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A male police officer in a bullet-proof vest and helmet talks to Afghan police officers.

Behind the scenes of war

Supt. Wayne Martin (centre) converses with Substation Commander Kabi Bylla (far right) during a needs-assessment tour of police stations in Kandahar City. The ramshackle substation in the background was in dire need of repair. Credit: Combat Camera

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In January of 2006, Supt. Wayne Martin narrowly escaped being killed in an attack on a Canadian convoy in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which tragically took the life of diplomat Glyn Barry and seriously injured three Canadian Forces members.

"The attack changed the way a lot of Canadians thought about the mission, because they never thought of diplomats or civilians getting killed before," says the now-retired member.

Despite the traumatic experience, Martin stayed on in the conflict zone for another six months to complete his year-long mission as a senior police advisor with the Canadian-led Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team.

In early 2015, he was invited to recount his experiences for Cradle of the Taliban, an episode of the History Channel documentary, War Story: Afghanistan.

"The three-hour interview was intense," he says. "It brought back memories, both good and bad. But the convoy attack was portrayed very honestly and graphically in the episode I was in."

"We wanted to tell the personal stories of war experiences from the people who were there, without the gloss and 50 shades of glory," says War Story director Barry Stevens. "I hope it helps viewers understand the value and limitations of the work of Canadian soldiers, police and civilians in Afghanistan."

When Martin first arrived, the limitations of the mission were all too clear.

"Afghan police would wear flip flops in winter to do a patrol. They would have AK47s with three rounds — or just one. They had no winter clothing, no paper. Many were illiterate. Their outposts were tents or shacks," he says. "I thought, my God, where do we start?"

At the premiere of the documentary in November 2015, Martin had the chance to reconnect with people he had served with in Afghanistan, including Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, who lost both his legs in the bomb blast.

"It was good, I got to talk to Paul for the first time since that day," says Martin. "We had a good chat, we even laughed."

Despite the many injuries and deaths of the Afghan mission, Martin says he feels Canada's participation was worth it.

"You can't change a tribal culture in five years — that is generational stuff," he stresses. "The most you can hope for is to influence people themselves who want to institute that change. You can't do it for them."

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 1, 2016).

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