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Book Reviews

Fifteen Days: Stories Of Bravery, Friendship, Life And Death From Inside The New Canadian Army

by Christie Blatchford

Scarborough, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2007
400 pages, $34.95
ISBN – 10:0385664664
ISBN – 13:978095664660

Reviewed by Major John Johnston

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Book cover : Fifteen DaysFifteen Days is the enigmatic title of Christie Blatchford’s emotional and personal account of the Canadian Forces’ (CF) first rotation into the volatile area of southern Afghanistan – Kandahar Province.

The provincial capital, Kandahar City, originally was founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC. In modern times, it became the birthplace and home of the Taliban movement following the defeat of the Soviets in 1989. The Taliban seized the city and surrounding area, and brutally enforced their fundamentalist views upon the local population. It was under their rule that southern Afghanistan became economically and culturally crippled. During these dark days, terrorist groups were allowed to train unhampered by Western interference and interdiction. After their forced removal from power in 2001, the Taliban filtered out into the surrounding districts and neighbouring provinces, and attempted to maintain their locus of control through coercion and terror while blending in with the local population. The shift of Canadian focus from the Afghan capital of Kabul to the southern provinces would witness an increase in kinetic activity as NATO attempted to improve security, so that the Afghan government could assert its legal governance and provide necessary redevelopment. There was no doubt that this first NATO task force, the first of many, would ‘stir up a true hornet’s nest’ as the NATO coalition force worked to establish their presence and to restore Afghan rule of law.

This region was a ‘wild-west’ frontier, populated by lawless groups attempting to destabilize the government, and mixed in with drug lords fighting to keep their profitable poppy crops from being destroyed. Working within the NATO-led coalition construct, Task Force Orion ‘took the fight’ to this lawless faction not just in Kandahar but in support of coalition partners in Helmand and Uruzgan Provinces. This narrative pays tribute to the soldiers and officers of Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope’s task force as they make their mark upon this volatile and war-torn southern area. The book follows the task force’s actions during their six-month rotation which occurred during the winter and spring of 2006, with a focus placed upon 15 distinct days of activity. This is their story.

Ms. Blatchford accompanied Lieutenant-Colonel Hope’s task force during her three trips to Afghanistan, and she travelled extensively with the troops of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI) and the other CF members as they took their fight to the Taliban throughout the south. During her many forays into the field, she developed long-lasting friendships among the various ranks; officer and non-commissioned member, Regular Force and Reserve. Her eclectic style describes the personal relationships within the task force, and how any casualties directly and indirectly affected those who had lost friends and fellow combatants. These were ordinary Canadians asked to do extraordinary tasks in extraordinary circumstances. And these were tasks they accomplished with unfailing ability, determination, and humour, for which, at the end of the day, some of them paid the supreme sacrifice. To close each event, Blatchford interviewed friends and colleagues, and even reached back to Canada, to interview family and local friends, in order to provide a personal side to the casualties of these tragic events.

Fifteen Days is not a war diary, but, rather, it is a personal account of those individuals who touched her life. As such, it is laid out before readers in a manner that takes them into the Canadian camps, the ‘nightly leaguers,’ and on patrols. Ms. Blatchford describes the anxiety, stress, and elation she witnessed in her new-found friends as they did battle with the Taliban and their followers. She describes, first hand, her trips with them as a passenger in the back of the Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV IIIs), and as she closely follows the sections when they move forward to the sound of small arms fire in the grape fields of Panjwajy. She is also present to observe shuras, meetings with village elders and power brokers, and then travels north to the Gumbad platoon house in the northern Khakrez district. She describes the battles as they unfold in front of her, which she reinforces with additional information gathered later during her discussion with other members of the task force. The language is colourful, as it is reflective of the stress and sense of urgency experienced in battle. And the black-and-white and coloured images add to the overall effect of the story.

Fifteen Days transports the reader beyond the cryptic and sterile news report with an in-depth background that provides the necessary ‘human’ detail, which is enhanced by personal and emotional accounts of peers and leaders. Ms. Blatchford’s writing skill puts the reader ‘up close’ with the soldiers in the field, and at home with their families and friends, which rounds out their story effectively. This is an account of Canadian military actions in faraway Afghanistan that is written for Canadian readers. It takes them beyond the news headlines and ‘adds the face’ to the soldiers who forged the trail and established an enduring Canadian presence that has been developed further by subsequent rotations.

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Major John Johnston, an infantry officer, is Adjutant of the Directorate of Leadership and Innovation at the Canadian Defence Academy. He served recently in Afghanistan as a member of Task Force A – Rotation 3 (February-August 2007), where he was employed in the Provincial Operations Centre as the J 3-5 (Current Operations Planning Cell).

The National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa

DND Photo RE2007-0090-15 by Corporal Bern LeBlanc

The National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, 11 November 2007.

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