By Ken MacQueen - Monday, January 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
The former soldier survived an axe attack in Afghanistan, now he’s defying the limits of science in his recovery
It has been 25 years since Trevor Greene gave up competitive rowing for other pursuits: journalism, travel, soldiering, fatherhood, marriage. But today, at age 48, sitting in a wheelchair in his Nanaimo, B.C., home, the forcibly retired army captain is rowing as hard as he’s trained for any event in his life.
Today he rows only in his mind, where he also visualizes walking. The frustrations are enormous for a man once thought of as invincible. He used to be part of the men’s eight crew at King’s College in Halifax, and at the elite club level, pulling until his muscles screamed and the callouses were thick on his hands. Now he makes perfect strokes with his mind, the neurons firing along a familiar course as he stirs up long-remembered sensations: the feel of oar in hand and boat in water. “All that stuff: the sound and the heat and the pain,” he says. When the oar enters the water, “I imagine the tug on my shoulders, because it’s a very good feeling. Very distinctive.” Continue…
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 7:59 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The cost of ending Canada’s war in Kandahar, bringing home all the…
OTTAWA – The cost of ending Canada’s war in Kandahar, bringing home all the military’s equipment and reconditioning it is expected to top $651 million, according to figures and projections compiled by National Defence.
The Harper government has yet to deliver a final tally for the mission close-out costs, but a complete set of numbers could come with the release of a National Defence report to Parliament within weeks.
Packing up thousands of weapons, ammunition and hundreds of vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, was the biggest logistics operation for the military since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s.
And the eye-popping estimate is only an incremental figure, the cost the federal government says it has paid over and above the routine expense of soldiers’ salaries and support.
The full cost, when so-called routine expenses are considered, is roughly $924 million.
The numbers are being spread out over three budget years, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information.
Approximately $21 million of the total was carved out of the 2010-11 federal budget, says a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay. The rest was split up between last year’s budget and projected for the current year.
What remains unclear from the internal documents and from an email response by National Defence is how much of the price tag was driven by the diplomatic meltdown with the United Arab Emirates in late 2010. That disagreement that saw Canada ejected from its main staging base in the Middle East as the withdrawal was kicking into gear.
The Harper government was forced to move the military out of Camp Mirage, near Dubai, but eventually signed an arrangement with Kuwait to establish a replacement logistics hub in that country.
The new base was not declared operational until Sept. 22, three months after the withdrawal was underway.
Both opposition defence critics say the Harper government paid a steep price for the spat with the Emirates and must own up to the cost.
“The cost was obviously significantly greater as a result of this failure to handle the diplomatic side of it properly, and getting our backs up and deciding we either weren’t going to co-operate or compromise,” said New Democrat MP Jack Harris.
Liberal MP John McKay said he’s been asking in the House of Commons for a detailed cost breakdown and projections for year, but the government has been stonewalling.
It’s part of the larger issue of budget transparency, which the parliamentary budget officer has taken up with court action over the refusal of some departments to hand over information, he said.
“These guys do credit to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” McKay said. “There is a scale of secrecy on budget matters that is unprecedented.”
A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay fired back Thursday night, saying the government has been forthcoming about the close-out costs, including posting them on government web sites.
Jay Paxton accused the Liberals of trying to score cheap political points in the run-up to Remembrance Day.
“I find it troubling that opposition members don’t do their research on such important files,” said Paxton. “Sixteen months ago, in June 2011, our government provided Canadians estimates on the cost of the combat mission in Afghanistan including close out costs.”
Scrambling to establish a new hub mostly impacted the plan to fly out sensitive military vehicles and equipment aboard the air force’s mammoth C-17 transports, which instead of routing through Dubai and off-loading their cargo to a container ship, were forced to go to Cyprus during the early months.
Overland shipments of non-sensitive material encountered obstacles as the Pakistanis shut the border for months in a dispute with NATO over the friendly-fire deaths of some Pakistani soldiers. There was also theft from shipping containers which arrived in back in Canada with some of cargo pilfered, replaced by sand and rocks.
Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny, who chaired the Senate defence and security committee for years, said the withdrawal costs are just the beginning the care for the sick and injured has yet to be considered.
“We’re going to be paying for Kandahar for the next 40 years,” he said.
Another problem that vexed military planners was the sale of up to $76 million worth of buildings that had been constructed at Kandahar Airfield throughout the five-year combat mission.
A briefing note prepared for the Defence Department’s assistant deputy minister of infrastructure and environment noted in the spring of 2011 that all but $17 million of the property was snapped up by allies.
But the remaining buildings proved difficult to off-load.
“In numerous instances the facilities in question, although not currently of interest to any nation, are otherwise perfectly serviceable and could be an asset to a nation or (Commander Kandahar Airfield) at a later date,” said the five-page Feb. 22, 2011, briefing, obtained under access to information.
Tearing the buildings down at a cost of more than they are worth “does not seem to make sense other than to satisfy our current mandate to close out the mission by the end of the year.”
Planners looked at options ranging from walking away from the property to leasing the facilities to contractors or even making them a gift to Afghan forces.
They elected to engage support “at a senior NATO level” to lean on the commander of Kandahar Airfield to take the buildings off the hands of Canadians.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 2:36 PM - 0 Comments
Can a debt-ridden U.S. still afford to pick up the cheque?
The sobering reality became clear before the NATO summit even began. For a day and a half, the leaders of the world’s biggest economies hunkered down at the woodsy presidential retreat of Camp David, huddled around circular tables sharing frank details of the fragile state of the global economy and how in Europe, the situation could get much, much worse.
There, Prime Minister Stephen Harper slept in a small rustic cabin named Rosebud, where Soviet security guards were housed when Nikita Khrushchev met with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. (Harper’s aides bunked in a nearby firehouse.) But the threat hovering over this meeting was economic. Ahead of a conference to decide how to keep the security alliance of Western democracies relevant two decades after the end of the Cold War, it was clear the piggy bank was empty.
When the security summit itself got rolling, NATO’s members agreed to an endgame to the war in Afghanistan. (Harper confirmed that Canadian troops would leave by March 2014, and pledged $110 million annually for three years to help pay the $4.1-billion annual bill allowing the Afghans to maintain their “own” military.) But the allies did not agree to spend more on their own defence budgets, something Washington has been asking them to do for years. Going forward, that is the issue facing the winner of the 2012 presidential election. In a world that looks likely to deliver more humanitarian crises like Libya—and at a time of fiscal tightening in Europe—can the debt-ridden U.S. still afford to pick up the cheque?
By Gabriela Perdomo - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 10:34 AM - 0 Comments
In a pop-up visit to Kabul marking the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s…
In a pop-up visit to Kabul marking the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, President Barack Obama spelled out the end of the war in Afghanistan yesterday.
After signing a security co-operation pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama confirmed no NATO combat troops would remain in the country by the end of 2014, and declared: “I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly.”
The President sounded optimistic, even saying that the end of al Qaeda is “within reach,” according to CNN.
But today, just a few hours after Obama left Kabul, suicide bombers killed seven people in a compound housing Westerners, underlining just how unstable the situation in Afghanistan remains.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which involved a car bomb and insurgents disguised as women on the eastern outskirts of the capital, killing seven people, a Gurkha guard and six passers-by, and wounding 17.
The Taliban said it was in response to Obama’s visit and to the strategic partnership deal he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 11:51 AM - 6 Comments
Court may investigate treatment of Afghan detainees
The International Criminal Court is weighing whether to start a formal investigation into Canada’s handling of Afghan detainees. “There are serious allegations of crimes committed by different parties,” ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told Postmedia News in an interview during a visit at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday, adding that a decision on the matter will be made in the coming weeks. The ICC was first asked to look into Canada’s treatment of Afghan prisoners in 2007, after allegations surfaced that Canadian forces had handed over detainees to Afghan security officials knowing they could face torture.
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 31, 2011 at 9:56 AM - 0 Comments
Harper acknowledges “significant risk” even in non-combat mission
The deadliest suicide attack against Western troops in 10 years of war rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday. Reuters reports 13 foreigners died in the bombing, while the Globe and Mail writes of 17 casualties working in the local NATO training mission. Those included Master Corporal Byron Greff, from Morinville, Alta., the first Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since Ottawa ended the country’s combat role there. The attack forced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to acknowledge that the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan involves “significant risk.” He had earlier described the mission as “relatively safe.” The Haqqani network, a group believed to be based in the mountainous region of North Waziristan, on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is suspected to be behind the attack, which came days before a scheduled summit among Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, senior officials from neighbouring countries and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss regional security.
By Michael Friscolanti - Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 6 Comments
Dismissed by the Canadian Forces, Robert Semrau begins the next stage of life—as a civilian
His trial made headlines around the world—and sparked a fierce debate about mercy killing in a combat zone—but Robert Semrau’s final day in uniform passed without any publicity at all. He arrived at CFB Petawawa on Jan. 13, enjoyed a farewell lunch with fellow officers, and after many hugs and handshakes, left the base for the last time. As a civilian. “He certainly didn’t leave under a cloud of shame,” one soldier told Maclean’s. “Everyone wished him the best, and told him how tough it was to see him go.”
For Semrau and his family, tough doesn’t even begin to describe the past three years. In the summer of 2008, the Moose Jaw, Sask., native deployed to Kandahar as a respected infantry captain assigned to mentor Afghan troops as they hunted for Taliban. By December, he was on a plane back home, accused of putting a gravely injured insurgent out of his misery with two bullets to the chest.
Never before had a Canadian soldier been charged with battlefield murder, and when his court martial finally began in March 2010, Semrau was staring at a possible sentence of life behind bars. But his lawyers—knowing full well that compassion is not a legal excuse for murder—never conceded that their client committed a mercy kill. In fact, the defence offered no alternative version of events. They simply attacked the credibility of every Crown witness, hoping to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
What you’re thinking
Quebec: Quebecers are the most likely to gossip at dinner parties. More than four in 10 say that friends’ chatter around the table revolves around family gossip, celebrities, or friends who aren’t there. British Columbians, by contrast, are the most weighty in terms of dinnertime conversations, with 68 per cent claiming that discussions are usually focused on current affairs—or so they say.
Ontario: Over 54 per cent of entrepreneurs in the province (and 56 per cent nationwide) believe they’ve had it easy in the recession, saying the downturn has had no effect, or even a positive one on the bottom line. The outlier is Toronto, the country’s financial engine, where only 47 per cent of small businesses claim to have ridden out the crisis without suffering a few bumps along the way.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
So says busy CF Capt. Bruce Rolston, dashing off a message that says “context…will have to wait” before immediately providing some useful context. Wikileaks refers to the data dump as a “diary”; but when we normally encounter this term, what’s being referred to is a continuous narrative record kept by a single person and updated and corrected on the fly. The “Afghan war diary” is more like a scrapbook of initial event reports, assembled with little post-hoc correction and with a certain amount of non-expert annotation and categorization. There is value in piercing and documenting the fog of war, but there’s a reason they use the term “fog”. Documenting it is not the same thing as dispersing it.
The media navel-gazing over the Ultimate Meaning of Wikileaks seems a bit over-the-top in the year 2010. I don’t mean to suggest that a really well-hidden drop box for brown envelopes isn’t a useful thing, but is it novel in principle? Jay Rosen’s description of Wikileaks as “the World’s First Stateless News Organization” was quickly met with variants of the observation that the internet itself is “stateless”, and doesn’t have a head office that can be raided or bombed. All this tut-tutting about “accountability” has been familiar since the grunge years, and in our grandparents’ time the world lived with news empires that were “stateless” in a much more alarming sense—that is, because they were global powers unto themselves, and the opinion-shaping abilities of elected politicians and bureaucracies simply hadn’t yet caught up. How “accountable”, in the sense Colleague Potter frets over, were William Randolph Hearst or Lord Beaverbrook or Leopold Ullstein?
By Kate Fillion - Friday, October 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM - 8 Comments
A conversation with Kate Fillion
Gen. Rick Hillier was chief of defence staff from February 2005 to July 2008. As he explains in A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, the Canadian Forces have long been underfunded, under-trained, underappreciated and overextended. The most visible and outspoken CDS in recent history, Hillier sought to reverse those trends while fighting a war in Afghanistan—and, as it turned out, Ottawa.
Q:In A Soldier First, you write that most Canadians do not know what the rationale behind the Afghanistan mission is. What’s the biggest misperception?
A: That everything is dark and gloomy. What Canadians hear about the mission is that Canadian soldiers have been killed, and they hear about improvised explosive devices and corruption in the government. There are some very bright spots, from the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, to the development of the Afghan national army, to the fact that two-thirds of the country now essentially runs as normal. Canadians hear not a single thing about any of that.
Q: Whose fault is that?
A: I start with average Canadians. They should demand that kind of information from their government when they’ve got their sons and daughters participating in a war. Secondly, the Afghanistan task force has a strategic communications policy, but I wonder where the communications is being done because hundreds of thousands of Canadians don’t know what’s happening. Thirdly, our media have not done a very good job. Very few journalists have actually been outside the wire, because their editors are very concerned about the risks and their insurance policies almost always prohibit them from going out.
Q: Why did we first send troops to Afghanistan, in your opinion?
A: We were going somewhere in 2003, just as a way to relieve the pressure of saying no to the Americans on Iraq, and it ended up being Afghanistan. But I think now we view the world through a more strategic lens: we have to bring stability to places where there’s chaos, to help those areas develop.
Q: Does Canada have a coherent strategic plan for what’s going to happen post-July 2011, when our troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan?
A: That’s very difficult to say. I think Canadians have heard very little about it and are therefore reasonably asking, “What is the plan and what is our strategy there?” When I was chief of defence staff, our view of what we were doing was to try to help Afghans determine, with some assistance, just what it was they wanted as a country and how they wanted to live their lives. We were very, very clear on that. As President [Hamid] Karzai told me the first time I met him, “The number one threat to Afghanistan is our lack of capacity to govern ourselves, to provide jobs for the people and provide for their basic needs, and to provide for their security. The sooner we can be helped to provide those capacities, the sooner we can get going on our own.”
Q: How can you help Afghans do all that after 2011 without troops?
A: You cannot, so the troops, if they’re not Canadian, will have to come from somewhere else. Make no doubt about it: the security mission and therefore the need for forces will not be finished in southern Afghanistan in 2011. You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in a camp and train people for the Afghan army or police, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan, you are going to be in combat.
Q: Should our troops stay in Afghanistan after July 2011?
A: Whether they should stay or not will be a decision the government of Canada will make. What I would actually like to see is a strategic discussion, not just about what we do in Afghanistan but about Canada’s place in the world. But in this constant minority government, always in election campaign mode, with a very vitriolic Parliament, it’s impossible to have that sort of strategic discussion. Do I think that if Canadian troops stayed on the ground we could help foster a more stable Afghanistan that would in turn be a stabilizing force in Southwest Asia and help reduce terrorists’ ability to hide? Yes I do.
Q: Do you agree with de Gaulle, that “genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop”?
A: I teach that as one of my leadership points. But also, you don’t achieve anything by stopping at the first sign of difficulty. If we’d stopped after Dieppe in World War II, where would we be right now as a nation? If we’d stopped before Vimy Ridge, we wouldn’t have been a nation at all. So yes, you’ve got to know when to say “stop” as a leader, you sure do, but you’ve also got to know when to push for the final thing that’s going to give you the full benefit.
Q: You write that when you were chief of defence staff, some of the toughest battles were fought not in Kandahar but against the bureaucracy in Ottawa.
A: I liken it to a boa constrictor. We were at war in Afghanistan, with young men and women laying their lives on the line on a daily basis, and we were trying to move at lightning speed to give them the capabilities to reduce risks and ensure they were set up for success. What we did not see, from the vast majority of the bureaucracy back in Ottawa, was the same sense of urgency. Everything became difficult, really moved slowly, projects were often parcelled into very little bits and pieces. We had to fight a war in Ottawa to get things done, from getting the tanks upgraded to getting helicopters. We should’ve had those things from the time the need was identified, in weeks if not days. It took months, and in several cases years.
Q: You once said, famously, that the Taliban are “detestable murderers and scumbags.” Do you still believe that?
A: Absolutely. I spoke about people who were trying to kill Canadians’ sons and daughters. I would also challenge people to come up with any other description for those who, as part of their policy, want to murder defenceless Afghan men and women.
By John Parisella - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 5:54 PM - 18 Comments
Watch for the far right to start claiming the President has not managed this war effectively
One thing about American conservatives, they can get away with opposing a war when circumstances change. Imagine a liberal opposing a war or changing his views on a war when the context changes. One recalls Bobby Kennedy’s turnaround on Vietnam and, later, John Kerry’s after he returned from his combat mission. In both cases, conservatives portrayed them and liberals in general as weak on national security. Democrats have always been sensitive to that label, which may explain their initial support for the Iraq war. While the wars are very different, there is a growing perception that the war in Afghanistan could become Obama’s Vietnam, especially since Obama seems committed to pursuing the mission. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is “a war of necessity” and not of choice according to Obama. However, polls are showing a growing disenchantment within the American public over this war. Casualties are mounting and, despite a new strategy and the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, there are doubts the war can ever be won. America could very well face a similar fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.
Respected conservative George Will published a column today arguing for an end to the combat mission in Afghanistan. If it has the same effect as Walter Cronkite’s declaration that Vietnam had become unwinnable, Will’s piece could mark the beginning of the end for the mission in Afghanistan. He blames the reluctance of NATO nations to commit the number of troops necessary to defeat the Taliban. We know, for example, that Canada has set a deadline on its current involvement and no NATO member states have shown any interest in picking up where we’ll be leaving off.