As the sun rises in the Panjwai’i District, Lieutenant Andrew McCuish (left) and Master Corporal Adam Rymes, along with other soldiers from the Reconnaissance Squadron, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, conduct a patrol to further develop their knowledge of the area and continue to build positive relations with the locals.

DND photo IS2010-3031-09 by Corporal Shilo Adamson

As the sun rises in the Panjwai’i District, Lieutenant Andrew McCuish (left) and Master Corporal Adam Rymes, along with other soldiers from the Reconnaissance Squadron, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, conduct a patrol to further develop their knowledge of the area and continue to build positive relations with the locals.

Afghanistan 2010-2011: Counterinsurgency through Whole of Government1

by Howard G. Coombs

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Colonel Howard G. Coombs, CD, PhD, retired from active duty with the Canadian Armed Forces in 2003. He received his PhD in military history from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and is currently an Assistant Professor of the Royal Military College of Canada. He is also a part-time Army Reserve officer commanding 33 Canadian Brigade Group, headquartered in Ottawa. Coombs deployed to Kandahar with Joint Task Force Afghanistan from September 2010 to July 2011 as a civilian advisor to the Task Force Commander. He also served in Kabul in 2004 as an Army reservist working directly for the Commander International Security Assistance Forces as a strategic planner.

Field Commanders have demonstrated a real need for access to development programs that they control and deploy in rolling out COIN [counterinsurgency] and stability operations. This provides the certainty of resource access, and allows for continuity within the surgical, strategic deployment, and effects building that true COIN requires. With the stability of districts achieved, the solidification of these gains is realized through the insertion of economic improvement. The eventual handover of development responsibilities to the civilian agencies known for their development work in the Third World can then occur.2

~Keith Pratt, United States Agency for International Development,
Dand District.


Pratt’s comment alludes to the ongoing friction that exists between the imperatives of following up military success in counterinsurgency3 operations through stabilization activities, and the need for sustainable reconstruction and development articulated by non-military partnered agencies and/or governmental departments. It also describes the need for military commanders to be able to create reconstruction and development projects, sometimes called ‘quick impact projects,’ and access long-term and self-sustaining capacity building programs orchestrated by other agencies. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)4 and their field partners have, most recently, been dealing with these dilemmas in the fragile security environment of southern Afghanistan. Although frictions still existed between military and non-military actors, by the end of the Canadian combat mission in July 2011, there had been success resolving these issues. The Canadian inter-governmental alliance had maturated and greatly enabled the effects necessitated by military activities by connecting them to the longer-term sustainable outcomes desired by developmental and political advisors and agencies to enable the host nation – Afghanistan.

Master Corporal Glenn Lauritsen of Charles Company, 3 Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group (3RCR BG), serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of OP ATHENA, watches a sunset as he waits atop a LAVIII (Light Armoured Vehicle).

DND photo ISD2003-6037 by Master Corporal John Nicholson

Master Corporal Glenn Lauritsen of Charles Company, 3 Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group (3RCR BG), serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Athena, watches a sunset as he waits atop a LAVIII (Light Armoured Vehicle).

The background to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan was succinctly described by international security pundits, Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang, in their 2007 work, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, as Canadian commitment to a brief combat mission in 2002, was followed by participation in a 2003-2004 stabilization intervention. This initial intervention was, in turn, trailed by provincial reconstruction, and then gradually, in 2006, to a deadly low-intensity conflict which would eventually cost Canada 162 lives. 5  In 2011 Canada’s role transitioned from fighting in southern Afghanistan, primarily  Kandahar, to providing advice and assistance within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Training Mission – Afghan (NTM-A) with the preponderance of the nation’s forces located centrally in the region of Kabul.

Canada’s Afghanistan mission also provided the initial trial of the amalgamation of defence, diplomacy and development – 3D approach - that had been created as the expression of Canadian foreign policy in conflicted regions around 2003.6 This concept evolved into the ideas represented by the more all-inclusive expression ‘Whole of Government’ (WoG), and, in essence, remained primarily concerned with integrating all instruments of policy, regardless of department or agency, in order to produce a desired effect linked to national strategy. The growth of the integrated approach to this conflict can be demonstrated by examining the work done in 2010-2011 by the Whole of Government team during Canada’s last year in Kandahar.

The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, greets Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 22 September 2006.

DND photo SU2006-0523-39 by Master Corporal Jill Cooper

The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, greets Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 22 September 2006.

Canada’s inter-governmental efforts in Afghanistan developed from nascent beginnings. The foundation of the campaign can be said to have been laid in January 2004 when then-Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, Canadian commander of the International Security Assistance Forces (Rotation V) (ISAF V), was presented with a number of dilemmas expressed by President Hamid Karzi, who, at that time, was the leader of the Afghanistan Transitional Authority (ATA).7 Most important of these was the lack of unified action by the myriad governments and organizations that had resulted in less effective development and caused a weakening of potential effects.  Also, as a result of the lack of a shared approach, ISAF V could not move beyond lower order, or tactical military activities in order to achieve higher-level and enduring strategic objectives. Hillier understood that without a coherent strategic concept in which all involved parties, military, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, donor institutions, the international community, and, most importantly, the ATA and Afghan people could partake, no operational level campaign could be created. Also, he believed that “…rebuilding failed states or failing states was not a security, governance or economic problem; it was all three…”8 Accordingly, he used his ISAF staff, and later, two Canadian officers, tasked from Canada, to assist the ATA in articulating a strategic concept. This model was eventually released in the form of an idea paper entitled “Creating a National Economy: The Path to Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” While primarily developmental in nature, it also specified ideas that would later be used to assist with governance and security. These core ideas later emerged within the Afghanistan National Developmental Strategy (ANDS), which continues to be an overarching Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) policy document governing multiple activity streams by all those contributing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.9

This initial effort later resulted in Karzai requesting similar support from Hillier after he became Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). The result was a small group of advisors that worked with the Afghan government in a similar fashion to the 2004 efforts. Regrettably, this ‘Strategic Advisory Team - Afghanistan’ or ‘SAT-A’ was only in being from 2005 to 2008. This capacity building and assistance was not viewed by some as a Canadian military mission, and it met its untimely demise due to international and interdepartmental politics.10

Map of Afghan tribal distribution

17 Wing Publishing Office Winnipeg

Map of Afghan tribal distribution

Over the course of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, there were two relatively divisive Parliamentary votes - May 2006 and March 2008 - concerning the extension of the mission and its essential character. There was also considerable attention paid to the convening of an independent panel to make recommendations on the future course of the mission in 2007 - the Manley Report - and a highly politicized public discourse over the Government’s detainee transfer policy, which began in 2007 and continued throughout Canada’s involvement.11  A positive effect of this very public political debate was recognition of the breadth and complexity of the Afghan challenge, which contributed to a substantial evolution in both the strategic Whole of Government coordination framework in Ottawa and the corresponding mission structure and civilian resourcing in Afghanistan. Hillier notes in his memoir, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, that the outcome of this period was a defence policy statement that provided the over-arching strategy for the use of Canada’s military.12 The Canada First Defence Strategy mandated the CF:

…to be a fully integrated, flexible, multi-role and combat-capable military, working in partnership with the knowledgeable and responsive civilian personnel of the Department of National Defence. This integrated Defence team will constitute a key element of a whole-of-government approach to meeting security requirements, both domestically and internationally.13

As a result of all of this, after early 2008, Canadian efforts in Afghanistan were overseen by a Cabinet Committee on Afghanistan, supported by the Afghanistan Task Force in the Privy Council Office and an ad hoc committee of Deputy Ministers who met on a weekly basis. The deployed Canadian civilian and police contingents grew from a handful in 2006 to more than 100 in 2009, with a relatively robust civilian leadership cadre at the embassy in Kabul, at Kandahar Airfield under the leadership of the Representative of Canada in Kandahar (RoCK), and a senior civilian director of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT).  In 2010, the latter two positions were amalgamated, and the RoCK became the Director KPRT.

Following the Manley Report and the Parliamentary vote of March 2008, the Canadian Government unveiled a detailed set of policy objectives for the mission, and soon thereafter, developed a framework of benchmarks to measure and report on the progress achieved on each of its six key policy priorities. These were:

In Kandahar

1. Maintain a more secure environment and establish law and order by building the capacity of the Afghan National Army and Police, and supporting complementary efforts in the areas of justice and corrections.

2. Provide jobs, education, and essential services, such as water.

3. Provide humanitarian assistance to people in need, including refugees.

4. Enhance the management and security of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In Afghanistan (nationally)

5. Build Afghan institutions that are central to our Kandahar priorities, and support democratic processes, such as elections.

6. Contribute to Afghan-led political reconciliation efforts aimed at weakening the insurgency and fostering a sustainable peace.14

It is noteworthy that just one of these priorities involved security, and its focus was entirely upon building the capacity of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to sustain a more secure environment, and to promote law and order.  Also, with significant increases of American military personnel in the region after 2009, the CAF, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and Afghans were able to focus their efforts and resources to support security operations in an increasingly smaller area in southern Afghanistan – from 2010 to 2011 the districts of Panjwai’i, Dand, and, initially, Daman, within the province of Kandahar. Concomitantly, DFAIT and CIDA remained engaged across the province.

Private Paul Bennett, from the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, draws a following of interested children as he provides security for members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

DND photo IS2008-9217 by Corporal David Cribb

Private Paul Bennett, from the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, draws a following of interested children as he provides security for members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Furthermore, with the purpose of facilitating Canadian efforts towards development and governance in Afghanistan through security assistance, the Manley Report recommended prolongation of the Canadian military commitment beyond 2009. Parliamentary approval was given to extending CF involvement until 2011. Consequently, the Canadian military strategy until 2011 included training the ANSF, providing security for reconstruction and development efforts in Kandahar, continuation of Canada’s responsibility for the KPRT, and preparing for changeover of the current security mission in southern Afghanistan to American or other allies in 2011. It was a comprehensive focus that involved all departments of government.

The Whole of Government mandate was incredibly important in the context of the counterinsurgency Canadians fought in southern Afghanistan. It provided impetus for the primary Canadian agencies, the Department of National Defence, DFAIT, CIDA, as well as others, to work together in a holistic fashion in order to create desired outcomes. This requirement was aptly captured by American defence advisor and public policy expert, Sarah Sewall in 2006 – as the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were made apparent to their Western participants:

COIN is a particularly dynamic, decentralized, and three dimensional form of warfare because the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of operation are more interdependent that in typical conventional operations and because the end state cannot be achieved strictly by military means [Emphasis added by author].15

Canadian counterinsurgency practice in 2010 – 2011 reflected these precepts. TFK conducted operations that were aimed at defeating the insurgent and the insurgency. The activities required to deal with both were not synonymous, and they required a Whole of Government effort. It was clearly understood that any military victory achieved against the insurgent needed to be quickly followed with permanent ANSF presence – both military and police – in addition to functioning governance, as well as reconstruction and development efforts linked to both provincial and national economies.16 The TFK approach to counterinsurgency was more than the CLEAR-HOLD-BUILD approach first articulated in American doctrine in 2006.17 It had been refined by successive rotations to a nuanced DEFINE-SHAPE-CLEAR-HOLD-BUILD-ENABLE-TRANSITION. It was necessary to (1) define the problem, (2) shape the environment, (3) clear or separate the destructive influences from the population, (4) hold through the establishment of security, (5) build capacity using governance, reconstruction, and development, (6) enable the local population, and (7) facilitate transition of control to host nation authorities. Due to the significant non-military component to activities across this spectrum, which increased as one moved towards TRANSITION, an integrated, whole of government team, with a common understanding of the issues and shared operating concepts to address them, was necessary to succeed.

With the support of Canadian police officers serving with the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT), Afghanistan National Police (ANP) officers practice shooting techniques on the Camp Nathan Smith pistol firing range, 6 November 2010.

DND photo IS2010-4047-11 by Master Corporal Pierre Thériault

With the support of Canadian police officers serving with the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT), Afghanistan National Police (ANP) officers practice shooting techniques on the Camp Nathan Smith pistol firing range, 6 November 2010.

TFK captured this approach in its mission statement:

In partnership with Afghan National Security Forces, Coalition Forces and Whole of Government Partners, Task Force KANDAHAR will conduct comprehensive Counter-Insurgency operations in order to DEFEAT Insurgent influence and improve  Afghan society across Governance, Development and Security lines of operation in PANJWAI’I, DAND and DAMAN.18

Soon after its arrival in Afghanistan, official responsibility for Daman was taken away from Task Force Kandahar. Consequently, the primary districts that were the responsibility of Task Force Kandahar were Panjwai’i and Dand districts. Panjwai’i had a population of approximately 80,000 people. Its district leader,19 Haji Fazluddin Agha, had been a front commander in the fight against the Soviet Army during 1979-1989 – a member of the mujahedeen.20 Of importance to note was that Panjwai’i was the birthplace of the Taliban, which exerted a particularly strong influence upon the western portion of the district.21

Dand district had a population of about 450,000 people. Its district leader was Haji Amadullah Nazek, a member of the new wave of Afghan leadership born at the end of the Soviet era. He was a Kandahari who developed into adulthood during the turbulence of the 1990s. Dand was the southern gateway to Kandahar City, considered the ‘key to the south,’ and, as such, it was a strategic staging point for Taliban.22

There were challenges. This Whole of Government approach, involving defence, diplomacy, and development, required an increased level of interoperability between agencies that often lacked a common coordinating infrastructure. The Manley Report altered that situation. The result was seen in attempts to build shared consensus for the establishment and coordination of decentralized Whole of Government operations from the then-newly implemented national Afghanistan Task Force and Government of Canada departments, through the interagency team at the Embassy in Kabul, to the efforts of the RoCK and the Commander TFK, along with efforts of the men and women of the KPRT and TFK. But even then, this evolution was not without problems, and despite the best will and intentions, Canadian Whole of Government operations, while moving ahead at the strategic and operational levels of war, occasionally faltered at the tactical level.

The areas that were problematic revolved around the non-military effects needed early in the counterinsurgency spectrum. TFK identified as part of its operational vision, a number of ‘tipping points’23 that were components in its Whole-of-Government approach:


  • Adequate numbers of capable Afghan police addressing village requirements and protecting, not preying upon, the people
  •  ANSF-led combined and single service operations
  •  Integrated ANSF command and control responsive to the District Leader and malik, or leaders
In this photo, more than 80 ANP officers were graduated after completion of a six-month basic qualification course, 6 January 2011.

DND photo AR2011—0008-029 by Corporal Tina Gillies

In this photo, more than 80 ANP officers were graduated after completion of a six-month basic qualification course, 6 January 2011.


  • Responsible and responsive district leader and staff
  • Representative and functioning district and village shuras, or consultative bodies, and provincial processes
  • Line ministry representatives from primary line ministries working at the district centre, and reactive to village requirements


  • Functioning District Development Committees, and village development representation leading to all development coordinated through the District Leader to meet priorities set by the district in conjunction with villages
  • Working rural/urban interface – markets, transportation, and so on

In order to create these outcomes, it was necessary over the course of 2010-2011 to reinforce the coalition tactical operations by both military and other means. In the security realm, persistent security could be established through capacity building with local, regional, and national security forces, and wherever possible, responsibility for local security was transferred to Afghan civil and security forces. Connected to that was continuing assistance with the establishment of and maintenance of the Rule of Law and governance in the districts. However, in the final analysis, security activities were primarily focused upon supporting and increasing the conditions for governance and development. These areas were critical to “Defeating the Insurgency, not the Insurgent.”

Due to the uncertain security environment in the early stages of the counterinsurgency fight, field partners, such as DFAIT and CIDA, were challenged to work alongside the CAF. Also, they were not mandated to provide the immediate effects necessary to reinforce the success of military activities. This situation and its implications in the civil-military relationship during counterinsurgency, were accurately captured by British Brigadier Frank Kitson in Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping, in which he described the British Army experience from 1945 to 1970:

…although an army officer may regard the non-military action required as being the business of the civil authorities, they will regard it as being his business, because it is being used for operational reasons. At every level the civil authorities will rightly expect the soldier to know how to use non-military forms of action as part of the operational plan, although once it has been decided to use a particular measure they will know how to put it into effect.24

Consequently, TFK made use of its embedded advisors, political and developmental, as well as input from the RoCK and the organizations that comprised the KPRT in order to realize the Whole of Government construct.25

This process was much more straightforward than it might appear to be. A common vision was first established by the Commander TFK and the RoCK, and then communicated to respective staffs. Cross staff liaison happened regularly through the DFAIT and CIDA advisors at TFK, as well as TFK Liaison Officer with the KPRT. In support of operations, the synchronization of Whole of Government effects would be done as part of the planning process. The point at which the process could falter was the assignment of non-military tasks to organizations that were capable of operating in the violent environment of combat.

Government of Canada senior officials land in the Panjwai’i District, Afghanistan, 12 January 2011. They included the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Wayne Wouters, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, and the Deputy Minister of the Afghan Task Force of the Privy Council Office, Mrs. Greta Bossenmaier.

DND photo AR2011-0011-52 by Corporal Jean-Francois Carpentier

Government of Canada senior officials land in the Panjwai’i District, Afghanistan, 12 January 2011. They included the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Wayne Wouters, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, and the Deputy Minister of the Afghan Task Force of the Privy Council Office, Mrs. Greta Bossenmaier.

This gap was closed by the CAF, under the rubric of Influence Activities, (IA), where information operations, psychological operations, and civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) teams contributed to connecting the immediate effects needed by security operations within governance and development with the longer-terms programs, processes, and policies established with the assistance of agencies, such as DFAIT and CIDA. In other words, the non-sustainable effects of the type attained by military quick action projects were connected to the longer-term sustainable activities required by sub-national and national processes through the work of IA. These small teams were attached to field forces, and they worked hand-in-hand with district stabilization teams (DSTs), combined military civilian teams, which were located at district centres. All were connected to both TFK and the KPRT. Also, through the synchronization matrices created for operations, the input of the development and political advisors, KPRT and RoCK, could all be taken into account.

Of the two main focus areas, governance was reinforced through direct support to structures that would assist district public administration and management, from the infrastructure required to effectively govern, to assisting with building human capacity for governance within the district. Assistance was provided to create the conditions that representative village shuras would provide spokespersons to the district shura. In turn, the district shura was assisted with connecting to the province. Throughout all of this the information domain was shaped in a fashion to support these Afghan structures using capabilities available to information and psychological operations teams.

Simultaneously, reconstruction and development were not neglected. Of great value was the Commander’s Contingency Fund (CCF), which bankrolled a host of quick impact projects. The CCF was similar to the American Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP). It permitted the Commander TFK to access and deliver reconstruction and development project funds in order to bridge the gap between existing projects funded by other donors and planned interagency program funding. Examples of CCF projects prior to 2010 included Afghan National Police infrastructure and equipment, Kandahar University Campus improvements, and the equipping of the Kandahar Fire Department. Linked to this was the Cash for Work program – comparable to the United States concept of “Money as a Weapon System.” This permitted the employment of fighting age men and youths to work on local projects during the times of year that insurgent violence was highest, normally at the end of the agricultural season of plantings and harvests. By employing fighting age males (FAMs), TFK reduced the numbers available to insurgent commanders through employment. Nevertheless, it was always understood that these activities must lead to sustainable governance and development. They needed to link closely into DFAIT and CIDA efforts and expertise.26

Senior Afghan and Canadian service members monitor development projects in Dand District, 18 January 2011.

DND photo AR2011-0015-005 by Corporal Tina Gillies

Senior Afghan and Canadian service members monitor development projects in Dand District, 18 January 2011.

As a result, there was progress in both Dand and Panjwai’i, the latter of which was the most challenged district. In Dand, a critical mass of the tashkil, the organization or structure, was assembled, and it represented a positive example for Kandahar governance.  Led by an effective district leader, the staff members were increasingly able to plan and execute with minimal support from the international community.27 In terms of staffing, the Justice sector was a key gap. In other areas, education and other services were strong and vibrant. At the same time in Panjwai’i, the district tashkil slowly trickled in and melded as a team. With Karzai’s appointment of Agha as leader in 2010, the district was revitalized. While work remained to be done to cement the gains made on the security front, Panjwai’i was moving in a positive direction. One can see from a snapshot of the progress from looking at the changes in the two districts over the course of a single year:

A Tale of Two Districts28


Governance (Tashkiel filled/unfilled)
September 2010 - 2/37
July 2011 - 11/40

September: Open - 1; Closed - 31
July: Open - 10; Closed - 27

September:  Open - 1; Closed - 4
July:  Open - 2; Closed – 3


Governance (Tashkiel filled/unfilled)
September 2010 - 12/28
July 2011 - 22/40

September: Open - 15; Closed - 16
July: Open - 31; Closed - 0

September:  Open – Unknown; Closed - Unknown
July:  Open - 5; Closed – 0

On top of this, Canada supported the stabilization of Panjwai’i and Dand districts by ensuring that freedom of movement was maintained in and around these districts through constant road improvements.  This route construction enabled the movement of ANSF and NATO forces to conduct security activities and support governance and development initiatives – ultimately this assisted in reinforcing the legitimacy of the Afghan government, and the rejuvenation of the local communities through access to health care, education, and markets for their goods. All-in-all, over 103 kilometres of roads were constructed or improved, 40 kilometres of which were paved, and four bridges were constructed. This was done through a combination of local contracting with CCF funding and with the resources of the TFK Engineer Regiment, which completed over 150 reconstruction/construction projects. Although relatively small, 261 military and civilian personnel (seven Defence Construction Canada and 74 Canadian Forces Contractor Augmentation Program (CANCAP)), the Engineer Regiment influenced almost all aspects of the TFK effort. In addition to the work they completed and supervised, they also ensured the prioritization and synchronization of engineer, stability, and reconstruction efforts.29

In similar fashion, Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) teams arranged for 521 projects directly supporting and involving Afghans in key villages, and helped create 10,000 man-days of employment. These included:

  • Canals and drainage projects - 29 canals, 56 kilometres
  • Schools (in partnership with CIMIC) - 28 schools
  • Mosques (in partnership with CIMIC) - 42 mosques
  • Police Infrastructure -18 sites
  • Governance Infrastructure - seven sites
  • Health Clinic - one clinic

CIMIC teams also facilitated smaller projects that assisted with the necessities of everyday life, from humanitarian assistance, to supporting Afghan initiatives of all types. This resulted in positive effects beyond what anyone could have imagined and throughout the process was connected to programs and policies facilitated by DFAIT and CIDA on behalf of GIRoA.30

If anything, the CAF experience in its last year of combat operations in Afghanistan demonstrated the imperatives of the paradoxical trinity of Whole of Government operations: (1) Security without Governance is meaningless, (2) Governance without Development is unsustainable, and (3) Development without Security is unsupportable. The CAF has learned and relearned a great deal through its activities in Afghanistan. The implementation of a comprehensive Canadian intergovernmental approach in addressing the complex dilemmas of the contemporary environment was the result of the efforts of those who served in Kandahar from 2006 onwards. This work and sacrifice underpinned any progress experienced in 2010-2011. Canadian field partners have included DFAIT and CIDA, as well as other governmental organizations, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Corrections Services Canada (CSC).31

Corporal Jean Francois Belzil, a member of “Lucky 13” Platoon, A-Company, 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment provides security during Operation OMID ATAL 09 (Hope and Victory).

DND photo AR2011-0201-04 by Corporal Tina Gillies

Corporal Jean Francois Belzil, a member of “Lucky 13” Platoon, A-Company, 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment provides security during Operation Omid Atal 09 (Hope and Victory).

Additionally, if there is one other lesson that must be reinforced, it is the need for the creation and maintenance of organizational and individual relationships, and the construction of communal vision between myriad groups and individuals. Not only will this facilitate the Whole of Government construct, but it acknowledges the distributed and unstructured nature of 21st Century operations. Effective command in the contemporary environment is not possible using traditional hierarchical measures of command and control. It requires structures that are inclusive, establishing and maintaining common trust and shared intent. This permits them to be self-synchronizing and adaptable, exercising unity of effort to accomplish a mission. These organizations are military and non-military, consisting of a mixture of information and social networks that self-synchronize as a result of shared vision. In the same fashion, as was the case with the bundle of twigs in Aesop’s Fable, the whole is stronger than its individual parts. This can certainly be demonstrated through the experiences of the Canadians in Kandahar during 2010-2011.32

As a final point, the Whole of Government team in Afghanistan learned vital lessons with respect to counterinsurgency and inter-departmental interface, but underpinning everything was the need to integrate all military and non-military efforts at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, both horizontally and vertically. Arising from that, in order to ensure that the quick impact projects and capacity building conducted as part of military operations are integrated into long-term and sustainable activities, it is necessary to provide military commanders with the means – resources and people – to enable that relationship. The role of Influence Activities, engineers, and other key enablers in this effort cannot be underestimated. I believe practitioners and theorists like Pratt, Sewall, and Kitson are correct in that military officers must be prepared and enabled to orchestrate all types of non-military activities. These efforts, aimed at reconstruction, development, and governance, are necessary to achieve success in the low intensity conflicts that we have been fighting over the past decade, and will continue to fight into the foreseeable future.

A soldier from Task Force Kandahar greets local Afghan children while on a foot patrol, 22 January 2011.

DND photo AR2011-0025-097 by Corporal Tina Gillies

A soldier from Task Force Kandahar greets local Afghan children while on a foot patrol, 22 January 2011.


  1. Some of the ideas and materials in this chapter are a synthesis of the research contained in previous works:  Dr.  Howard G. Coombs and Lieutenant-General (Retired) Michel Gauthier, “Campaigning in Afghanistan:  A Uniquely Canadian Approach...” in Colonel Bernd Horn, ed., No Easy Task (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2011); Dr. Howard G. Coombs, “Canadian Whole-of-Government Operations Kandahar – September 2010 to July 2011,” Vimy Paper (Ottawa: The Conference of Defence Associations Institute, December 2012); and, Dr. Howard G. Coombs, “APLN.06.03.LE Introduction to the Comprehensive Approach to Operations in a Joint, Inter-Agency, Multinational and Public Environment,” Presentation to the Army Operations Course, Canadian Army Command and Staff College, Kingston, ON (31 October 2011); Also, I am indebted to the comments and correspondence of Keith Pratt, United States Agency for International Development, who supported the efforts of Task Force Kandahar in the district of Dand, Kandahar province, Afghanistan during 2010-2011. Any errors or omissions in the final writing should be attributed to my understanding of the information and research that was accessed or provided by Keith and others.

  2. Keith Pratt, “Development’s Role in COIN Using Timeline as a Trigger for Development,” unpublished paper, (7 February 2012), p. 1.

  3. Counterinsurgency, or COIN, is most commonly understood as organized military action taken to combat an insurgency. Australian researcher Dr. David Kilcullen has suggested: “It focuses on the population, seeking to protect it from harm by – or interaction with – the insurgent, competing with the insurgent for influence and control at the grassroots level.” David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla:  Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. xv.

  4. The title Canadian Forces has recently been amended to Canadian Armed Forces.

  5. Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang, The Unexpected War:  Canada in Kandahar (Toronto: Penguin Group (Canada), 2007; reprint 2008), pp. 244-45; Between 2002 and 2011, 158 members of the Canadian Armed Forces and four Canadian civilians were killed. These latter numbers include one diplomat, one journalist, and two aid workers. “Afghanistan:  In the line of duty: Canada's casualties (Last Updated 31 October 2011),” CBC News, available at, accessed 6 March 2013, n.p.

  6. Stein and Lang, pp. 107-108.

  7. Hillier was later promoted to general and appointed Chief of Defence Staff from February 2005 to July 2008.

  8. General Rick Hillier, A Soldier First:  Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 389.

  9. See Howard G. Coombs and General Rick Hillier, “Command and Control during Peace Support Operations: Creating Common Intent in Afghanistan,” in Allan English,(ed.), The Operational Art: Canadian Perspectives – Leadership and Command (Kingston, ON: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2006), 173-91.

  10. See Lieutenant-Colonel Michel-Henri St-Louis, CD, “The Strategic Advisory Team in Afghanistan – Part of the Canadian Comprehensive Approach to Stability Operations,” in the Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, Autumn 2009, pp. 58-67; Interestingly, St-Louis commanded the last Canadian Battle Group in Kandahar. This unit prompted Nelofer Pazira, Afghan-Canadian filmmaker, to opine: “But as much as we like to look back and say we Canadians made a contribution, there never was a comprehensive plan. It was really only the last battle group that went out to meet and greet the locals and ask them what they need, instead of just fighting.” Cited by Susan Sachs in “Newsmakers 2011: In Their Own Words ‘ see Canada leave Kandahar’,” in The Globe and Mail, 24 December 2011, p. A11.

  11. See Canada, “Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan;” and also, Canada, House of Commons of Canada, 39th Parliament, 2nd Session Journals, No. 53 (Monday, 25 February 2008, 11:00 a.m.), available at, accessed 5 August 2010.

  12. Hillier, A Soldier First, pp. 470-471.

  13. Canada, Government of Canada, Department of National Defence, Canada First Defence Strategy, (2008), at, pp. 3-4.

  14. Canada, Government of Canada, “Backgrounder:  Canada’s Six Priorities in Afghanistan,” Canada's Engagement in Afghanistan,” at; internet, accessed 20 March 2013, n.p.

  15. Sarah Sewall, in Military Review 86, No. 5 (September-October 2006), p. 104.

  16. See Howard G. Coombs and Brigadier-General Dean Milner, “Canada’s Counter Insurgency in Afghanistan,” in On Track,Vol. 15, No.4, Winter 2010, pp. 23-27.

  17. United States, Department of the Army, The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, forewords by General David H. Petraeus and Lieutenant General James F. Amos, and by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl, introduction by Sarah Sewall (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp 174-184.

  18. Cited in Coombs, “APLN.06.03.LE Introduction to the Comprehensive Approach to Operations…,” Slide 29.

  19. The terms ‘district leader’ and ‘district governor’ have been used interchangeably. For the purposes of this article ‘district leader’ is utilized.

  20. Afghans have assisted with the activities associated with establishing security and rebuilding their nation at great personal risk. In mid-January 2012, Haji Fazluddin Agha was killed along with members of his family and retinue by a suicide bomber.

  21. For discussion of Panjwai’i and the Taliban movement, see Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life with the Taliban (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

  22. Details of Panjwai’i and Dand included in Coombs, “APLN.06.03.LE Introduction to the Comprehensive Approach to Operations…,” Slide 28.

  23. See Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point:  How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Boston, New York and London: Little, Brown and Company, 2000).

  24. Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations:  Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1971; reprint 1972), p. 7.

  25. A great amount of credit for our success in using the Whole of Government construct rests with the TFK Development Advisor, Anne Lavender (CIDA), Political Advisor, Colin Lake (DFAIT) and the RoCK, Tim Martin (DFAIT). I would also like to thank the members of CIDA, DFAIT, our American inter-agency partners, as well as a host of others who composed the KPRT and its associated elements for their hard work and dedication under trying and dangerous circumstances.

  26. Canada, Government of Canada, House of Commons Committees – Standing Committee on National Defence (39-2), “Government Response to the First Report of the Standing Committee on National Defence – Canadian Forces in Afghanistan” (Presented to the House on 17 October 2007), at, accessed 15 April 2013, n.p.; see United States, United States Army, Center for Army Lessons Learned, “Handbook No. 09-27 – Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System,” (April 2009); at, accessed 15 April 2013, and also, The latest budget revisions by the Canadian government announced the amalgamation of DFAIT and CIDA. One could opine that this was the natural outcome arising from Canadian Whole of Government efforts in Afghanistan.

  27. Dand transitioned to Afghan control in 2012.

  28. Coombs, “APLN.06.03.LE Introduction to the Comprehensive Approach to Operations…,” Slide 38.

  29. Ibid, Slide 39.

  30. Ibid, Slide 41.

  31. Ibid, Slide 43.

  32. Ibid, Slide 1.