Monday, April 27, 2009


Scott Taylor - Canada's number one war reporter. (above)

Chronicle Herald newspaper (Canada)

Time for our soldiers to talk the talk in Afghanistan

Mon. Apr 27 - 6:00 AM

DURING MY LAST unembedded tour in Afghanistan, I teamed up with Australian war correspondent Sasha Uzunov. Like me, Uzunov is a former soldier, and when necessary we would carry weapons for self-defence.

When operating in the volatile Kandahar region, the two of us "horajees" (foreigners), even armed with Kalashnikovs, would have been easy prey for the Taliban or criminal hostage-takers. As such, we employed a small group of Afghan security guards.

The leader of this contingent was a huge, fiercely bearded Pashtun whom we jokingly dubbed Chew Bacca due to his uncanny resemblance to the Star Wars wookie. In his workmanlike English, "Chewy" also acted as our tour guide for the Kandahar district. He would proudly point to a muddy canal and proclaim with a toothy grin, "This is the Arghandab River."

To Uzunov and me, it appeared to be a virtually dried-up irrigation ditch, but to Chewy, it was on par with the mighty Nile.

Dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Chewy advised us that he knew why the world has come to Kandahar.

"It is because this region is so fertile," he said. Sweeping his arm to indicate a smattering of freshly planted fields, he asked, "Have you ever seen such a fertile place?"

We didn’t have the heart to tell him that his homeland is one of the most desolate and arid regions on the planet that is still considered habitable. Anyone in Canada who has seen the images in the newspaper or watched the videos on the nightly newscasts would be hard pressed to call the Afghan landscape "lush."

We realized that Chewy was illiterate and had no access to the Internet, and the only world he knew was the infertile area around Kandahar and the even more desolate desert that surrounds it.

Chewy had no idea that inside the NATO airfield, the assembled foreign soldiers have access to three massive mess halls serving four meals a day, and fast-food outlets that include Burger King, Pizza Hut and Tim Hortons — complete with Timbits and iced cappuccinos.

In Chewy’s opinion, all these troops and all their technology had descended on his home province to secure the dried apricot harvest of Kandahar.

Obviously, this example serves to illustrate the enormous cultural gap between the local Afghans and NATO forces, due to mutual ignorance. As guests — unwanted or invited, it makes no difference — it is incumbent upon us, the international community, to bridge that gap.

Our troops make extensive use of young Afghan translators. Despite the fact that we have been deploying troops to Afghanistan for seven years, we still do not have a single soldier in our battle group who is fluent in either Pashtu or Dari.

Every effort needs to be focused on training our soldiers to acquire at least a conversational level of Pashtu. In the army’s newly published doctrine on counter-insurgency operations, this communication shortcoming is noted. That’s a promising start.

Learning to speak Pashtu and being able to converse directly with the locals and comprehend all discussions at meetings with local tribal elders would enhance the operational efficiency of our battle group. Admittedly, Pashtu is not an easy language to learn, and I know that the Canadian Forces have had difficulty finding qualified instructors from among the Afghan diaspora in Canada.

But we have managed to build three gymnasiums on the airfield in Kandahar, where organized basketball leagues play, and Canadians’ pride and joy — an outdoor ball hockey rink, complete with boards and bleachers.

And plenty of time and effort has been devoted to building the recreation centre known as Canada House to provide a relaxing area for our off-duty troops to battle boredom by watching the NHL playoffs on large flat-screen televisions. There are even instructors available at Kandahar airfield to teach the twice-weekly ballroom dance classes.

While no one would suggest that our soldiers don’t deserve time to unwind while in theatre, I’m simply stating that many of these off-hours could be better spent learning the local language so that we may better understand the Afghan culture.

Given that we are scheduled to remain in Afghanistan until at least December 2011, it’s not too late to start.

( -

ONLINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Vietnam nightmare ends with newsman’s death
By Sasha Uzunov - Friday, 24 April 2009

Legendary newsman John Sorell, aged 72, has died. Sorell made his name with the infamous and inaccurate Vietnam war crime story in 1968. It was a story that was to unfairly plague and stigmatise all of Australia’s Vietnam War veterans for decades.

When Mark Dodd, a reporter with The Australian newspaper, alleged on September 2, 2008 that Australian troops in Afghanistan in April of that same year were detaining Taliban suspects in dog pens, which was both insensitive to Islam and in contravention of the Geneva Convention, it sent shivers down the spine of Vietnam Veterans, who recalled Sorell’s Viet Cong Water torture story.

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, testifying to the Senate on October 22, 2008, said the Dodd story was wrong:

"I am able to advise that the Inquiry found that the available evidence did not support the allegation that the enclosures used by the ADF to house detainees on 29-30 April 2008 were “dog pens”.

"This appears to be a colloquial term that was used by only a few individuals interviewed in the initial inquiry and is not representative of the actual function of the enclosures. The inquiry found the expedient enclosures had not previously been used to house dogs. "

Sorell, a Walkely Award winning journalist with the now defunct Melbourne Herald newspaper, went on to become the hugely successful Director of News at television station GTV 9 Melbourne for 28 years before retiring in 2003.

In October 1966 he was in Vietnam reporting on the war. Sorell, then with the Herald, together with two other members of the Australian press, were outside a tent at Nui Dat, the Australian Army’s base when they saw a young female Viet Cong prisoner dragged in for interrogation.

An Army Warrant Officer, Ken Borland, who was not authorised to conduct interrogations, was seen carrying a jerry can of water into the tent. All three newsmen, at no stage ever entered inside nor witnessed what transpired. Borland poured no more than a cup of water into the mouth of the prisoner in order to get her to talk. His superiors when alerted put a halt to proceedings. So what began as harassment of a prisoner later developed into a war crime. She was later handed over to the South Vietnamese.

Sorell sat on the story for nearly two years, claiming censorship had stopped him running the story at the time, a claim strongly denied by the Army.

Paul Ham, in his brilliant book on Vietnam, Vietnam: The Australian War and also in The Weekend Australia, wrote:

Eighteen months later, in March 1968, an American journalist Martin Russ “revealed” in his book “Happy Hunting Ground” that Australian soldiers had “water tortured” a Vietnamese civilian: his only source was a conversation with two Australian journalists, one of whom was Sorell … The water torture case became part of the popular mythology that Australian troops were routinely committing atrocities …

Russ later disowned his story: “I didn’t see the Aussies use torture. The incident with the girl I wrote about was hearsay.”

As Ham points out: “The episode supplied an ‘atrocity’ when the media was particularly receptive to one, and equipped anti-war groups with a new weapon.”

The unfortunate consequence of the Sorell story was that Australian soldiers were unfairly painted as savages involved in an immoral war. But the inaccurate water torture story is the only cited example of a blemish on an otherwise clean conduct record of those Australians who all served, suffered or died fighting in the Vietnam War (1962-72). This Anzac Day we need to remember this.

-- (end) --

Other articles by this Author

» At war with his own Defence Department - March 31, 2009
» When politicians should step aside - March 19, 2009
» CSI Dubrovnik: the Britt Lapthorne mystery - March 4, 2009
» 'Reverse Balkan blowback': good guys become bad then good - February 19, 2009
» VC winner heralds a new era of heroes - January 23, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper ran an "exclusive" story titled "Army in lockdown over bikie threats" by Simon Benson April 07, 2009... It reads:

"MILITARY facilities are in lockdown across southwest Sydney over fears bikie gangs may try to break in to weapons armouries.

The security alert at Holsworthy army base has been elevated to "safe base charlie" since 11am on Friday - around the same time bikie laws were being brought in to effect - The Daily Telegraph has learned."

read more...,22049,25300385-5018886,00.html

However, I had warned in a 2006 Herald Sun article of the danger posed by Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs to the Australian Army, especially Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney's South-west...

read below

Army finds a smoking gun
Article from: HERALD SUN NEWSPAPER,21985,20979777-5006029,00.html
By Sasha Uzunov
December 28, 2006 12:00am

SASHA Uzunov writes: AN ASIO investigation into Defence Force security follows reports of stolen weapons falling into the hands of drug dealers, hardened criminals and terrorists.There are fears criminals have obtained shoulder-fired 66mm rocket launchers, which the Australian Army will now restrict to specifically authorised operations.

Couple this with the Private Jake Kovco scandal and our frontline troops in Iraq receiving inadequate equipment.

More scandals are likely to follow as the decades of damage done to the Defence Force by desk warriors comes to the surface.

Desk warriors are the highly paid experts with no hands-on military experience who have created the mess within the Defence Department.

The irony is that these powerful people label those who investigate them as loose cannons or trouble-makers.

But they are the ones who are creating dangerous mischief. The ordinary soldier on the frontline is now suffering because of inadequate equipment and the public is facing security concerns because of missing weapons.

Some media organisations are listening, but others appear to ignore what is happening.
If so-called medical experts are to be questioned as to whether they have medical training, why not defence bureaucrats?

I had experience with instances of stolen weapons when I was a soldier serving with an infantry unit based at Holsworthy Barracks in NSW.

Two sniper rifles were stolen from the unit in 1999.

In 2001, a soldier, who was a storeman at the barracks in Liverpool and suspected of taking the sniper rifles, was caught stealing a 9mm pistol.

Military police raided his home in the neighbouring suburb of Moorebank and found an enormous amount of missing equipment in his garage.

He was thrown out of the army. But the sniper rifles are still missing.

Other equipment, such as night-vision goggles, GPS, or global positioning systems, and firearms would regularly go missing from the unit.

Drug dealers, outlaw bikie gangs and even possible Middle-Eastern terrorists were under suspicion.

There was thought to be a racket to steal weapons from Holsworthy Barracks by supplying soldiers with drugs and then blackmailing them.

Another method was for young, attractive women of Middle-Eastern background to meet soldiers on internet dating sites.

Young soldiers, being young soldiers, would meet these women and take them back to barracks for sex.

The unit's commanding officer found out and banned women from being brought back to barracks.

In Darwin, bikie gangs obtained night-vision goggles from soldiers serving with 5/7 RAR in exchange for drugs.

For too long security at our army bases has been lax. And for too long desk warriors in the Defence Department have not been held to account.

I only hope the Australian public does not have to pay the price. Taxpayers have already had to foot the salaries of these experts.

SASHA UZUNOV is a freelance photo-journalist and former Australian soldier

Monday, April 06, 2009


At war with his own Defence Department
On Line opinion - Australia
By Sasha Uzunov - posted Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Australian media have finally laid down their pom-poms and ended the cheerleading routine in reporting how tough the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was in his war with his own Defence Department...