffing, hadn't checked the bunkers and got a classic Canadian roasting from Maj. Hynes -- who was supported by a German general who was also appalled at the laxity.

"Now we've stirred up the hornet's nest," grinned Maj. Hynes. "Good. Now we may get some action." 

"I feel foolish that for eight days we've been watching our front, when at our back all this was going on and nobody cared," said Sgt. Mazerolle.


Copyright © 2004, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc. All rights reserved. 


Cleaning up Afghanistan—One round at a time

Maple Leaf 6 October 2004

By Lt Claire Bramma

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Support Troop, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team from the Task Force Kabul (TFK) Engineer Squadron, are helping rid the Afghani people of several dangerous reminders of the decades of war they have endured. 

Afghanistan is a country trying to clean up the litter of war, and the thousands of mines and other types of munitions left over from the fighting, make that a daunting task to say the least. The TFK EOD team helped by destroying a sizeable quantity of munitions at the central disposal site range, east of Kabul on August 30. The bulk of the munitions destroyed consisted of Russian rockets, rocket boosters, and a variety of projectiles. The centrepiece of the demolition range was a Russian 122-mm high explosive rocket, approximately three metres long.

The main aim of the range day was to dispose of munitions and other unexploded ordnance seized during raids of weapon caches and munitions sites. It also served as an excellent opportunity for the team to apply skills acquired during demolition training back in Canada. The opportunity to have real Russian rockets to study and then destroy does not happen every day and, at the same time, a danger to the people of Afghanistan was permanently removed.

Accompanying Support Troop were members of 2 Troop, who were able to apply their conventional munitions disposal skills on the range. This form of training, developed over the past few years, teaches all combat engineers how to dispose of conventional ordnance like unfired bullets. There is no doubt combat engineers of TFK will be gainfully employed throughout ROTO 2, cleaning up Afghanistan—one round at a time.

TFK is the formation that comprises all CF units and sub-units committed to Operation ATHENA. Canada is assisting the International Security Assistance Force in the maintenance of a safe and secure environment in Kabul and the surrounding area, to support the inter-nationally recognized Afghan Transitional Administration. One part of maintaining a secure environment is the disposal and destruction of mines and explosives. As part of TFK, 11 Field Squadron is doing its part to ensure this commitment is fulfilled.

Lt Bramma is the support troop commander. 


Huge weapons find

 Wed, December 8, 2004

 Canucks uncover 350 mortar rounds in Afghanistan

By PAUL COWAN, EDMONTON SUN

Edmonton-based soldiers have seized more than a tonne of explosives found near a patrol route in Afghanistan. It took troops from 11 Field Squadron of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment more than two hours to load up more than 350 mortar rounds for transport to a safe location outside Kabul.

"These type of munitions have been used in the past by terrorists to create improvised explosive devices," said Lt.-Col. Chuck Lamarre, the acting commander of the 700-strong Canadian contingent based in Kabul.

"Removing them from the streets of Kabul means a safer environment for the local population and our soldiers."

The ammunition cache, which weighed in at around 1.5 tonnes, was drawn to the attention of Canadian soldiers by a local man who was concerned about its safety.

It included more than 300 rounds of 82-mm mortar ammunition and a further 50 rounds of 120-mm mortar ammunition.

Using mortar and artillery shells to make improvised roadside bombs aimed at blowing up military vehicles is common practice in Afghanistan.

Last week's cache was one of the biggest the Edmonton-based combat engineers have had to deal with since they took over from the Quebec-based 5 Combat Engineers in August.

The ammunition is expected to be destroyed by controlled explosion later this month at an Afghan National Army range outside Kabul.

As well as the threat of terrorists using the ammunition to make bombs, the mortar rounds can also explode by accident as they rust and decay.

In extreme cases, a shadow can be enough to set off unstable explosives through even a slight change in temperature.

Two members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Sgt. Robert Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger, were killed by a mine planted on a desert track near the Canadian base at Kabul in October 2003.

In January this year, Cpl. Jamie Murphy, another member of the Royal Canadian Regiment battlegroup, was killed when a suicide bomber jumped into his vehicle in Kabul.

The Canadian contingent in Kabul at the moment includes troops from nearly every unit stationed at the Edmonton Garrison.

They are part of the 9,000-strong NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force helping keep the peace in the Kabul area.


Canadian soldiers recover Afghan artillery shells

(note - this article is probably covering the same munitions find as the above article . However, I decided to post the story regardless. A different point of view.)

Locals deliver 2.5 tonnes of dangerous munitions thanks to team's careful diplomacy

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Jim Farrell Edmonton Journal

CAMP JULIEN, KABUL, Afghanistan -- Canadian soldiers harvested a record crop of 2.5 tonnes of munitions from friendly Afghans on Friday and prepared it for demolition in an operation that required both diplomacy and military engineering skills.

The munitions represented the two decades of war that devastated this already-impoverished central Asian nation. Some were manufactured in Russia, some in Iran and some in China -- a result of the Soviet invasion of the 1980s and the years of civil war that followed.

The munitions were collected by Afghans who are cooperating with the International Security Assistance Force, based in Camp Julien.

"We are building relations with the locals and it is paying off," said Col. Jim Ellis, commander of the Canadian contingent. "We believe they came from a Taliban ammo dump."

In recent years, insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq have turned leftover munitions into booby traps and car bombs. The United Nations' Baghdad headquarters were wrecked when a cement truck loaded with concealed artillery rounds exploded outside its gate in 2003. On Jan. 27 this year, Cpl. Jamey Murphy of the Royal Canadian Regiment was killed when an Afghan suicide bomber exploded a smaller, improvised bomb next to Murphy's vehicle.

Canadian soldiers spent months establishing relationships with local Afghans to convince them to turn in such weapons, Ellis says. At 9 a.m. Friday approximately 10 members of the Edmonton-based Combat Engineers, assisted by several members of Lord Strathcona's Horse Reconnaissance Squadron, left camp in a convoy of vehicles to garner the rewards of that relationship.

Arriving at the compound, whose exact whereabouts the military wants to keep secret, the soldiers found cases of anti-aircraft shells and fuses. Piles of mortar and artillery rounds were scattered across the compound. Many of the larger rounds were protected by plastic, cardboard or metal sleeves.

"Think they'll let me take one of these back home if I tell them it's a bottle of scotch?" quipped Cpl. Les MacLean of Thunder Bay as he hoisted a heavy plastic tube.

The loading of the truck began and the soldiers found many rounds in poor condition. "This has no pin on it to hold the cap on the fuse," one told Sgt. Martin Stymiest, an Edmonton-based combat engineer from Tabusintac, N.B.

Should he load it? That pin was supposed to guarantee the mortar round couldn't be triggered accidentally. Load it, Stymiest said. "The risk factor is pretty minimal."

Once loaded, the convoy set off back towards Kabul, then turned away from the city to the army's Central Disposal Site. Each packaged round had to be pulled out of its container, identified, counted, and stacked. The thick plastic sleeves had to be opened with a knife. Many of the cardboard sleeves were wet and dozens of the metal tubes that held artillery rounds were dented or rusted closed.

"Did someone put this in a dryer?" asked one soldier as he struggled to pull a 120-millimetre mortar round out of its cardboard tube.

If that turnip-shaped missile had gone off, it could have demolished a small office building. Once free of its tube, its paint was factory-fresh and its machining immaculate.

After three hours of cutting, pulling, cursing and counting, all the rounds were neatly stacked. Four separate explosions will be needed to destroy a shah's ransom in munitions next week.

THE COUNT

340 - 82-mm recoilless artillery rounds

250 - 75-mm recoilless artillery rounds

137 cases of 23-mm anti-aircraft rounds (18 rounds per case)

60 - 82-mm mortar rounds

70 - 120-mm mortar rounds

55 boxes of fuses

12 - 115-mm anti-tank artillery rounds

3 - 75-mm rocket-propelled grenades

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


Sappers improve Afghan school

 Western Sentinel, 18 November 2004

 By Sgt TED PEACOCK

 Early one Sunday morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, members of 3 Section, 2 Troop, 11 (one-one) Field Squadron went to school. That is, we went to a school about five kilometres from Camp Julien to help improve the learning environment for the students.

 The school, we are told, is an old embassy building. As we pulled up in our G-wagon and Bison there was nothing that resembled either a school or an embassy The main school, surrounded by a mud brick wall with a bullet ridden gate to allow entry into the schoolyard, is an old, partially destroyed building.

  At the gate we had to wait for the school director before entering. Even though this is one of the poorest schools in Kabul, it is most likely the one with the most tradition. Once inside we saw that more than half of the classrooms are tents. There are no desks, floors, or lights, just a few rugs on the dusty ground.

 3 Section, working with the Canadian civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) team, was there to erect another tent to be used a classroom. We made quick work of the job, completing our task in less than an hour. The faculty and students were extremely happy and grateful for what would be viewed as very little back in Canada.

 Sunday is not a day off for the children here. The girls, all wearing black suits with white scarves around their heads giggled and laughed like young girls anywhere. As we worked and took pictures, one thing was unmistakably apparent didn’t even notice that - every soldier was carrying a rifle. Hope fully, time and the defeat of terrorism will one day the children just make an armed soldier seem odd, not commonplace.

 All members of the section felt a sense of accomplishment and joy in their ability to help these children .The members of 3 Section look forward to taking part in more tasks in support of CIMIC operations

 Sgt Ted Peacock commands 3 Sect, 2 Troop, 11 Field Squadron. He is one of 700 troops serving with Task Force Kabul of Operation Athena in Kabul Afghanistan 


Disposal of deadly traps in Kabul

Western Sentinel, 18 November 2004

By Spr WES SHANNON

 After many years of war between multiple factions, Afghanistan is littered with millions of mines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO). So when a report was received stating that another UXO had been spotted in Kabul, no one was surprised.

Four Section of 11 (One-one) Field Squadron was called in to do the initial reconnaissance of the UXO. They needed to take pictures and to determine the UXO’s size, age, condition and type.

Accompanying them as an advisor was Master Corporal Chris Constable, a member of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. Upon arrival at the site, the section commander, Sergeant Pete Gagnon, was quick to set up a cordon to keep the growing crowd at bay. The UXO was buried in the soil only three feet from the paved road. Only the side was visible and it would have appeared to be a stone to the untrained eye.

After an initial check and a few pictures, MCpl Constable began to excavate the dirt surrounding the object, a large artillery shell. As he carefully began removing the soil a rather unexpected discovery was made: wires running from the fuse to an unknown location on the other side of the road.

 This was no simple UXO! It had become painfully obvious that what we had here was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

 The Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was immediately called out to provide security, accompanied by the IED Disposal (IEDD) team equipped with their own arsenal - of bomb disposal tools. By the time QRF arrived, Four Section had increased the size of the cordon and secured the immediate area around the IED, ensuring the safety of the local population.

 As soon as the QRF was in place, the IEDD team moved up to a position closer to their target. A specialized robot was deployed, equipped with an assortment of bomb neutralizing tools. A large crowd of onlookers observed the robot in action from the outer edge of the cordon. After half an hour of careful investigation and examination everything was in place.

 “All call signs take cover!” was announced over the radio.

 The locals were quick to catch on and also relocated to a much safer location, some even seeking refuge in large concrete cylinders at a local merchant’s shop.

 After several moments of silence a sudden, rather noticeable ‘crack’ was heard, and that was it. The IEDD team had neutralized the projectile by explosively separating the wires from the artillery round, making it virtually harmless.

 Shortly thereafter, everything was packed up and the artillery round was safely stowed for later destruction. The QRF dropped the cordon and left. Traffic resumed its normal chaotic pace, and the many onlookers returned to their homes and places of business.

Thanks to some sharp eyes and some careful work, this IED would claim no victims. The local people and ISAF troops, who travel that road every day, are a little safer because of the efforts of all involved.


Fixing Kabul Schools

Western Sentinel, 2 December 2004

Members of 2 Troop 11 Field Squadron working with the Canadian Civilian Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Team, got a chance to help a Kabul school in need. The school requested covers for three drainage holes in their schoolyard, in order to prevent potential injury to children playing in the area.

The Asif Mayal School is not like any school we have back home in Canada. The school has approximately 120 staff and 6,000 students, from Grades 1 to 12 in a school about the size of a 500-student school back in Canada. They attend in three shifts of 2000 students.

We were eager to get started. Construction tasks are always a welcome change from some of our more routine tasks Keeping safety in mind, the covers had to be designed to hold the weight of numerous children and had to be heavy enough so that children could not easily remove them. We decided that we would construct 4”x4” timber frames covered with plywood. Exercising our carpentry and problem solving skills, we built the covers at Camp Julien several days prior to being installed at the school. When we arrived at the school with the CIMIC team on delivery day, the staff ands students gathered with excitement. Once we established our security perimeter, we placed the covers, making a final adjustment on the one cover that required a drain opening. The staff and students all expressed their appreciation for our efforts and Leading Seaman Weber’s donation of school supplies sent from Canada. It was a relatively simple bit of work on our part that made a very real, and to us, very gratifying difference, for these children. 11 Fd Sqn, a sub-unit of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, arrived in Afghanistan in late July. 11 Fd Sqn provides the close engineer support to Task Force Kabul so the task force can fulfill its mission in Afghanistan.


Afghan clean up continues


By Lt CLAIRE BRAMMA, Western Sentinel 9 September 2004

KABUL -The Heavy Equipment Detachment of Support Troop, 11 Field Squadron removed 56 cubic metres of contaminated soil or approximately four sea cans full from the Canadian annex at Camp Warehouse August 12 to 18.

As part of the mission drawdown that includes the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Camp Warehouse. 1 Engineer Support Unit (1 ESU), part of the mission drawdown team, was tasked to evaluate the level of petroleum, oil and lubricant (POL) contamination in the Canadian portion of the camp. Once the contaminated sites were identified, the next stage was to implement the removal of the contaminated soil and replace it with clean fill. Two heavy equipment operators, a backhoe and dump truck were detached to 1 ESU in order to complete this mission.

The operation involved the excavation of the former POL point, the Generator Site, as well as various spill sites around the camp. As the contaminated soil was removed, a technician from 1 ESU tested the soil at increasing depths until the contamination was negligible.

The contaminated soil was loaded into the dump box of a Heavy Engineer Support Vehicle. The task required a total of five trips across Kabul city back to Camp Julien, where the contaminated soil was deposited at the camp’s contaminated soil point. The contaminated soil will be temporarily stored until the camp establishes a soil remediation pad. The remediation pad, to be designed by CANCAP environmental technicians, is where the POL in the soil will be broken down naturally using specific microorganisms. A total of 56 cubic metres of clean gravel fill were hauled from Camp Julien to replace the contaminated soil removed from the sites at Camp Warehouse.

This mission drawdown task provides a good example of due diligence and environmental responsibility demonstrated by the CF while in a theatre of operations. This task also proved the interoperability of military engineers in their various roles.


Explosives to go

By Spr Wes Shannon Maple Leaf, 26 January 2005, Vol. 8 No. 4

On December 17, soldiers from 11 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment and Recce Platoon, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had a job to do. Their task was to pick up munitions from an Afghan Militia Force (AMF) compound in Kabul, where an estimated 5 200 kg of munitions was waiting to be transported to a secure location for later disposal.

Recce Platoon immediately set up a security cordon around the compound, ensuring safety of the engineers who would be working inside. The AMF had laid the munitions out on the ground, separated by size and type. A variety of explosive ordnance was present including mortars, fuses and antitank rounds, some still in the original protective packaging.

Under the supervision of Master Corporal Kris Schroder, the engineer section commander, the heavy engineer support vehicle (military equivalent of a dump truck) was brought into the compound. The dump box was lowered to the ground to facilitate loading. After two hours of heavy lifting all the explosives were loaded, secured and ready for transport. Only one thing remained, "tea". Quite often when working with the Afghan military organizations tea is offered upon completion of any job, it gives the leaders time to sit and talk about local events both past and present.

The niceties observed, the convoy was on the road again; this time its destination was the Central Disposal Site, located just outside Kabul. Upon arrival all munitions were removed from their packaging and, with the assistance of MCpl Dwayne Waller and Sergeant Shawn Strazza, were identified, counted and stacked in a secure bunker. They will remain contained until the engineers can dispose of them.

Afghanistan has made a lot of progress in recent years, changing from a country of oppression and terror to a country of freedom and hope, but one thing is clear: there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. The Canadian troops serving in Kabul are up to the challenge.

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