DEH-E BAGH, Afghanistan - Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan pulled no punches at a hastily called meeting with Afghan village elders Monday after an IED attack sent another Canadian soldier to hospital.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Task Force Kandahar, was on his way to the model village of Deh-e-Bagh in the Dand district southwest of Kandahar city when shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade struck one of the vehicles in his convoy.
A kilometre past the village, he discovered an oncoming Canadian military vehicle had been blasted by a bomb planted in the road. The young soldier was airlifted from the scene with multiple fractures to his leg. His companions, looking bruised and dazed, received assistance from the medic and returned to duty.
The incident angered Vance, who immediately demanded a shura - or meeting with village elders - at the Dand district centre. He wanted an explanation as to why villagers, who have benefited from Canadian aid and protection, didn't bother to warn them about the bomb.
"It disgusts me that my soldiers can be hurt," Vance said to a group of 24 village elders in the shura which lasted 50 minutes.
"If we keep blowing up on the roads I'm going to stop doing development," he warned. "If we stop doing development in Dand, I believe Afghanistan and Kandahar is a project that cannot be saved."
"There has to be a change starting now and we need to make sure the roads stay clear of IEDs," he said, referring to deadly improvised explosive devices that have repeatedly caused Canadian casualties.
"If we don't start getting some serious co-operation from the people ... then I wonder whether or not it's worth another Canadian life," Vance said.
Deh-e-Bagh is the centrepiece of the Canadian counter-insurgency strategy in Kandahar province, where most Canadian troops have been based since 2006 to battle the Taliban and guard Kandahar city, prized by the insurgents as their traditional base of support.
Tribal elders in Deh-e-Bagh have rejected the Taliban, asked for and received substantial help from Canada and the provincial government.
"They need to understand that we are outraged, that we are not here to be a punching bag for the insurgency," Vance explained.
Many of the leaders solemnly nodded in agreement as Vance expressed his frustration. But they defended the efforts of villagers, many of whom have called a local hotline to report IEDs and suspicious activity and have turned in a number of Taliban fighters.
"When we heard about the IED we got extremely upset. We have talked to you before and you have been doing really good work for us here," said one man. "We do not want our area to be turned into a disaster zone so that our children will be torn to pieces."
"They come like thieves in the night and they do something and they run away," said another elder. "It's very difficult to control that, but we try to help because we know we are going to be caught in the crossfire."
Vance didn't let up with his demands and continued to insist on more vigilance from residents of Deh-e-Bagh.
"I think you need to take more responsibility. This is not normal times. This is an emergency and your citizens need to be involved."
Twenty minutes after the shura, the local police chief and representative of the National Directorate of Security offered up a potential suspect in the bombing. The man, who had family ties to the Taliban, was taken into custody for questioning.
Vance said it is frustrating that this happened in an area that is being used as a showcase.
"The model demands that you be able to take a setback. I wouldn't call it two steps forward, one step back. I'm a little more optimistic and this is a model that shows all the good and the warts too."