Good morning Kandahar and good evening Canada! Welcome to our liveblog, the first-ever from KAF.
We are joined by three panelists -- all Canadian Forces members -- hard at work.
One of our viewers already logged in to leave his commendations.
Let's start by getting to know our panelists a little better.
Can each of you let us know what your role is in Afghanistan and what your responsibility is within your unit?
Yes, I am the information operations officer for the Battle Group. I am responsible for planning and coordinating our influence activities at the tactical level. I work closely with the civilians at the district stabilization team and with our CIMIC and PSYOPS assets.
Answer 1: Jamie - To start, i drive real-time public affairs support to the operational mentor and liaison team, a group of soldiers charged with the responsibility of mentoring and helping build a capacity in the afghan national army and national police. Secondly, i am a mentor for public affairs in the 1st Brigade of the 205th Corps of the ANA....as challenging as it is rewarding!
Answer 1: I am Chief of Information and Influence Operations, which means that I help to coordinate the efforts of our Civil Military Cooperation Teams, Psychological Operations Teams, locally employed Afghans and military operations.
Question 2: How long have each of you been on this deployment?
Answer 2: I will have been here for about 7 and a half months by the time I leave in July.
Answer 2: I am on my tenth month
Answer 3: I feel that we have made a lot of progress here, the problem is that from the point of view of Canadians back home it doesn't seems that way because we have so much, and here they have so little. Most of the places where I have seen the most progress are villages that still don't have electricity, but they want to run their own school and send their sons and daughters to the Afghan Army and Police
Answer 3: I think we have made progress here. Even since the beginning of my tour we have seen significant progress in governance at the district level, including the opening of schools and building of major infrastructure such as roads. We have been here a long time, but we are seeing progress.
Question 4: As a follow-up to Joanne's question: What have you accomplished on the ground that you are most proud of and why?
Answer 4: JAMIE -- Definately the progress the afghan forces are making. Largely due to our cooperation with them in helping to shape things like leadership, initiative, and giving them the tools to take ownership of the battlespace.
Answer 4: What I am most proud of as a member of the Battle Group is the increased security we have created throughout Panjwa'i District. Through successive rotos we have managed to take the initiative away from the Insurgents and are forcing them to react to us. This has normal Afghans to start interacting and benefiting from their Government and sending their kids to school.
Answer 4: The Info Ops and Effects cell has been able to engage with the Afghan Director of Woman's Affairs and the Afghan Director of Martyrs and Amputees in order to get ministry representation in PANJWA'I and DAND as well as having those directors coordinate and implement education and vocational training programs. Afghans in our area want to learn more about things like animal husbandry, agricultural techniques, basic carpentry and basic first aid.
Answer 5: To be honest, it is hard and frustrating with the focus the media puts on our casualties and ramp ceremonies. The sacrifices our soldiers make should certainly be honoured and covered by the media; however, I believe a greater testament to their lives and sacrifice would be to focus on the work they were doing and the progress Canada has made here since the mission began.
Answer 5: I'm glad that the media is here covering what we do, I am bit frustrated because the only time I tend to see stories or articles about what we are doing here, is when there is something negative or someone being critical of us. They don't see some of the little things that are real indicators of progress, like the personal loan of 35$ that one of the CIMIC operators gave to a local Afghan in Talukhan so that he could open a restaurant in the Bazaar. It isn't a restaurant to our standards but he get about25 customers and hour while the bazaar is open! These are the stories that really indicate progress, not how many new recruits joined the Afghan security forces
Question 6: On behalf of all Canadians, and us at the vets advocacy we thank you for your service, as someone who has multiple tours around the world myself, (recently medically released) Do you find these longer tours a harder to handle, or about the same, since time away from family no matter long, long is long?
Answer 6: Tour lengths should be associated with the job that you will be doing and the environment you will be working in. For example someone working with Afghan officials should have a longer tour than someone who is strictly involved with military activites. My 10 month tour has been great because we were able to plan, then implement our programs and projects, see them through to completion and then assess how successful they were.
Answer 7: I think one of the most satisfying moments of my tour was during a Shura (village meeting) in Mushan, the District Governor and a village elder, who was coming back for the first time since fleeing the area and moving to Kandahar City, were able to deliver two truck loads of humanitarian aid. Although HA is delivered in Afghanistan all of the time, this event was significant because it was the first time it was able to happen in that area and it was able to happen because the level of security was greater than ever before, the government had put in a new road to increase access to the area, and the village leadership was finally able to return. I think for many people here, that event, regardless of how small it was, represented the hard work and progress our soldiers have made here.
Answer 7: The one event that sticks in my mind this tour was our work with a MALIK (village leader) in the Horn of Panjwa'i. He understood that in order for his village and his little region of Afghanistan to move forward he needed meet with Afghan Gov. Officials and ISAF personnel to get programs and projects to come to his people. He became a work supervisor for some of the projects and was very vocal about bringing education to his village and getting the schools open again. At the last Shura he attended he had gone around to all the other village elders to get signatures on a petition for a new school that could be used by his village and all the surrounding villages. He got all the names he needed and left the shura, on his way home the Insurgents killed him because they saw him as a threat. He basically gave his life for a school which is more than most of us can say.
Question 8 Doug, a viewer: I appreciate that we are in Afghanistan to fulfill our NATO commitments, which we have done with flying colours. Our secondary purpose has been to assist in the development of Afghanistan, which we appear to have also done well. What is your assessment of the future of Afghanistan after all NATO and US forces have left?
Answer 8: my assessment of the future of Afghanistan, unfortunately I think it would be very difficult to give an accurate assessment at this point in time. ISAF will still be here until 2014 and a lot can happen in 3 years time.
Question 9: @Jamie -- Your unit is one of the most important within the CF in Afghanistan. Can you explain a little bit about what you do and how you are setting the stage for the next phase of Canada's mission?
JAMIE --If training is training, than mentoring is where the rubber meets the road. Of those afghan forces who complete their required training and move on to various security roles, many are then mentored, particularily at the senior staff level. It's extremely rewarding to see the influence you can have on leadership and development and capacity building. These warriors are doing extremely well and well on their way to providing security for afghans by afghans. Mentoring has been a good gig. And I'll miss it greatly.
Answer 8: The reality in our part of Afghanistan is that the literacy rate is less than 10%. People should have realized how lengthy this would have to be since it is difficult to have people running administrative and/or government positions when they can't read. I remember one Afghna villager saying that he couldn't see a guy that couldn't read a stop sign as a guy who could represent him at a high level government meeting.
Question 10: @Mark and Braden -- What comforts from home do you miss the most and how do you cope with being away from home for so long?
Answer 10: The comfort from home I miss the most is definitely my dog. I find the best way of coping is spending time with your friends here in theatre. You do not always have time to call home or write an email, but you usually have a friend close by that you can just hang out with if you need to.
Answer 10: Real milk. I am tired of tomato, cucumber, chciken and rice. A swim will be nice when I get home. To cope I stay busy and read a lot, and keep a good sense of humor
One last question before you guys get back to work. What's left to be done before our combat troops pullout at the end of July?
Answer 11: Right now we are still moving our troops back to KAF, handing over with the Americans who are here to replace us and trying to get hundreds of vehicles and thousands of pieces of equipment packed up and shipped back to Canada. The mission may be winding down, but there is still a lot of work to do behind the scenes.
Answer 11: We are busy handing over as much information as possible to the American forces that are taking over our area. I have been busy trying get them to be as culturally aware as possible. the PASHTUN culture of southern Afghanistan is completely foreign to us, and in many cases we accidentally offend the locals even though we are meaning well and trying to do the right thing. There are nuances and social dynamics that we will never understand.
Well everyone, we have to let our panelists get back to work in Afghanistan.
A big thank you to Jamie, Braden and Mark!
Stay safe and good luck as you start to wind down your work.