JTF2 JOINT TASK FORCE 2 zeroes in on Taliban bombers

David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The Canadian military plans to ramp up its campaign, starting this summer, to track down and deal with Taliban bomb-makers and their improvised explosive devices.


Canadian special forces and members of an ultra-secret electronic eavesdropping team are already involved in efforts to eliminate the bombmakers, whose devices, known as IEDs, have claimed the lives of the majority of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.


But they will be getting more support in their campaign from a recently created counter-IED task force.


The focus of the battle against IEDs is shifting from dealing only with the explosive devices to putting more efforts into “attacking the network” responsible for financing, creating and planting the bombs, says Col. Omer Lavoie, head of the task force.


That effort combines combat operations, winning the support of the Afghan population, improving training and making better use of forensic information to track down the identities of the bombmakers and their supporters.


“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.”


Col. Lavoie said his message to fellow military personnel is that IEDs are not just a problem for combat engineers and explosive experts to handle. All personnel should be involved and the problem should be dealt with through a combination of improved training and attacking the networks, as well as efforts to deal with the devices themselves by locating the bombs and neutralizing them.


IEDs are considered such a threat that a group, made up of Col. Lavoie’s task force, intelligence officials, the Communications Security Establishment, and the Canadian Forces expeditionary and special operations commands, among others, meet every two weeks to review progress and deal with ongoing issues.


Col. Lavoie did not elaborate on what Canadian special forces and intelligence units are currently doing in Afghanistan.


But government sources have confirmed that both the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 and the Petawawa-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment have been tracking down bomb-makers. A team from the 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.


Col. Lavoie’s counter-IED task force, which will eventually have about 60 personnel, will create two new centres of excellence this summer at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B. One will be focused on how to deal with and technically defeat IEDs and will involve the skills of combat engineers. The other centre will concentrate on writing tactics, techniques and procedures for counter-IED operations.


Col. Lavoie will also oversee co-ordinating efforts across the Canadian Forces of the various organizations involved in dealing with IEDs. His task force already has an officer and other personnel in Afghanistan to advise commanders there.


The “attacking the network” concept can also come into play even after an IED detonates. That process involves collecting information at the bombsite and pieces of the device that may aid in determining who built it. Individual bomb-makers can be identified through parts of the bomb, some of which may have telltale signs of specific tools that were used in its construction.


Col. Lavoie said there is a forensic component already involved in dealing with IEDs, but it will be expanded through training courses co-ordinated by the task force. Forensic lab capabilities in place in Afghanistan could be expanded.


At later stages, Col. Lavoie will also look to expand links with other government departments involved in the IED issue. “We do a lot of work with the RCMP now,” Col. Lavoie said. “Do they need to establish a similar and more advanced lab back in Canada for stuff that can’t be cracked back in theatre? That’s what I’m trying to develop (later).”


The colonel, who served in Afghanistan during one of the most violent periods of Canadian operations there, said he has seen up close the carnage that such weapons can cause. Half of the soldiers killed from the unit he commanded were victims of IEDs. “If nothing else I have a vested interest and a passion to get this program up and running and support the troops and the mission,” Col. Lavoie added.


The Canadian military has already spent about $120 million in bringing new capabilities and equipment to deal with IEDs. Last year the government announced it had purchased a number of new vehicles for detecting, investigating and disposing of IEDs and landmines in Afghanistan.


Among those are the Husky, the Buffalo and the Cougar specialized vehicles. The Husky provides the detection capability using various sensors, while the Buffalo uses an extendable mechanical arm to uncover IEDs. The heavily armoured Cougar transports the explosive ordnance-disposal personnel who defuse or dispose of the bombs.


Col. Lavoie said while technological efforts as well as training are important, winning the support of Afghans is crucial. “To think we’re going to win this with technology or moving pillboxes is not the way to do it,” he added.


Winning Afghan support includes programs that provide cash payments for IEDs turned in by the locals. It also involves providing aid to villages that co-operate with coalition and Afghan forces.


For all things military, read David Pugliese’s blog, Defence Watch, at ottawacitizen.com

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008


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