Thursday, October 27, 2016

Former General Romeo Dallaire backs Canadian missions to Africa

By: Peter Goffin, Toronto Star

Former General Romeo Dallaire has written a new book called 'First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD' about the mental demons he has faced since his time in Africa as head of the UN peacekeeping mission.
Former General Romeo Dallaire has written a new book called 'First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD' about the mental demons he has faced since his time in Africa as head of the UN peacekeeping mission. (RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR)

General, who witnessed Rwandan genocide, cautions that modern peacekeeping requires more than military force.

Lieut.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire is welcoming Canada’s military commitment to peacekeeping missions in Africa.

“They should have never left,” said Dallaire, who was commander of UN forces in Rwanda in 1994, when more than 800,000 people, most of them members the Tutsi ethnic minority, were murdered by ethnic Hutu extremists.

“The idea to start earning our spurs again in Africa, in a deliberate fashion to build capacity, to me, is probably one of the wisest decisions,” he said.

The Liberal government has pledged up to 600 troops and $450 million to UN peacekeeping missions, likely in Mali, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said Canadian forces will use force on these missions if necessary.

Dallaire, who served in the Canadian senate from 2005 to 2014, said Canada has an important role to play in bringing peace to foreign countries, but that it will require far more than blunt military might.

“There’s no such thing as simply bringing in a military solution to any conflict anymore. That’s over,” Dallaire said.

“We’re into imploding nations and failing states, and, because of that, you concurrently have got to bring in a security sector, a development sector, a humanitarian sector, a nation-building sector, and all these disciplines have got to learn how to work together.”

Dallaire’s new memoir Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle With PTSD, released Tuesday, deals primarily with the mental and emotional anguish he experienced in the years after leaving Rwanda, a path that led him to alcohol abuse, overeating and many suicide attempts.

In portions of the book, Dallaire rebukes the UN for not allowing him to intervene in Rwanda as tensions rose. And he criticizes Canadian government and military leaders for sending soldiers on increasingly complex missions in the 1990s with outdated strategies and inadequate preparation.

“We had stumbled unprepared into a series of missions in . . . Iraq, Kuwait, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, each with racial, ethnic and religious complexities we had no concept of,” wrote Dallaire. “Our troops had witnessed — were still witnessing — previously unimagined, massive abuses of human rights . . . . We had trained them for none of it.”

The retired lieutenant-general told the Star that the Canadian Forces have gained plenty of experience since then, due, in large part, to deployment in Afghanistan, but that UN peacekeeping will be different than the NATO-commanded mission in Afghanistan.

“NATO is not UN,” Dallaire said. “Getting (soldiers) to adapt to a whole different chain of command, to a different modus operandi, to mandates that are far more complex and ambiguous — that is a learning curve that still has to be worked on.”

Since the 1990s, Canadian Forces personnel have served in advisory, training and logistics capacities and contributed equipment to UN and African Union missions in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Rwanda, Darfur, South Sudan and others.

Missions recently announced represent a significant renewal of Canada’s role in UN peacekeeping

Dallaire said it was a “cop out” for Canada to downshift its peacekeeping commitments during the war in Afghanistan.

“It was a limitation that has been created by budget cuts and deliberate reduction of the capability of the Forces,” he said. “I truly believe that returning to these missions means returning to Forces that use all its assets, including reservists, to be prepared to deploy reasonable numbers of troops.”

The Canadian Forces have the capacity and experience to make a significant contribution in Africa, Dallaire said.

As for what that contribution could look like, the general spoke of a broad scope. “I see not only troops, but equipment. I see development (workers) linking in to places that may be falling into conflict,” he said. “There’s a whole spectrum of stuff to be done.”

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