Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Canada is winning hearts and minds in Latvia

By: Andris Banka, Policy Opinions

At a time when America withdrawing from the global stage and the international situation is volatile, Canada’s presence in Latvia matters a great deal.

Russian military war games, or Zapad (the Russian code name), have always stirred unease in Latvia, one of NATO’s easternmost members. This unease is greater now, with the United States shrugging off its mantle of global leadership and Donald Trump expressing ambivalence over the NATO alliance’s bedrock article 5. But there is one consolation for Latvia: it won’t be witnessing Moscow’s manoeuvres and displays of power alone – Canada will be standing by.

Canada was the first of the major Western countries to recognize the restoration of Latvia’s independence back in 1991, and one of the first to ratify its membership in NATO in 2004. The transatlantic connection has always been friendly, albeit a bit sleepy. This year, however, the relationship has been extraordinarily intense. On ice, the Latvian national hockey team is being led by former Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley. On matters of trade, Latvia was the first nation from the EU to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada. Most importantly, despite vociferous objections from the Kremlin, Canadians are leading a multinational on-land battle group, as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

The decision to form this group, which consists of six nations, was reached at NATO’s Warsaw summit in 2016. It was taken in reaction to Russia’s destructive presence in eastern Ukraine. Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan explained Ottawa’s strategic mindset regarding troop deployment on NATO’s Eastern front: “We have gone from assurance and now to deterrence,” he said. In addition to 450 Canadian troops, the battalion includes military personnel from Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain. But is this 1,000 plus-soldier force really going to be a game changer in deterring Russian aggression?

Some analysts have criticized the contribution, saying that Canadian forces are too “thin” to be able to deter a conventional invasion by Russia. The forces “lack artillery rockets and heavy mortars, have small numbers of long-range howitzers, and have precious little air-defence capability,” all of which Russia has been effectively utilizing in the conflict in Ukraine. A widely circulated RAND Corp. study also raised red flags: in order to successfully defend against Russian invasion, Baltic countries need at least seven brigades, it commented. Otherwise, the report suggested, Russian forces could be at the doorstep of Baltic capitals Tallinn or Riga within 36 to 60 hours after the start of hostilities.

But just because the Canadian presence will be badly outnumbered does not mean that the deployment will not have any deterrent value. While modest in size, the strength of the battalion lies in its multinational composition.

The Canadian forward presence comes nowhere near what is needed in order to counter a full-blown Russian attack. During Zapad military drills this week, Moscow is expected to include a staggering 100,000 troops. But just because the Canadian presence will be badly outnumbered does not mean that the deployment will not have any deterrent value. While modest in size, the strength of the battalion lies in its multinational composition. Any possible Russian incursion in Latvia would likely result in casualties from the contributing nations, which would then likely draw those nations into the conflict. The fact that the risk is spread across different NATO countries means that any misbehaviour by Russia might bear a heavy cost. As such, even a relatively light force will make the deployment worthwhile.

Quite apart from the concern over the possibility of a Ukraine-scenario takeover in Latvia, there are also acute concerns regarding a different type of warfare – the one that runs through Internet wires and Russian-government-controlled news channels. Moscow has proven to be a quick learner when it comes to other societies’ vulnerabilities and pressure points, and it has taken risks to exploit them. After witnessing the effectiveness of Russian election meddling and propaganda diffusion in the US and across Western Europe, the Canadian-led mission is bracing to counter false news headlines regarding the military deployment. A recent study by Latvian-based NATO Strategic Communications, for example, found that nearly 70 percent of all Russian language twitter accounts posting about NATO missions in the Baltic countries were not held by real people but by “bots.” Canada should be prepared to experience heavy propaganda rain. Already some Russian language channels have taken aim at the mission by mocking Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan for wearing a turban and labelling the mission “the gay division.”

For now, however, Canada is winning the hearts and minds of the local population. The mission has been warmly welcomed at both the political elite and societal level. A poll commissioned by the Latvian Ministry of Defence revealed that only 17 percent of residents opposed the presence of the battalion; 43 percent approved of it and 30 percent were neutral on the issue. At a time when America is looking to withdraw from the global stage, Canada’s interest in strengthening traditional alliances is greatly appreciated. Ottawa is making a profound impact at this time when the international situation far beyond its own borders is so volatile. Canada’s presence in Latvia matters a great deal.

Does Threat of Iraq Civil War Endanger Canadian Special Forces?

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen 

Is civil war looming in Iraq?

Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi seems to think that could be a possibility. In an interview with the Associated Press, he warned a “civil war” could erupt over the Kurdish-administered city of Kirkuk.

The city of Kirkuk falls outside the autonomous Kurdish region in the northeast Iraq. But the Kurdish referendum for independence from Iraq included the city.

Allawi is particularly worried about how militias in Iraq will react to the Kurds retaining Kirkuk.

The head of the Asaib al-Haq militia Qais Khazali warned worshippers in a sermon Sunday that Iraq’s Kurds were planning to claim much of north Iraq, including Kirkuk, for an independent state, after Iraq’s Kurds voted for independence in a controversial but non-binding referendum two weeks ago, Associated Press reported.

That, he said, is a “foreign occupation.”

But Allawi, a former prime minister, told Associated Press that any move by the country’s Popular Mobilization Front militias, which include the Asaib al-Haq, to enter Kirkuk would open the door to “violent conflict.”

“The government claims they control the Popular Mobilization Forces. If they do they should restrain them, rather than go into a kind of civil war. And there should be a restraint on Masoud Barzani and the Peshmerga not to take aggressive measures to control these lands,” said Allawi.

In July, Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of U.S. Special Forces Command, suggested any moves toward independence by the Kurds, who now control the city of Kirkuk and 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil, will lead to conflict. The Iraqis will not stand by and allow independence to happen. “I don’t think they’re going to say, sure, take the oilfields and Kirkuk and go your way,” Thomas told a security forum. “It’s not going to go peacefully.”

If fighting breaks out between the Kurds and Iraqis what happens to the Canadian special forces in the Kurdish area? Are they pulled out or do they sit tight?

There is no word from the government or Canadian military. They have been relatively silent on the Kurdish independence vote and its implications for the Canadian military mission.

Since the fall of 2014, Canada has been providing equipment and military training to Kurdish troops in northern Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Barzani has cited Quebec’s quest for independence as one of the reasons why he and his fellow Kurds are entitled to their own country.

The Kurds were able to use the war against ISIL to seize portions of Iraq, such as Kirkuk. That gave them control of 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil and a steady flow of cash from oil sales to bolster their quest for independence.

In November 2015, Kurdish forces, with support from coalition fighter jets including Canadian CF-18s, helped push ISIL out of the city of Sinjar. The Kurdish flag – not Iraq’s – was erected over the city. “Long live Kurdistan,” Kurdish gunmen shouted as they fired their weapons into the air.

Barzani has said the Kurds will never surrender any of the territory they now hold in Iraq.

Opinion: Whistling in the Graveyard of Foreign Invaders: Canada & Afghanistan

By: William S Geimer, Times Colonist 

Re: “Military support for Afghanistan urgently needed,” comment, Oct. 6.

Chris Kilford’s plea for “just a little more” Canadian involvement in Afghanistan came as no surprise. It is only the latest verse of a song the military establishment has been singing for decades, with the U.S. as choirmaster.

If not singing, Kilford is surely whistling in the graveyard of foreign invaders. Since 1838, the British twice, the Russians and the U.S. have failed to subdue a people who stubbornly insist on settling their own disputes, sadly often with violence.

Kilford labelling everyone not on the U.S. side as terrorists is a tired device that will not work this time. There is little to choose between the Taliban and the collection of warlords the U.S. assembled.

The history of Canada in Afghanistan reveals just how misguided is Kilford’s position. Canada was lured into the most dangerous area, Kandahar, by a three-part bait-and-switch formula that the U.S. is still using today in Iraq.

Part 1, Bait: Appeal to what Canadians think they are — humanitarians and peacekeepers. Canada was initially offered what was billed as quasi-peacekeeping work in relatively safe Kabul. Then-defence minister Art Eggleton described it as a stabilization mission to assist in opening corridors for humanitarian assistance. Then-prime minister Jean Chr├ętien chimed in: The principal role that we hope to play … will be to make sure aid gets to the people who need it. Of course, we don’t want to have a big fight there.

Part 2, Switch: Use the undue influence of the military establishment to get Canadians into “real fighting.” Canada’s generals are deeply integrated with and envious of their American counterparts. The defence ministry chief of staff during the height of the war observed that Canadian brass have always been preoccupied, almost obsessed with their relationship with the U.S. military. Canada’s generals and admirals tend to be more concerned about their relationship with their American counterparts than they are with their own political master in Ottawa.

That concern played out in questionable conduct by Gen. Rick Hillier. In 2005, the Kabul mission was due to end. Hillier wanted a combat role for Canadian forces. He had candidly reminded us all, remember, that Canadian forces were not a social-service agency. Their job is to kill people.

Then-prime minister Paul Martin was more concerned with Darfur. Before he would consider Hillier’s plan for Afghanistan, he demanded a guarantee that Canadian forces could perform both missions. Hillier gave it, but reneged. Soon, the bulk of the fighting, dying and alienating civilians was in the hands of only the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Other NATO nations put restrictions on use of their forces.

Part 3, Justify: Emphasize whatever element of the formula seems to work at the time. Cabinet minister Bill Graham went on a speaking tour explaining that Canadians were rebuilding a troubled country, winning hearts and minds as “warrior diplomats.” At the same time, Hillier was touting the mission as one to “kill detestable murderers and scumbags” in Kandahar who threatened western societies. As late as 2011, then-governor general David Johnston was assuring us with Part 1. Canadian forces were rebuilding schools and ensuring the peace that would permit boys and girls to have an education.

Kilford’s pitch is a bit of a hybrid: Let’s support Donald Trump’s campaign to kill “detestable murderers and scumbags” by re-involving the Canadian military — but only to help the Afghans help themselves. (Of course, we don’t want to have a big fight there.)

Don’t buy it. Canadians did build schools in Afghanistan. Canadian troops often did try to help civilians. The recently unveiled monument here emphasizes that and is a welcome change from the misleading war memorials that dominate the landscape. But that is not why we were in Afghanistan.

Graham gave the real reason after Canada declined to send troops to Iraq or join the Ballistic Missile Defence Program: Foreign Affairs’ view was that there is a limit to how much we could constantly say no to the political master in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan. On every other file, we were not onside.

Kilford laments that “domestic political considerations” keep us from “doing the right thing.” Let us hope so. With an increasingly delusional leader to the south, this is no time to fall for the formula again.
Retired law professor William Geimer is a U.S. army veteran and the author of Canada: The Case for Staying Out of Other People’s Wars.

Canadian Special Forces Dismantling Chemical Weapons in Iraq

By: Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail 

Canadian special forces have played a central role in hunting down, detecting and dismantling stockpiles of chemical weapons used by Islamic State militants in Iraq, according to sources with knowledge of the top-secret operations.

Some of these highly trained soldiers have advanced scientific degrees and used their specialized skills to decontaminate Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi soldiers affected by mustard gas.

Canada's special forces are made up of the elite JTF-2 counterterrorism force, regular commandos, a special helicopter detachment and the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU), which is responsible for responding to nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.

Soldiers with the CJIRU are among about 200 Canadian special forces deployed in northern Iraq focused mainly on training Kurdish fighters. Some of them recently helped in the battle to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, including a small number of CJIRU soldiers whose job was to search for and destroy chemical weapons.

Mosul was at the centre of the Islamic State's chemical-weapons production, mostly small batches of low-quality chlorine and sulphur mustard agents, but the hardline Sunni militants also had control over radioactive material at the city's university.

Sources, with knowledge of the activities of Canada's special forces in Iraq, but who were not authorized to speak on the record, have told The Globe and Mail that CJIRU soldiers detected and dismantled weaponized chemical components and hazardous material in Mosul between March and August of this year.

"It is a very, very highly capable organization that deals with very, very ugly situations," said retired lieutenant-colonel Steve Day, the former head of Canada's secret JTF-2 special-operations unit who worked alongside CJIRU soldiers.

"They have got both tactical training, so they can operate alongside special forces, but they also have technical training in their ability to handle biological, chemical or radioactive agents."

For security reasons, the sources would not discuss the exact nature of the operations that were conducted in eastern and western Mosul.

Major Alexandre Cadieux, who speaks for Canadian Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) in Iraq, said the military has a policy of not commenting on its special-forces activities and the role of CJIRU soldiers.

"The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command does not discuss the specific composition of its task forces … [and] does not discuss the exact threats that the SOTF detects against its personnel," Major Cadieux said in an e-mail.

The Washington Post reported in July that two caches of the highly dangerous cobalt-60 isotope used in radiotherapy-treatment machines in medical facilities was discovered on a university campus in Mosul. It is not known whether the Islamic State knew that the cobalt-60 could be used to make a dirty bomb, or whether they did, but were afraid of being exposed to the lethally high levels of radiation.

The Canadian military would not say whether CJIRU soldiers were part of the U.S. operation to retrieve the cobalt-60 radiation machines. Asked if Canada played a role in finding the radiation machines, Major Cadieux said the armed forces "will not provide information that could jeopardize, even indirectly, operations by Iraqi security forces and the [U.S.-led] coalition."

U.S. officials have confirmed that the Islamic State had gained control of small quantities of natural or low-enriched uranium from the days of Saddam Hussein's rule, as well as some relatively harmless radioactive iridium used in industrial equipment.

The Canadians, often working alongside their secretive U.S. counterparts, have highly specialized sensor equipment that allows them to sample, identify and characterize chemical and hazardous material. They are assisted in their operations by U.S. airborne sniffers that can detect radioactive and chemical agents.

"They have got the ability, in very small numbers, to do the decontamination and containment of the site," Mr. Day said. "Some of the [chemical weapons] are lethal within metres, some of them are lethal within hundreds of metres and that is what these men and women are doing."

Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city, was captured by Islamic State fighters in 2014 but government forces – with the help of U.S. and Canadian special forces – retook the city in late July in an operation that lasted six months.

Iraqi police have accused the Islamic State of using chemical weapons against their forces in Mosul. Most of these involved either the use of chlorine or sulphur mustard agents, delivered with mortars, rockets and improvised explosive devices.

The Islamic State has used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria at least 52 times according to the IHS Conflict Monitor, a London-based research and intelligence-gathering group. A report by IHS said at least 19 of 52 attacks took place in and around Mosul.

Canada's Armed Forces established the CJIRU team in 2006. Its principal focus – working alongside the RCMP and Health Canada – is protecting Canada from a nuclear, radioactive, chemical or biological attack.

Mr. Day said only a small number of CJIRU member are sent overseas on military missions, such as Iraq.

"Their number one priority is the domestic response. That domestic capability is fenced off and thou shall not touch that capability except in times of emergency," Mr. Day said.

Canada Signs EOI to Purchase Australian F-18s

DefenseWorld.Net News 

The Canadian government has submitted an expression of interest to buy used Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets from Australia amidst a trade dispute with the United States.

"Canada expects to receive a response by the end of this year that will provide details regarding the availability and cost of the aircraft and associated parts that Canada is considering," the Canadian government said in a statement yesterday.

Australia is replacing its fleet of 71 F/A-18A/B Hornet jets with 72 fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II aircraft from 2018 onwards.

The Australian government and Canada began discussions to assess the potential sale of F/A-18 fighter aircraft and associated parts earlier this year.

The Canadian government has now confirmed that on 29 September it submitted an expression of interest, formally marking Canada’s interest in the Australian equipment, various reports said.

Last year, Canada announced plans to buy 18 Super Hornets as an interim solution for replacing a subset of the CF-18 Hornet fleet due for retirement within five years, but talks with Boeing over the planned acquisition were suspended by Canada after Boeing accused Bombardier in April of dumping its jet into the US market after receiving unfair subsidies from the Canadian government.

Matters worsened in recent months with the US Commerce Department recently levying a 219 per cent tariff on Bombardier’s CS100 sale to Delta Air Lines.

Earlier, Canada pulled out from a planned F-35 fighter jet purchase citing budgetary issues. A section of Canadian politicians have voiced against overspending on military acquisitions since the country does not face any direct threats.