From 2002-2011 Canadian troops were deployed to Kandahar Province. 2002 was shortly after the Taliban Last Stand (TLS) at the airport where the American Forces finally forced out the Taliban government. That building is still know as the TLS building today and remains riddled with bullet impact marks.
The Canadians were brought in to provide the interim government of Afghanistan (GOA) with security forces until the new government could establish, train and equip an Afghan National Army to provide their own security. Canada was given the Kandahar area, Panjwaii District and north up the Arghandhab River to the Dalah Dam. Most to this area had millennia old irrigation systems nurturing a lush beautiful area of fruit orchards, grape fields, and agriculture which was a contrast to the surrounding orangey-brown dessert and brittle rugged mountains. Most of these areas were evenly mixed with opium poppies and marijuana fields – the cash crop and forcefully encouraged by the insurgent forces to finance their efforts against the western nations. This left the grape fields and fruit orchards to die as farmers did not tend to this product. Efforts to take legal produce to local markets were often ambushed, men sometimes being murdered by Taliban. However, the Taliban would go directly to the farmers paying cash for drug crops instead of legitimate crops which was their only option in order to support their families. This left a role for international forces such as Canada to provide security in the local communities to enable locals to produce legitimate products without insurgent harassment.
The area was large. The troops were few and often our soldiers became easy targets for IED (improvised explosive devises made from Homemade Explosives (HE)) as they patrolled communities trying to provide security. It was not uncommon to have weekly combat situations – often with injuries. It wasn’t long until our first soldier was returned under a Canadian Flag instead of holding it. When I was serving, it was a daily occurrence to have TICs occurring in the region. (TIC – troops fighting in contact with the enemy)
Frustrated yes, but perseverance and commitment continued and the Canadian troops continued in this “wak-a-mole” game of clearing out Taliban from small towns just to have them pour back in after they egressed to a new location.
Being moved by helicopter was the safer method. However, the Allied Forces were limited in their ability to lend support to the Canadians. It was almost 5 years of being in theatre (OP ATHENA) before the Canadian government released the Manley Report (around 2008). This was the long awaited political justification to increase the Air force by purchasing (leasing) Chinook helicopters to conduct troop and logistical lift to the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). The aim was to keep soldiers off the vulnerable rural roads. However, there would be the risk of air ambushes. Initially, it was hoped that the American Forces would provide gunship escort to the Chinooks to prevent attacks. However, the Americans had their own forces to protect so the resources to provide escort to Canadians were very limited.
In 2007/08, the Canadian government was briefed my military seniors that our country was the ONLY country in NATO to NOT have gunship capability to escort our own Chinooks. Nor could Canada provide armed overwatch (protection) to troops on the ground that come into enemy contact.
Further to the Manley Report and beyond my knowledge, it was apparent that some decisions were made as the Canadian Forces was quickly converting the CH146 into a platform that could provide such support. In 2008, SHAKEDOWN was born. The Bell 412 EP was converted into a viable combat machine with dual Dillon Cannons and an MX15 electro-optic sensor. The dual M134 Dillons were capable of firing 3000 rounds per minutes. At night with a tracer every 5th round, it looked like a lava waterfall when observing under night vision goggles. The electro optic sensor had a target illuminator that was capable of illuminating areas of interest or targets and identifying them from distances well beyond the sound signature of the aircraft. A few years later a 50 caliber machine gun was also added to the Griffon which enabled the ability to extremely accurately take out targets from a much longer distance.
In addition to this, the training plan rapidly unfolded to acquire and train pilots, air engineers and gunners for Close Combat Attack techniques, overwatch, aerial escort, surveillance for counter IED operations as well as basic infantry ground fighting skills in the event they were making unplanned stops (shot down) outside the wire.
At Christmas, 2008 the initial cadre of 6 Chinooks started hauling people and supplies. With them, 8 griffons (4 sections), initially armed with C6 machine guns started providing escort, surveillance and infantry team over-watch. BLOWTORCH was born of the Chinooks, and SHAKEDOWN of the griffons.
As escort duties became proficient, and experience in theatre built over the next year, combined with the integration of the Dillon M134 cannons with electro-optic sensors, the capability of the Shakedown Flight greatly improved. Higher headquarters realized that door gunnery, which was not available on the Apache or Kiowa Warrior, was ideal for maintaining contact with a target and keeping fire power on that target continuously. This was a benefit over the Apache or Kiowa whose enemies would “squirt” away and hide after the attack helicopters’ initial pass.
It wasn’t long before the weapon airspace controller’s (‘Slayer’ in the KAF – Panjwaii) favourite resource, when ground troops were in a fight and needed help, became the griffon. “Shakedown, we got a TIC in progress, can you respond?”
The common and eager response was: “Go for Shakedown”.