MAâ€™SUM GHAR, Afghanistan â€” One of Afghanistanâ€™s top field commanders wants Canada to provide his troops with better weapons to fight the Taliban.
For the past year, Lt.-Col. Shereen Shah Kohbandiâ€™s 2nd Kandak (battalion) has been roaring into battle in Ford Ranger pickup trucks while their Canadian brothers-in-arms ride in heavily armoured LAV-3s and RG-31s.
While some of the Rangers are mounted with Soviet-era heavy machine-guns, the â€œBuilt Ford Toughâ€ slogan used by the automaker provides little protection against Taliban rocket-propelled grenades or roadside bombs.
A Canadian soldier approaches the door of a mud-walled residential compound as an Afghan National Army soldier provides cover during a foot patrol through an area known to harbour Taliban insurgents in Zhari District, southern Afghanistan. Windsor Star photo – Doug Schmidt
â€œWe have nothing. We have no strong weapons,â€ Kohbandi told The Canadian Press inside his mud-brick compound through an interpreter.
â€œI have good officers and soldiers â€” brave. For four years they have fought in Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand. The best thing that we need are weapons.â€
Earlier this month, one of Kohbandiâ€™s officers died when his Ranger was destroyed by a landmine. Eight other Afghan soldiers â€” most of them piled together in the back of the truck â€” were wounded.
Kohbandi has been a military officer for 23 years, helping to defeat the Soviets in the 1980â€™s and the Taliban in 2001.
Tall, solidly built and with a scar on his chin, Kohbandi crackles with energy as he rocks back and forth on his chair while rubbing a set of beads between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.
In his right hand he brandishes a fly swatter, smashing bugs on the table in mid sentence with a loud thwack.
â€œJust like killing Taliban,â€ he jokes.
A small team of veteran Canadian soldiers are helping to train the 2nd Kandak so it can plan and conduct long-term military operations on its own.
Kohbandi said he is grateful for the help provided by Canadaâ€™s Observer Mentor Liason Team and can sense that his multi-ethnic battalion recruited from across Afghanistan is becoming more effective.
His troops, veterans and greenhorns alike, are starting to receive new helmets, camouflage uniforms and even body armour.
But what his warriors really want are new assault rifles, machine-guns, armoured vehicles, artillery â€” even helicopters, something even Canadian troops donâ€™t have in the war-ravaged country, said Kohbandi, who turned down a brigade command out of loyalty to his troops.
A Canadian officer said the Afghan government has some better weapons, including aircraft and tanks, but that they are kept close to Kabul, the capital.
Kohbandi said he brought up the issue of gear with Defence Minister Gordon Oâ€™Connor earlier this month during his visit to Kandahar province and hopes Ottawa will help supply the Afghan National Army with new equipment before Canadian soldiers leave.
â€œStill we have old weapons from the Russian times,â€ he said, staring at his own weathered AK-47 rifle hanging by its sling from a nail driven into the mud wall of the room.
Maj. James Price, Kohbandiâ€™s mentor from the liaison team, said he can understand his counterpartâ€™s desire for better gear â€” especially when Afghan troops are working so closely with the well equipped Canadians.
Only a decade ago it was Canadian troops who were looking at their NATO counterparts with envy, said Price, a member of the Gagetown, N.B.,-based 2 Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
But itâ€™s a soldierâ€™s job to do the best he can with the gear heâ€™s got, he said.
â€œI wish, at the end of the day, that we could have armour for all of them,â€ Price said Sunday.
â€œYou feel a bit for them, because you share in their risks. They are getting it (equipment), slowly but surely.â€