Soldiers question generals decision to stray from plan

Soldiers question general's decision to stray from plan in bloody Afghan
David Pugliese Thursday, September 06, 2007OTTAWA -
Soldiers who fought in a key battle last year in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of four Canadians are questioning why a general deviated from the established plan to soften up enemy positions with several days of bombardment and instead ordered troops to attack Taliban fortifications across a river.

Military officials concede there have been questions among soldiers who had four of their comrades killed and another 10 wounded during the opening days of Operation Medusa last September.

The battle has been portrayed by Canadian and NATO generals as a major blow to the Taliban.

But an article in the new edition of Legion Magazine, which is sent to members of the Royal Canadian Legion, brings the controversy into the public and echoes questions about whether Brig.-Gen. David Fraser was right to make some of the decisions he did.

It notes that a series of deceptions and feints that had been planned over a three-day period to allow troops to determine where the insurgents were were cancelled. And a multi-day aerial and artillery bombardment, designed to soften up the enemy, never materialized.

In the end, the article says that Canadian soldiers had 15 minutes preparation, in some cases less, to cross a river into Taliban-held territory. The insurgents were waiting, hidden in trenches and fortified buildings.

Fifty Canadian soldiers advanced as ordered. Four were killed, 10 wounded and at least six became stress casualties. Six soldiers received medals for their bravery that day.

"This was a struggle that saw a general's strategic instinct -- his feel for the shape of the battle - lead him to abandon a carefully laid plan and overrule his tactical commanders in the field in order to send Charles Company on a hastily conceived and ultimately harrowing attack against a numerically superior enemy in a well-established defensive position," notes the 4,000 word article by Legion Magazine journalist Adam Day.

It described the attack as an "old-fashioned (First World War) style assault into the guns, albeit on a smaller scale. It was the charge of Charlie Company."

There was little, if any, battle procedure, no reconnaissance and the intelligence was either insufficient or wildly wrong, the article reports. "This was Canada's first company-sized mechanized combined arms attack on a fixed position since Korea. It was rushed and it was risky."

The magazine interviewed around 20 people involved in the battle, including Fraser.

In an interview with CanWest News Service, the general said the article details the battle from the soldier's perspective and while that is valid, the overall picture has to be considered.

He noted that Operation Medusa eliminated the threat of the Taliban in the Panjwai district and later paved the way for numerous reconstruction projects to proceed. It also set the stage for bringing stability to the area where up to 30,000 Afghans have returned to live, Fraser said.

"The article gives you a soldier's perspective and in any operation that is fast-paced, that is dynamic, there are always going to be situations where subordinates will question their commanders and Medusa was no exception," Fraser said. "But look at the overall operation and measure the success. In this case Canadians won and the Taliban lost."
Source: Reuters Foundation

Date: 06 Sep 2007
Troop shortfalls hurt Afghan mission, says NATO
OTTAWA, Sept 6 (Reuters) - NATO operations in Afghanistan are being hampered by a shortage of troops and the alliance is continually pressing member nations to live up to their commitments, a senior NATO official said on Thursday.

Recent reports published in U.S. and Canadian newspapers say that, in some cases, NATO soldiers have expelled Taliban militants from regions only to see them return once the western forces leave.

NATO is committed to staying in Afghanistan until the Afghan army and police are strong enough to maintain order themselves.

"We are aware of instances where we have not had sufficient troops in a particular region ... to maintain those aims," said General Ray Henault, chairman of NATO's military committee.

Canada and Britain, whose troops are fighting the Taliban in the south, complain that other NATO members are not committing enough forces to Afghanistan.

They are also unhappy that some nations impose limits, or caveats, on what their soldiers can do.

Henault said the shortages were "very keenly debated" at the top levels of NATO.

"We remind nations ... on a continuous basis of the responsibility that (they) have, after having signed up to the Afghan mission ... to provide the capabilities that are needed by the commander to do his job on the ground," said Henault.

"Shortfalls do create additional risks and we try to reduce those as much as possible," he told reporters at Ottawa airport. "We also encourage nations to reduce their limitations on troop movements ... Canada has no caveats and so that's quite commendable."

The military committee -- which comprises the chiefs of defense staff of all 26 NATO members -- will meet in the western Canadian city of Victoria, British Columbia, on Friday and Saturday.

Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar on a combat mission that is due to end in early 2009. So far, 70 soldiers have been killed and polls show Canadians are divided over the mission.

The minority Conservative government says it will not keep troops in Afghanistan for longer than planned without unanimous support in Parliament. All three opposition parties are against the idea of extending the mission.

"It's very important for us to ... remind all countries that this is a long-term mission," said Henault. "We're certainly hopeful that Canada will find a way to continue operating in Afghanistan."

He had similar words of encouragement for the Dutch government, which is due to decide soon on its 2,000-strong mission once the force's mandate runs out in August 2008.

Henault said no one in NATO knew how long the overall Afghan mission would last.

"Our responsibility in Afghanistan is to stay the course with the Alliance members and their partners ... to go as long as possible to satisfy the requirements of what we have signed up (for)," he said.

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