District program means more effective policing
When Arif Lalani stepped into his role as Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan one year ago, the state of the Afghan national police force was one of his toughest and most important issues. A year later, as officers from Zahri and Panjwai districts celebrated during graduation ceremonies at the Regional Training Center in Kandahar, he has reason to be optimistic.

Not only is the international community more focused on policing, training programs are starting to have an effect. The Zahri and Panjwai officers were part of a program in which police are brought district-by-district to regional centres, retrained, and then inserted back into their district.

“They’re going back as more effective police officers and they will now spend considerable amounts of time with Canadian police mentors,” Lalani explained. “I think this is the only way it can be done. Training is not an easy prospect. Literacy is still an issue with a number of police, so it has to be done by action and demonstration – it’s not a textbook.”

The next phase of the program will focus on officers in Kandahar City.

Strategic shift puts focus on people
The first principle of counterinsurgency holds that the people are the prize. That will be top of mind for Denis Thompson as he assumes command of Joint Task Force Afghanistan.

As he arrived in Kandahar in May, the brigadier-general talked of a change in emphasis from kinetic operations to more civilian-focused development and reconstruction, though how much he wasn’t sure. “Security, justice, food, water, shelter, basic goods, basic services – only one is delivered by the military,” he reminded an audience at the University of Ottawa just before his departure.

Thompson and his staff have had more preparation than any previous headquarters staff, including significant emphasis on development and diplomacy. At the university, he spoke about a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy focused on a better understanding of the human geography, improved targeting methodology and better measurement of results. Mirroring the U.S. COIN approach of clear, hold and build, he stressed the need to ensure that enduring governance is possible before forces leave a village. That may be easier said than done as the “holding,” always the most difficult part, will be led by ANA and ANP forces. “It’s all about solidifying people’s support for the government,” he said.

Local “wannabes” greatest threat
Al-Qaeda may be alive and well in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, but what keeps Mike McDonnell awake at night are what he calls “terrorist wannabes…attracted to sound-bite Islam.”

Part of a born-again social movement, they are mobilized by networks rather than order into cells – what author Mark Sageman has termed a ”bunch of guys” – making them difficult to identify and predict, but no less dangerous.

“This threat will be with us for at least a generation,” the RCMP Assistant Commissioner told a Conference Board audience in May. Though the eyes and ears of frontline officers are crucial to combating the problem, the answer does not lie with security forces, he said. Rather, more must be done to build trust and confidence with ethnic communities. As an example, he said when charges were stayed in July 2007 against two of the youngest suspects in the Toronto terrorism case, it was not because of lack of evidence. Rather, they were released into the custody of an imam.

Willing to work, with caveats
Caveats. They have been the bane of international operations in Afghanistan and the primary topic of numerous NATO meetings, but they are hardly new.

National caveats have been a factor in most coalition missions, observes Stephen Saidman, perhaps prompting Napoleon to pronounce that he’d rather fight a coalition than be in one.

Saidman, Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict and an associate professor of political science at McGill University, has been studying their affect on the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan and admits, “it all leads to an asymmetric division of labour.”

In ISAF, countries have varying levels of discretion, he told a seminar hosted by the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa. Some are restricted in where they can operate, others on when they can deploy weapons, and, he wryly notes, some have restrictions on whom they can play with – “some countries won’t work with others.” More importantly for a counterinsurgency, some cannot operate outside their compound at night and, when it comes to engaging in offensive operations, “the answer for some countries is no.” Canadian caveats include restrictions on laying landmines or asking other nations to do so, something that affects Canadian generals leading multinational coalitions.

Complicating matters, not all countries are equal in their ability to alter or remove restrictions, or in their delegation of responsibility. Different types of institutions regulate what soldiers can do on the ground. Where an American general calling home would turn to the Secretary of Defence, his German counterpart requires signoff from the Bundestag. And for some countries, the primary objective is not the outcome but simply the fact that they are participating.

Saidman notes that caveats can be managed by working with old partners and creatively allocating forces where they can be most useful, even with restrictions. “It’s more dangerous to work with folks when you don’t have common caveats,” he said. And though he doesn’t have the evidence yet, Saidman believes the impact of caveats might diminish as the situation improves and states gain confidence in operations.

Canada brokering border diplomacy
On the heels of the Afghan-Pakistani peace jirga last August that brought together some 600 tribal leaders, Canada has been quietly working with both countries to develop initiatives along their shared border.

One meeting of officials from both countries was recently held in Dubai and four others are planned in the coming months for Afghanistan and Pakistan, two in each country. Arif Lalani, Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, said the intent is to help identify projects in five specific areas that will foster confidence on the border: economic development; customs, trade facilitation, transit and revenue collection; managing the movement of people; law enforcement; and counter narcotics.

“It’s a good example of Canada being able to move forward positively and quietly, and incubate a very good project in a way that I think only Canada could have done,” he said. “We hope to take the results of this work and have it endorsed and supported by our G8 partners later in June.”

In April, foreign ministers from Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to a new approach to bilateral relations, saying in a joint statement, “both sides reaffirmed their resolve towards intensifying cooperation and coordination between the two nations in the fight against international terrorism and narcotics.”

Lalani acknowledged U.S. concerns about a recent Pakistani peace overture to militants in the Waziristan region and its potential to create a safe haven, but added, “our work with them to make the border more accessible but secure is the kind of work we want to encourage both to do.”

Calling all shooters
Over 250 shooters will be gathering at Connaught Range and Primary Training Centre in Ottawa this September to take aim at the Queen’s Medal for Champion Shot, the coveted prize of the Canadian Forces Small Arms Competition. The best marksman will also represent Canada in international competition.

The event, which is aimed at increasing operational effectiveness by encouraging and developing advanced marksmanship skills, attracts competitors from the Regular Force, the Primary Reserve, the Canadian Rangers, the RCMP and visiting forces. Over 130 participants took part in 2007 and between 250 and 300 are expected for this year’s five-day competition of both team and individual events.