Conducting Team Canada
“As an evolution from where we were in Cyprus and Bosnia, Canada now brings more to the table. We’re more holistic. We’re coordinating more than we’ve ever done in the past. We’ve learned that by including Foreign Affairs, CIDA, the RCMP and others in a more coherent manner, we can achieve far more than by working in our individual ways. We have evolved into a much more efficient and effective team to help other people help themselves.”
Hardly the words of a traditional military commander preparing to assume control of a large, multinational force, but then traditional approaches to conflict resolution may become Cold War relics as nations struggle for the best methods in a new, ever-changing environment to prevent and resolve state failure.
“This is not just a military mission,” Brigadier-General David Fraser concedes during a break in preparations to assume command of Task Force Afghanistan in the southern city of Kandahar. “We’re going to be the largest embedded training team in Afghanistan. Our mission is to assist Afghans solve their problems their way. We’re going to help train them and then we’re going to go operate with them. But this will be an Afghan-led operation.”
In February, Fraser will arrive in Regional Command South, a rugged, dangerous area of roughly 220,000 square kilometres — still home to remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Supporting him will be Rotation 1, a brigade headquarters of 350 Canadian Forces personnel and the first of two rotating 1,000-strong battle groups, the 1 PPCLI, as well as 900 Canadian troops recently relocated from Kabul to Kandahar and elements of JTF2, Canada’s elite special-forces unit. (About 85 soldiers will continue to serve with various Kabul-based military and civilian organizations.)
He will also oversee Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), a multi-department contingent established in August, combining the skills and expertise of National Defence, Foreign Affairs, CIDA and the RCMP, as well as a military complement of up to 250 personnel, drawn largely from Land Force Western Area and 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group based in Edmonton.
Foreign command of the region is currently held by an American brigade under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and, backed by Canada’s largest deployment in many years, Fraser will transition to a multinational operation under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a UN-mandated mission that since August 2003 has been led by NATO.
“This is the Team Canada approach,” Fraser says of his pending command. “Everybody has responsibility for a piece of the pie — I coordinate the overall program and provide a framework so that everyone can work collaboratively. We’ll assist provincial governors establish governance, infrastructure, and the economy in the region. And we will conduct operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda with our Afghan partners.“
In preparation, Fraser has not merely gathered the lessons learned by previous Canadian contingents and commanders, he’s also met with American commanders in the field and even brought them to Edmonton to orient his headquarters brigade.
Paving the way
The task of laying the foundation for Fraser lies with Colonel Steve Noonan, commander of Task Force Afghanistan Rotation Zero. In November, he folded the ISAF commitment and Camp Julien in Kabul, and completed the transfer of resources to Kandahar.
Noonan points to the appointment of General Rick Hillier as Chief of Defence Staff for Canada’s renewed focus in Afghanistan. “He has a vision of making the Canadian Forces much more operationally focused. I believe he’s using the theatre of Afghanistan to demonstrate just how operational we can be, the capability we can bring to bear. We have limited resources, so intervention has to be selective to be effective. Gen Hillier wants to focus that effort in Afghanistan and support what is essentially NATO’s first out-of-area operation, and what could likely be the test case for NATO’s ability to operate and be a relevant organization world wide.”
To pave the way for Rotation 1, Noonan is now focused on ‘building the footprint’, ensuring the requisite resources are in place and “officers are embedded into the various American HQs at the tactical level so that we can hand over situational awareness to Gen Fraser.”
That includes the work of the PRT, which Noonan says is developing a picture of the current conditions and what a PRT can do to address them. “We’ll have a good understanding of where the gaps are and the ability of the Government of Afghanistan to effect governance in its outlying regions. Hopefully, we’ll also be able to recommend solutions to close those gaps.”
“In a sense, the mission has already started thanks to the work he’s doing – he’s my enabling force,” Fraser says, adding the preparation both he and Noonan have completed should result in a seamless transition with the existing American force. “There will be no change in effects, no change in capabilities. The only thing that will change will be the colours of the uniforms and the accents of the soldiers.” He also dismisses recent reports about the inadequacy of some Canadian equipment. “This is perhaps one of the best-prepared missions I’ve ever been on. And this will make my sixth mission. We are now one of the best trained and equipped armies in the world.”
Noonan describes the next phase of operations as a two-pronged, “kinetic and non-kinetic” approach. Non-kinetic activities include the diplomatic and development initiatives of the PRT while kinetic actions involve training and operating with the Afghan national army. “The likelihood of our troops being in direct contact in combat operations is a certainty,” Noonan notes. “But that two-pronged attack should enable us to set the security environment within which development and diplomacy can flourish. And at that point we should see the move from the military-heavy contribution to a more civilian-focused contribution.”
With a population in the region that is almost 80 per cent rural, poppy production makes up a significant portion of the economy. While the CF will not be responsible for introducing new markets for other products, it will assist establishing the security to allow such markets to grow. “It’s a complicating factor,” Noonan concedes. “Poppy cultivation provides money, money provides guns, and guns provide power — it’s the root of their ability to sustain the insurgency. I don’t think most nations have fully wrestled with how they intend to counter narcotics.”
The frequency with which improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings are now being used is also a security concern, Noonan admits. But as in any conflict, he says it’s a matter of adapting tactics and techniques to counter the threat. “We need the intelligence capability to provide us indicators and warnings to avoid certain areas or to identify factions that are laying these IEDs, then we can start to marginalize their efforts.
“Intelligence is probably the key aspect of the changing face of warfare. We now operate in an intelligence-driven, command-led environment where intelligence plays a major role in understanding the battle space.”
How the Canadian Forces fare may depend on how well they adapt in this non-traditional environment.