Saturday, February 17, 2007

Canadian Air Ops in Afghanistan

Managing Air Ops ‘Very Difficult’ in Afghanistan, Says Canadian Commander; Afghanistani Commanders Key to Mission Direction
Rotorhub By Andrew Drwiega

IDEX, Abu Dhabi 17 Febraury:
Having been in-country, first under a US commander than as a NATO commander from February to November 2006, Canada’s Brigadier General David Fraser, reporting on his ten month posting as Commander Task Force

Afghanistan/AEGIS/Regional Command South carefully illuminated the road to success in Afghanistan, and some of the barriers he had encountered alone the way. He talked about how the general difficulties of airspace coordination under the US command became much more complex when NATO moved in. “I had three Aviation Brigades working for me – three different teams, not to mention multiple UAVs, multiple special ops teams [one occasion saw five in the field simultaneously – and not necessarily linked], other air forces, NGO aircraft that we didn’t know were operating.” In over 25 years service and several operations he had never seen anything as complex as this.

Where were the enduring challenges? The list was impressive: ‘policy, rules of engagement, decision and operational tempo that needed to be faster, national baggage, intelligence sharing verses time available, blue-on-blue is a reality (friendly fire is something we have to deal with – far too often), rehearsals, liaison etc.’

“Fundamentally, it all comes down to people. Technology alone can not solve our problems,” he said. “Success requires perseverance and patience.”

But his message was very supportive of the process, provided it is given the time it needs [by political masters] to run. He talked of more inter-agency involvement, not just military to military, the shift in doing things from ‘military-civil’ to ‘civil-military’ [students of the Malayan Emergency will nod in agreement here] and said that NATO could make a difference “because we have been invited by a democratically elected government. The most important man in the chain is the Afghanistan Army commander who tells us go there, do that.”

General Fraser was speaking at the pre-IDEX Gulf Defence Conference in Abu Dhabi, UAE, organised by Jane’s. Entitled Transforming the Defence of the Gulf States: Strategies, Requirements, Acquisitions the conference focussed mainly on transformation themes that included ‘information superiority,’ ‘priorities in technology,’ and agendas for consideration.

Lord Astor of Hever, the Conservative Spokesman on Defence, had started the conference with comments on four crucial geographical areas, all of which had UN Resolutions outstanding: Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and its neighbours; and Iran. “It is now accepted that mistakes have been made in Iraq,” and added that the surge in US forces was “dependent on effective Iraqi participation.” He clearly talked of withdrawal by coalition nations without giving a timeframe but stated that “external participation was moving to closure.” Touching briefly on Afghanistan he said that the task was to complete the social objectives as well as the military ones but both that war and the conflict in Iraq were “dangerous and expensive.” Iran, he stated, must confirm to UN Security Resolutions regarding its nuclear ambitions, but also said that it had a role to play in finding a regional settlement regarding the future of Iraq. However, he was also aware of tensions the country was causing both across the border in Afghanistan and over the Straits of Hormuz, the artery through which the Gulf’s oil travels to the world - more going east than west these days he noted.

A fitting summary was added by General Sir Jack Deverell, former Commander NATO Armed Forces North, who warned that those looking for ultimate victory [a public expectation still in most western countries] will be disappointed, with tactical reversals tending to erode political will to continue the commitment.