January 07, 2002



Stars(From the Truly Meaningless Photo Images When You Stop to Think About It For A Minute Department): And in other news, we were all almost killed last week by a giant space arrow.

PS: My favourite part is the wishful-thinking cutline: "The space rock 2001YB5, identified by the arrow, could have wiped out France, according to a scientist in Britain." Better luck next time, eh, what?

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 PM



(See Previous Articles: 1 - 2 - 3) Okay, a reader named Josh raised some good points about my "T-Bomb" articles. You can read the full thing on the letters page, but here's my response.

Basically, Josh says there is more than just a semantic distinction between the new American T-Bombs (or "thermobaric weapons") and their old no-longer-used fuel-air explosives. Because the new generation of thermobarics (also called vacuum bombs, enhanced blast munitions, and, yes, fuel-air explosives) use powdered high explosive instead of actual fuel, they don't create the same spectacular and deadly fireballs. Because they don't, he argues, they can be seen as a more humane weapon, and hence less objectionable to peace groups: hence the recent name change when this class of weapons was brought back into the American inventory is justified.

A couple things. First, I can't speak for the first-ever fuel-air bombs, but the ones the Americans retired from their inventory used ethylene oxide, not gasoline or jet fuel. The stigmatized name for these weapons was technically incorrect even then. Second, yes, there's no doubt their new weapons, which do use what amounts to explosive dust instead, are engineered specifically with the idea of enhancing their blast effects in mind. I've never seen one of the new ones, so I don't know if there's a visible flame front, but I'd agree that these weapons are being redesigned today to increase their blast capabilities, as opposed to their fireball-creation capabilities. In fact, the effects of these new weapons are still rather unclear: Russians claim their thermobaric technology could actually be used to extinguish fires (by creating a temporary vacuum, presumably), but also classify them as incendiary weapons or flamethrowers.

But this is surely the big point. The Russians reengineered their T-bombs before the U.S. They used the new kind to crush Grozny two years ago. And those weapons do use powdered HE (PETN, to be precise, the stuff used in detcord). But it's those weapons that Human Rights Watch and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are now criticizing as inhumane. And the stated reasons are not because they cause a lot of burns (they seem as unsure about that fact as I am), but because they are extremely destructive and hence capable of killing large numbers of civilians when used in cities. If this is true of Russian weapons, it is, by definition, true of the same technology in American hands. (Look for any mention of burns to humans in this HRW press release, here.)

Which could be a great segue into a reflection on how a weapon system does not have morality built in... bombs don't kill people, people kill people, etc... if you wanted. Another time, though: the point is HRW and CND aren't campaigning against the inhumane use of thermobarics, or one class of thermobarics... they're campaigning against thermobaric-type weapons altogether. But because it suited them to contrast the Russian use of these bombs with the American self-imposed ban on thermobarics in the 1990s, those groups, perhaps inaccurately, have been calling them by their old, stigma-laden pre-ban name: "fuel-air weapons." On the other hand, when circumstances in Afghanistan forced the Americans in turn to reintroduce those same weapons, they had to make it clear that their weapons were different from the Russians', even though they are functionally the same. Rather than trying to explain the T-bomb for what it is, a higher-tech successor to fuel-air weaponry ("Now with less crispage!"), they and their spokesthingies deliberately avoided any connection at all between the two kinds of weapons, in an subtle but still apparent effort to shed some of the stigma attached to their use. That's classic corporate branding.

Posted by BruceR at 09:23 PM



The Canadian announcement also confirms the Americans are increasing their strength on the ground, at least slightly. The Marines initially deployed a battalion to Camp Rhino, and then a separate battalion to Kandahar... each with something over 1,000 troops. A third battalion was in reserve offshore. If the 187th BCT (the "Rakkasas") is coming in to replace them, that will give the ground commander three American battalions, plus the one Canadian one, or at least 5,000 troops. Presumably, however, one battalion will be kept in reserve to secure the logistical base, likely at the rapidly growing megabase being set up in Jacobabad, Pakistan. It still means the non-Special Forces contingent in Afghanistan proper is increasing its footprint by at least 50 per cent starting in February.

Because Jacobabad isn't a seaport, and there doesn't seem to be plans to acquire one, that suggests the Americans are pegging their force level at a brigade-size light unit for a while, small and low-maintenance enough that they can continue to rely on airlift from Jacobabad into Kandahar for their logistics. The Canadians will have to do the same. Because there was no matching announcement of an increase in the Canadian Air Force presence, one may expect that the Americans agreed to provide airlift support for the Canadians, too. Certainly the 12 Coyote recce vehicles being shipped over will be going in American planes.

NB about Jacobabad: It's the third-largest airport in Pakistan. It's also considered the "hottest place in Pakistan." All Pakistani forces have left the base, which is currently being walled in, with air-conditioned barracks being built for the thousands of American troops that will be staying or passing through here. Unlike the Marines, with Army troops come ground bases: we're going to hear a lot more about this base in the months to come, for certain.

Posted by BruceR at 05:45 PM



The DND website has caught up...

On January 4 the Government of Canada received a request from the United States for Canadian infantry soldiers to deploy to Kandahar as part of the US Army task force founded on the 187th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In response to the U.S. request for assistance, Canada agreed to deploy the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) Battle Group, which includes a reconnaissance squadron from Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) and combat service support from 1 Service Battalion. The Lord Strathcona's Horse reconnaissance squadron will be equipped with two troops of Canadian-made Coyote light armoured reconnaissance vehicles, which our U.S. allies specifically requested for this mission.

The Canadian soldiers will be involved in performing a number of tasks, ranging from securing the airfield to allow for the delivery of humanitarian supplies delivery [sic] to the Afghan population, to the conduct of combat operations...

While operational control of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group will rest with Coalition chain of command, in this case a U.S. brigade, operational command of the 3 PPCLI Battle Group will remain with the Chief of the Defence Staff and, ultimately, the Canadian Government.

Translation? First, the textbook definitions, as understood by the Canadian forces, and the UN:

Operational command: the authority granted to a commander to assign missions or tasks to subordinate commanders to deploy units, reassign forces, and to retain or delegate operational and tactical control; it is the highest level of operational authority which can be given to an appointed commander who is acting outside of his own national chain of command, and is seldom authorized by Member States

Operational control (OPCON): the authority granted to a commander to direct forces assigned so that the commander may accomplish specific missions or tasks which are usually limited by function, time or location by troop-contributing countries in the Security Council Resolution/mandate, to deploy units and retain or assign tactical control of those units; it is a more restrictive level of authority than operational command: a commander cannot change the mission of those forces or deploy them outside the area of responsibility previously agreed to by the troop-contributing country without the prior consent of this country; further he cannot separate contingents by assigning tasks to components of the units concerned.

Since the early days of World War One, the Canadian government has always insisted on retaining Operational Command over its troops, as opposed to Operational Control. Is it fair to call it "under U.S. command? Well, basically the Americans have to consult with our government only if they do the stuff in bold, above. An OPCON relationship is seen as appropriate recognition of national autonomy: it is basically the same deal as Canadians had with British commanders in Europe in both world wars and Korea, and with UN and NATO since. But other than the Aleutians, this is the only time Canadians have been part of a strictly U.S.-led force. I guess the continent IS growing smaller.

Posted by BruceR at 05:13 PM



I get all kinds of thoughtful email on what's written here, and if no one objects, I'd like to make sure I serve the interests of equal time and post the clever replies to my expostulations where people can read them, too. That's why there's a Readers' Letters link on the left now. Nothing fancy... just to prevent me typing out the good ones in full. So far, I've put up John's letter on peacekeeping, and that T-Bomb letter I really will reply to shortly.

Posted by BruceR at 04:41 PM



And it's certainly a respectable showing from the army, for a change. (Godspeed, Patricias.) Now we'll see if the Canadian government has the guts to stick through it... to say this is going to be a rough ride, politically, is at best an understatement. Wait for the New Democratic Party condemnation, later this afternoon. But the Alliance Party should say something nice... it's exactly what they've been calling for since, oh, Sept. 12. Yes, we're in the soup for real, finally. I also want to note that my old standby Gwynne Dyer (who doesn't have a website, more's the pity) continues his record for surprising accuracy from a syndicated columnist... he called this exact eventuality on or around Sept. 13 and I confess I didn't believe him.

Stories so far:

The Globe and Mail

About the coming backlash: Penny should offer a new prize for the first sighting of a complete conniption about this by one of his usual suspects. The predicted mass freakout is now only a matter of time... Ardent nationalists, multilateralists, peace-in-our-time types, those afraid we'll "bring terrorism home to Canada..." it's hard to decide who's more likely to have an aneurysm over this. Dalton Camp, who's got a foot in all those lobbies, may need a third heart...

PS: Hey, Damian, I run websites for a living. If anything, you've been on my turf all this time. When I start giving legal advice in Corner Brook, then you can bitch... Seriously, I just like picking people apart on their ignorance of publicly available facts. I leave it to you to pick apart their reason and lack of moral fibre... you're much better at that stuff than I.

PPS: No word from the American press I've seen about increasing the size of their force on the ground. It's extremely unlikely the next tour in Kandahar will comprise just the one battalion of the 101st Airborne that's replacing the Marines, and the one battalion of Canadians... the only question is how high this means they're ramping up to in that sector: brigade-sized (say, 2 battalions of Americans, and 1 of Canadians), or divisional?

Posted by BruceR at 12:48 PM



(See original story) John from Montreal writes, re the possibly first-ever combat deployment of a Canadian ground unit under American command, expected to be announced later today:

You could also include Canadian units that were involved in Aleutians operations in WWII, that were not only under US command but were equipped with US gear and weapons. The participants were "Zombies", draftees who couldn't be sent to Europe under King's conscription policy.

Point well taken, although to be fair, two of the three battalions who served in the Aleutians August 1943 to January, 1944 with the 13th Infantry Brigade were volunteer, not conscript (NRMA, or "Zombie") units. The aforementioned 1st SSF (a joint U.S-Canadian unit) also took part in the actual assault on Kiska Island in August, but the island had already been abandoned by the Japanese (not that they knew that at the time). There weren't any Canadian combat casualties. We're still not talking a whole lot of historical precedent for this, regardless. But unlike, say, Dalton Camp, Flit believes in setting the record straight. Thanks.

In other words, you newspaper writers out there, it's more accurate to say this may be (still waiting for that press conference) the second-ever combat deployment of Canadian ground troops under American command, and the first outside the continent. Still a milestone, in my books.

NB: In case anyone's curious, the 13th Brigade comprised the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Rocky Mountain Rangers (volunteer), and the Ontario-based Canadian Fusiliers (NRMA), along with the 24th Field Regt, RCA and other brigade troops. In total, over 5,000 Canadians served that six-month tour in the Aleutians. Read more about one Canadian who served on Kiska here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM



Days when research for Canada's favorite anti-war codger would have been just... too tiring?

I remember sitting in the public gallery in the House of Commons on the day Paul Martin, Sr., speaking as what we then called the minister of external affairs, informed the honourable members that Canada had agreed to send a peacekeeping force to troubled Cyprus, at the request of the United Nations. That was sometime in 1964 and I recall Martin saying he expected the Canadian force would be returned home within two years or so. Some two decades later, I was in Cyprus and so were the VanDoos; our peacekeepers were nowhere near to coming home then or a decade later. In fact, I cannot remember when it was that our forces did finally get back from Cyprus. It is even possible they are still there and I have failed to notice...

For the record, the last Canadian forces left Cyprus in 1994, 30 years after the start of that UN peacekeeping mission. So "a decade later" they were already home. Before that honorable ending, 21 Canadians were killed on duty in Cyprus, Dalton. Thanks for dishonoring their memory with your ignorance. You tool.

PS: I've never understood the reason why columnists are allowed liberties of editing and fact-checking that would be unacceptable for cub reporters on their first day. But showing a willful lack of interest in accuracy (that whole paragraph can be boiled down to "my facts may be wrong, but I don't care, and it doesn't matter if they are") should have sparked some editorial intervention, if the Star still considered itself a newspaper.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM