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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good morning, Kandahar

A fairly regimented media day here at the base in Kandahar, but not for general reporters; media pool stuff mostly, so I got a chance to wander around after the PM gave his speech this morning, do a bit of shopping. The local hats are really cheap. The traditional roll-up like this was only five bucks.

Last night before bed, I was speaking informally with a young soldier from Kingston outside the tents. He’s with a communications unit and getting ready to go back after a six-month tour, his third, if I remember correctly. I asked his opinion about troop morale (someone has scrawled “Take this job and shove it!” on the entrance to the tent where I had been billeted, not a great sign). Pretty good, he said, though he qualified his answer by adding that morale is really high with his unit because they’re getting ready to go back. A few of his colleagues stopped by and much of the conversation then turned to whether they would make it back in time for any of the Stanley Cup finals—inconclusive, maybe, if it goes to seven games.

What surprised and impressed me about this young guy was how level-headed and realistic he was regarding the overall mission here in Afghanistan. Without prompting, he put it in context of other long missions Canadians have accomplished, Bosnia, Cyprus, etc. He didn’t sound like he was just regurgitating stuff he’d been told.

Harper_address1_2 As for the PM’s speech this morning, here’s a pic just to give you a general idea of the circumstance: you’ll be hearing clips on the TV news no doubt this evening. Here is the text as it was given to me. Download speech_to_troops_final.doc

The speech was delivered at 8:15 AM to about 300 troops gathered in an outdoor asphalt hockey area in a corner of what is known around here as “the boardwalk,” a large wooden walking area surrounding about a quarter section--most of the middle is used for games (American troops were playing tag football there this morning). On the outside edge of the boardwalk are trailers housing fast food joints, like Pizza Hut and Burger King. Right by the hockey area is a Tim Horton’s, and it was from the Tim Horton’s that the PM entered to give his speech.

Harper_hockey_ball_2 Just after delivering his talk, Harper presented a street hockey ball to a corporal. I have a rather nice pic of that, so here it is. And after the hockey interlude, the PM mingled with the troops, posing for photos with various groups. I’ll toss in a shot I managed to click off in an unguarded moment during that photo-op session simply because I love pictures like this--where you photograph a group and only one person notices you are taking the picture, in this case the pretty blonde soldier, and you the photographer don’t notice them noticing you until you see the picture later.Harper_posing_with_troops

Lots of other cool stuff happening that I can’t write about at the moment, but should be able to discuss in full later. I can say we had a couple really good briefings this morning, including one from the Provincial Reconstruction Team management. As an aside, I should mention it was critical here for the media that the Canadian ambassador, bureaucrats from CIDA, military personnel and RCMP all sat at one table, spoke on the record and took questions. Yesterday at the palace, there was a bit of a verbal tussle between the Canadian media and the Conservative politicos about getting bureaucrats (in that particular case, from CIDA) to talk on the record and take questions. It wasn’t so much that the Conservatives didn’t want the CIDA bureaucrat to talk directly to us as it was the bureaucrat herself. Today that whole issue seemed to be resolved, somewhat at least, in favour of the media and as a result with all these people going on the record and answering questions, it should make it a little easier for us journos to explain what it is Canada is actually doing around here with regards to redevelopment.

Posted by Kevin Steel on May 23, 2007 in International Affairs | Permalink


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Great reporting and photos... Keep up the good job plz

Posted by: Winston | 2007-05-23 8:56:14 AM

Caught the tour on The National last night (I neglected to change the channel after the Ducks' win) and was pleasantly surprised at the coverage. Mr Harper looked prime ministerial beside President Hamid Karzai, wearing a well-fitted suit as opposed to a flak jacket, and he spoke well in support of the troops and of the mission. Also detailed were the humanitarian works being done by our fellow Canadians.

It did not appear political in nature (though a cynic might feel otherwise) but, instead, Mr Harper appeared as a good representative of the country highlighting the work our nation is doing abroad.

Well done, CBC. Thanks for the update, Kevin.

And way to go, Prime Minister Harper.

Posted by: Rob Huck | 2007-05-23 9:18:34 AM

Well done, PM Harper!

Have Dion or Layton done this? Geez, even Nancy Pelosi went to Iraq!

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2007-05-23 9:58:24 AM

Can you give Don Martin a slap upside the head for us?

He's portraying this trip in this morning's National Post as political opportunism designed to help slumping polls.

Sheesh. What's a PM supposed to do?

Cower in fear of the NDP's attacks on alleged torture on Taliban Jack's brothers? Karzai himself said he had received no confirmation of those allegations. Of course, Taliban Jack will say Karzai is now part of the cover-up.

Posted by: set you free | 2007-05-23 10:09:06 AM

"even Nancy Pelosi went to Iraq!"

. . . for the purpose of gathering info to denounce the President & the Military.

Posted by: obc | 2007-05-23 10:42:37 AM

obc: yes but she went. Pelosi went to see for herself what was going on, and based her opinions on first-hand observations.

That's far more than what the Cowardly Lion (Layton) and the Scarecrow (Dion) have done. All they do is criticize from afar.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2007-05-23 10:47:30 AM

I'm not arguing with you, Zack. Just being "nuanced", like Leftoids like to be.

Posted by: obc | 2007-05-23 12:38:16 PM

That should be "Zebulon" - not Zack. I've got SAVED BY THE BELL on my brain today. Sorry.

Posted by: obc | 2007-05-23 12:40:49 PM

Saved by the Bell? That's just terrible! You really have to get that taken care of. It's not something that can be nuanced.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2007-05-23 12:49:45 PM

LOL !!!

Posted by: obc | 2007-05-23 1:03:07 PM

Why not put up a chattering room for WS listeners and commentators?

Posted by: Rémi Houle | 2007-05-23 3:39:32 PM

Thanks for the photos and the blog....really interesting and makes me proud to be Canadian.

As for the slap upside the head for Don Martin....let's just put him and Greg Weston in a small padded room, and they can eventually take their personal misery out on each other.

Posted by: anonymous | 2007-05-23 6:00:36 PM

OK, I read the text of the PM's speech (thanks for that, Kevin). Where did reporters get the idea that the PM intends to extend the mission beyond 2009?

The clip played to illustrate the PM's intention is the following:
"Still, you know that your work is not complete.
You know that we can’t just put down our weapons and hope for peace,
You know that we can’t set arbitrary deadlines and simply wish for the best."

Rather than a veiled announcement of an extension of the mission, that clip is a reminder to the opposition that there is still much work to do, that peace has to be WON, not merely wanted, and that the problems in Afghanistan will not be solved according to an arbitrary schedule.
Mr. Harper has stated time & again that Parliament would be consulted before a decision to extend the mission is taken.
Again, the MSM - Robert Fife in this case - gets it wrong!

Posted by: Gabby in QC | 2007-05-23 11:23:27 PM

The MSM never gets tired of being wrong.

They must figure it's better to be lucky once in a while than smart all the time.

Posted by: set you free | 2007-05-24 12:14:48 AM

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