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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

RCAF Fighter Replacement Reaching New Depths

By: David Bercuson

The government’s initiative to replace Canada’s long-serving CF-18s with a new jet fighter (88 of them according to the June defence policy paper) is reaching new depths of hilarity.

Canadian governments have known for almost two decades that the day of the CF-18 is almost over. Stalwart aircraft, the fighter jets have been updated at least twice – but there is only so much that can be done with an obsolete airframe, and it is time for Canada to join virtually all its allies in updating to a new and much more modern jet.

But Prime Minister Trudeau declared during his election campaign that Canada would never, ever buy the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – a solemn election declaration based on zero facts – and he is now in a very delicate situation.

Sometime last year, the government suddenly decided that the current CF-18 fleet (which was supposed to last at least another five years after its last update) was no longer viable, and that the air force needed a quick “gap filler” to fulfill Canada’s NORAD commitments between now and whenever the government actually decides which aircraft it will pick for a wholesale replacement of the CF-18. And when would that be? Why, after the next election, of course, when the Trudeau pledge would be forgotten and Canada could follow virtually every one of its major allies – especially the United States – and purchase the F-35.

Why wait until after the next election? In truth, there is no reason under the sun to take up to four years (the Liberal proposal) to hold a fighter competition. First of all, the F-35 is the only fighter aircraft (aside from the very advanced F-22, which is unavailable for export) the U.S. will be flying for at least the next three decades. Second, there have been at least a dozen countries that have picked the F-35 in their own competitions, and third, because almost all of Canada’s allies have selected the F-35 already.

In any case, what to do about filling the "gap" that the government suddenly decided exists between our CF-18s and the next fighter? Initially the government decided early this year to buy 18 Boeing F-18 Super Hornets. These fighters are somewhat larger and more capable than their CF-18 predecessors, and are flown almost exclusively by the U.S. Navy and by Australia. The Aussies bought them to fill a gap between their old F-18s and their new F-35s which will soon be delivered. Israel and Japan are, right now, taking delivery of their F-35s and other countries will soon begin to receive theirs.

Not long after the Liberal government announced it was going to acquire the Super Hornets, Boeing brought a case to the United States trade commissioner complaining that the new Bombardier single-aisle jetliner was being “dumped” in the United States at artificially low prices. Ottawa took umbrage and has, at least for now, quashed its deal with Boeing.

How then to “fill the gap”? Last week Canada sent representatives to Australia to check out the Royal Australian Air Force’s fire sale of its old F-18s because the Aussies are about to take delivery of their new F-35s. So, Canada is ready to lay cash on the line in “Hairy Harry’s Hornet sale” to buy airplanes to “fill the gap” that are as old as the fighters we are flying now. They can probably buy a few hundred bins of spare parts while they are at it. Maybe we will rummage around some Australian airfields to pick the best old set of wings here and the best old engine there so that we can make one flyable plane out three or four old ones that are not so flyable.

The whole situation has become a vast tragicomedy of errors, and it's beginning to look as silly as the decades-long effort (now finally coming to a conclusion) to replace the 1960s era Sea Kings. All because of a partisan political announcement by a man aspiring to become prime minister who knew nothing about the issues.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Canada May Be Unwelcome at Peacekeeping Summit which it is Hosting

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Globe and Mail 

There are growing signs that Canada won't meet the criteria for attending a November peacekeeping summit in Vancouver, even though it is the host country.

The price of admission is clear in leaked UN documents obtained by The Canadian Press: Defence ministers attending must be ready to pledge specific forces to the UN, if they haven't already done so.

Canada has yet to make any definite pledge, despite being the host of this year's summit, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn't commit Wednesday to a decision before mid-November.

The uncertainty over Canada's plans before the meeting has prompted renewed frustration and disappointment from the UN and various allies, some of whom are losing faith in the Liberal government's promise to support peacekeeping.

The UN documents lay out the overarching agenda and goals of the defence ministers' two-day meeting, which starts Nov. 14.

Those include looking at ways to better prevent conflict, protect civilians and ensure soldiers and police officers on peacekeeping missions are well trained.

The summit will also put a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of female peacekeepers and incorporating gender perspectives into operations.

Yet the real focus of the meeting will be on taking stock of the specific pledges those countries in attendance will have already made, or are prepared to make, to UN peacekeeping operations.

That is why participation in the summit, the third of its kind after the inaugural event in Washington in 2015 and last year's meeting in London, is only open to those countries that have made pledges.

"The participants of the 2017 ministerial will be defence ministers from all member states that have pledged and progressed capabilities or that are ready to make a new pledge," the document says.

It goes on to detail the specific equipment and troops that the UN needs for various missions, with "critical gaps" in the peacekeeping missions in Mali, South Sudan and Haiti.

Trudeau said Wednesday that Canadians expect his government to take its time before sending troops in harm's way and he wouldn't commit to a decision before the time of the Vancouver meeting.

"We need to make sure that we're doing it right, that we're doing it in a thoughtful way and that it's the right mission," he said in St. John's, N.L. "We will take the time necessary to do it properly."

The Trudeau government announced with much fanfare last year that Canada would provide up to 600 soldiers to future UN peacekeeping missions, but it has yet to spell out any details.

Early signs pointed to Canada sending a large number of troops to Mali and trainers to various other African countries to help their militaries become better at peacekeeping.

But the Liberals have instead waffled for over a year on where to deploy, except to send two police officers to monitor the peace process in Colombia in February.

Multiple officials at the Defence Department have said the file is out of the military's hands and now rests with Global Affairs Canada and the Prime Minister's Office.

The government's foot-dragging has long frustrated UN officials and allies, but there was always an expectation that a decision would at least be made by the Vancouver meeting.

Foreign diplomats in Ottawa and UN officials in New York were scrambling on Wednesday to find out whether that was now off the table, even as they lamented the government's mixed messaging.

"Canada is making one promise after the other," said one diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there's nothing on the ground. So Canada is not delivering.

Canada's foot-dragging has hampered mission planning and left critical gaps in terms of personnel and equipment on the ground, the diplomats added, especially in Mali.

And they warned that some countries could end up sending lower-level officials to Vancouver if Canada isn't prepared to make an announcement at the peacekeeping meeting.

Royal Military College professor Walter Dorn, who has done extensive work on peacekeeping, worried that Canada was setting a bad example as the UN tries to rally support for peacekeeping.

"It shows poor performance in delivering on commitments," Dorn said. "And performance is one of the principles this conference is supposed to uphold."

Bercuson: Canada Should Not Return to Afghanistan

By: David Bercuson, Canadian Global Affairs Institute 

The reversal by U.S. President Donald Trump of his position on Afghanistan, and his commitment to send an additional 4000 soldiers there to “kill terrorists” and not to “nation build”, should not move Ottawa to change its position not to send any more Canadians to Afghanistan.

Between the late fall of 2001 and the summer of 2011, Canadians served in Afghanistan, suffered more than 165 killed, and kept their fingers in the dyke in Kandahar province – barely – but could accomplish little by way of “fixing” Afghanistan because Afghanistan is probably unfixable by outsiders. We in the west don’t like to believe that some of the world’s greatest and most persistent geo-political issues do not lend themselves to Western forms of resolution. Unfortunately, that is the reality we must accept.

The Israeli-Palestinian problem is one example. If we look at the micro level in places such as Kashmir, or northeast India, or the southern Philippines we will see conflicts that have been ongoing for years if not centuries because the long-ago movement of peoples, religions, ideologies, and so on, have pushed some outside their “natural” boundaries and sloughed over into nearby territories where they ran into conflict with indigenous peoples, ideologies and religions who were not compatible or didn’t want to be compatible.

Afghanistan is such a place. As long ago as Alexander the Great – long before the arrival of Islam – the different tribes who lived in that essential power vacuum between Persia and India, and later between India and Russia, provided foreign invaders with a less-than-warm welcome. It is not true, however, that Afghanistan is the place where empires go to die. In fact, Britain won the second Anglo-Afghan war quite handily. But victory, as defined by the then developing western concept of statecraft, was intended either to occupy, hold, colonize and assimilate the indigenous, or to hold on as long as politics made it necessary, and then give it up in return for other concessions elsewhere.

Such practices didn’t work in Afghanistan because it was, and is, essentially “too far up the line” and its people too independent to allow either forms of occupation to work. Over time, the Greeks, the Persians, the Indians, the British, the Russians simply had to decide at some point that Afghanistan was simply not worth the effort. They all fought in Afghanistan with one hand behind their back, and it wasn’t enough. Then again, two hands was not worth the price. That was as true of the United States and NATO as it was of any of their predecessors.

It is true of Canada, and also true of Donald Trump.

The renewed effort of the United States in Afghanistan will fail because it is not a serious effort to defeat the Taliban and win the war. Such an effort would mean a half a million troops and a ready willingness to end Pakistan’s role of continuing to this day to be the Taliban’s number one supporter and haven.

Why then should Canada go there? To support the Americans? To show the flag? That is what we did the first three times we were there. Yes, we were there once, but this time we have neither the troops nor the treasure to do anything even in a token way. We have deployed a handful of troops to the Baltic, another handful to the middle east, and we are running the danger of fracturing our military as we did continuously during the peacekeeping operations of the Cold War and post-Cold War period.

If we are serious about projecting Canadian power where it matters, and where our most important ally – the United States – takes notice, we should resist the temptation to send a few hundred Canadians hither and thither without any mass and with no chance of making any tactical or strategic difference.

If the Afghan government and the bulk of the Afghan people don’t want to be ruled again by the Taliban, they will find a will and a way to avoid it.

Militarily, Canada is a small country and must pick its military engagements with great care and with an eye firmly fixed on serving its own national interests.
– David Bercuson is Research Director of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Khan: Why Canada should Return to Afghanistan

By: Adnan R. Khan, Macleans Magazine 

The Iraq mission wasn’t all it was pumped up to be. In retrospect, Canada shouldn’t have left Afghanistan, which badly needs help. 

Image result for canada in afghanistan

In April 2016, while on a tour of the frontlines in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, General Jonathan Vance, Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian armed forces, made forceful pitch for why Canada needed to train Iraq’s Kurds.

“I believe [the offensive to re-take] Mosul will start this year,” he told CTV News. “The Zeravani commando isn’t formed yet. So as we form it and train it, they’ll have the weapons necessary to do the job they need to do. When the campaign to re-take Mosul will start and end, it would be ideal if we have the Zeravani commando ready for operations.”

Vance was referring to the Kurdish forces that were receiving the bulk of the training and assistance Canada’s Special Operations Forces had been providing since 2014. At the time, the Zeravani were expected to be at the forefront of the impending battle for Mosul. After withdrawing Canadian fighter jets from the international coalition in February 2016, the Liberal government had doubled-down on the Kurds, announcing it would send an additional 200 special forces to the region with the express mission of getting the Zeravani ready for what everyone knew would be a brutal fight.

It seemed like a prudent decision. Since it emerged in 2014, ISIS had proven itself to be the most dangerous terrorist group the world had ever seen. It had injected new blood into the global jihadist movement, attracting unprecedented recruits who either joined the group in Syria and Iraq or were inspired to carry out devastating attacks at home.

Mosul was its crown jewel, the place where its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, had declared a caliphate and the largest city under its control, with an estimated population of one million. Retaking Mosul would deal a near-fatal blow to the movement.

Meanwhile, in March 2014, Canada had officially ended its military mission to Afghanistan after 12 years and 158 dead soldiers. It was a bitter-sweet end to a mission that had pushed Canada into territory it had not ventured into since the Korean War: direct involvement in war fighting. Canadians had fought bravely in Kandahar, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them. They had built up a reputation for fielding one of the best-trained militaries in the world.

By 2014, however, that mission had been reduced to a small contingent tasked with training Afghan security forces and was floundering in obscurity.

Under the Harper Conservatives, Canada’s military sights had begun to drift westward in 2011, away from Afghanistan and toward the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the conflicts arising from it. The Conservatives, with an almost obsessive focus on terrorism, had decided to go all-in, playing a key role in the mission to topple the Ghaddafi regime in Libya and, at least initially, supporting the Syrian opposition against Bashar al Assad.

History will judge the wisdom of those decisions but the early signs are discouraging. From 2011 onward, Canada’s stated mission—assisting democratic movements in the region—collided with the complexities of nation building. Libya fractured into mini-states ruled by tribal militias. Syria devolved into a civil war pitting dozens of armed groups against each other. By the fall of 2014, as ISIS rose out of the ashes of the Syrian civil war, the Conservatives shifted their focus again.

“Let me be clear on the objectives of this intervention,” Harper said of the decision to deploy special forces trainers, along with the fighter jets, to Iraq in a speech to parliament in early October 2014. “We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL… Specifically, its ability either to engage in military movements of scale or to operate bases in the open.”

At the same time, the breakdown of security in Afghanistan had accelerated, particularly after the U.S. pulled its troops later in October. Many started to see Afghanistan as a lost cause, despite the significant progress that had been made in developing the country’s infrastructure and institutions.

Was this Canada’s WMD moment? In 2003, the U.S. under George W. Bush turned away from Afghanistan and poured its military resources into Iraq. The shift is now blamed for giving the Taliban the time it needed to regroup and rebound as an insurgent movement. Bush’s cohorts in the Republican Party initially used the spectre of weapons of mass destruction as justification for the shift. When those failed to turn up, it recast Iraq as a mission to bring democracy to the Middle East.

Canada has also struggled to find meaning in its Middle East pivot. Democracy in Libya, Syria and Egypt appears further away today than ever and even though the mission to destroy ISIS is succeeding, Canada’s contribution to the fight is looking more and more superficial.

Initially, things were going according to plan. The expertise Canadian special forces brought to the table was a valuable asset to the Kurds. While other NATO countries provided training to the Kurdish Peshmerga in purpose-built centres scattered around the Kurdistan Region, the Canadians embedded with Zeravani forces on the ground, at or near the frontlines, providing real-time guidance and support in real-life combat situations.

Not surprisingly, the Zeravani were transformed into a capable fighting force, arguably the best fighters Kurdistan now fields. They took the lead at the launch of the Mosul offensive in October last year, punching through ISIS frontlines and retaking territory north and east of the city. And Canadians were right there with them.

But then they stopped. In a deal brokered with Iraq’s central government, the Kurds agreed not to fight in Mosul. Instead, they set up their own positions kilometers away, watching as elite fighters from the Iraqi special forces confronted the bulk of ISIS forces.

Compared to what the Iraqis faced inside the city, the Kurdish advance was a cakewalk. The initial resistance they met collapsed quickly as ISIS fighters retreated to Mosul and dug in for the gruelling battles to come. Airstrikes helped the Kurds roll through largely emptied towns and villages and avoid the kinds of street-by-street, house-by-house confrontations the Iraqis would have to contend with.

Politically, things were not much better. Canada’s train and assist mission had a destabilizing effect on the Kurdistan Region. The focus on the Zeravani, a specialized commando force attached to the Interior Ministry, angered some Kurdish politicians. The ministry, like many of Kurdistan’s power centres, is controlled by the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party, a family affair run by the Barzani clan. Opposition parties, and some Canadian diplomats, complained to Maclean’s in 2015 that Canada, under the Harper Conservatives, was favouring one political party and, perhaps unwittingly, playing into the deep-rooted Kurdish divides that have plagued the region for decades.

More broadly, the support for the Kurds ratcheted up tensions with Baghdad, which accused foreign governments like Canada of stoking Kurdistan’s independence aspirations. In June, Kurdistan’s president Masoud Barzani announced a non-binding referendum on independence scheduled for Sept. 25, raising concerns that Canada may have armed and trained the military of a future breakaway state.

The Liberal government now appears to be coming around to the problems associated with supporting the Kurds. In March, Canada’s special forces shifted some of their focus to helping the Iraqi army in Mosul and a February 2016 deal to provide weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga has been put on hold indefinitely.

Still, the grand vision articulated by Harper, and later by General Vance, where Canadian-trained Zeravani commandoes would take the fight to the Islamic State, largely came to naught. In the process, Canada abandoned a mission in Afghanistan in which it had invested millions of dollars and where Canadians had sacrificed their lives.

Chris Kilford, a retired Canadian artillery officer and now a fellow at the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy, argues that Canada’s turn to the Middle East was probably inevitable given the public fatigue over the war in Afghanistan. And neither the Harper government nor the Liberals, he adds, could have predicted how events would unfold in Mosul.

“Should we have left [Afghanistan] when we did?” he says. “No. Should we still have trainers on the ground? Yes. But we have a bit of momentum now. We’ve put a lid on this massive issue known as the Islamic State. We can turn our attention to other places such as Mali, Libya and Afghanistan.”

It’s impossible to judge if Afghanistan would be different today if, instead of pulling trainers out, Canada had sent its special forces there instead of Iraq. What’s certain is that Afghan security forces have come to rely on their own special forces, largely trained by the U.S., to take the fight to the Taliban. According to Afghan defense ministry officials, their special forces only make up seven per cent of the Afghan military but have led 80 per cent of offensives. U.S. commanders say they are the most successful fighters on the battlefield, but they are being pushed to their limits.

Earlier this year, President Ashraf Ghani announced a plan to double the existing 17,000 special forces troops over the next four years. Kilford warns such an expansion will require a massive mobilization of resources.

“In Canada, the Liberals have decided to increase special forces personnel by around 600 over the coming years,” he says. “That means taking on around 1,800 recruits and whittling them down to the best.”

It was a mistake to turn away from Afghanistan and Afghans have paid the price for it. Canada should not compound the mistake by continuing to withhold the support the Afghan military needs at a time when successes in Afghanistan hangs precariously in the balance.

Training for the Kurds has only produced elite fighters without a war to fight. In Afghanistan, the war is still raging. And they need Canada’s help.

iAOR Will Alternate between CFB Halifax and CFB Esquimalt

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen 

There was a report out of Halifax last week claiming that the new Resolve-class supply ship, being leased to the Royal Canadian Navy would be based out of that city for the next decade.

Not so, says the RCN.

The headquarters for the civilian crew will be in Halifax, the RCN says.

But the ship itself will alternate between the east and west coasts.

After its acceptance procedures at the end of this year – done in Halifax – the ship will sail for CFB Esquimalt, BC. It is expected to be based at that port in early 2018 as the RCN concentrates on expanding its presence in the Pacific, according to a RCN spokesman.

At some point in 2018 the ship (Asterix, shown above in a Davie provided photo) will sail back to Halifax but it is unclear at this point when that would happen. And then back and forth between the two coasts as needed for operations.