Archive for December, 2008

FUTURE OF JTF2 BASE STILL TO BE DECIDED

December 31, 2008

 

 

FUTURE OF JTF2 BASE STILL TO BE DECIDED

 

 

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen

 

Published: Tuesday, December 30, 2008

 

The Defence Department won’t start figuring out what to do with its Joint Task Force 2 commando base south of Ottawa for at least another year, says the head of the country’s special forces.

Col. Michael Day said an environmental assessment still has to be done for JTF2’s new home in Trenton, Ont. Once that is finished, along with the development of a more firm construction schedule for the new Trenton installation, then the department can start looking at the future of the facility near Ottawa known Dwyer Hill.

“I don’t think we’ll initiate the look for how we’re going to deal with Dwyer Hill until we have a better sense of the environmental assessment and the construction timeline,” Day said.

 

The department would likely turn its attention to determining the future of the Dwyer Hill Training Centre in another year to 18 months, he suggested. “I think it’s premature to look before then,” said Day, head of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

JTF2, which expanded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., has outgrown the Ottawa installation.

The federal government announced in September the unit would relocate to Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario.

The process of dealing with the future of 80-hectare Dwyer Hill base will consist of two phases. One will be an examination of whether the Defence Department has a need for the counter-terrorism training facility.

Day said he doesn’t see the country’s special forces having a continued use for the base. “At the moment, I don’t predict an urgent need or an operational requirement to keep it . . . but again, we’re talking multiple years, so my situation may change,” he added.

Other organizations within the Defence Department could, however, indicate an interest in the base.

If the department doesn’t have a use for the facility it could then be offered to other government organizations. If no other department indicates an interest it could then be turned over to the Canada Lands Company, which handles the sale of federal properties.

Day said in a previous interview JTF2 could start moving out of its Dwyer Hill base as early as 2012 but the process could stretch on for several more years after that. Some elements of JTF2 could still be in Dwyer Hill as late as 2015, he suggested.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to the Ottawa Citizen and David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

If you want information on books by David Pugliese check out his Web site or view his biography. Go to:

 

http://members.shaw.ca/dpugliese/

 

 

http://members.shaw.ca/dpugliese/David_Pugliese_Biography/David%20Pugliese%20Biography.html

 

© Canwest News Service 2008

December 30, 2008

 

 

 

Canadian Forces to spend $100 million to detect roadside bombs in Afghanistan; Surveillance balloons, towers to be installed near Kandahar bases

By David Pugliese 

The Ottawa Citizen

 Monday, October 20, 2008

 

 

 

The Canadian military will spend $100 million on surveillance balloons and towers equipped with high-tech sensors, as well as other related equipment, as it tries to deal with the ongoing threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

 

Up to five balloons and as many as 20 towers could be purchased for installation around Canadian bases in Kandahar province. They would be equipped with various sensors and long-range cameras, capable of providing surveillance of the surrounding countryside potentially as far out as 20 kilometres.

 

The U.S. military uses similar equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The Defence Department project, which has already received approval from Treasury Board, also includes the purchase of new flail-equipped vehicles. The specialized vehicles churn up the ground, destroying landmines and improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, in the process.

 

In addition, the project would see the purchase of equipment to outfit a forensic laboratory that could be used to uncover clues that might lead to the identity of insurgent bombmakers.

 

IEDs are the weapon of choice of insurgents in Afghanistan.

 

Roadside bombs and landmines have contributed to a large number of the Canadian deaths and injuries in the war.

 

Defence Department officials did not respond to several requests for information about the new project.

 

It is expected that a contract for the equipment would be signed by next summer, with deliveries to follow quickly after that. The flails would be the first to be purchased, but it is expected that the surveillance towers and balloons could be installed in Kandahar by late next year.

 

The balloons, or aerostats, as they are called, would likely be used around the main Canadian installation at Kandahar Air Field, while the towers could be installed at forward operating bases.

 

There are a number of firms that can provide such equipment. At least one, Raytheon Canada of Ottawa, has indicated it is interested in providing towers and balloons once the Defence Department releases further details to industry.

 

The company’s RAID (Rapid Aerostat Initial Detection) system, which includes surveillance balloons and towers, is already in wide use in Iraq. Company officials said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is also using the tower version of RAID.

 

If selected for the project, Raytheon would be the prime contractor, integrating surveillance systems from other firms onto the towers and balloons.

 

“We’re talking about having the capability of 24/7 coverage where you can monitor an area or a road over that period,” said Raytheon official Mike Pulchny. “It will also give you an indication of what has changed within that 24-hour period. Are there new mounds of dirt or areas that have been disturbed? Or you could see the people actually planting (IEDs).”

 

Depending on the type of surveillance equipment installed, the systems could have a range of five to 20 kilometres.

 

Luc Petit, business development manager for Raytheon Canada, said RAID’s ability to provide early warning about IEDs has made a big difference to the U.S. army, particularly in Iraq. He said such equipment is a logical next step for Canada in its attempts to reduce casualties from roadside bombs.

 

“They’ve put as much armour on people and on vehicles as practical,” said Mr. Petit. “The next step is to conduct police-type work, where you do protection and early detection.”

 

Last year, the Canadian Forces launched a new strategy aimed at dealing with IEDs. It is focusing its efforts on defeating the IED networks, going after not only those who build the bombs, but those who finance them. Military officers are working closely with RCMP forensic specialists to try to identify telltale signs that might indicate the source of the weapons.

 

In an earlier interview, Col. Omer Lavoie, head of a special IED task force, said the effort also involves working closely with Afghan civilians. “This really speaks to targeting networks and winning the support of the people so that they’re reporting the builders and the transporters before they do put (IEDs) in place,” said Col. Lavoie. “It’s also trying to change the mindset,” he said. “This is not an undefeatable bogeyman out there.”

 

Members of the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 and the Petawawa-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment have also been tracking down bombmakers. A team from the government’s Communications Security Establishment, also from Ottawa, has been using its skills to intercept insurgent radio and cellphone transmissions in an effort to locate those who are involved in the IED networks. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also been contributing with its agents in Afghanistan.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to the Ottawa Citizen and David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

 

SIKORKSY TO PAY NO FINES ON LATE DELIVERY OF CANADIAN FORCES HELICOPTERS

December 29, 2008

 

 

 

Conservatives won’t collect $36M late fine for helicopter supplier; Sikorsky will miss Cyclone delivery date by at least two years

 

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

 

Dec. 28, 2008

 

 

The Conservative government has decided that U.S. aerospace giant Sikorsky won’t have to pay $36 million in penalties even though the maritime helicopter it is building for the Canadian Forces is being delivered two years late.

 

The late penalties were put in place when the contract was signed in 2004 as a way to ensure the aircraft would arrive on time.

 

The original contract called for the first Sikorsky Cyclone helicopter to be delivered to Canada last month, but now that won’t happen until November 2010.

 

Instead, the government has cut a new deal with Sikorsky, resetting the clock on when the firm would be liable for late penalties, if at all. The company has been given another two years of grace before facing any sanctions.

 

Liberal and Conservative politicians, as well as Sikorsky officials, have, in the past, highlighted the penalties as evidence there were severe consequences if the firm didn’t deliver on time. The contract clause allowed the federal government to charge the company $100,000 a day for every day it was late, up to a maximum penalty of $36 million.

 

In January, Defence Minister Peter MacKay brought up the penalties after news reports suggested Sikorsky would not deliver the aircraft on time. “There are penalties and clauses that will kick in,” he warned.

 

In June, a response from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office to reports that there were problems with military equipment projects, including the Cyclone deal, cited the penalties.

 

“All companies are expected to live up to their contracted obligations and our suppliers are expected to provide what was agreed to,” Mr. Harper’s office said.

 

Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, said the decision by the Conservatives not to enforce the contract penalties is “practising politics as usual just like the Liberals would.”

 

Mr. Conacher said the announcement timing, on the night of Dec. 23, and the fact that the original press release did not mention the Conservatives were setting aside the fines, is another indication the government is trying its best to hide the deal.

 

“I’m amazed the Conservatives rolled over on this one so easily because they had made such strong statements before about using the financial penalties,” he added.

 

Severe financial penalties for late delivery of military equipment are common in some other nations, but in Canada, such sanctions are not usually imposed. Some in the defence industry doubted from the beginning that Sikorsky would ever face any kind of penalty, while others stated that a maximum $36-million fine was little deterrent on a project worth $5 billion.

 

Under the new deal, Canadian taxpayers will now pay Sikorsky $117 million more for improvements to be made to the Cyclone, as well as changes to the long-term in-service support package for the aircraft.

 

The government is not discussing the exact nature of those improvements. The Defence Department and Mr. MacKay’s office declined comment, referring inquiries to Public Works and Government Services Canada.

 

An e-mail from Public Works notes the extra money would go for “an alternate design solution to the helicopter communication tactical data exchange and providing additional capabilities for the helicopters.”

 

The helicopters would be able to carry more cargo or fuel if needed, but the e-mail doesn’t explain further.

 

Other unspecified improvements in the design of the 28 helicopters would “provide the helicopter with growth potential for the engine, main transmission and drive system.”

 

When asked to further explain what changes would be made to the Cyclone’s design, Public Works re-sent the same information it provided the first time.

 

At one point, there was talk about installing more powerful engines than were originally offered by Sikorsky, but the government is not saying whether this will happen.

 

Sikorsky also declined to detail what changes will be made. But it did release a statement that it was pleased with the new deal.

 

“We’ve worked hard with the Canadian government to reach an agreement that will provide these highly sophisticated and capable aircraft to the Canadian Forces in the shortest amount of time possible,” said Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson. “We are continuing to push ahead at full speed with the program.”

 

The e-mail from Public Works suggested the government did not hold Sikorsky responsible for the two-year delay, but did not elaborate.

 

Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, said the Conservatives should hold Sikorsky to the original terms of the contract and hit the firm with the penalties that are allowed for in the deal.

 

“Why have financial penalties if you’re not going to enforce them?” said Mr. Staples, whose institute has spoken out against defence spending and procurement.

 

“Instead of making Sikorsky pay for late delivery, the government turns around and gives them more money to do what they should have done in the first place.”

 

In the press release, Mr. MacKay said the Canadian military will receive a “great aircraft.”

 

But Mr. Staples questioned that claim. “DND and the government are being pretty secretive about all of this,” he said. “If this was truly providing taxpayers and the Canadian Forces with better value, then why are they refusing to provide details?”

 

Sikorsky is teamed on the contract with General Dynamics Canada of Ottawa and L-3 Communications MAS Canada Inc. of Mirabel, Que.

 

Agusta-Westland, Sikorsky’s rival in the original helicopter contest, predicted in 2004 that the firm would not be able to meet its timetable because the Cyclone was a developmental aircraft and not in production at the time.

 

Sikorsky officials dismissed such claims. In interviews in February and July 2004, they said they would have no problem meeting the deadline as the Cyclone was based on an existing civilian helicopter, the S-92.

 

“We are well positioned to take this aircraft, which has the latest technologies available in it, and navalize it,” said Bruce McKinney, Sikorsky’s director for the maritime helicopter project.

 

After a strike at the Sikorsky plant, the Canadian government allowed the firm a slight delay in delivering the aircraft. It modified the delivery date to January 2009 instead of November 2008.

 

Earlier this year, Mr. MacKay blamed former prime minister Jean Chrétien for the delays in the project. Mr. Chrétien cancelled the maritime helicopter program in 1993 out of concern the country couldn’t afford it at a time of a large deficit. The Liberal government paid a $500-million penalty for the cancellation and the project was restarted years later.

 

But Liberals have called Mr. MacKay’s claims ridiculous and point out that most of the Cyclone contract has unfolded under the Conservative government’s watch.

 

  

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

THREAT OF PROTEST SHUTS DEFENCE TRADE SHOW DOWN

December 28, 2008

 

 

 

Defence show cancelled over protests; Vigil participants say PCO edict scuttled event, not threat of civil disobedience

 

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

 

 The threat of civil disobedience by protesters at a defence trade show scheduled for next week in Ottawa was the reason for the event being shut down, according to one of its organizers.

 

But others who planned to take part in the two-day event at Lansdowne Park blame a Privy Council Office edict that prevented senior military officers and Defence Department officials from taking part in various aspects of Secure Canada 2008 because of the federal election.

 

And one of the co-ordinators of a disarmament group opposed to Secure Canada 2008 says the trade show’s officials are using the peace protesters as scapegoats.

 

“I think they’re totally exaggerating any kind of threat that we posed,” said Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade. “Our main thing was a candlelight peace vigil. That doesn’t seem too threatening.”

 

Mr. Sanders said seniors’ activist group the Raging Grannies was also planning to set up a peace garden outside Lansdowne Park as well as walk back and forth across Bank Street to slow traffic.

 

But Rick Tachuk of Secure Canada 2008 said Ottawa police warned exhibit organizers there could be incidents of civil disobedience outside the trade show.

 

“We had been notified by the … Ottawa police that they had picked up intelligence on a potential security threat on the event and (they) brought this to our attention,” he explained. “This came as a total shock to us.”

 

Mr. Tachuk said the cost of providing security around Lansdowne Park would have been prohibitive. He declined to discuss the cost of security, but did add that event organizers were responsible for paying it. “We had a security budget, but this far, far surpassed any reasonable expectation of what would be required,” he added.

 

A defence industry official said the price tag was more than $80,000.

 

But officials with Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Canada, hosts of one of three events taking place under the Secure Canada umbrella, blamed the cancellation of the association’s event on a recently issued government decree. “This cancellation relates to the federal election currently under way and restrictions placed on senior government officials participating in public conferences,” a press release said.

 

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk was to have delivered the keynote address at the AFCEA Canada event, and other officers were making presentations as well.

 

But the Privy Council Office recently launched an unprecedented clampdown on government business during the federal election, slowing the workings of the bureaucracy to a crawl in some areas.

 

Meetings between bureaucrats and everyone from consumer advocacy groups to industry representatives have been cancelled out of concern such gatherings may taint the outcome of the federal election. The PCO edict has also put a temporary halt to some Canadian Forces equipment projects and has required military officers and public servants to withdraw from long-planned defence conferences.

 

Secure Canada 2008 was to have combined three industry events into one: Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Canada’s conference, a conference for unmanned aerial vehicles and the Secure Canada trade exhibit. Mr. Tachuk said while the conferences were running into problems because military officers were no longer available to speak, the trade show portion could have proceeded if not for the excessive security costs.

 

Mr. Tachuk said the trade show had been run at the Congress Centre and Ottawa hotels previously and there were no protests. He said the show does not exhibit weapon systems, but is concentrated more on equipment for domestic security and disaster response.

 

But Mr. Sanders questioned that, noting that one exhibitor sells equipment, including silencers and other gear, for special forces teams.

 

He said it appears the PCO clampdown is to blame for the cancellation of Secure Canada 2008, but that the defence industry is intent on blaming protesters. He noted that the groups have held peaceful protests previously and applied for and received a permit from the City of Ottawa to hold their event outside Lansdowne Park.

 

Mr. Sanders acknowledged that opposition to the Secure Canada show was late in getting starting and, as a result, the numbers of those involved were not that great.

 

“We didn’t feel we had the resources or enough people to organize a rally,” he said, adding that was the reason the focus was on a candlelight vigil.

 

 For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

 

UAV SUPPLIER GIVEN NEW RESPONSIBILITIES IN KANDAHAR

December 27, 2008

 UAV supplier handed critical wartime duties; Firm to take off, land device to reduce military’s liabilities in event of crash

 

The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, August 18, 2008

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

 

Employees of a British Columbia firm supplying surveillance drones for the military in Afghanistan will be playing a greater role than first thought in the operations of the system as they pilot the aircraft during take offs and landings from Kandahar.

 

Canadian military personnel, who will be training on the drones in Alberta and Nova Scotia over the coming months, will still handle the more sensitive flying of the unmanned aerial vehicles in seeking out insurgents and collecting intelligence information.

 

But by having civilian personnel at the helm of the drones during the critical phases of take off and landing, the military will be off the financial hook for any crashes such as those that affected another unmanned aerial vehicle, the Sperwer, sent to Afghanistan several years ago.

 

The Sperwer unmanned aerial vehicles were originally purchased for Canada’s 2003 mission in Kabul, but were also later sent to Kandahar. The crashes and rough landings that damaged the drones were blamed on a combination of inexperienced military personnel flying the aircraft and the harsh operating conditions in the field.

 

This time around, MacDonald Detwiller and Associates of Richmond, B.C., will bear the cost of any accidents on take off or landing. The firm is leasing the Israeli-built Heron drone to the Canadian military for a two-year period.

 

“We wanted to make sure the department’s exposure to risk was minimized in every way possible,” explained Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Alex Tupper, who is in the air force directorate handling unmanned aerial vehicles. “Having the contractor responsible for the most critical phase of flight was one way to mitigate some of the risks.”

 

Two other firms withdrew from the competition, citing concerns that the contract placed too much risk on the contractor. The winning firm is required to provide the unmanned aerial vehicles for a specific period and if it can not meet that, it will be penalized financially.

 

But MDA officials say they aren’t concerned because of the reliability of the Heron. The drone is outfitted with a highly reliable auto-pilot system, notes David Hargreaves, a senior MDA official. “Landing and takeoff requires some more specialized skills,” he said. “They (DND) felt they would like the contractor to have responsibility for that.”

 

The autopilot system for landing makes use of a global positioning system that helps guide the drone via information being fed by a satellite. The MDA contractors will provide maintenance and support, as well, for the drones in Kandahar.

 

MDA was awarded the $95-million contract for the Heron lease earlier this month.

 

The Heron is different from the military’s current fleet of Sperwer drones in that the Sperwer is catapulted into the air by a special launcher and uses a parachute system to land. The Heron will take off and land like an airplane.

 

The Heron is expected to help reduce the number of insurgent attacks. The drones could be used to scout out convoy routes and other areas, scanning for insurgents, or using sensors to observe Taliban planting improvised explosive devices.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

CANADIAN FORCES EMBARKS ON FUTURE SOLDIER PROGRAM

December 26, 2008

  

 

 

 

Firms battle to build future warrior; $310M program seeks to integrate key equipment into a package straight out of sci-fi

 

The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, July 21, 2008

Page: A1 / FRONT

 

By David Pugliese

 

Two Ottawa-based companies and a Montreal-area firm plan to enter the race to provide the Canadian military with a new soldier ensemble straight out of a sci-fi film.

 

The $310-million program would provide equipment not only to allow troops to track each other as they move throughout the battlefield, but feed communications and targeting information into their helmets or to a small personal data device they would each carry.

 

The Integrated Soldier System Project has received approval from Defence Minister Peter MacKay and will now proceed to Treasury Board to get the OK for initial funding. The project is expected to unfold over the next 10 years with various changes in the gear being brought in as technology improves.

 

But the first of the new systems could be in use in Afghanistan before the Canadian military is scheduled to pull out in 2011, according to defence insiders.

 

“It’s clearly a priority for the army,” said Luc Bentolila, vice-president for Canadian sales for EADS Defence and Security of Ottawa, one of the firms that will bid on the project.

 

Currently, Canadian soldiers carry, or at least have access to, equipment such as radios, night-vision goggles and global positioning systems to indicate their locations. Some of their weapons are also outfitted with targeting systems using lasers. Other gear can include thermal imaging systems that can locate objects by the heat they radiate.

 

But all of this gear is separately operated and each needs to be powered by batteries carried by the troops. A Canadian soldier fighting in Afghanistan is carrying a minimum of 16 batteries to operate the equipment and it’s not uncommon for them to each carry another 24 batteries for backup, according to officers.

 

The future soldier system would combine equipment into an integrated package with a single power unit and a data-bus. Communications and information downloaded from everything from aerial drones to satellite data from global positioning systems could be fed into the integrated system and displayed on an eye-piece mounted on a helmet or onto a personal data assistant.

 

Some of the systems already proposed look similar to those worn by the future soldiers in the film Aliens.

 

Not only would the weight troops carry be significantly reduced, but a soldier would be able to communicate with fellow soldiers more quickly. As many as 17,000 integrated soldier systems would be bought by the Department of National Defence.

 

Besides EADS, Thales Canada of Ottawa and Rheinmetall Canada of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., are all interested in bidding on the program. General Dynamics Canada, of Ottawa, has been identified as another firm that could provide such equipment, but the company declined to comment.

 

Mr. Bentolila said his company is looking at using its “Warrior 21″ system as a base to build on for a Canadian bid. That system has been or is being provided to the German, Spanish and Swiss militaries.

 

“Because we have an operational and proven capability, we believe this might be of interest to Canada,” he said.

 

Mr. Bentolila said the firm has an agreement with xwave of Stittsville and is looking for other industrial team members. The company has also purchased another firm in Gatineau, PlantCML, which could be involved in service support for the soldier system.

 

Rheinmetall Canada, which provides future soldier equipment for the French and German militaries, has a system that weighs less than five kilograms, said Sylvain Lefrançois, director of battle management projects for the firm.

 

“We feel it’s the right time to procure these type of system because the technology has matured,” he added.

 

Mr. Lefrançois said the Canadian military is emphasizing power consumption and lightweight systems for its future soldier gear. Interoperability with other armies and soldiers’ acceptance of the equipment are also key.

 

Rheinmetall Canada has already worked on technology demonstration projects for the Canadian military that highlighted how the future troops might be outfitted.

 

Bud Walsh of Thales Canada in Ottawa said the firm is still waiting to get more specific details from the military and is closely watching how the project develops before it determines how to proceed. “We’ve got a lot of capability in the company and we’ve done programs of a similar nature in the United Kingdom and Germany and throughout Europe,” he added.

 

Mr. Walsh said the technological needs of the project may require a number of companies to join forces to meet the military’s requirements.

 

He said the Canadian Forces is not looking to get locked into one type of technology, but will be introducing the equipment in cycles so it can take advantage of developments as they come. For instance, new technology might provide a lightweight fuel cell troops could carry to power their equipment.

 

Thales Canada, like EADS and Rheinmetall, is owned by a European parent firm. Another company, SAGEM of France, is also seen as a potential supplier for the soldier system.

 

Asked about the project, the Defence Department issued an e-mail stating that the Integrated Soldier System will significantly enhance the capabilities of the troops. “The project will allow the CF soldier to operate in coalition operations with advanced situational awareness, increased target acquisition and lethality so that mission success can be achieved,” the e-mail said.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

PAY RAISES TO KEEP JTF2 FROM JOINING MERC FIRMS

December 24, 2008

 

Elite troops get more pay to stay: Extra money helps ensure JTF2 soldiers don’t go work for private firms

The Ottawa Citizen

August 26, 2006

By David Pugliese

 

Special forces units ranging from Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 to the British Special Air Service are hiking pay in an effort to stem the flow of skilled personnel to private military firms.

 

Soldiers with the Dwyer Hill-based JTF2 will have their pay boosted through various means this year in recognition of their skills and the hardships they face on the job in places such as Afghanistan.

 

Several weeks ago, British military leaders approved a 50-per-cent pay hike for those in the country’s special forces — the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service — to try to stop soldiers from leaving to take jobs as guns-for-hire with firms in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The U.S. military also brought in a series of pay hikes and bonuses a couple of years ago to deal with the same issue.

 

Canadian Forces spokeswoman Cmdr. Denise LaViolette said the increases in financial compensation for JTF2 were not brought specifically because people were leaving the unit for the private sector.

 

“Allowances are reviewed on a regular basis for everyone,” she said.

 

“It wasn’t specific to the issue of going to other groups or leaving DND. It was, that we have a system in place, they regularly get reviewed, they were found to be lacking, (so) we increased them,” Cmdr. LaViolette said.

 

However, she did acknowledge the end result of making such compensation competitive to the private sector is that personnel will consider staying with the unit.

 

But Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate’s national security and defence committee, said the allowance improvements are directly related to the fact that JTF2 has been losing highly-skilled personnel to the private sector. He questioned why the military would not acknowledge the obvious.

 

“If they don’t want to call it a retention allowance, fine, but the bottom line is that you have people who like a certain kind of work and that work is available these days in both the public and the private sector,” said Mr. Kenny.

 

A March 13 background document produced by the Defence Department on the JTF2 allowances notes the money compensates for various hardships, including conditions of work and risk involved with serving in the unit.

 

The JTF2 allowance has been increased based on qualifying service, with annual compensation ranging from $7,488 to $8,964 for general support personnel, from $13,680 to $16,356 for close support personnel and from $21,756 to $25,260 for “assaulters.”

 

The compensation scheme also includes special allowances for certain skills. A special operations assaulter allowance sees annual compensation ranging from $15,000 for those commandos with less than two years’ qualifying service as an assaulter to $39,576 for those with 14 years or more qualifying service.

 

Assaulters are considered the fighting edge of JTF2 and are serving in Afghanistan and are on duty for counter-terrorism missions in Canada.

 

The compensation is on top of the regular military salary and benefits, which are based on rank.

 

Records previously released under the Access to Information law have shown that JTF2 officers are concerned the unit is losing personnel to private military firms. Former JTF2 have found work as guns-for-hire with such companies in Africa and Iraq.

 

Mr. Kenny said he believes military personnel enjoy serving in JTF2 and would prefer doing such work within the Canadian Forces.

 

“But if someone is going to come along and offer them silly amounts of money, they know they’re in a high-risk occupation, they have families, they have a future to think about and they also know they have a fairly limited shelf-life, particularly if they are an assaulter,” he explained.

 

Mr. Kenny noted that being an assaulter “is a young man’s game.”

 

He said it is likely that the military will have to further increase such allowances to retain such troops.

 

But other defence analysts, as well as some contract soldiers themselves, have suggested the flow of special forces from western nations to the private sector is slowing as security firms turn to troops from developing nations, who will work for less.

 

In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, private security firms were paying around $1,000 a day for highly dangerous jobs for the former special forces members from the U.S. and Britain.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

FAMILY FIGHTS TO FIND OUT HOW SON DIED IN AFGHANISTAN

December 24, 2008

 What the military gives you when they don’t give your son back

 

The Ottawa Citizen

 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

By David Pugliese

 

A family trying to find out how their son died in Afghanistan is fighting to get a copy of the military police investigation into his death, as well as other documents that might shed light on whether he was shot by insurgents or by gunmen working for a private security firm.

 

The family of Master Cpl. Josh Roberts, killed near Kandahar City in August, had been promised both the autopsy report and a copy of the military police report into the incident.

 

But after several requests for those documents, Canadian Forces representatives told the family they would have to apply for the records under the federal Access to Information law if they wanted to obtain the records.

 

And in a new twist in the Roberts case, the Citizen has learned that the Defence Department had already released a copy of the military police investigation to a member of the public who requested it under the access law. Under that law any Canadian who pays a $5 fee can request and receive federal government records.

 

The federal privacy law does not allow the Defence Department to reveal to the family, or anyone else, the identity of who has a copy of the NIS report.

 

The 29-year-old soldier was killed Aug. 9 in a firefight and first reports indicated he had been shot by Afghan members of a private security company. But the military police’s National Investigation Service later concluded that insurgents killed Master Cpl. Roberts and it exonerated the security firm’s Afghan gunmen.

 

But Master Cpl. Roberts’ mother, Beth Figley, says the NIS has provided few details to support its conclusion that the Taliban killed her son. The family is also questioning the validity of the NIS investigation, which was quickly conducted over the course of a month.

 

“We’ve been promised those documents from Day 1 and nothing has ever been released,” said Mrs. Figley of Dalmeny, Sask.

 

Even with the investigation finished, the NIS official who provided some details about Master Cpl. Roberts’ death to the family declined to provide them with the documents. “He had everything there,” Mrs. Figley said. “He had it all in his bloody hands, but he wouldn’t even let us see it.”

 

Mrs. Figley’s ex-husband, Bob Roberts, the master corporal’s father, was also promised the report as well as the autopsy documents, but he says he has not received any records from the Defence Department.

 

“When I was talking to those NIS guys, I was promised the report by the end of September and the autopsy report,” said Mr. Roberts of Calgary.

 

When he asked again about the records, the military told him to go through the access law.

 

After questions from the Citizen about why the Figleys and Mr. Roberts were promised copies of the investigation report but later denied them, the Canadian Forces reversed its position. The military said it will now release a censored version of the NIS report.

 

Members of the National Investigation Service and the Canadian Forces declined to be interviewed on the issue.

 

But an e-mail from the military police states that the family will now be provided with a copy of the NIS report “after appropriate severances are made in accordance with Access to Information and Privacy Acts.”

 

The family, however, won’t receive the autopsy report until sometime in early 2009, according to the e-mail. At that time the military will provide a medical representative to explain the technical details of the document, the e-mail states.

 

Another e-mail received Wednesday from army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie noted that he was not aware of the family’s interest in receiving a copy of the NIS report. “With respect to grieving families’ access to NIS reports, we will be making a severed copy available to the family over the next few days,” the general noted.

 

He thanked the Citizen for bringing the issue to his attention.

 

But Mrs. Figley said she has been asking for the NIS report from the time she met Lt.-Gen. Leslie at Canadian Forces Base Trenton when her son’s body was returned from Afghanistan. As of yesterday, neither the Figleys nor Mr. Roberts had received the NIS report or had been contacted by the military about when the documents might be released.

 

Mrs. Figley is angry the Defence Department allowed someone other than a family member to see the report first. “I’m the next of kin and I can’t believe they have given this report to a stranger,” Mrs. Figley said when told about the development by the Citizen. “No one consulted our family about this.”

 

Mrs. Figley has checked with family members and none have received the NIS report.

 

The Figleys are questioning the NIS investigation because they say they were told by Lt.-Gen. Leslie and other soldiers that Master Cpl. Roberts had been killed by a private security contractor. The general has denied stating that to the family, noting that he provided them with a number of possible, but at the time, unproven scenarios.

 

Soldiers who the Figley and Roberts families have talked to have also offered conflicting versions about how Master Cpl. Roberts died.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

TRYING TO SURVIVE IN KABUL

December 24, 2008

Hope & despair; Amid the ongoing violence, Afghan families are building new lives, brick by brick

The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Page: B1 / FRONT

Section: Saturday Observer

Byline: David Pugliese

Dateline: KABUL, Afghanistan

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

KABUL, Afghanistan – It’s common these days to hear less than complimentary things in this country about Hamid Karzai’s government.

 

There’s talk about corruption and anger over the failure of the president’s administration to put Afghanistan back on its feet despite having received billions of dollars of aid money from the international community. Unemployment is running at about 50 per cent. Some former government officials, such as one-time foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, warn that the Karzai regime is growing increasingly isolated from Afghans.

 

Living in the bombed-out concrete ruins of what was once a government building, Nafesea, who like some Afghans only uses one name, speaks firsthand about that isolation and the growing anger and frustration among Afghans.

 

“No one cares about poor people here,” she says through an interpreter. “The government promised us everything and we have nothing. Karzai has done nothing.”

 

Two years ago, her family was told they’d have jobs and land if they left a refugee camp in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan.

 

Today, they are squatters among the abandoned buildings on the outskirts of Kabul.

 

When a foreigner first arrives to speak to her, Nafesea covers part of her face with her brown head scarf. But as she talks about her family’s situation and Afghanistan’s government, her voice rises in anger and she becomes animated enough to drop the scarf, revealing her weathered face. Nafesea is 36, but she looks at least 10 years older.

 

Some of her seven children play among the ruins of the destroyed buildings.

 

Her 13-year-old mentally handicapped son stands off to the side, seemingly content in his own world.

 

About 50 people live these ruins while hundreds of other squatters have taken over an abandoned apartment building a couple of kilometres away. Others are camped out in tents on small bits of land scattered throughout the city.

 

Just down the road from Nafesea’s makeshift shelter is the former Canadian military base, Camp Julien, a $140-million installation that the federal government turned over to Afghanistan when it relocated troops from Kabul to Kandahar.

 

The sprawling camp, at its peak once home to 4,000 Canadian and NATO soldiers, now houses an Afghan government ministry.

 

In the other direction several kilometres away, construction is underway on a massive building that will become a new religious school. Government office buildings are also being revamped and glitzy wedding halls, a relatively new phenomenon among Afghans wealthy enough to afford extravagant nuptials, have been erected.

 

Left out in the cold, literally, at times, are the tens of thousands of homeless people barely eking out an existence in Kabul. Most have returned from Iran or Pakistan where they had originally fled to escape Afghanistan’s seemingly constant wars.

 

The return of the refugees from those countries has been cited as a success story and a sign that Afghanistan is slowly putting itself back on its feet.

 

Due to decades of war, more than eight million Afghans left for the safety of Iran and Pakistan. Between 2002 and 2005, almost three million returned from Pakistan and another 1.5 million from Iran. But the number of returnees dropped substantially in 2006 as word spread about the lack of jobs and housing in Afghanistan.

 

There are still several million Afghans in Pakistan and Iran and many have told the United Nations they don’t want to return because they remain unconvinced their lives will improve.

 

“Returnees face a depressed job market, insecurity and the general underdeveloped situation of Afghanistan, which is difficult to return to after many years spent in Iran and Pakistan, where they experienced higher standards of living,” warns a report produced in January by the French aid agency ACTED.

 

Women, in particular, tend to gain benefits from living in the more developed economies of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries since they can find work more easily, the report added.

 

Iran and Pakistan are now pressuring many of the refugees to return home, convinced their presence is at least partially linked to terrorist attacks that have increased over the last year as well as the growing drug trade. They plan to send millions of Afghans packing, a move that government and international officials worry will overwhelm the Afghanistan’s limited resources.

 

The result is a growing political crisis for the Karzai government. In mid-May, Refugee Minister Mohammad Akbar Akbar lost his job over his failure to properly deal with the refugee problem. Afghanistan’s parliament also dismissed the country’s foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, for his poor handling of the issue. But Mr. Spanta refused to leave his job and after a series of legal moves, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the firing was unconstitutional.

 

Some Afghan officials believe there are other issues behind the forced return of the refugees. They claim that Pakistan is trying to destabilize Afghanistan by flooding it with refugees who have no jobs or homes to return to.

 

Mr. Spanta argues that Iran’s motives are also suspect. It is unhappy over Afghanistan’s close relationship with the U.S. and NATO, as well as angry over the construction of dams that could affect Iran’s water supply, he says.

 

But the forced resignations of political officials and ongoing squabbling between Afghanistan and its neighbours mean little to Nafesea and her family. Her husband can’t find a full-time job. Her children often go hungry. Nafesea says if she knew what awaited the family in Afghanistan, they would have never left the refugee camp.

 

Winters are particularly hard, she explains. The temperatures here can dip to -20 C and the few blankets the family has do little to ward off the cold. The wind roars through the gaps in the crumbling and collapsed walls. On milder days, melting snow causes water to pour down the concrete walls, soaking bedding and clothes.

 

Twenty metres away from Nafesea’s shelter sit Wahid Ualla, 35, and his daughter. His seven other children are playing nearby, chasing each other over the cement slabs. Some of his family lives in a tent he has erected. Others occupy a room in one of the abandoned buildings.

 

Every day Mr. Ualla walks several kilometres to a site where unskilled day workers are hired. If he is picked, he can make anywhere from $2 to $4 a day. More often than not, there are more workers than there are jobs.

 

Mr. Ualla and his family have been living in the ruins for a year and a half and he seems resigned that not much will change. “We will stay,” he explains, “because we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

 

The family left for Pakistan eight years ago, fleeing fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, a coalition of mujahadeen groups.

 

Mr. Ualla returned two years ago because it seemed like the situation in Afghanistan had improved. “We came back because all the people say there is peace and Karzai says he will give us land,” Mr. Ualla explained. “But there was no job, no land.”

 

Just the bombed-out ruins.

 

Illustration:

• Map: Afghanistan

• Photo: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen / Nafesea sits with one of her children in the bombed-out ruins she lives in with her family on the outskirts of Kabul. Her husband can’t find full-time work, and her children often go hungry.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

FRENCH AID AGENCY ACTED HELPS AFGHANS HELP THEMSELVES

December 24, 2008

Hope & despair; Amid the ongoing violence, Afghan families are building new lives, brick by brick

The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Page: B1 / FRONT

Section: Saturday Observer

Byline: David Pugliese

Dateline: KHOWJA ALWAN, Afghanistan

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

 

KHOWJA ALWAN, Afghanistan – Wahid Ullah is about halfway through what will eventually become his first real home in five years. Over a week-long period, he dug, by himself, the 20-metre deep well in front of his new house. Now he and his five-year-old son are carefully placing bricks as they construct the walls of what will eventually be a two-room structure. Mud, which under the relentless Afghan sun will dry as hard as concrete, is used to bond the evenly aligned bricks.

 

“I hope to be finished in a month,” the 32-year-old Mr. Ullah says through an interpreter. He had fled with his family of five to Pakistan in 2001 to escape the fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban. He decided to return home last year after being told he could obtain a parcel of land and a house as part of a program to help refugees rebuild their lives after years of war.

 

Mr. Ullah is constructing his home at a site prepared by the French aid group ACTED, the Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development. The Paris-based non-governmental organization paid a local company to dig 40 wells and build four kilometres of roads in the new community, said Fardeen Zia, one of the agency’s engineers. Work is also under way on a school and a clinic. Eventually, 14,000 people are expected to settle in this newly-constructed town in northern Afghanistan, said Mr. Zia.

 

In addition, ACTED is distributing “self-build” packages that allow Afghans like Mr. Ullah to construct their own homes.

 

The kits have the basic materials, including windows, beams and doors, needed for a two-room house and latrine.

 

The Afghan families provide the labour, making the bricks that form the walls, as well as doing all the construction themselves, although ACTED engineers provide technical advice. It takes anywhere from two months to a year for each home to be built, depending on how fast the prospective house owner works or how many friends and family he has to help him.

 

Besides providing much-needed shelter, the ACTED development could become the first line of defence against a looming crisis that has the potential to further disrupt Afghanistan’s fragile situation.

 

Over the next two years, Pakistan and Iran plan to send millions of Afghan refugees back home, a situation the United Nations warns will overwhelm the Karzai government. The Pakistanis blame the refugees for an increase in terrorism, while Iranians claim Afghans in their country illegally are involved in the drug trade or have become too much of an economic burden.

 

The returnees are expected to flood into Afghanistan’s already overcrowded cities such as Kabul, where they will join refugees who fled fighting in rural Afghanistan between Canadian and coalition troops and the Taliban over the last year.

 

There are concerns among aid agencies and analysts, such as the Kabul-based think-tank the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, that those returning from Pakistan and Iran could provide a fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban or turn to crime if they cannot find shelter or work.

 

An analysis produced last month for the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation sounded a similar warning. “A surge in repatriated refugees will probably increase unemployment in Afghanistan, which will result in weakening the central government by strengthening drug lords and anti-government elements who may be able to tap into this new pool of potential recruits,” wrote Waliullah Rahmani.

 

Iran has warned it will send about 900,000 Afghan refugees packing over the next year. Since April 21, it has expelled about 100,000 people, Salvatore Lombardo, the United Nations representative on refugees in Afghanistan, said Tuesday.

 

Pakistan, home to an estimated 2.6 million Afghan refugees, has also warned it will force some of those people back to their country. It will shut down four refugee camps, with a total of 230,000 Afghans, in the next two years. The first of the camps will be shut down in the next few months.

 

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2002, more than four million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan and Iran, but the country, already dealing with high unemployment and a lack of housing and shelter, has had difficulty absorbing that many people. In Sajadia village, just outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the number of families jumped from 200 to 1,200 over a one-year period, putting considerable strain on limited water resources in the community, according to ACTED.

 

Khowja Alwan is one of five pilot projects across the country designed to provide land to Afghans displaced by years of war and potentially deal with the increasing refugee problem. Over a five-month period, the community went from a barren tract of land to having the first homes built, according to ACTED official Marianna Franco.

 

The drilling of the 40 community wells in the village provided water for the Afghans to make bricks for their houses. The four kilometres of road built by ACTED link the village to a highway, making it easier for people to try to find work in the nearby city of Pul-i-Khumri, some 15 kilometres away.

 

By doing the work themselves, the Afghans learn enough to maintain the shelters and enlarge them if needed. “It also allows them to take ownership of the work, so this isn’t seen as some kind of handout,” Ms. Franco explained.

 

Construction is continuing in the community and the payoff seems high, particularly considering that the entire project, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, costs around $2 million.

 

In a country where many Afghans have seen little tangible evidence of international help, the project is somewhat of a rarity. Part of its success can be traced to ACTED’s long-term presence in Afghanistan, particularly in the north, where Khowja Alwan is located. The organization has been working in the country for more than 12 years and it tends to rely heavily on local staff to move projects along.

 

In Dasht-e-Shor, 17 kilometres north of Mazar-e-Sharif, ACTED is helping an additional 480 families with another self-build shelter program. In Faryab, 31 families began building their houses last year. For those without shelter, ACTED distributes emergency kits in the winter which include quilts, stoves and firewood.

 

Khowja Alwan is considered the most advanced of the pilot projects and ACTED is hoping to get money for donors to continue with another phase of the program, this time to provide skills so Afghans can become employable or operate their own small businesses.

 

The creation of jobs is seen as key. Although they are now being supplied with homes, unemployment is still a major concern among those living in Khowja Alwan.

 

“We have our homeland back, but there is no work,” said Abdul Wahid as his seven children crowd around him outside his new home.

 

The 38-year-old, who lost a leg after stepping on a landmine, lived in Pakistan for more than five years with his family. He left after being assured by the UN there would be land and a home waiting for him in Afghanistan.

 

Others have complained that promises of help from the Karzai government have not materialized and some in the community question why a grain silo in nearby Pul-i-Khumri, which could provide hundreds of jobs, still remains closed after five years.

 

Back at his house now under construction, Wahid Ullah says he’s concerned that those being forced from Pakistan and Iran will further contribute to the worsening situation in Afghanistan. “These people will face two big problems,” he explained. “There are no homes and there are no jobs. It will not be a good situation.”

 

Mr. Ullah, trained as an industrial painter plans to look for work once he finishes constructing his house. He knows that his job prospects in a country where unemployment runs at about 50 per cent are not good.

  •  

But some still have hope for Afghanistan’s future. Abdullah, who only goes by one name, lived in Pakistan for eight years before returning home. The promise of a home and land was key in making his decision to return, said the 37-year-old whose family includes nine people.

 

“This is my homeland,” he said through an interpreter as he and his son Ferozkhan, 12, take a break from building their house at Khowja Alwan. “We’re hoping things will improve. That’s all we can do.”

 

David Pugliese, the Citizen’s award-winning senior writer for defence, recently returned from Afghanistan.

 For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 


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