Author Topic: Canadian officers still on duty in Afghanistan  (Read 1457 times)

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Canadian officers still on duty in Afghanistan
« on: September 26, 2014, 04:51:40 AM »
Canadian officers still on duty in Afghanistan

By Matthew Fisher, The Leader-Post September 25, 2014

http://www.leaderpost.com/Canadian+officers+still+duty+Afghanistan/10237244/story.html

As Canada ramps up its military response to Islamic State, there are still seven Canadian officers serving in Afghanistan 38 months after the Canadian Forces ended its combat mission in Kandahar and five months after its military training mission closed in Kabul.

The de facto leader of the small group of Canadians, because of his rank, is Brig.-Gen. Simon Hetherington. He arrived in Afghanistan in July because he is the deputy commander (operations) of the U.S. army's XVIII Airborne Corps, which was sent by the Pentagon to oversee many of the 35,000 NATO troops still in Afghanistan. The alliance is shrinking its footprint to 12,500 by next year, down from 140,000 in 2012.

By the time Hetherington leaves Afghanistan in December, he will have spent more time "in-country" than any other senior Canadian officer. The general was deputy commander of Canada's Task Force Kandahar in late 2009 during disgraced Van Doo Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard's starcrossed tour as the leader of the group. Four years before that he ran Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City.

"To be completely honest, I didn't know I would be deploying," Hetherington said the other day in an exclusive interview from Kabul where the XVIII Airborne Corps is spending a year. "It certainly isn't well known. When family and friends hear where I am, they say that they thought we had taken the flag down. There was an application with the government, and they said go."

As a matter of government policy, a Canadian exchange officer now heading up NATO's training mission there, "serves at the pleasure of the army we serve with, so when (Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre) finished his six months here, I started my six months," Hetherington said.

Hetherington attended the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was commander of 2nd Mechanized Brigade at CFB Petawawa between his first two Afghan assignments. He also worked briefly with now retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie's Canadian Forces Transformation Team, which recommended ways to cut military costs.

Being back in Afghanistan for a third tour has brought home to the artillery officer how highly regarded the Canadians were by their Afghan counterparts.

"We add a Canadian flavour to the organization and the Afghans look at us fondly," he said. In particular, Afghans remember then-Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner as "a larger than life dude," who led the NATO training and advisory mission in Kabul until he returned to Canada in the spring.

"Having been here gives you credibility," he said. "I've met a lot of old friends who were with us in places such as Arghandab. The Afghans remember us. I've met some from previous tours."

Hetherington, who is highly regarded by the troops who served with him in Canada because of his affability and leadership, now leads the same training mission as Milner and four other Canadian generals before him. It has built the Afghan army into a force of 350,000 soldiers and 309 kandaks (battalions) today, and works as an adviser at an institutional level with the Afghan military leadership.

"It is fully manned up. It is a well equipped mobile strike force," Hetherington said of the Afghan forces. "I would not have believed this in 2010, let alone in 2006."

One of the difficulties lately has been the Afghans' inability to chose a new leader to succeed outgoing President Hamid Karzai. That problem may have been resolved this weekend with an agreement between the two leading candidates, but "election uncertainty hurt momentum," he said.
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