Military Connections

When our daughter was killed, she was conducting operations against Taliban fighters in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar Province. Nichola had been in Afghanistan for only a few months, and she had written home about the beauty of the country and the people. I can only echo her thoughts. Over the past few weeks her memory has surfaced again and again.

When Nichola and the rest of the Canadian Forces (CF) deployed to Kandahar in 2006, there was still hope in Canada that the mission would maintain the 3D objectives of defence, democracy, and development. Sadly, and for a variety of reasons well documented in the media and in academic journals, over the past five years the CF was required to prioritize the first objective over the other two. Now, however, things are changing.

The other day I was invited to visit the Canadian Contribution Training Mission to Afghanistan (CCTM-A) base in Kabul. CCTM-A is the ongoing Canadian military presence here in Afghanistan. Operating from rented quarters at a US base, the Canadians are participating with other NATO countries in order to help generate, train and sustain an accountable and professional Afghan National Security Force (both army and police) in readiness for the transitions planned for 2014.

I had too many other meetings that day and so wasn’t able to actually see the training taking place, but when I eventually arrived at the base (my driver got lost!) I was greeted with great respect. A number of the soldiers serving in Kabul had known or worked with Nichola, and spoke of her fondly. When I talked about the annual fundraising dinner we hold to raise money to support scholarships and projects in her memory, they were pleased that such positive things are emerging from her loss. Unfortunately they will not be able to attend the dinner on November 5 in Charlottetown (for tickets, please go to, but I know that other CF members support this work and will be honouring us with their presence at the Royal Canadian Legion.

Colonel Dawe and his staff also seemed genuinely interested in our educational project, and we found a lot of commonalities in our work. Like us, they see the high illiteracy rates as a major concern. Obviously soldiers have to be able to understand field manuals, read instructions, and so forth. The CF can’t wait for the long term effects of our teacher training to take effect. Instead, they have instituted a literacy training program for new recruits, and from a situation 2 years ago where 86% of new recruits were illiterate, now all have at least basic reading and writing skills to a grade 3 level before they graduate from their initial training. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but this bodes well for the future. A new recruit interviewed in the local newspaper, the Afghan Times, said that “through my training I have now got a little education. I am just a country boy, I had no school before. Now I have a good job and good pay, and my children will be educated to be doctors and engineers for my country” (26 October, 2011, p. 4).

The CF have also initiated an “Afghan First” program. This means that local businesses are now used to produce new uniforms, high quality combat boots, tents, furniture, and other items. According to CF figures, this move from a foreign to a national procurement process has resulted in over 7000 Afghans being employed, including the establishment of a number of women owned businesses. It is through this kind of work that the third D, development, is once again a goal of Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

Although the headquarters for the CCTM-A are in Kabul, I was pleased to discover that not all our efforts are focused in the capital city. There are Regional Military Training Centres all over Afghanistan and our Canadian Forces are providing training assistance in Herat and Balkh provinces as well. I think this is important. The wider the influence we can have, across the somewhat arbitrary lines of geography, ethnicity, and language, then the better the impact will be.

The CCTM-A is now nearly at it’s full strength of 950 troops. Over the next three years their work will continue, as different rotations of Canadian soldiers arrive. If they are successful, then when the withdrawal of foreign troops takes place in earnest in 2014 so the Afghan National Army and Police services will be in a position to maintain security.

However, the tenets of good development work (and essentially this is what our CF troops are now doing) is that impacts are seldom immediate. Relationships have to be built and nurtured. I am sure that some extended mentoring will be required beyond 2014, to provide a sympathetic ear and sage advice to the new Afghan military leadership as they experience the challenges of their work. I hope that Canadians will continue to support the CF as it contributes to nation building in this country. We have lost so many young men and women in the war to establish a peaceful civil society in Afghanistan; as this goal is now within sight, it would be sad if we were to simply walk away.

When I left the base it was dark. I was escorted through the camp to the road. My two escorting officers were in full battle gear and were armed. I felt somewhat underdressed in my light jacket. My driver was not allowed to come on to the base itself, he had to park on the shoulder of the road. As I got to the gate my escort took up positions to the side of me, one behind and one ahead. I had to visually identify and confirm the identity of the driver before I was allowed to leave the gate and cross the 20 metres to the car.

I felt incredibly secure in their presence, and could sense the spirit of my daughter watching over me. She would have approved of their conduct, I am sure, and of the way they were looking after her dad. She would have laughed at my lack of knowledge of military procedures, and would have agreed with me that the work of the CCTM-A is the work she was hoping to do when she came to Afghanistan.

As a teacher I know that all efforts to improve educational capacity are important. As a Canadian I am proud that the work of our military is contributing to that goal in Afghanistan.

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