Perhaps oversimlifying it, I wrote Combat Mission Kandahar because of curiosity.
I have been curious about military history since I can remember. My sense of history is especially attracted to what is happening now. When Canada was drawn into warfare in Afghanistan, I sensed that this was history in the making. I had to find out everything I could about what was going on there, about what our soldiers were facing, and what they were doing about it.
The mission in Kandahar is today’s reality. But it is unwritten reality, not clearly documented. Parts of the mission have been well described by some journalists in scattered snapshots. A handful of books give a more complete but still limited picture (the best that comes to mind are Contact Charlie, Kandahar Tour, The Patrol, and Fighting for Afghanistan). But all this still reveals only small segments of the whole picture.
What Canadian troops did in Kandahar remains shrouded in the Fog of War – with the “Fog” meaning there is no overall authoritative account describing what happened between 2006 and 2011.
The Department of National Defence (DND) is working on an official history but such histories take a long time to produce and it will still be only the “official” version.
I was lured by the challenger of clearing away part of this cloud, and throwing some light on this missing history. But finding the pieces of the puzzle and putting them tougher was a real task. No official records of any substance are available to the public. I did receive some war diaries through Access to Information from DND; however all but the most trivial entries had been redacted out. Much of my initial understanding came from journalists who provided pieces of the puzzle which explain some events, with Brian Hutchinson and Murray Brewster standing out (although many others also contributed significantly). The source that finally put many pieces of the full picture together was Carl Forsberg of the Institute for the Study of War and his reports, The Taliban’s Campaign for Kandahar and Power and Politics in Kandahar. In these documents, Forsberg explains what was going on in this strategic province better than anyone else in the public sphere.
Of course, the soldiers whom I interviewed provided me with useful information about what happened during their deployment. As part of these interviews, however, two officers stand out because of the special effort they made to help me understand the dynamics of their rotation. One was Dean Tremblay who commanded the RCD’s D Squadron in the Shah Wali Kot in 2008. He went over every word in Chapter 5 with a fine-tooth comb. The other officer, who I am most indebted to, is Alain Gauthier who was commanding officer of the first Van Doos battle group to be deployed to Kandahar. He readily invited me to sit down with him while he explained, with great courtesy and thoroughness, what his unit had done in 2007.
Understanding the combat mission, however, was not the only purpose for writing this book. The other reason was to help Canadians understand and remember what their soldiers did in Afghanistan.The Canadian public and their military’s attention is now focused on other conflicts, where the world seems more threatening than it has been in many decades. A new Canadian mission has committed substantial troops to a battle group in Latvia and this will undoubtedly be the new focus for years to come. It is therefore important to capture memories of Afghanistan before these fade.
I also wrote this book for a personal reason. I was very fortunate to find seven soldiers who were willing to patiently answer my many questions – questions from a civilian whose military experience ended fifty years earlier and was not familiar with the difference between a C7 and C9 weapon, knew little about explosive ordnance removal, and was especially ignorant about the meaning of Psychological Operations. Once these men had agreed to meet with me and lay out their very personal experiences, I felt compelled to complete this book to justify the trust they had shown in talking to me.
Finally, in the end, this book is meant to give credit to all those soldiers who made that long difficult trip from Canada to Kandahar Air Base, where they unhesitatingly carried out their duties under harsh living conditions while facing serious injury or death daily. Above all, I hope this book helps Canadians to continue to remember those of our citizens, military and civilian, who still struggle to live with injuries or who did not come back.
The wooden cross at KAF, which reads “We Remember/Nous Nous Souvenons,” reflects this unwritten dedication.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history