Monday, April 24, 2006

Some concerns....

Well just when I thought I could post about something other than Afghanistan and the military, something new comes up.

Thanks to Rob at My Blahg for pointing this out:

Members of a family from Gumbad, the village where the Canadians are based, said Saturday in a telephone interview that the bombing had been organized by villagers who were angry about what they described as inappropriate treatment during searches.

One elder, whose family asked that he not be identified for fear of reprisals, denounced the Canadian troops for bringing dogs into the village mosque and peoples’ homes, and for conducting intimate body searches.

“I am an educated person, and I know a bit about how they do things, but I am getting angry when they are bringing dogs to my mosque and to my house,” the elder said. “I also feel like attacking them with an ax, but I lack the courage.”

-New York Times

And the response to this from our government?

Russ Hiebert, parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, said they “made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause worth fighting for.”

He also dismissed a New York Times report that local villagers may have helped organize the attack, in response to allegedly intimidating behaviour by Canadian troops.

“The information I’ve been getting is that anytime Afghans have had contact with our soldiers, it’s been very positive experience for both sides,” he told Question Period.

“The people of Afghanistan are incredibly pleased with the security and stability that is emerging in their country.”

Now I am skeptical of the veracity of this report. But given earlier reports of our guys throwing water bottles out of LAVs and bouncing off the heads of Afghanis as they pass has me concerned. Are we seeing a shift away from our more traditional and successful methods toward a more "American" methods (which has been oh so successful in Iraq)?

I voice this concern as a supporter of the mission. If the mission is to be a success we must not abandon the "firm, fair and friendly" approach that has always served us well.

Now, it is likely that the Afghan elder quoted above simply mistook the Canadians for the Americans that had previously been stationed in Gumbad and who have been known to use such tactics regualrly in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is possible he is lying. But given the sensitivity of the mission, I think this needs a serious invesigation by the military and exposure by the press that are in country.

Our military is quite good at learning from its mistakes and ensuring that every tragedy is used to learn how to prevent further tragedies. I hope that if what this elder says is true, that we immediately stop that kind of engagement and return to what we know best. Fighting an insurgency using the American model just doesn't make much sense.

Think of this as a red flag being raised, so that we can correct course to make the mission a sucess.

I am concerned that our government is immediately discounting this because it doesn't jive with their particular cheerleading vision of the mission. To pretend its not happening if it is is a sure way to a quagmire and failure. Russ Hiebert could have at least indicated that the government would look into the allegations to ensure they weren't true, rather than simply dismissing them out of hand because they did not like what they said.

Update (for Candace):

See what happens when the press is allowed the freedom to pursue these things instead of being muzzled?


At 12:05 AM, Blogger wilson said...

another 'unidentified source'....
I will believe our soldiers before some reporter looking for a sensational story.

At 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try invading a country an supressing an uprising without offending somebody. Give me a break. The guy doesn't like dogs, or being searched. Big deal. Stuff like what happened on the weekend keeps happening, things are going to get a lot worse.

At 2:27 AM, Blogger Candace said...

I'm curious about the dogs. CTV, CBC and a variety of print media have done extensive coverage, including being embedded, and I have not ONCE seen the word "dog" used, yet all of a sudden dogs are being used in search procedures. What's up with that?

What is the likelihood that the disgruntled elder has connections that aren't looked upon favorably by the new Afghan gov't & the foreign troops supporting same?

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Of course, no one has asked the soldiers (they aren't allowed to talk to the media without hand written notes from the PMO, remember?) so we don't get their perspective. We only have the report from the NYT and the immediate denial of some talking head in Ottawa. As I stated I don't really believe them either. I think someone, including the media, should ask the soldiers.


"Stuff like what happened on the weekend keeps happening, things are going to get a lot worse."

You have it the wrong way around - keep treating the people you are supposed to be helping with contempt and like animals and we will see more stuff like what happened on the weekend. Try reading some of the links I provided that show the better way to do things. You realize that those are all military sources, including wonderdog.


Yeah, the dogs thing bothered me to, which is why I am suspicious of the story and why I think it is probably a case of mistaken identity with the Americans(they use dogs all the time for this kind of thing). And, of course, it is just as likely that the village elder, as you say, is not an elder at all but a Taliban agent planting this story to drive a wedge between the locals and the Canadian Forces stationed there - planting mistrust and suscpicion to destroy the cooperation and drive the villagers into the Taliban fold.

In short, instead of dismissing this out of hand, we need to have a quick investigation.

So really I see this as a case for allowing the press to have more freedom to cover this information. This story would have died before even making the papers had the press been allowed to simply go there and ask soldiers about it. Or real villagers. Even if the NYT did run it, the Canadian press would certainly have quickly debunked it, or pointed out the case of mistaken identity.

With the press restricted as it is, they will have little choice to run such stories. They are a business after all and their business is news.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard the water bottle one either, good post. I naturally tend to lean towards the "more proof please" side of this one. Agreed it should be looked into however....

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Mike said...


The water bottle one was actually witnessed by a group of CBC reporters who were there during Harper's Afghan visit. some bloggers even said that they should have reported it, since it is a clear violation of military code. That one holds a lot more water, if you'll pardon the pun.

Again, more investigation and a freerer press would dispell this stuff pretty quick. Censorship is a sword that cuts both ways - not only does it prevent information from getting out that you don't want, it prevent information that you want from getting out (or being believed) as well.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger wilson said...

"Again, more investigation and a freerer press would dispell this stuff pretty quick."

Reporters are EMBEDDED with the troops, how much more free can you get??

Did you not see Lisa Laflames documentary.?

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Reporters are EMBEDDED with the troops, how much more free can you get??"

Ha, that's a funny one. Any more good jokes?

At 3:47 PM, Blogger AJSomerset said...

"I will believe our soldiers before some reporter looking for a sensational story."

No offence (Why lie? Take offence!), but then you're not very bright.

Reporters "looking for a sensational story" warned that Canadian troops in Somalia were abusing the locals before Shidane Arone was killed. What do you think the troops would have told you, had you asked?

Re the water bottle, it was reported by Rosie Dimanno in the Star. She witnessed the incident, although her report didn't make very clear exactly what happened, whether it was clearly deliberate, whether this kind of thing is isolated or widespread, etc.

As far as hearts and minds go, it doesn't matter whether something like that was deliberate; the guy who takes the bottle off the head is going to be pissed off regardless.

It does matter, though, when you consider what the overall attitudes of the troops are towards the locals and their mission.

I don't view the report of dogs as very credible for the same reason Candace cites, but we do need to keep an eye on these things and remember that soldiers are not, in fact, boy scouts.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Mike said...


Fair warning:

Before you try your inevitable attempt to paint wonderdog as some kind of anti-military lefty loonie, I reccomend you go over to his blog and find out who he is.

Really. Don;t embarass yourself.


Thanks for the confirmation of the waterbottle - I thought I read it on your site but wasn't sure. I too saw 'dogs' and immediately thoguht 'not ours'.


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