View Full Version : Canadians on the "Western Front"

09-21-2009, 12:56 PM
SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan - It's the Western Front.

There's a thin line of defence between this area of the sparesly populated Panjwaii district and the wild, wild west where the Taliban are pretty much free to roam at will.

To the east on the way to Kandahar city - villages are numerous and government forces with the aid of Canadian soldiers - spend their time keeping the Taliban at bay.

To the west - there are mountains and fields of bright green marijuana and pink opium poppies stretching as far as the eye can see. It is also a no man's land that Canadian and NATO soldiers stay clear of, at least for now.

"We don't have forces there so therefore it can be called a sanctuary for sure, but there's no added value to go there," Maj. Steve Jordain told The Canadian Press at Forward Operating Base Sperwan Ghar.

"I would call it the first and last line of defence since in the district of Panjwaii east of here we are the last post," he explained.

"What we've been doing is we've been able to secure the area so that other people can work on the development projects, taking the attention away from them and putting it a little more on us. But that's what we're trained for and that's why we are here."

Jordain and his men have been involved in 13 combat missions and gone on 125 patrols in recent months. The road near this base is not so fondly referred to as 'IED Alley'.

Patrols from here and the nearby base at Ma'sum Ghar make countless treks up and down the highway finding IEDs on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.

Knowing that the Taliban are out to the west waiting and planning their next moves doesn't bother Jordain.

"They're everywhere. Even if we were to move out there that's the context of a counter-insurgency - they are dressed as all the local people are dressed and they are melding into the population so it's very hard to determine who is who," he added.

It's there that the Afghan National Army comes in handy. The ANA does joint patrols with the Canadians and some on their own.

"They're very good at identifying who doesn't fit in the picture. They've got the one thing that we don't have and that's the cultural background," Jordain said.

It's estimated the west contains only 10 to 15,000 residents while Kandahar city and its surrounding area have close to a half million.

It's only a matter of time before the footprint makes its way further west says the commander of Task Force Kandahar.

"It's a very sparsely populated area west of Sperwan Ghar so we have to pick our battles and we have to ensure we maintain our aim of interacting with the population," explained Brig. Gen. Jonathan Vance.

"We will push to the west eventually, at some point."

Gen. Vance said the Canadians, with the backing of ISAF, have elected to concentrate their forces to protect the population as the main effort.

The supporting role is to prevent the insurgency from gaining initiative and moving east.

Vance said there's no doubt that his forces could venture further west in an effort to find pockets of Taliban and the idea is not without merit.

"We would be in almost continuous combat situations which would certainly have an effect on degrading the insurgencies potential to export violence, so there is some of that which needs to happen," he said.

"But if that's all we did then the only thing we would be doing in Afghanistan is hurting the insurgency and not concentrating on helping the civilian population."