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"allah's Breath Of Death" In Afg

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Note: 'rules of engagement' have not changed. Article refers to Canadian general's direction to the Canadian aviation force in light of GEN Patreaus' command in AFG.


New Afghan rules clarify when helicopters gunners can unleash 'Allah's breath of death' (link)


Matthew Fisher, Postmedia News

July 18 2010


(reproduced in accordance with the Fair Dealings Act)


KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — After months of complaints from NATO troops about strict rules of engagement, Canada's trigger-pullers are expressing universal approval of a new written tactical directive from Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance that clarifies when soldiers in Task Force Kandahar can shoot at the Taliban.


"We feel much more pleased with the way things are done now. That's the general consensus," said Cpl. Luke Carlson of Emo, Ont., who mans a Dillon Gatling gun on a Griffon helicopter. "It's crystal clear what the general's directive is. It has made it easier for us."


The directive, which Vance discussed with pilots and gun crews during a half-hour meeting earlier this month at the air wing, was "pretty specific," said Lt.-Col. Jeff Smyth, commander of Edmonton-based 408 Squadron, which is due to rotate home soon after nine months in Afghanistan.


"It is about recognizing insurgent behaviour. It gave us a much better idea of what is normal and what is fishy. There was great stuff in it. It was really about how he (Vance) saw the big picture."


The directive helped troops to draw on their collective experience, Smyth said.


"We have learned to tell the difference between farmers and insurgents pretending to be farmers. It is not one particular thing that makes you realize that a guy is different. Factors include the way they act, the time of day."


Vance's guidance came as Gen. David Petraeus, NATO's new commander in Afghanistan, said he was reconsidering rules of engagement brought in last year by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that were meant to reduce civilian casualties. That has happened, but some troops have claimed the rules are so restrictive they have given the Taliban carte blanche to launch attacks from among the population because they do not fear retribution.


Vance returned for an unexpected second tour as commander of Task Force Kandahar in May, after Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard was sacked for alleged sexual misconduct.


Vance's arrival has coincided with a huge rise in violence recently now that the country is in the middle of its traditional summer fighting season.


"It is not that the (rules of engagement) have changed but because of the commander, we feel more empowered," said Maj. John King, the lead pilot for Canada's small fleet of Griffons.


"We now feel we can be more proactive and can take more action. We can be more aggressive."


The Griffons have all been armed with two potent Dillon Gatling guns capable of firing 50 bullets a second. They were also fitted earlier this year with a state-of-the art optical sensor.


Where the Griffons were involved in four "tics" (troops in contact) or engagements in their first five months in Kandahar, they have been involved in more than a dozen in recent days, including one in which two insurgents were shot. One of them apparently died immediately. The other died after managing to move a couple of hundred metres.


However, Smyth cautioned: "We are not going out there to kill people. We do not do deliberate ops. But we came here to protect our troops on the ground. If that means killing insurgents, that's part of the job."


Smith, who has already logged hundreds of hours of flying time on Griffons here, said he had been involved in a tic only 24 hours earlier.


"It was like Suffield," he said referring to the base in Alberta where the Griffon crews trained before coming to Afghanistan.


"There were good guys on one side and bad guys on the other. When it is like that, you have to lay it down."


The Griffon helicopters have in the past been heavily criticized by aircrews and ground forces for not having the legs or the power for the kind of combat heft required to perform well in heat or at high altitude. But opinions have changed in Kandahar.


Not exclusively designed to be a troop transport or attack platform like a Chinook or an Apache, the Griffon has proven to be a good jack-of-all-trades aircraft, providing escort, firing in support of ground troops and sometimes carrying wounded, detainees or cargo.


"There was a myth out there that we couldn't do it," said Master Cpl. Craig Wiggins of Cartwright, N.L., an engineer and door gunner on his sixth foreign tour.


"The temperature is a problem but we work around it. We have to watch the ammo and manage the fuel. But we keep operating at maximum capability."


Carlson, normally an infantryman with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, says he "had a bad view of the Griffon" when he started on the aircraft last year, but is now a huge fan, thanks in large part to the Dillon gun, which was acquired after much debate within the air force.


"It is like a laser beam coming down," Carlson said, referring to the speed of fire and the fact that every fifth bullet is a tracer. "When you have done your assay, and you are cleared on to the target, all your fire will be accurate."


Insurgents are said to call the gun, which is also used on some U.S. and British helicopters, "Allah's breath of death."


"The Taliban are definitely afraid of this gun," said Master Cpl. Craig Wiggins. "It is a massive deterrent. When we roll in with suppressing fire, tics stop."


When there has been excess helicopter capacity, as has happened a fair bit lately, the Griffons have been freed from guarding Chinooks to perform "overwatch" for the 1 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.


"We can tell company commanders that they have two to four hours in, say, a 10-hour period, and that is a morale-builder for the troops," said King, the Griffon commander. "When there are tics, we can say, 'Dude, we're right here.' And we roll in."


"If we are out there and we see you harassing our buddies on the ground, we will shoot you. That Dillon speaks loud and clear."

© Copyright © Postmedia News


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