Friday, June 22, 2018

Canada in Mali: What Exactly is the Mission?

By Charlie Pinkerton, iPolitics 

The Canadian Armed Forces are just weeks away from deployment to Mali, where they will replace a German helicopter contingent as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the country.

Questions have been raised about whether there is any peace to keep in the central African nation. So what is the mission?

Some background: During the 2015 federal election Justin Trudeau promised that a Liberal government would involve Canada in peacekeeping again. In 2016 the government said up to 600 Forces troops would be made available to peacekeeping efforts.
A French soldier stands inside a military helicopter during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the troops of Operation Barkhane, France's largest overseas military operation, in Gao, northern Mali, Friday, May 19, 2017. The six military helicopters that Canada plans to send to Mali could be used to move more than peacekeepers: they could be called upon to support a multinational counter-terrorism force also operating in the country.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Christophe Petit Tesson, POOL
French soldier inside a military helicopter in Gao, northern Mali, Friday, May 19, 2017. is keeping the door open to sending more helicopters to Mali to support Canada's peacekeeping mission there. Christophe Petit Tesson / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The government announced in March that Canada would join the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (also known as MINUSMA). It has since said that between 200-250 troops will deploy initially. The “flexibility” exists to deploy more, said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. “We can go up to 600 and we will make adjustments,” he said in May.

In Mali: Canadian troops will fly two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon armed escort helicopters. Forces will be armed on base and, in some circumstances, on board the helicopters. Weapon systems on the Griffons will be similar to those used in Afghanistan, according to Lt.-Gen Al Meinzinger, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Canada’s Griffons were outfitted with side-door machine guns and Gatling guns in Afghanistan.

The defence minister has not closed the door on the possibility that the number of helicopters that Canada sends to Mali could change.

While serving as the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lt.-Gen Stephen Bowes clarified to the House defence committee what Canada’s role in Mali would be, saying that “it’s air medical evacuation, logistics support and transportation.” Bowes has since moved to a position with Veterans Affairs Canada.

Meinzinger said that Canadian troops will be supported by about 500 Germans in the base camp in the Gao region of Mali, where they’ll operate from.

Canadian soldiers are committed to MINUSMA for a year.

Since the mission began in April 2013 it has been the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission. In total, 169 MINUSMA peacekeepers have been killed.

Two German pilots were killed last year in a helicopter crash near Gao. A report conducted by Germany’s Defence Ministry showed the crash occurred because the helicopter’s autopilot had been set incorrectly.

A contentious aspect of the mission has been Forces rules of engagement when encountering child soldiers. The Forces published a joint doctrine last year on how to face young combatants. It was the first time the Canadian military has published a directive that specifically addressed encountering child soldiers.

Bowes told the Commons defence committee in April that Canadian Forces members would follow “Canadian rules of engagement” in MINUSMA.

“They will have the authority to defend themselves,” the defence minister has also said.

Discussion dividing Canada’s government and its opposition has largely been over whether Mali is considered a war zone.
At the G7 summit just weeks ago, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told CBC News that Mali is a war zone and that casualties are “possible.”

Bowes called it a “complex conflict zone.”

Sajjan has called the conflict “complex and dangerous” and repeatedly said it’s important to consider the “realities” of modern peacekeeping.

Bowes said in April that Canada would begin its involvement in Mali in June with most of its main troops entering before the third week of July and Germany’s helicopters exiting in August.

Sajjan said last month that Forces would enter Mali in July but that they would put safety over meeting deployment deadlines.

Selling the Mali Mission: CDS Vance Heading to Africa with Journalists

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen 

Selling the public on the Mali mission will get underway pretty soon. The African mission is the Liberal government’s high-profile initiative to show Canada supports the United Nations. The government is concentrating on generating as much positive publicity as it can for Canada’s contribution, which also coincides with a Liberal election promise to do with the UN.

As part of that public relations effort, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance is said to be soon heading to Mali, according to reports. Journalists from the CBC and the Canadian Press will be coming along. No dates are being provided at this time and the Department of National Defence doesn’t want to talk about Vance’s involvement in the public relations trip at this point.

Image result for CDS Vance
Then LGen Jonathan Vance, then a Brigadier General, delivers a speech while serving as Kandahar 2013. 
“We cannot speak to movements of CAF senior leadership, however CBC and the Canadian Press will be visiting Mali in the near future,” Department of National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier told Defence Watch Thursday.

Canada announced in March that it would send support personnel, two RCAF Chinook helicopters, as well as four armed Griffon helicopters to act as escorts for those larger aircraft, to Mali, a west African country that since 2013 has been dealing with insurgents and armed Islamic extremists. The mission is expected to start in late July/early August.

The mission, however, has been dogged by more than a few concerns.

Conservative MPs have voiced criticism about the lack of planning and what they claim is a lack of mission focus.

To be sure, there was confusion initially. In mid-March, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that Canada would send two Chinook helicopters and four armed Griffon helicopters. A few minutes later at the same news conference Vance said the number of helicopters being assigned to the Mali mission had still not been determined. A short time after that, Sajjan’s office sent out a message to journalists, contradicting Vance by stating that ‘up to’ two Chinooks and four Griffons would be sent. Then another message went out to journalists later that there would be extra helicopters sent as backup.

The helicopter issue was eventually sorted out. But attention turned to the potential danger and whether the Mali mission could be considered as combat. MPs on the House of Commons defence committee raised those concerns and questioned generals about details of the Mali operation and whether Canadian military personnel would be safe.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan wanted information about the risks and whether troops would have enough protection from insurgent attacks. Questions were also asked about whether insurgents had surface-to-air missiles that could be of a threat to RCAF helicopters. “Our guys could potentially be going into hot conflict,” Bezan said at the committee.

Another MP asked if Mali was a war zone. Lt. Gen. Stephen Bowes, who was appearing before a Commons committee, answered that, “war zone is not a term. It’s a complex conflict zone.”

Such questions from MPs sparked Col. Jay Janzen, the Canadian Forces Director of Strategic Communications, to tweet to defence journalists that “Canada can do better than the nonsensical ‘combat/not-combat’ debate.”

That, in turn, prompted a showdown between Bezan and Conservative MPs and Janzen (who is slated to be promoted to Brig.-Gen. and put in charge of Canadian Forces public affairs).

Bezan lectured Janzen that he, as a MP, could ask whatever question he pleased and that questions about the safety of troops were certainly valid. He accused Janzen of trying to stifle debate. Bezan also noted that the head of the United Nations mission to Mali has characterized the operation as “war.”

“We have the right to know how Justin Trudeau is using our Canadian Forces to get (a) UN Security Seat,” Bezan tweeted.

Janzen said that while the military is subordinate to civilian authority, he had the right to make such comments.

Vance has done such mission public relations tours before. In 2016, he brought journalists along for his tour of the Canadian special forces mission in Iraq. The special forces were there to help the Kurds battle Islamic extremists who had seized large parts of Iraq.

The event was closely coordinated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, as is this Mali trip. Vance also used that trip to play down any concerns about cracks in the Iraq-Kurd alliance. He told CTV at the time he didn’t agree there was a rift in the relationship between the two groups. A year later Kurdish and Iraqi forces were fighting each other.

What comes from the Mali visit remains to be seen but the Trudeau government wants public relations emphasis on support to the United Nations and the use of women on such missions.

Here is a snippet of the messaging that is to be provided to the news media: “The Canadian Armed Forces are working as part of an integrated, whole-of-government approach to deliver on Canada’s commitment to increase its support for UN peace support operations. Canada is a strong supporter of UN peacekeeping, and the CAF is prepared to make valuable contributions to this UN stabilization mission. To be safe at home, we need to contribute to international security abroad.”

CAF Mali Mission May be Tainted by Atrocities

By: Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail
African Correspondent, Johannesburg

As Canada prepares to send hundreds of troops to Mali on a peacekeeping mission, a fresh discovery of mass graves and alleged military atrocities has highlighted the human-rights challenges that the Canadians could face.

The defence minister of the West African country admitted this week that Malian soldiers were implicated in “gross violations” after the bodies of 25 civilians were found in mass graves in central Mali.

Canada plans to deploy up to 250 troops and six helicopters to northern Mali in August for a one-year mission as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force, known as MINUSMA, which co-operates with the Malian military on the ground. The Malian forces have been battling Islamists and other rebel groups.

Why is Mali in crisis?

Some experts say Canadian troops should look for opportunities to train and advise Mali’s soldiers on human rights – a subject where previous training by the European Union seems to have been ineffective.

Kisal, an organization that helps pastoral communities in Mali, said the 25 dead civilians in the mass graves were mostly herders from the Fulani ethnic group who had been detained by the Malian military last week.
Members of the Malian Armed Forces secure a road in 2017.
Mali’s defence minister, Tiena Coulibaly, confirmed the existence of the mass graves and ordered an investigation. He said “some armed-forces personnel” were implicated in “gross violations” that caused the deaths.

Mali’s authorities are “firmly resolved to fight impunity and get soldiers to strictly observe international rights and humanitarian conventions,” Mr. Coulibaly said.

The evidence of mass graves was just the latest in a long series of documented cases of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests by Mali’s military.

Corinne Dufka, a West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who travels frequently to Mali, said she has documented more than 60 alleged summary executions by Mali’s security forces since 2017, with the remains of the victims found in at least seven mass graves. This does not include the latest case of the 25 bodies reported this week.

“Since early 2017, scores of witnesses have described severe mistreatment, arbitrary arrest, disappearances and summary executions,” she said. “I am aware of no single soldier held to account for any of these. … As long as soldiers continue to enjoy impunity, the abuses will continue.”

Human Rights Watch had earlier warned in April that it had received many reports of torture and mass arrest by the Malian army. The army seemed to be “running amok” in central Mali, it said.

In a report in late March, covering a three-month period, the UN said Mali’s defence and security forces were involved in a quarter of the 133 cases of human-rights abuses that UN peacekeepers had documented.

It said, for example, that Malian armed forces had arbitrarily arrested 10 civilians in a counterterrorism operation on Feb. 21 and had summarily executed seven of them, while the others are still missing.

In another report in June, the UN cited allegations of 56 summary executions by Mali’s armed forces.

Because of the continuing problem of human-rights abuses, the Canadian troops in Mali should prioritize the protection of civilians and should try to advise and mentor Malian soldiers to ensure better respect for human rights, Ms. Dufka said.

“We have found that the presence of MINUSMA and French forces in conflict zones in Mali serve as a strong deterrent to abuses by armed groups,” she told The Globe and Mail.

The UN peacekeeping mission co-operates with Mali’s military in a number of areas, including intelligence-sharing and some ground patrols, although the Canadian troops would primarily be supporting the UN in helicopter operations.

The UN mission has “conducted regular patrols” with Mali’s defence and security personnel and provided medical evacuations for the military, according to the UN report in late March.

The Canadian government has disclosed few details of how Canada’s peacekeepers will operate in Mali. Opposition MPs in Ottawa have complained about a lack of information on the planned mission.

It seems likely, however, that the Canadian troops will be based at an airfield in the town of Gao in northern Mali, and they will primarily be there to support the Canadian helicopters.

Bruno Charbonneau, a peacekeeping expert and associate professor of political science at Laurentian University, said he is doubtful that the Canadian peacekeepers will have much contact with Malian forces.

He noted, however, that the Canadian forces could potentially be asked to support the activities of the French military or a new West African military force known as G5 Sahel, both of which are fighting Islamist jihadists in Mali. The G5 group includes Malian troops.

The UN peacekeeping force is not officially authorized to conduct counterterrorism operations, he said. “But in practice it is difficult if not impossible to differentiate between peacekeeping and counterterrorist operations,” he said.

Walter Dorn, a peacekeeping expert at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, said the Canadian military should support the UN peacekeeping force in providing human-rights training and mentoring for Malian soldiers.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Donation of Ornge’s Sikorsky S-76 Helicopter to CASM in Ottawa

Canadian Aviation and Space Museum Press Release

Ornge is donating one of its helicopters to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Visitors are invited to join the Museum in welcoming the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, which has flown for over 14,000 hours and has logged 47,554 landings!

Ornge uses various forms of transportation to bring sick or injured people to the care they require including land ambulances, Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, and helicopters. The Sikorsky S76 has been retired from Ornge’s fleet and has been replaced by AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters.

Donation of OrngeĆ¢€™s Sikorsky S-76 Helicopter
Please join us on June 18 at 1 p.m. and help us celebrate this new addition to the Museum.

RCAF Ups Used-Aussie F-18 Purchase to 25

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Canada has boosted the number of used Australian fighter jets it is purchasing to 25 but the deal to acquire those aircraft still hinges on approval from the U.S. government.

A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet departs Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California to conduct a mission as part of Exercise PUMA STRIKE 16-B on November 16, 2016. Photo: Cpl Manuela Berger, 4 Wing Imaging CK01-2016-1124-014
The Liberal government originally announced it would buy 18 used Australian F-18 jets to augment the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18s until new aircraft can be purchased in the coming years.

But it has added seven more used Australian F-18 aircraft to the deal, the Department of National Defence has confirmed.

Those extra aircraft will be stripped down for parts, Dan Blouin, a spokesman for the DND, said Friday.

It is not known yet if the seven aircraft will be flown to Canada or shipped, he added.

The exact cost of purchasing the 25 aircraft, along with weapons and other equipment is not yet known as negotiations are still underway on the deal, Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough recently told journalists. The Liberal government has set aside up to $500 million for the project.

An Australian Senate hearing was recently told that Canada was presented with a cost proposal from the Australian government last year. “They accepted our offer in December, but they have also put in a further request for some seven aircraft for system testing, training and spares,” Australian Air Vice Marshal Cath Roberts told the hearing.

The U.S. government is examining the deal and will have to give its approval to Australia before that country can sell the F-18s to Canada.

Approval is needed because the F-18s were built in the U.S. with American technology.

Canada is hoping for the U.S. approval sometime in the summer.

Although U.S.-Canada relations have hit a slump, with American President Donald Trump vowing to punish Canadians because of ongoing economic disputes, the DND does not expect that situation to affect approval for the fighter jet deal to proceed.

Pat Finn, the Department of National Defence’s assistant deputy minister of materiel, has said he expects that a deal will be in place by the end of the year with deliveries of the Australian planes to begin in the summer of 2019. The Liberal government originally planned for the arrival of the first used aircraft in January 2019.

The Liberal government had originally planned to buy 18 new Super Hornet fighter jets from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing.

But last year Boeing complained to the U.S. Commerce Department that Canadian subsidies for Quebec-based Bombardier allowed it to sell its C-series civilian passenger aircraft in the U.S. at cut-rate prices. As a result, the Trump administration brought in a tariff of almost 300 per cent against the Bombardier aircraft sold in the U.S.

In retaliation, Canada cancelled the deal to buy the 18 Super Hornets. That project would have cost more than US$5 billion.