Canadians in Afghanistan
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 May 2007, p. 432-444
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Fraser, BGen. David A., Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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The speaker's reference to his comman of 2,500 great men and women from Canada. What they have done, and what they did while he was there. No discussion of why we were there - that as a question for the audience to answer for themselves. The presentation proceeded as a slide show, with commentary. Nine different nations in Afghanistan. Canada's role. A story about war and peace, the Afghan version. A country that is really only five years old, and how that is so. 30 years of fighting. Building the country as the Afghans want it built. The score today of Afghanistan three, the international community zero - with an historical explication. An opportunity to listen to Afghans and change the score. The difference now and Afghanistan historically. The activity of listening and how that is making a difference. The approach to the mission. The speaker's feelings about Afghanistan. The need and desire for education. Anecdotal experiences. The non-military plan for Afghanistan. Ways in which this is the most complicated mission the speaker has ever had. Some results. The Afghan National Army. The Taliban. The hardest thing to explain to people - development. The dangers of 2006. The poppy market. How long do we have to be there? Two questions to ask.
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30 May 2007
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
BGen. David A. Fraser
Commander, Multi National Brigade, Regional Command South in Afghanistan
Canadians in Afghanistan
Chairman: Dr. John S. Niles
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Jan Ottens, General Manager and Vice-President, SkyLink Aviation Canada; Robin V. Sears, Principal, Navigator, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Lesley Ann Bowen, Senior Student, Riverdale Collegiate Institute; Grant Kerr, Pastoral Associate, St. Paul's United Church, Brampton; Stephen Hewitt, Manager, Corporate Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group; Erin Michael O'Toole, CD, Legal Counsel, Procter & Gamble Inc.; and Professor Janice Gross Stein, Director, Munk Centre for International Studies.

Introduction by John Niles

Honoured guests, Directors, members and guests of the Empire Club of Canada:

In October 2001, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, NATO invaded the country of Afghanistan to remove al-Qaeda forces and oust the Taliban regime, which had control of the country. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban regime to turn over Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders operating in the country. The Taliban demanded evidence of bin Laden's link to the September 11 attacks and, if such evidence warranted a trial, they offered to handle such a trial in an Islamic court. On October 7, 2001, the official invasion began with British and American forces conducting aerial bombing campaigns.

Canada was the third-largest contributor to the invasion of Afghanistan after the United States and the United Kingdom. Of the approximately 15,000 Canadian troops who have been stationed in Afghanistan, 2,500 remain as the standard complement as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

In 2003, the Canadian Forces moved to the northern city of Kabul where it became the commanding nation of the newly formed ISAF. In the spring of 2005, it was announced that the Canadian Forces would move back to the volatile Kandahar province as the U.S. forces handed command to the Canadians in the region.

When the Canadian Forces returned to Kandahar after being deployed to Kabul in 2003, the Taliban began a major offensive and Canadians were one of the leading combatants in the first fighting when the Battle of Panjwaii took place. Complex mud-walled compounds made the rural Panjwaii district take on an almost urban style of fighting in some places. Daily firefights, artillery bombardments and allied airstrikes turned the tides of the battle in favour of the Canadians.

After Operation Mountain Thrust came to an end, Taliban fighters flooded back into the Panjwaii district in numbers that had not been seen yet in a single area in the "post-Anaconda" war. The Canadian Forces, which came under NATO command at the end of July, launched Operation Medusa in an attempt to clear the areas of Taliban fighters once and for all. The fighting of Operation Medusa led the way to the second and most fierce Battle of Panjwaii in which daily gun-battles, ambushes, and mortar/rocket attacks were targeting the Canadian troops. The Taliban had massed with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 fighters. The Taliban were reluctant to give up the area, and after being surrounded by the Canadian Forces, they dug in and fought a more conventional style battle. After weeks of fighting, the Taliban had been cleared from the Panjwaii area and Canadian reconstruction efforts in the area began. On November 1, 2006, Dutch Major-General Ton van Loon succeeded Brigadier-General David Fraser as head of NATO Regional Command South in Afghanistan, a post which he will retain for a six-month period.

Brigadier-General Fraser is from Ottawa, Ontario. He was commissioned as an Infantry Officer upon graduation from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1980.

Brigadier-General Fraser has served in various command and staff positions in the PPCLI from platoon to battalion commander in both 2PPCLI and 3PPCLI.

He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his actions during the Bosnian Civil War.

Brigadier-General David Fraser took command of the Multi National Brigade (Regional Command South) in Afghanistan in February of 2006 and led the coalition forces for the next 10 months commanding over 9,500 troops.

For his leadership he was awarded the United States Bronze Star, the Netherlands Medal of Merit in gold and the Canadian Military Service Cross.

David Fraser

Dr. Niles, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for inviting me here today to tell you a great Canadian story.

I am somewhat subjective about this because I've had the privilege now of commanding 2,500 great men and women from this country. I want to tell you what they have done, and what they did while I was there. I'm not going to tell you why we were there. I'm just going to tell you what we have done and you can answer that question yourselves.

Slide shown.

When you look up at that slide in front of you, you see nine different nations. That is what Canada led in Afghanistan. We started working under Operation Enduring Freedom, which was the U.S.-led coalition for nation building inside Afghanistan. This was the first time I can remember where Canada actually led American troops in operations; the first time the 10th Mountain Division, which I worked with, had a multi-national brigade. It was Canada that was asked to lead. It was Canada that led those nations through the most difficult time in Afghan history since 2001. It was Canada that led the transition into ISAF. Canada has a lot to be proud of and I want to tell you some of the details of what Canadians have done as part of a bigger organization that represents the international community.

This is a story about war and peace, the Afghan version. We are in chapter four. This country is really only five years old. It has gone through 30 years of fighting and we are starting from ground zero to build a nation--the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan--in a way that Afghans want it built.

I will also say the score today is Afghanistan three, the international community zero. Two thousand years ago Alexander the Great went there and got beaten soundly. The British went in there three times and got beaten soundly. The Russians went in for 10 years and got beaten soundly. We have an opportunity here to listen to Afghans and change the score and make it three-one.

What is the difference between now and Afghanistan historically? We're listening. We went as invited guests of the Karzai government, not as invaders. We are listening and we are subordinate to the Afghans who are leading the reconstruction and the construction of this country.

Let me tell you how we in the South approached our task for Afghans. When I first started this mission I was trying to find a phrase to describe it. Well T.E. Lawrence had it right in 1916. "This is their country. This is their challenge. Our time is short and we should let them do it imperfectly rather than do it for them perfectly." We are doing what they want. I might have done 99 per cent of the work in 2006 while I was there, but the 1 per cent, which was the most important, was that I listened to an Afghan. It was the Afghans who told me in July to go into Zangen. It was the Afghans who told me to go to Panjwaii and Operation Medusa was the result of that. It was Afghans directing my efforts to support their people in reestablishing the Karzai legitimacy of the rule of law and order and we are there to support them. We can make a difference if we do it this way.

It is those people at the top there who are going to do it. It is the men and women and the children of this country that we are there to serve. I have now been 26 years in the military. I have done a number of missions as you can probably tell by my chest, but let me say that you can leave Afghanistan but you can never take Afghanistan out of the person. I love this country. I love those children out there, because when I talked to those children unlike anywhere else I have been in the world--Cyprus, Bosnia, wherever--they came up to me and they asked me for one thing. They didn't ask me for food. They asked me for this--a pencil. They want to learn. Eighty-per-cent illiteracy and all they want is a pencil and the opportunity to learn. That is what Karzai wants to give them. He wants to give them education. He wants to give them training. He wants to give them an opportunity. We need to provide that opportunity for a generation of people to learn and get a job. That's what your Canadians are doing. They are providing hope and opportunity for that generation and your men and women over there as part of the international community are doing a simply marvellous, outstanding job.

Spin Boldak is a little town at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a sea of humanity. When I first went there you could probably fire a cannon because there wasn't anyone there. When I left after nine months it was a bustling community of donkeys, carts, people, buses, jingle trucks going across that boundary with everything you could possibly think of. There are no fences on the left and right of the border crossing but Afghans really do believe in the rule of law because they only cross at that point. You can look at desert 20 miles on either side and there is nobody there.

When I first started in Afghanistan there were two missions. There was Operation Enduring Freedom. That was in the two regions in the South--Regional command South and Regional Command East. Led by the Americans it is now transitioned into ISAF, a NATO-led operation, which includes three other regions--the West, North and Kabul. The mission was simple--build a nation. It is not a military mission. It is a whole list of missions that includes governance, security and development. That was our task--to go over there and build a nation.

Slide shown.

This map has six or seven provinces left to right--Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, going to the north, Oruzgan, and Dekundi. That is the map I first looked at. Two hundred and twenty thousand square kilometres was my responsibility. That is one-third the size of Alberta.

I think we have to be sophisticated in looking at the situation inside this thousand-year-old-plus tribal society that's very much based on relationships. It became a lot more complex to me because the power in Afghanistan is within the tribes. That's where the power is. Karzai has the money and what we need to do is create a marriage between the power and the resources and the money. This is a fight between two groups that have a different idea. Karzai has an idea of what he wants to build in the way of Afghanistan and the Taliban have an idea of what they want to build. This is not a Sunni-Shiite fight. It is a fight about ideas; ideas of the Taliban versus Karzai. And I think we can actually make some progress and support Karzai.

When I got there I had to figure out how to develop the country. I found you needed an effects-based plan with three lines of operation with governance first and foremost because if you get that right everything else falls into place. This is followed by security and then followed by development because each one builds on the other. I'm not an expert in foreign affairs. I went to foreign affairs. I got a political advisor. I was not an expert in development so I got a development advisor. I went to the U.S.A. because I like working with the Americans. They put $1.2 billion on the table; $1.2 billion for police reform last year. I wanted to spend that money. In fact I spent $20 million of their money last summer during Operation Hewad, Canada's first brigade operation since Korea. I was spending their money in the development of the country because quite frankly Afghans don't care where the money comes from. They just want the money turned into an effect. I wanted to be that agent.

So that was the plan and when you looked at my team it wasn't military. It was military, civilians, Afghans, the international community, everybody having an equal voice working together to help out the average Afghan to give them what you and I take for granted--open opportunity--while fighting Afghan insurgency at the same time. This is pretty complicated. This is the most complicated mission I've ever done in 26 years in the military.

Let me tell you about some of the results and this is where the rubber hits the road. In the nine months I was there we elected over 400 community councillors. Four hundred. Can you imagine if the community councillors in the Toronto area were all gone? How would this city operate? It wouldn't. I wanted to create a bureaucracy that would make sure that we had water, make sure that we had a judicial system, make sure that we had those things that we take for granted and completely ignore. When you don't have it, you really find out what you're missing. We selected 400 junior councillors. We gave each community, the 17 districts in Kandahar, the opportunity to spend $1 million from CETO to do whatever they wanted to build their communities. We started the project. It is called a confidence-in-government initiative. It is slow. It is pedantic. It is boring but I used to tell people that it is really important stuff. We've got to do it. If you don't have it you don't have a society.

The governor of Kandahar has no education but he is the future of this country. He is passionate; he is doing this because he believes in the country; he is not making a lot of money doing this. He was wounded this past week too by a car bomb. Good man. I worked with him and let me tell you about the first time I met him. I heard he was a good man but if something happened he would race out of the room. He would jump in his SUV, he would race downtown, he would go and grab his AK-47 and jump into his car and go and solve the problem. Can you imagine the premier of Ontario doing that? After he did that a couple of times I sat him down and said, "Look, two years ago, when you were the only show in town that's what you had to do but let me tell you what a governor is supposed to do. You are here to govern." At the height of Medusa he walked into my office and he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He just looked frazzled. He said, "I need your help. I have a chief of police who isn't worth the money I'm paying him. I have a police force that is not doing anything. I have budgetary problems. I have personnel problems. I have people yelling at me." I almost walked over there and gave him an Afghan hug. I hug people now because I said. "Son you have grown up and you're now acting like a governor." That is progress. It won't sell any papers, but that is progress. That's what we have to do--help those governors do their job--and that is what Canadians are doing. That's what our strategic advisory team is doing in Kabul--helping the Karzai government build a bureaucracy and a federal government. They don't have any middle managers because they have nobody there who can read or write. It's hard stuff.

The Afghan national army is 30-per-cent stronger today than it was when I got there. Thirty per cent. That's a good news story. We in the province of Kandahar had 1,200 policemen for a population of over a million people. The city of Kandahar itself is about 700,000 people and it had maybe a thousand policemen. Can you imagine the city of Toronto with just 2,000 policemen? In hindsight we should have developed the police force first. We didn't but we did have a very credible Afghan national army and we actually added 2,300 new police positions to the establishment in Kandahar. We created municipal policing which you and I take for granted. Why is municipal policing so important? This is a fight about jobs. I need to find a job for every 15 to 25-year-old male. If I get that 15 to 25-year-old male a job and education, he will find a girlfriend. He will marry that girl. He will have children, he will want security for his children and we have just beaten the Taliban because now the Taliban can't go and hire them. That's how you win.

And by the way how do I talk to the mothers? I can't talk to the mothers. Most men in Afghan society will see three to four women in their lives--their mother, their sister, their wife and their daughter. They don't see anyone else. So how do you talk to the mother who has the real power in the family? Through their sons. Get their sons educated, get them a job, get them to have a family, and life is good and the wife will be happy because she will tell the husband you make sure you support these guys because they are going to take care of us. Listen to the Afghans. That's how you talk to them and that's how you do it in today's environment.

When I got there the absentee rate in the Afghan National Army was over 40 per cent in a unit. Can you imagine running a business when you have 40 per cent of the people not even showing up for work. Canadians, who are now there as part of the mentoring and liaison team, have taken that 43-per-cent absentee rate down to 13 per cent because we are working with Afghans, treating them like you and I treat each other, and they are actually starting to perform. That's progress. That's enormous progress. Operation Medusa was fairly successful. It was an Afghan-led operation. They were worried about what was going on in Kandahar City but now they are pretty confident about what is going on in Kandahar City. How do I know that? I was late for meetings because of the traffic jams in the streets. When I got there you could fire a cannon down the street. Now you can't even drive down the street. That's a good news story.

The hardest thing that we have to try to explain to people is development. A lot of money is going into that country and the United States is paying an awful lot of money there too. But what have we actually done there? While I was there, 150 kilometres of road in Kandahar, 100,000 metres of new canals which took $20 million to build. We have about 200 projects in the South, 1,400 government projects and five major infrastructure projects going on. Thousands of kilometres of roads have been built in this country since 2001. There is an awful lot that's going on there that people just don't realize and it doesn't sell because it's boring. But it is so important because the development is great. But this development, this security, and this government comes at a cost.

The year 2006 was the most dangerous year since the fall of the Taliban. In 2001 there were about two to three suicide bombs. It has gone up exponentially and in 2006 there were well over 130. Why? It's cheap. It's psychologically devastating but in fact the Taliban are actually having to step up their activities against the Karzai government because we are being successful. We are creating more schools, more hospitals, more prosperity and life is starting to get back to normal in an Afghan sense.

All that growth means more opportunity for the Taliban to attack. That means we need more soldiers for protection. We need more policemen. We need more Afghan soldiers. We need more trainers to train people so that they can take care of themselves. It's an odd report card and the statistics themselves don't tell the full story.

So there are an awful lot of positive things going on there that I think we need to explain. I'm pretty positive, not optimistic. I'm a realist. It will be a long hard haul for us, because the Taliban are waiting for any way they can to show that the Karzai government is not delivering.

Let me just talk to you about poppies for a second--a $3-billion product last year. Three billon dollars. Eight hundred million went to the farmers. It sounds good, but the farmers didn't get that money. The Taliban got that money. We have got to get rid of the poppy. We have to get rid of it. We have to look at different ways to achieve that objective and one of the ways that I have recommended is farm subsidies. Give the Afghans a price for a poppy field where they can grow anything they want. They were great producers of grapes, melons, pomegranates, corn, wheat before the Taliban were there. Those markets do exist.

I was saying 2006 was one of the most dangerous years we have ever had; 177 aid workers were killed last year. Teachers are now a prime target for the Taliban. In fact educated women are individuals that the Taliban want to go after. They are the greatest threat because they are educated and they are women. The Taliban are coming after all the successes that we have achieved there, and the Afghans have asked us to be there and stand beside them.

How long do we have to be there? That will be up to the Government of Canada to decide but this is a long operation. And when are we going to be asked to leave? That will be up to the Afghans to say when they have had enough. We were in Bosnia for 12 years and that worked out pretty well. That is a good news story and there is no reason why we can't have something similar here.

But when you look at the news you have to ask two questions. What is the story really telling you and demand more about what's going on in Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have made progress since 2001. I built on the success on the shoulders of my predecessors and Tim Grant who's there right now is building on the success that we've had. I will tell you that we have had some tragic events in the recent past but we are making progress. I will tell you something else. I went to the hospital to see every Canadian soldier that was wounded. I talked to them to console them. I feel that every time I went to that hospital I walked out with my batteries charged. The one thing I have found in the number of years that I have been in the military is that soldiers, airmen, airwomen and sailors don't lie to you. If they believe in something, they tell you. Every one of those soldiers told me that they believed in what they were doing. They thought they were having a positive effect. I think we are having a positive effect over there because those soldiers wouldn't tell me otherwise. I visited with some of the families of the fallen comrades and they would tell me the same thing. The families were saying, "Their loved one who died had made a difference over there."

When those Afghan children came up to me and asked me for a pencil, it confirmed that what I was doing over there for them was right. I think we are actually making progress there and we are working hand in hand with the Afghans to help them rebuild their country their way. This is their challenge and this is their way and we should be there as long they want us there.

Thank you very much.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Stephen Hewitt, Manager, Corporate Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group.

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Canadians in Afghanistan


The speaker's reference to his comman of 2,500 great men and women from Canada. What they have done, and what they did while he was there. No discussion of why we were there - that as a question for the audience to answer for themselves. The presentation proceeded as a slide show, with commentary. Nine different nations in Afghanistan. Canada's role. A story about war and peace, the Afghan version. A country that is really only five years old, and how that is so. 30 years of fighting. Building the country as the Afghans want it built. The score today of Afghanistan three, the international community zero - with an historical explication. An opportunity to listen to Afghans and change the score. The difference now and Afghanistan historically. The activity of listening and how that is making a difference. The approach to the mission. The speaker's feelings about Afghanistan. The need and desire for education. Anecdotal experiences. The non-military plan for Afghanistan. Ways in which this is the most complicated mission the speaker has ever had. Some results. The Afghan National Army. The Taliban. The hardest thing to explain to people - development. The dangers of 2006. The poppy market. How long do we have to be there? Two questions to ask.