|Trimming the Fat|
US General Stanley McChrystal, the new coalition force commander in
Coming from a career background in special forces, the 55-year-old McChrystal is viewed as the last of the Spartans, in that he maintains an impressive personal regimen of self-discipline. Hard, lean and fit, this tee-totalling general exercises religiously, sleeps just four hours a night and indulges in just a single, simple meal per day. After assuming command of the Afghanistan Task Force in June 2009, McChrystal immediately set about reforming the focus and reducing the rest and recreation facilities available to the service members in theatre.
One of the first things chopped from his list was the ballroom dancing lessons that were a base favourite at the Kandahar Airfield. I’m not sure when exactly the dance instructors were first deployed, but I was shocked in January 2007 when an interview that I was conducting with a Canadian soldier had to be prematurely terminated as the subject was late for his tango lesson. That shock deepened when I realized he was not referring to an acronym for some special covert tasking, but his preparations for So You Think You Can Dance: Kandahar.
It was also widely reported that McChrystal wanted the fast food outlets located inside the allied bases to pack up their deep fryers and head home. While the Canadian angle on this story was that the very popular Tim Hortons franchise – owned and operated by the Department of National Defence – will not be subject to McChrystal’s eviction, many Canadians were surprised to learn just how many commercial restaurants were operating in
On my most recent visit to Kandahar Airfield in March of this year, the base was abuzz with news that a T.G.I. Friday’s steakhouse had opened along the boardwalk, adding a sit-down restaurant to the existing takeout outlets that have long been established in
However, as of this past Saturday, T.G.I. Friday’s had fewer competitors as Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway and others were closed down on the orders of General McChrystal. In order to escape his critical eye, Timmy’s will be moved to the Canadian compound in the coming months.
In turfing out vendors and dancers, McChrystal opined that he wanted his soldiers to remain focused on the counterinsurgency mission and get away from the “amusement park” environment. With ballroom dancing gone, some wonder how long McChrystal will tolerate the Canadian-built hockey rink, as it is the predominant structure in the middle of the
Complete with boards, benches, bleachers, floodlights, officials and timekeepers, this beloved asphalt surface allows off-duty Canadians and their allies to play a competitive brand of base road hockey. Visiting NHL hall of famers have routinely played out morale-boosting photo ops on this rink, and professional hockey team owners have donated a wealth of equipment and jerseys to the war effort. While no one in their right mind would suggest denying Canadian soldiers the right to play hockey, it needs to be pointed out that the pouring and levelling of the rink surface alone cost nearly $500,000.
To contrast this investment in our soldiers’ well-being, one needs only to venture approximately 200 metres outside of Kandahar Airfield’s main gate. There lies the former Soviet barracks that currently house Afghan National Army officers and their families. The roof of one of the main apartment blocks crumbled after being hit by a
What is amazing is that over the past nine years, while a succession of US, NATO and Canadian commanders have repeatedly told us that winning the hearts and minds of locals would be the key to success in Afghanistan, nothing concrete has been done to improve the living conditions of our Afghan military allies living within eyesight of our fast-expanding airbase.General McChrystal’s initiative to send the amusement park packing is to be applauded. However, making our soldiers’ front-line experience more austere will be pointless unless we redirect those resources into removing the austerity suffered by the Afghans.