The Newsletter of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada
Warrant Officers and Sergeants Club
Edited by CWO HJ O’Donnell #6 Oct 2009
|Cameron Club Executive|
CWO Brian Boyd
Wpg Inf Tac Gp RSM
Sgt James Clark
Sgt William Worden
Sgt Matt Lumsden
Sgt Dave Gibson
|PMC’s Cameron Club Report:|
|From the Editor’s Desk:|
This is issue #6. I have again heard back from several of you and thank you for your support and suggestions.
The focus on this issue is the Cameron Family, especially the Association. “The Low Road” and High Road have been well received and will continue as long as I continue to get news from our far flung Cameron Clan members.
The sharp eyed will notice that the CF is not the only army with PT issues. See more within.
Cheers for now,
CWO Hugh O’Donnell
Former RSM Camerons of Canada
Proxy Mailing information:
Maj (Ret’d) Bill Worden
47 Flett Ave.
Cameron Association: 2nd and FINAL 2009 attempt Annual General Meeting & Election of Association Officers
1900 hrs Monday 19 Oct 2009
The previous attempt on 21 Sept 09 was a bust as not enough people showed up to form a quorum.
If this 2nd attempt does not succeed the Cameron Association will cease to exist shortly after that date.
If you cannot attend you can fill out the Proxy voting form and get it to Bill Worden, Doug Hlady, myself, or any other member of the Association you know that will be attending the AGM.
The AGM will be held in the TV Lounge in the lower level of #4 Royal Canadian Legion. It has an elevator for handicapped and not-so-spry access to the meeting.
Please have your Cameron Association membership card handy or please be prepared to pay your annual dues prior to the meeting. The AGM will actually start closer to 1930 but let’s see how many of you spot this.
I don’t have the agenda just yet but anticipate the election of officers, Association support to the troops overseas, Oatmeal Rag submissions, and social activities to be somewhere on the program. Maybe even figuring out if Afghan and WW 2 Vets golf in the same Veterans category at the next Reunion !
For more information contact Maj (Ret’d) Bill Worden at the usual number.
Reserve Force Pension Buyback Program
Regimental NCO Plot
Sgt James Clark has been appointed Platoon 2 i/c of #1 Platoon of the Wpg Infantry Tactical Group. This is the designated Arctic response Platoon for the Tactical Group.
Sgt Matt Lumsden is keeping the streets safe with the Wpg Police Svc. When not so engaged he works as 2 Platoon’s 2 i/c.
Sgt William Worden is still heavily engaged on the Home Front. 9‘er Domestic overrules 9’er Tak, and with 2 young ones he’s been tasked for Home Front duties. He is still with the RQ shop.
Sgt Brad Clyde is the Acting Pipe-Major these days while Sgt John Dawson is off cavorting in the sandbox.
Sgts John Dawson and Tim Seeley are working overseas. It’s really hot and bagpipe deprived there so they’re bring a little Cameron light with them.
Sgt Dave Gibson is now with the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Cameron stores will never be the same….
CWO Hugh O’Donnell is now Extra Regimentally Employed at Domestic Operations which is part of Joint Task Force West. The latest go was a Search and Rescue EX run by the Office of the Fire Commissioner at Spruce Woods MB which featured WPS cadaver/EOD dogs, a real small plane fuselage, and real cadaver parts for the dogs to train with.
WO Bruce Breustedt is reputedly working with Area Standards.
WO Reg Corbin is now the CQMS “A” Coy of the WITG.
Pipes & Drums Pages
“Boots on the Ground”
Sgt Tim Seeley, KPRT
Canadian Forces Task Force Afghanistan
Weeks Three and Four
(Ed’s Note – this is from Tim’s 2008 deployment – I’m still playing catch up)
Hello again to friends and neighbours back home. I’ve been a full month on the ground now in Afghanistan and have a much better situational awareness of my area and its problems. I am part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team working near Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar province. Panjwayi is a mainly agricultural area dotted with rugged mountain and small villages. It is separated from Zhari district to the north by the Argandab River, and its main municipal center is a town called Bazaar-E Panjwayi. Panjwayi in general has been the site of much Canadian Forces activity over the past fews years as the area is being liberated from Taliban control. During the peak of the fighting many of the residents fled to Kandahar City or elsewhere to live with friends and relatives, but are now starting to return to the area as the security situation improves. The farmers that have returned have been planting their crops and tending to their fields for the past few weeks, mainly grape fields , pomegranates, and some small wheat crops (small by Parkland standards to be sure). The farming is an extremely labour-intensive affair, almost everything is done by hand. The “soil” is more of a clay-sand mix, and the farmers go to great lengths to dig ditches to irrigate the fields from wells and complex underground water systems. How they manage to grow anything in this environment surprises me and many of the other soldiers from the prairies. It hasn’t rained here in the month that I’ve been on the ground, and average summer rainfall is measured in millimeters! Anyway, they have adapted and do somehow harvest enough to feed themselves and still export some to nearby centers like Kandahar City. They also raise chickens, goats, sheep, and cattle (not the herd sizes we are used to either!). There is no livestock fencing therefore the herds are tended by shepherds, often young boys that have never seen a school room. Many rural residents use horses and donkeys for transporting their agricultural supplies and themselves around the area. Camels are used for transporting items as well, especially by the nomadic Kuchi people. The camels and horses are often brightly decorated with ribbons and ornaments and bells and such. For that matter, so are their cars, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles for those lucky enough to own them. Transport trucks of all sizes are brightly painted and adorned with the same ribbons and ornaments, and most of them have rows of ornamental bells hanging from them that “jingle” as they drive by – thus the term “jingle truck”.
Our team has been working closely with the local District Leader who is the head of a group of elders that meet to govern the district through a District Shura. These village leaders are all men who have most commonly inherited their village leader status, and in Afghanistan one rule holds true: the more grey in the beard the more wise the leader! If one has kept himself alive past the average life expectancy of 43 years, then he must be wise and should be treated with respect. The problems these leaders face in rebuilding an area devastated first by the Russians, then by civil war, and finally by the Taliban, are immense. The Taliban continue to harass the area, usually via planting bombs in roads and kidnapping or killing unarmed people. The Taliban portray themselves as the defenders of the Islamic religion, however most local religious leaders have the opposite opinion of them. For an example of how the Taliban operate we can examine a project which is currently underway in the area. One of the main development efforts that the Canadian Forces is helping the District Leader with at the present time is the paving of a major roadway in the area. Paving the roadways makes it more difficult for the Taliban to dig bombs into the roads, as well as obviously improving the transportation routes of local people. Over 400 local men are working on this labour intensive job; the Canadian Forces could have brought in heavy equipment and done the job much more quickly, however that wouldn’t provide employment and training opportunities for the residents of Panjwayi. Thus there are over 400 men learning different aspects of road construction, and it will all culminate in the first utilization of a cold-mix hand-layed asphalt process that was recently pioneered in Africa. This project is turning into a big success through improving infrastructure in the area and bringing employment and trade training. It is such a success that the Taliban desperately do not want it to succeed, so they are trying to intimidate the local workers by leaving them letters (nailed to their doors at night time) telling them not to work on the road or they will suffer the consequences, and by trying to kill the people making the road happen. The locals, however, are fed up with the Taliban and their bully tactics and show up day after day to work despite of the threats and the danger. The Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are providing a strong and professional security force to protect the workers and the project. These are all signs of people that are tired of the Taliban and their cowardly tactics and are ready to stand up and fight for their region. We, the Canadian Forces, are helping them in this fight because the Afghan capacity is not yet developed enough to go it alone, however with every successful project completion the region makes another step towards getting things back the way they should be, and the Taliban is forced into a more remote area of the country. The work of the Canadians, whether through the Armed Forces or our other governmental department partners such as the RCMP, CIDA and DFAIT, is greatly appreciated by the locals in Panjwayi. For these reasons, similar to the Dutch from our work in World War 2, the Afghans hold a lot of respect for Canada and all its done for them. I’ll close off now, lots of work to do, talk to you again in a couple weeks.
Sgt Tim Seeley
The Low Road
We have recently heard from some of our former Camerons. Here are their respective SITREPs:
Sgt Brad and Martha Clyde
If you haven’t heard Martha and Brad just had a baby girl. Evelyn Faye was born on September 21 2009, pictures are up on Facebook. Congrats to you both !!!
LCol (Ret’d) Borden and Anita Hasuik:
We still plan to be at the Cameron reunion in 2010. We are off to Saudi for another year and probably our last with no plans at this time past next June.
Lt. Andre Blais 07/01/2009
Thanks for the Sgian Dhu. I enjoyed it immensely.
It was really good to here about some other Drew’s Militia types ie: Brian Lowe.
Anyways I spent the last week practicing trench digging. Our water main
fractured so being the cheap bastard I am, i figured that it can’t be
too far to the water line. I marked out a neat 4ft x 4ft area hoping to
encompass the break. I dug for 3 evenings and was about to quit since I
was 7.5 ft down and found nothing. Since I had to wait for Civic
clearance before bringing in an excavator, I continued digging 1 bucket
at time , lifting up and dumping. Just as clearance was received, I
located the sewer line and the water line was just beneath this but our
fracture was 6 inches up the yard. In the end 30 min with an excavator
and we had it revealed. Got a plumber and fixed it up. I guess I’m
getting old, that excercise really had me bushed.
On to other news for anyone interested. Susan and I purchased a new home
in Westbank (40 min up the highway), we will move in on Sept 1. of my
girls, Ashley graduated 2 years ago, she takes some college courses and
has a part time job with the city as a lifeguard. My other daughter,
Martine will graduate in 2 years.
Susan’s daughter Julianne also graduates in 2 years. Susan and Julianne
are horsey types so we have a horse, (the only other male around here),
and all the other expensive items that go with it ie trailer, a 1 ton
diesel, and a nice camper.
Anyways that is pretty much all that is going on here at the moment. I’m
spending my time looking to retire in 7 years maximum and continue to
build and fly R/C scale aircraft at various local get togethers. Also
the Regiment’s 100th is on my radar.
MWO Glenn Fedoruk, 07/02/2009
Hello all past and present Camerons! Life is fun and hectic out here in Calgary. (We actually live in Airdrie just north of Calgary) Claudette and I now have 3 kids, Justin 10, Jaiden 8 and Jett 1 !
I’m still making beer cold for a living as a service manager of Gateway Mech Services in charge of 60 techs in Southern Ab. I believe there are 5 service trucks in Wpg now. I am starting my second year as RQMS Calg Highrs and have just passed 25 years in. CH have on paper 287 all ranks and are still parading strong. Our biggest obstacle now comes as we have 38 candidates that want to take BMQ this summer in WX, and due to instrs/resources we can only send 10! Sounds familiar to all across the board? Anyhow kids stuff and work are making it harder to put the Cadpat on so lets see how it goes for the next year.
Take care all,
Vi Miller, Mrs. RSM (Russ) 08 July 09
Heard from Vi and she is doing well but wishes she heard more news of the old gang and the Unit. Mel is over 29 by a fair bit and looking forward to retiring from the Provincial Govt in Alberta sometime in the next 10 years. Or so. Vi’s sense of humour is still good and is living near the Grace Hospital in Wpg. She tells me that Bill Douglas is very busy looking after Rita these days as Rita had a bit of a fall. Rita is recovering well thanks to Bill’s efforts.
Maj (Ret’d) Ken Smith
Ken Smith (WW 2 Unit IO) is reported to be in good shape and will be in for this year’s Golf do in August. He lives in Surrey BC these days.
The High Road
Sgt. Wilford Hiram Kirk: 30 July 2009 http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilford_Hiram_Kirk
JOSEPH AIME HERMAN COUILLARD (published on October 04, 2009)
|JOSEPH AIME HERMAN COUILLARD Herman passed quietly in his sleep, September 6, 2009. Herman was born October 25, 1926 in Lac-Au-Saumon, Matapédia, Québec to Albert Couillard and Andrea Devin. Herman enlisted in the army in 1942 and fought in Sicily and Italy with the Royal 22nd Regiment. After the war he re-enlisted, choosing a military career. He was sent to Manitoba as a parachute instructor, where he met and married Florence Stewart Sly. Herman’s career took him back to Québec, New Brunswick, Germany, Peacekeeping in Cyprus; and nearing retirement requested a final posting to Manitoba so that Florence could be near her family after decades away. After retirement Herman enjoyed scuba diving, was a scuba instructor, Red Cross swimming instructor, and spent many rewarding hours teaching special needs children and adults swimming and water safety. Herman was forced out of retirement by numerous requests from Ottawa, to take the post of RSM of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada in Winnipeg. After completing his duty with the Camerons, and Florence’s retirement, they moved to Qualicum Beach, where Herman continued to teach scuba and swimming. He enjoyed cutting his own firewood, swimming at the beach, curling, diving the coastal waters and exploring the island with Florence. Herman had a great love of music and singing, and a passion for the Royal and Ancient Game , golf. His golf companions and the comraderie at the golf course were a joy and comfort to him. Herman was predeceased by his parents, six brothers, four sisters and his best friend, the love of his life, his wife Florence. Herman is survived by his son David, grandsons Thomas and Jean-Pierre, daughter Karen, numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws and their families. The family wishes to thank Dr. Pieter Swart, Dr. Zeid Mohamedali, Dr. Jorg Michels, Dr. Wendy Johnsen, Dr. Marback and the Home Care Palliative Nurses and Personal Care Attendants whose extraordinary efforts made Herman’s final months bearable. At Herman’s request, there was no service. Interment was at Cedar Valley Memorial Gardens. Donations in Herman’s memory may be made to The Canadian Cancer Society.|
Cameron Association Page
Amanda DeCosse is accompanying her grand-father, Leonard DeCosse, on the 65th anniversary events. Mr DeCosse was a member of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders that liberated Dieppe in 1944 following the Invasion of Normandy.
We have a number of requests for information from families regarding these former Camerons. Anyone able to help please drop me a line or an email.
From: MICHAEL DAVIS <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2009 17:43:58 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Harold Faigrie, kia 24/7/1944
|From Mike Davis, 69 Westbourne Park, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 9QS, UK|
Last month my wife and I visited the grave of Private Harold Faigrie of The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada who was killed in Normandy in July 1944. On the 23rd of July we visited Harold’s grave and on the 65th anniversary of his death we visited the village of St Andre-sur-Mer where he was killed.
The Faigrie’s are related to my wife’s family through marriage. During the War Harold and his brother would visit the family home in Leicester, England. Attached is a photo showing Harold with my wife’s Grandmother (right) and Aunt (left). Harold was engaged to marry another Aunt before he died (we think she is the one taking the picture).
The family is trying to find out more about Harold’s service record and more of what happened at St. Andre. Do you know of any way we can find out which Company of the Regiment he would have been serving in?
Eldon Thorton Hatch
Gentlemen I’m writing to you to ask if I may obtain a copy of the list
of names on your Role Of Honour. My mothers maiden name was Grace
Elizabeth Hatch and her younger brother was Eldon Thornton Hatch. Before
he left to go overseas, my mother promised him that if she had a son she
would name him after Eldon.
My name is Eldon Alexander Clelland and I would like to know anything and everything I can about the man I’m named after. When my mother died I inherited my Uncle’s medals Any and all
information that you could let me have about my Uncle would be appreciated, as I would like to pass this on to my Grand children.
Thank you in advance.
Eldon Alexander Clelland
689 Johnston Crescent
My Grandmothers name was Beulah Hatch and my Grandfather was
Jeffery Hale Hatch and when he enlisted they lived in Elgin Manitoba. My
uncle’s service number H/19954.
He was TOS 19/01/1940 Killed at Dieppe 19/08/1942, he was
a Corporal at the time, nothing else known on him.
THE Cameron Association INSTRUMENT OF PROXY, THIS PROXY IS SOLICITED BY THE COMMITTEE AND WILL BE USED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF MEMBERS TO BE HELD ON OCTOBER 19th, 2009.
The undersigned Member of The Cameron Association (The “Association”) hereby nominates, constitutes and appoints Bill Worden, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Past President of the Association, or failing him, Doug Hlady, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Previous Past President of the Association, or in the place and stead of the foregoing the true and lawful attorney and proxy of the undersigned, with full power of substitution, to attend, act and vote at the annual meeting of the members of the Association to be held on October 19, 2009 and at any adjournment or adjournments thereof. The undersigned hereby instructs the said proxy to vote in the following manner:
1. TO VOTE FOR [ ] OR AGAINST [ ]
A resolution calling for the amending of the number of members present at a meeting required to form a quorum of the Association.
2. TO VOTE FOR [ ] OR AGAINST [ ]
A resolution calling for the Election of Officers of the Association.
2a. TO VOTE FOR [ ] OR TO ABSTAIN FROM VOTING FOR [ ]
A nominated member in good standing of the Association running for any of the positions to be elected to form the Executive Board of the Association.
3. TO VOTE FOR [ ] OR AGAINST [ ]
Any resolution approving the reports of the Committees.
4. To vote in the discretion of the proxy nominee on any amendments to or variations of matters identified in the notice of meeting and on any other matters which may properly come before the meeting.
DATED this day of October, 2009.
(Signature of Member)
(Name of Member – Please Print)
All properly executed proxies will be voted, and where a choice with respect to any matter to be acted upon has been specified in the instrument of proxy, the proxy will be voted in accordance with such specifications. IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY SUCH SPECIFICATIONS, THE COMMITTEE DESIGNEES, IF NAMED AS PROXY, WILL VOTE IN FAVOUR OF ALL THE MATTERS SET OUT HEREIN.
Proxies, to be valid, must be in the hands of the Designees prior to the meeting or an adjournment of the meeting.
A blank space has been provided to date the instrument of proxy. If the instrument of proxy is undated, it will be deemed to bear the date on which it is mailed by the person making the solicitation.
A MEMBER HAS THE RIGHT TO DESIGNATE A PERSON (WHO NEED NOT BE A MEMBER OF THE ASSOCIATION) OTHER THAN Bill Worden OR Doug Hlady, THE ASSOCIATION DESIGNEES, TO ATTEND AND ACT FOR HIM AT THE MEETING. SUCH RIGHT MAY BE EXERCISED BY INSERTING IN THE BLANK SPACE PROVIDED ABOVE, THE NAMES OF THE PERSON TO BE DESIGNATED AND DELETING THEREFROM, THE NAMES OF THE ASSOCIATION DESIGNEES, OR BY COMPLETION OF ANOTHER PROPER INSTRUMENT OF PROXY.
Light Reading for You:
Editor’s Note: The Oct/Nov issue of The Beaver Magazine (www.BeaverMagazine.ca ) will be featuring a story about our museum we have been told.
UK Troop Issues
Thanks top Rob Bonnet for this one.
Overweight soldiers holding the Army back in Afghanistan, leaked memo claims
The fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan is being hampered by fat soldiers who are not fit enough to fight, a leaked memo has disclosed.
By Duncan Gardham
Published: 4:28PM BST 02 Aug 2009
According to Major Brian Dupree, the British Army is in danger of losing its “warrior ethos” as soldiers skip physical training sessions and obesity in the forces increases.
Major Dupree, of the Physical Training Corps, said the increase in soldiers who are “unfit to deploy” is linked to an “indifferent” attitude to physical fitness.
He warned that “operational effectiveness” is being undermined and soldiers’ lives could be at risk because some are soldiers are unable to cope with the conditions in Afghanistan.
In the memo, dated July 10, Major Dupree said: “The numbers of personnel unable to deploy and concerns about obesity throughout the army are clearly linked to current attitudes towards physical training.”
He says that even the minimum two to three hours of physical fitness a week are being ignored as the number of soldiers classified as Personnel Unfit to Deploy (PUD) has risen to 3,860 with a further 8,190 regarded as being of “limited deployability” for medical reasons.
“The current army fitness policy states that to be fit to fight requires a minimum of two to three hours of physical activity per week. It is clear that even this most basic policy is not being implemented,” Major Dupree said.
“To cope with the demands of hybrid operations in Afghanistan and future conflicts the army needs personnel with that battle-winning edge that sustains them through adversity. It is clear this message has been diluted recently and this attitude must change.
“The increasing PUD list and concerns over obesity in the services are clearly linked to this indifferent attitude.”
He concludes that the army has “not consistently maintained our standards of physical fitness” and needs to “reinvigorate a warrior ethos and a culture of being fit”.
The report states: “The demands on time, which are acknowledged, are such that physical training has been regarded as something that can be cut from busy schedules. This approach cannot continue. Strong leadership is expected in this area.”
Three years ago, the army relaxed its rules to allow the recruitment of soldiers with a higher Body Mass Index (a calculation of their weight in comparison to their height) after research found that two thirds of British teenagers were too fat to meet fitness requirements. The army now accepts applicants with a BMI of 32 – two points above the World Health Organisation’s definition of obesity.
A board of inquiry in 2007 revealed how Private Jason Smith’s died of heat stroke in Iraq after concerns about his BMI. The inquiry said he was “at the higher level of obese”.
To counter the growing problem, the Army will introduce a “body composition measurement” in October to weed out overweight troops, alongside a minimum of three physical training sessions a week.
The army’s Basic Fitness Test requires soldiers to complete a one and a half mile run in under 10mins and 30secs, rising with age, while the Combat Fitness Test requires troops to complete an 8 mile run with 20kg (44lb) of kit in under two hours along with 44 press ups and 50 sit ups in two minutes each.
Patrick Mercer MP, a former colonel in the army and former head of strategy at the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, called the lack of personal fitness “disgraceful” and added: “The army is desperately undermanned anyway and for obesity to be a problem is extraordinary.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “Following a review of recent evidence, direction has been given to the chain of command to take action to ensure units are following the army’s fitness policy.”
Afghanistan: ‘We are fighting ghost soldiers’
Will the the US surge in Afghanistan help the British army get the resources it has been hoping for?
By Thomas Harding in Helmand
Published: 7:00PM BST 17 Jul 2009
History might record that the summer of 2009 was the pivotal moment for the British mission in Helmand. It has been a bloody few weeks with 15 dead in a 10-day period, including the most senior Army officer in three decades. These deaths, and another yesterday, and the eight coffins, witnessed by a few hundred of us in Camp Bastion and later by thousands in Wootton Bassett on Wednesday, has, after three years of evasion, produced the necessary debate about what we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan.
The resolve of politicians and military commanders is being tested as never before – as indeed is public support for the mission. But the harsh reality is that we must be prepared for more deaths if we are to succeed in Operation Panther’s Claw, which began four weeks ago to clear a Taliban stronghold in central Helmand, and in the longer campaign in general.
Panther’s Claw is closer to that of the Somme than a modern battle. Soldiers find themselves up to their chests in irrigation ditches, or exchanging fire with insurgents a few yards away, before trying to cross the next heavily mined 100-yard stretch of field or road to fight their way into a building. It’s compound by compound fighting,” one infantryman told me. “We are fighting for every inch of ground.”
To a man and a woman (there are female dog handlers, medics and others on the front line) the word “dangerous” is usually preceded by an expletive or other heartfelt adjective to describe the fighting. One company from 2nd Bn The Mercian Regiment was reported to have lost 47 out of 110 men, one dead and the remainder incapacitated by injury or heat exhaustion (although many returned to action after treatment). So can anything break the deadlock of the minefields and ditches as the operation gathers for a “tactical pause” before resuming the offensive?
To ensure casualties are kept to a minimum, progress though mined areas is slow and meticulous.
One understands public anger at the rising death toll. Blaming – justifiably – equipment failures is an obvious route of attack because the Government has been negligent in supplying land forces in the past. But while the debate about equipment intensifies in Britain, to commanders on the ground this issue has, to a point, become an irrelevance. Yes, we are short of helicopters but as the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, demonstrated this week by travelling in a Blackhawk, there are now helicopters in abundance from the Americans (and a number of civilian charters). About six medium-lift Merlin helicopters and 11 refurbished Lynx will be delivered this year.
Despite some justifiable criticisms of the Viking armoured vehicle (many from this correspondent after the death of 10 soldiers), one commander told me it had saved nine of his soldiers’ lives, and was the only protected vehicle light enough to manoeuvre in the “Green Zone” of narrow bridges and roads, while providing an excellent fire-support platform with its medium or heavy machine gun. Certainly, there is better protected transport that the MoD could purchase, but much of this week’s criticism is the legacy of the deployment of the vulnerable Snatch Land Rover, which is no longer used for operations (although worryingly one was spotted outside a base in Sangin).
Gen Dannatt’s concern about equipment expressed yesterday is focused on tackling the increased threat from IEDs (improvised explosion devices) but, more importantly, on getting extra troops on the ground to combat the Taliban, who have evolved into an effective force, combining conventional fighting with advanced bomb-making skills.
“The Taliban’s fieldcraft skills are second to none,” a soldier told me this week. “I know it’s a cliché but they are literally ghost soldiers. One moment they will be firing at you from a well-chosen position and then by the time you have fought through the position or called in air support, they are gone.”
Ghost soldiers and an enemy that never seems to be beaten despite big losses is reminiscent of another war that went awry. Journalists who have been here since before the Helmand operation of 2006 have a sense of foreboding that was present during the latter stages of the Vietnam war. There was a substantial surge in troops before the Americans withdrew from South Vietnam, leaving behind a corrupt government and army that collapsed at their first test.
The Kabul hacks struggle to be persuaded by commanding officers who fly in for six-month tours talking about a “winnable war” and keeping the terrorists off the streets of Britain. There is also growing cynicism over the politicians – Gordon Brown included – trotting out the line that we are there to prevent another September 11 or July 7. Even some officers are beginning to ask if “we are creating more terrorists than we are killing”.
Also, what have the British actually achieved beyond “holding the line”? We entered the province with inadequate numbers and insufficient logistical support. Small numbers holding too many outposts meant that we were almost entirely reliant on aircraft dropping bombs to extract troops from firefights. The result? If they hadn’t already been killed in the crossfire, civilians packed their few possessions and left. A number of the dispossessed from the towns of Nowzad, Sangin or around Kajaki moved elsewhere – but with little to sustain them, many joined the Taliban for personal survival rather than ideological choice.
Without the right number of troops the British could never control the five main towns in Helmand. Even now we still don’t have enough “boots on the ground” to control the districts that we have pulled back to. In Sangin, where five soldiers died in a well-planned bomb ambush last Friday, the 2nd Bn The Rifles are under immense pressure to preserve the area’s tenuous security.
We have been in Sangin for three years yet we still don’t have enough troops to secure the town. It would take another infantry battalion to improve security to the point where teachers, doctors etc feel safe enough to return.
Having too few troops is a fatally false economy because it allows the Taliban the freedom of manoeuvre to plant more bombs, which means more casualties. More troops, means better security and fewer dead. The Prime Minister’s decision to turn down the military’s plea for an extra 2,000 men is under growing scrutiny.
The Americans have showed that numbers work. In the first six hours of Panther’s Claw, 4,000 men backed by Sea Stallion helicopters secured an area of southern Helmand that had been held by the Taliban for three years. Contrast this with the couple of hundred British soldiers clinging on to the same area since 2006 supported by the handful of Chinook helicopters serving an entire province.
There are now 10,000 US Marines arriving in Helmand, and the numbers and equipment could mark the “tipping point” that British commanders have been hoping for. Things could also improve once the Kabul government starts talks with members of the Taliban not wholly committed to its nihilistic ideology. That could happen soon after the elections next month.
To leave the country secure, an Afghan force of 250,000 trained men is needed. This is expected to be in place before the next US presidential election in 2012. A swift departure before American voters go to the polls is what the Obama administration wants. The current American review of Afghanistan is probably going to set low, achievable targets so it can reduce its forces.
For now, it is a question of politicians and commanders holding their nerve, being bold, keeping the public informed – and prepared for more fatalities. The truth is that the realisation of that sacrifice can only be justified if we see the mission through to a successful conclusion. There is hope that the new commander of the Army, Gen Sir David Richards, will provide a more focused approach towards Afghanistan and that his position will have been helped by Gen Dannatt’s request for more troops and specialist equipment.
But ultimately it will need political leadership, for either Gordon Brown to take ownership of the campaign (like his predecessor did in Northern Ireland) or to appoint a minister for Afghanistan – because for all the work the military might do, without the Foreign Office and Department for International Development, reconstruction and investment coming in behind it will count for little.
Uphill struggle: Members of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards being briefed after a hard day in the field.
Photo: NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX/EYEVINE
China celebrates 60 years
China formally kicked off its mass celebrations of 60 years of communist rule with a 60-gun salute that rung out across Beijing’s historic Tiananmen Square earlier today. Hundreds of thousands of participants marched past Tiananmen Square in costume or uniform, with floats and dancers mingling with soldiers and military hardware. Collected here are photographs of the once-in-a-decade National Day parade in Beijing, and of others commemorating the anniversary elsewhere.
AFV recognition guys should try their skill on pictures 4,8,13, 14, 16, 22, 26 & 32.
Editor’s Closing Notes:
Let me know what is going on with your piece of the Regiment – all entries will be accepted and vetted. I will use what I can.
Cheers to all,
Muffle the drum beats, bare the bent head
Check not your tears, for a clansman is dead
Dip the red lion, fly it half mast
A Soldier, a Friend, a freeman has passed.
Mute are the drones, the chanter is still
No more will they sound, o’er valley and hill
He answered the call and marched with the best
A well loved laddie now goes to his rest.
Play the “Lament” for a comrade laid low
Flowers of the Forest”, mournful, slow
Muffle the Drum beats, bare the bent head
Weep if You will for a Cameron is dead.