CANADA’S COIN WARRIORS: OPERATION KALAY
CANADIAN COUNTERINSURGENCY DOCTRINE
Taliban insurgents have steadily penetrated the rural countryside of southern Afghanistan, a traditional well-spring of support and sympathy for the guerrilla movement. Any Afghan male seen in the rural countryside, old or young, educated or not, employed or homeless, could be a potential insurgent. This dynamic has profoundly reshaped US and NATO objectives and tactics in southern Afghanistan. Realizing the massive influx of US troops into southern Afghanistan this summer would have a noticeable impact on the way operations are conducted and where they’re conducted, Canadian Brigadier General Jonathan Vance, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, decided to refocus his forces on forging the trust and confidence of local Afghan communities by providing meaningful
development and reestablishing traditional economic and political structures.
Instead of delivering aid throughout huge swaths of ungoverned territory in sporadic bursts, the new Canadian strategy revolves around building up fixed locations such as specific rural communities like Deh-e-Bagh, a small and almost unknown village in the equally unknown district of Dand located approximately six kilometers south of Kandahar. The Canadian military’s focus on targeted rural development in pursuit of sound counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine was launched earlier this year under the overarching Operation Kantolo and its pilot program initiated at Deh-e-Bagh, codenamed Operation Kalay (Pashto for village).
On 25 May, some American colleagues and I traveled to the Dand district center with members of Canada’s Task Force Kandahar in a heavily armed convoy of LAV-IIIs to link up with forces already deployed to the district administration compound and site of the new Canadian forward operating base. Nestled next to the Dand district center, a three-building complex surrounded by a new 12-foot security wall (completed after a series of rocket and suicide bomb attacks severely damaged the administration building), lies the small village of Deh-e-Bagh, home to nearly 1,100 Afghans.
GLORIOUS WAR MACHINES
Our convoy reached Dand without incident, notwithstanding a rapid vehicle exfil in light of a perceived IED threat near a culvert situated along our route. The threat turned out just to be a piece of garbage sandwiched along the dusty canal embankment. Once inside the compound walls, the dust swirls settled to reveal a rudimentary parking lot filled with some of Canada’s most glorious war machines, AV-IIIs, T-LAVs (the sister of America’s M113 series) and RG-31 Nyalas. Afghan police pickup trucks and dust-colored Ford Rangers outfitted with well-worn PK machine guns, also lined the lot. Through the dust we saw the devastated administration building, a skeletal frame left behind from a massive suicide bombing that tore through its second floor on 30 March.
SUICIDE BOMBING SLAUGHTER
The main administration building, built within the last five years, looks at least fifty years old. Most noticeable is the destruction caused from the 30 March suicide attack. The bomber, who penetrated the outer gates and made it all the way onto the second floor of the three-story building, detonated his explosives next to the stairwell, blowing a massive hole in the floor and tearing the façade off the face of the building. Only three windows on the whole front of the building escaped destruction. “There were over ten people in the room when the explosions went off, including the police chief and his deputy,” uttered Surutullah, a crusty one-legged Afghan National Police officer.
“It was a miracle, but the chief survived, but it killed everyone else in the room. The accountant was never found, not even his shoes. He was vaporized. I know this because it was my task to collect the remains. Most of the remains had to be scraped off the walls and ceiling.” Having miraculously survived the blast, the Chief of Police stared at us from underneath his perch in a small shaded stall across the parking lot, his leg wrapped in a blue cast and bandages covering his hands.
JUNKIE POLICE OFFICERS
The deadly attack that destroyed the sun-bleached yellow district building in front of me was partially facilitated by heroin-addicted Afghan police officers manning the gates. “The sad fact is that many of the inept and junkie police officers that worked here during the time of the blast are still here. A few of them were fired, but most of them stayed. We wish we could have disbanded the unit and started fresh, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” a Canadian soldier told us as we inspected the blast zone. Around the same time the camp dog, a small white pup named “Killer,” scooted between our legs while chewing apart a small teddy bear with the word “Taliban” scribbled across its belly in black marker.
Killer’s size and actions were symbolic of the situation in Dand. Apply a small but mighty force that’s agile and adaptable and willing to take on larger problems and enemy forces than itself. Seeing us speaking with members
of the local security force, a Canadian civil–military cooperation (CIMIC) officer approached us with a smile.
“The only good thing about these ANP is they live within these walls; whenever you need you just tap on their window and tell them to come on out.” When asked if the police unit is comprised of all Dand residents, he says he’s not positive but that is what he has heard. Surutullah told us he was a Tajik from northern Afghanistan and a former member of Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance. He’s also the victim of a Taliban-placed landmine that took off his left leg several years ago. Frustration with the local security contingent is evident throughout the camp.
INGRAINED, ILL-TRAINED BRAVADO
“You can train these guys all you want; there’s just something about them that makes them just not get it. When we stood out here the other day, and my interpreters and I showed them the proper way to fill up a fuel barrel, it took about thirty minutes of explaining and showing; what does the Afghan policeman do? What he’s always done, he goes over and starts siphoning out gas from one tank to another and ends up ingesting some fuel and starts puking all
over the place. No matter how hard you try, some of these guys just aren’t going to change their ways.”
But not all Afghan security forces in Dand are inept. One such figure, “Ahmed,”a Tajik dog handler who helps clear areas of hidden explosives or landmines when foot patrols are conducted, adopted many of the ways of the locals and treats everyone he meets with great respect.
One of his Canadian colleagues related a story about Ahmed’s courage and selflessness to us shortly after speaking with him. “Ahmed was on foot patrol with us when one of the dogs (German shepherd bomb sniffer) got loose. It must have been sick, foaming at the lips, and lunged on one of our guys. Before the dog could get to his neck,
Ahmed tackled the dog and wrestled it to the ground, choking it with his bare hands while being bitten badly by the dog. His arm was missing most of its skin. We helped him up after neutralizing the dog and he was ashamed the dog had gotten so close to the Canadian soldier. He simply summed up his actions by saying, ‘what kind of Afghan am I if I cannot protect my friends?’”
Located next to the walled complex is the village of Deh-e-Bagh, a small agrarian community with one bazaar and a large Kuchi settlement located near the village walls. A nearby graveyard holds dozens of flags, some green, and some black, which occasionally flap with a passing breeze. Security was heightened after a freshly planted 107mm Chinese rocket wired for a timed detonation was found 200 meters to the east the previous night. This was the second such rocket found in this location this month. Fortunately the fuse failed to ignite and the rocket was discovered by a Canadian patrol and blown in place. Nevertheless, after repeated suicide bombings and rocket attacks, security remains an issue.
Canadian soldiers, along with a small detachment of ANP, conduct dismounted patrols in the village nearly every day. The plan is to develop “model villages,” where Taliban influence is thwarted by closer cooperation and services provided by the Afghan government. “Operation Kalay is essentially to link line ministries in Kabul with residents at the village,” explained a senior Canadian military official involved in the operation. The village of Deh-e-Bagh was selected based on various criteria developed by civilian and military personnel at the Canadian-led Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, officials in Kabul, the Kandahar governor’s office, and the provincial tribal council leader—Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Deh-e-Bagh, located on one of five transit routes into the city, used to be a major “rat-line” for incoming insurgents. Securing areas surrounding the entrances to Kandahar is seen as vital to protecting the south’s largest and most important city from any spectacular Taliban attack or assault. To help convince these communities not to side with the insurgents takes permanent presence and tangible development projects. Plans to refurbish the bazaar and install solar-powered lighting, revamp irrigation throughout the village by paying local laborers to dig the canal deeper, and repairing the severely damaged district administration headquarters and other projects are well underway.
On 8 June, Canadian and Afghan translators launched a foot patrol to conduct a meet-and-greet along the Deh-e-Bagh canal. By 0635, over 100 Afghan villagers were straddling both sides of the canal; nearly all of them had shovels and pick axes.
Today is payday, and most of the villagers are anxious to receive their payments scheduled for later in the morning. A small contingent of ANP stands guard as Canadian soldiers talk shop with various team leaders, or foremen, who manage small groups of 10 to 15 workers each. The work completed is impressive. The seemingly endless canal snaking through the village has been dug out nearly twelve feet deep and pitched accordingly to prevent a rapid collapse of its earthen walls. Once completed, the canal will provide Deh-e-Bagh with a sufficient water supply to irrigate the vast plots of farmland dominating the district.
ONE VILLAGE AT A TIME
The “village model” experiment was only in its infancy during our visit, but the strategy is sound: communicate and engage local communities, fulfill needs of the community through development and construction while providing security on a consistent basis. Plans to refurbish over a dozen mosques in Deh-e-Bagh were drafted during our short visit as well. Plans to implement Operation Kalay II in neighboring Panjwai district, a hornet’s nest of insurgent activity, have also been implemented. In a positive development, over 250 tribal elders in the area signed a document rejecting the Taliban and insurgent activity in Kandahar Province. But there is worry among villagers. “The Taliban are not a simple force. Taliban are very well armed; one Taliban with an AK-47 and spare magazines is stronger than 100 unarmed villagers,” Mohammad Ishaqzai, a tribal elder from neighboring Panjwai district, told us. “The Afghan problem is not just our problem; it’s your problem as well. You must help us win and solve this, we must work together.” Nevertheless, Canadian forces remain committed to securing Kandahar, even if it begins with one village at a time.
Matthew C. DuPee works for US Department of Defense studying the Afghan insurgency and the narcotics industry. He recently returned from a two-month research trip to Afghanistan. Having studied the region since 2000, Mr. DuPee has been published in a variety of journals, including World Politics Review, Himal South Asian Magazine, The Long War Journal, the Middle East Times and others.