Friday, March 3, 2017

Face to Face: Should Canada Send Ground Troops into Syria?

Published by: The Legion Magazine, March/April 2017 
The opinions in this article belong to Stephen J. Thorne and  David J. Bercuson

On its Global Affairs website, the Government of Canada describes the conflict in Syria as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.” It quotes UN figures: 13.5 million people inside Syria in urgent need of help; more than a quarter-million dead, hundreds of thousands wounded; some five million-plus refugees.

It’s a catastrophe that is spreading by the day. Efforts to contain it are like putting the proverbial genie back in the bottle. But, bless its big heart, Canada is trying.

“To date, Canada has committed almost $1 billion in humanitarian, development and security assistance in response to the Syria crisis,” says Global Affairs.

Trouble is, Canada—and the international community—are a day late and a dollar short when it comes to responsible action in Syria and elsewhere in the region. The genie is out and what more havoc he has yet to reap is anyone’s guess.

There is no doubt Canada should contribute what it can to alleviate the refugee crisis and assist humanitarian efforts in Syria. But the need for such measures could largely have been prevented had Canada and its allies acted early and decisively to stop the excesses of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the rise of ISIS and the involvement of Russia.

That said, opportunities still exist to stem the tide of misery and destruction. And so, as co-ordinated efforts to defeat ISIS gain momentum, Canada needs to be there, wherever the fight may take it, for ISIS is the enemy of us all.

Arising out of peaceful anti-government protests in 2011, the Syrian conflict is no longer a civil war. It has become an insurgency involving a complex entanglement of diverse combatants whose motives and goals comprise conflicting ethnic, religious and political factors that threaten to plunge the entire region, unstable as it already is, into chaos.

Virtually all principle combatants have a common enemy: ISIS, soldiered by international fighters whose stated aim is nothing less than to rule the world. An offshoot of al-Qaida, there is no negotiating with its fanatics.

Their methods, from videotaped beheadings to enslavement to burning captives alive, are more ruthless and barbaric than al-Qaida’s. Their goals, which have nothing to do with true Islamic beliefs, are uncompromising.

Eliminate the jihadist extremists and there is surely a road to peace, albeit a bumpy one. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the lack of commitment among Western allies and, under the pretense of contributing to the solution, rushed to fill the void. His indiscriminate bombing has killed and injured thousands of innocent civilians while willfully undermining Western aims. He has advanced the interests of Assad, a dictator who has used chemical weapons on his own citizens.

To be part of the solution, Canada must contribute more to the fight. We are currently addressing the results of the widespread unwillingness to get involved. But you can’t claim to be a leader and humanitarian, as Canadians so proudly believe their country to be, while turning your back as a preventable tragedy unfolds.

Decisive military action will save the lives of innocent people, preserve antiquities, discourage Putin’s opportunism and help stabilize a volatile and escalating situation.

Canada’s military is far from the biggest or the best-equipped. But its troops are second to none and regularly punch well above their weight in areas of conflict.

Canada has already gotten its hands dirty in the region. While it has ended bombing sorties in Iraq and Syria, its special forces are training, advising and fighting alongside Iraqi troops in military operations against ISIS.

It’s also providing small arms and ammunition to Iraqi forces, Canadian helicopters have been evacuating wounded, and Canada is helping pinpoint ISIS targets.

It can and should do more.
Stephen J. Thorne is an award-winning journalist, editor and photographer. He has reported on the downfall of South African Apartheid and from war fronts in Kosovo and Afghanistan. 

anada ought to withdraw the army from the Syria/Iraq theatre and stop deploying our troops in penny packets to selected trouble spots around the world. With virtually no danger anywhere near our borders, we have sent troops to fight foreign wars since the South African War of 1899 to increase our international presence, aid our allies and fulfill alliance responsibilities. When we do so, however, we ought to ensure that our military commitments—mainly our army—are large enough to make a difference to whatever campaign we are joining and that Canadian political and economic interests are served by our actions. That does not happen when we thinly spread our tiny regular force army of just under 22,000 men and women hither and yon for purposes that are far more tokenistic than substantial.

Since its election in October 2015, the Liberal government has ended Canadian participation in the air attacks against ISIS but has deployed about 600 soldiers, including special forces, to “train” Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. In addition, the government has announced that 400 Canadian soldiers will be deployed to Latvia and another 600 are expected to go to Africa. So far, that’s about 1,500 soldiers and perilously close to the 2,500 or so trigger pullers that constitute the fighting edge of our army.

During the Cold War, the bulk of our forward deployed army was represented by the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group stationed in Germany. Canada’s other three brigades were not expeditionary—they were not designed to be “mobilized” and sent abroad.

The deep budget cuts of the early 1990s eliminated the 4th Brigade while cutting the army back by about 5,000 troops. When Canada deployed troops on peacekeeping missions such as UNPROFOR to the Balkans in the early 1990s or UNOSOM to Somalia, battle groups were sent which were essentially battalions with combat engineers, communications troops and other auxiliary but necessary military occupations. All those deployments stretched the army to the breaking point.

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, with Art Eggleton as minister of national defence, stuck to the idea that it would not send small groups of Canadian soldiers as Canada’s contribution to the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. It was for this reason that they refused to join a British-led mission to police the Afghanistan capital of Kabul after the Taliban were pushed out later that fall. The British wanted a few hundred Canadian specialists but Ottawa would not agree. If Canada was going to join other NATO nations in the fight, we would send a large formation or none at all. Canadians wanted to take part and the government sent the 3 PPCLI Battle Group to operate under U.S. command in Kandahar province. All subsequent deployments to Kabul in 2003 and to Kandahar in 2005 were battle groups.

Why then is this new government doling out Canadian troops with a soup spoon? It is tokenism of the worst kind which will avail Canada little influence but put Canadian troops at risk. In the fight against ISIS, for example, a relative handful of Canadians are daily engaged without Canada having any international profile at all. The world is a very dangerous place these days with tragic and bloody conflicts taking place in Africa and potential full-blown wars elsewhere. Should we not, instead, prepare to make a significant contribution to NATO, rather than try to save the world with fewer soldiers than would fill a small-town hockey arena? The Canadian people and the Canadian government have a choice to make. If we are to embark on saving oppressed peoples or make war in concert with our allies in a meaningful way, let us increase our defence spending and enlarge our military—particularly the army—or stop kidding ourselves about how far our capabilities will stretch.
David J. Bercuson, author of the "Eye on Defence" column in the Legion Magazine, is director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

CAF Special Forces in Niger for FLINTLOCK-17

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Exercise Flintlock 2017 – which brings African military units together with western special forces – began in Diffa, Niger on Feb. 27. It runs until March 16.


This is the second time Niger has hosted Flintlock, an annual multinational special operations forces exercise designed to reinforce military capabilities of those nations taking part. “Flintlock calls for training together to exchange knowledge and reinforce our operational capabilities,” Col. Mukala Altini, Zone 5 Commander, Forces Armees Nigerinnes, or FAN, said in a news release. “The concept of Flintlock is a result of a common willingness expressed to fight against extremism and terrorism.”
Units being trained will be able to use the skills against Boko Haram, ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) of the U.S. Army Special Operations Force as well as special forces from Canada, Australia and Belgium will be operating in Niger for Flintlock 2017.

Capt. Sally-Ann Cyr, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Special Operations Regiment at Petawawa Garrison, said approximately 20 military personnel from Canada are taking part in the exercise this year. That includes CSOR staff and specialists from the Canadian Forces health services group.

She said Canada is partnered with the FAN – the Niger Armed Forces (Forces Armées Nigeriennes).

The Flintlock exercise will involve, in total, approximately 2,000 military members from more than 20 African, European and North American countries. Those include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom and the U.S. The exercises are being hosted in different locations this year, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hawn: Choosing Super Hornet will Ground Canada's Air Force

By: Lt.-Col. (Retired) Hon. Laurie Hawn, The Ottawa Citizen 

“Per Ardua Ad Dis-Astra.” This altered RCAF motto sums up what the federal the government’s convoluted process to buy 18 “interim” Super Hornets to fill a “capability gap” really means. It will kill Canada’s fighter force.

Everything can be traced to the prime minister’s election campaign promise to never buy the F-35 fighter jet, allegedly because it is too expensive and doesn’t work.

His conclusions are being proven wrong, but he seems determined to proceed without a timely competition, thanks to a politically created “capability gap.” That gap was based on aircraft numbers that have never been demanded simultaneously; by fudging actual CF-18 operational serviceability history; and by the false narrative that the CF-18 cannot keep operating until we start getting new aircraft.

Any imagined gap, however, could be filled by 27 available Kuwaiti F-18C/D aircraft for $330 million US. Or, we could upgrade our entire fleet of 76 CF-18s to close to Super Hornet systems status for about 20 per cent of what we’ll pay for 18 Super Hornets. Neither option was explored.

We don’t have technicians and support capacity for today. Eighteen Super Hornets will cost about $7 billion Cdn and add 350 non-existent personnel and Super Hornet-specific infrastructure. We are already losing pilots to voluntary release at rates we can’t re-generate, and we certainly don’t have extras for the Super Hornet.

Many real experts were never consulted, and 240 were forced to sign lifetime non-disclosure agreements, which hides the truth. The Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner and the Parliamentary Budget Officer should take an interest.

Competitions don’t take five years, and to satisfy everyone, we need to start one immediately. Denmark did one quickly, and Canada already has a (now suppressed) options analysis that points to the F-35. As in the past, the F-35 will win any competition not rigged against it.

The Super Hornet is a fine aircraft for its roles and time, but we need a fighter for projected threats into the 2050s. The Super Hornet also has a thorny safety issue in its oxygen system, which has resulted in 297 incidents and permanent grounding for some aircrews.

One argument that doesn’t stand up is that the F-35 doesn’t work. Its operational development continues and in every exercise where F-35 participates, its effectiveness is very evident. In our own primary aim of air sovereignty, the F-35’s clean configuration will allow it to conduct higher-altitude intercepts that the Super Hornet cannot.

Another argument that doesn’t stand up is cost. The latest cost for the F-35A is $8.5 billion US for 90 aircraft, or $94.6 million per aircraft. But as predicted, that cost will continue to decrease and in 2020, when we should start receiving our aircraft, it will be about $85 Million. The F-35 is cheaper than the Super Hornet.

The Super Hornet will not be interim. Even if the F-35 were to win a competition, we would suddenly realize that we can’t afford two small fleets, due to duplication of everything. That will apply to the Super Hornet and CF-18, and assuredly to the Super Hornet and F-35. The Aussies are doing it, but we are not them, and we would be stuck buying more Super Hornets.

Canadian aerospace industries, jobs and the economy will also be losers on our current path. We will lose out on billions in contracts and be out of step with future technology. This will be an industry-killing Avro Arrow redux and/or a costly Sea King redux.

We cannot afford to continue on the current path for many reasons: Canadian sovereignty and security, taxpayers, technical, personnel, moral, commonality with allies and Canadian industry. I have received virtually unanimous support for my position, most importantly from members of the RCAF at all rank levels.
Lt.-Col. (Retired) Hon. Laurie Hawn, PC, CD is a former RCAF CF-18 Squadron Commander and member of Parliament.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Canada's Future in Iraq Uncertain

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

ERBIL, Iraq — A baby's cry pierces the din as dozens of people wait to see a doctor or nurse at what's surely one of the busiest health clinics in the Middle East: inside a sprawling refugee camp that's home to 18,000 displaced men, women and children.

The clinic's future is as unclear as that of its clientele.

The facility is just one of several projects Canada is supporting in Iraq as part of its efforts to help those affected by the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — help those on the front lines say is desperately needed.

"It's very important for the people here that they have this clinic and they can get services here," Azad Murad, a nurse with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said through a translator.

"And it's really good that the Canadian government … helps the clinic, because it is a great help for the people here."

But as welcome as Canada's support is, the UN and other aid agencies say more is needed from the international community — now and going forward.

"One of the things we are nervous about inside the humanitarian community is once (ISIL) is gone in the next couple of months, the world is going to turn its back," said Lisa Grande, the UN's humanitarian chief in Iraq.

"They're going to look at Syria and Yemen and other places that have a crisis. But we know the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is not going to be over when the fighting is."

The Liberal government pledged last year to provide $840 million over three years in humanitarian aid to Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon as part of its revamped mission against ISIL.

On Monday, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau revealed the latest details, announcing that $52 million would be directed to different NGOs working with refugees in Iraq.

The funds will be directed to three key areas: health care, clean water and sanitation, and providing psychological help and counselling for those affected by conflict, especially women and children.

Another $187.5 million will go toward similar projects in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Speaking from Erbil after touring the nearby Ashti refugee camp, Bibeau said she saw and heard first-hand how Iraqis are struggling with the traumas associated with war.

That's why Canada has put a special emphasis on psychological support, she said.

"They've been through horrible things, and they were telling me how this support from our humanitarian partners is important for them," Bibeau said.

"And not only talking about the food, but the needs they have in terms of psychosocial support."

Women and girls have been a particular focus for Canadian assistance; one such initiative, visited recently by The Canadian Press, is a women's centre in the Khanke refugee camp near the city of Dohuk.

Established by the UN Population Fund in October 2014, the centre features a women's-only health clinic, including reproductive education, recreational activities such as knitting, and job training.

"Before coming I was not comfortable, I was crying," Baran Shmo Yosf, who fled with her family when ISIL attacked their town more than two years ago, said through a translator. "Now I can keep going on."

Bibeau said Canada is unique in having pledged its money for a three-year period, a strategy meant to give its UN and NGO partners confidence to run their programs over a longer stretch of time.

Yet Bibeau would not commit to making Iraq what the government refers to as a "country of focus" for Canadian assistance, except to say that the government is reviewing its aid policy.

"Part of the review is to reconsider where we work. The idea of the countries of focus and partner countries is on the table right now," she said.

"Obviously the Middle East is a fragile area and a fragile region, and this is in my mandate, to refocus international assistance on the most vulnerable and on fragile states."

Grande did not single Canada out specifically, but said the international community has "responsibility" to continue to support Iraq as it tries to rebuild following years of war.

"The planning horizon for coming out of a civil war is a generation," she said.

"If we're lucky, that's 10 years. If it's a miracle, it's five years. On average, it's best to assume it's 20 years. However we look at it, the Iraqis have a difficult road ahead of them.

"Part of our responsibility in the international community is to realize this and walk shoulder-to-shoulder with them on the road — however long it may be."

- Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Canadian Forces Studying Options for Potential Syrian Deployment

By: Matthew Fisher, The National Post

The Canadian military has begun to study options for an operation in Syria, for the Liberal government to consider as U.S. president Donald Trump hints he may expand the 16-year-old war on terrorism by sending more troops to that country after the offensive to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIL concludes.

Officers familiar with how the military does long-range planning said that offering such choices — as well as examining ways Canada might continue to contribute to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq after the war there ends — was standard procedure. It is prudent to constantly prepare and update options regarding potential overseas deployment to hot spots in case the government of the day asks for them, they said.

What comes next for Canada and its allies is an obvious question, with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant holding only a sliver of land in Iraq and a much larger swathe of territory in Syria. Lt.-Gen. Steve Townsend, the U.S. ground commander for the wars in Iraq and Syria, expects ISIL to be defeated in both countries within six months. But nobody expects that ISIL, or its rivals, Al Qaeda, will be entirely eradicated for a very long time. There are fears the terrorist groups will go underground in those countries, increase their activities in Somalia or northern and central Africa or take their war global, launching more terrorist attacks on soft civilian targets, particularly in Europe.

It is not publicly known whether the Trump government has asked Ottawa to contribute troops or assist in other ways in the war against ISIL in Syria, or to take on other roles in the war on terror. But if there is anything to be taken from the example of the war in neighbouring Iraq, where Canada has been a participant since August, 2014, such a request is possible.

Canada is one of 17 countries currently assisting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Iraq. About Canadian 800 troops now involved in what the Canadian Forces calls Operation Impact. About 70 are elite Special Forces from the Ontario-based JTF2. They train, advise and assist Kurdish fighters and when at risk themselves, have occasionally joined the fight.

Other Canadians are targeting experts, based in Kuwait and Qatar, or work with Kuwait-based reconnaissance aircraft which help identify ISIL targets. A small team of Canadian doctors, nurses and technicians also runs a military hospital in the Kurdish city of Erbil, about 70 kilometres east of the front lines around Mosul.

The U.S. already has 500 Special Forces soldiers in Syria and has been preparing the American public for the possibility that more troops may soon be headed there. Gen. Joseph Votel, the U.S. commander responsible for overseeing military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, took journalists with him on a secretive tour of northern Syria last week. At an undisclosed location he told his media entourage that “take-no-prisoners fighting” was in the offing to capture ISIL’s Syrian hub, Raqqa, and that more troops may be needed to accelerate the war against ISIL there.

Any expansion of the coalition war in Syria is complicated by Russia’s political and military support for the government of Syrian President Bashir Assad. There remains confusion over to what extent Trump’s professed admiration for Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, will play a role in decisions made in Washington, particularly as the U.S. president’s top security advisers regard the Kremlin with deep suspicion. Turkey, which is a member of NATO that has improving ties with Moscow, also does not want Syrian Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. to become more powerful.

Canada is already indirectly involved in the war in Syria. Since December, JTF2 has been advising Iraqi Kurds deployed near the Syrian border in northwestern Iraq, in an attempt to prevent ISIL forces escaping from Mosul and reaching Syria. It had been involved in the air war in Syria until the Liberals ordered home the RCAF’s F-18s.

If Canada were to become involved militarily in Syria again it could send a small number of JTF2 troops there in an advisory role. Another possibility is that Canada could be asked to provide “boots on the ground” to help protect civilians from violence in safe zones that Trump has said he intends to establish to prevent the Syrian refugee crisis from worsening.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Dave Anderson, who heads the coalition’s strategic advisory team in Iraq, told Postmedia in an interview late last year that discussions were already taking place then about how “we — that is, the Iraqi security forces — can not only take Mosul but hold it afterwards.” According to Trump’s most senior general, Joseph Dunford, the U.S. and NATO are considering a long-term military commitment to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces who will be responsible for trying to prevent ISIL or other terrorist groups from regrouping. Canada’s Iraq mission could be extended indefinitely as part of that effort.

The potential ask for Canada to extend or expand its role in the region comes as Ottawa undertakes an open-ended commitment to lead a NATO battalion in Latvia from this June, and continue training missions in Poland and Ukraine.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Open Letter to the PM from Former RCAF Commanders Re: Super Hornet Purchase

Open Letter to the Prime Minister

From Former Air Force Commanders

Dear Prime Minister,

As former commanders of Canada’s air force, we respectfully but urgently ask that your government not proceed with the plan to purchase a fleet of Super Hornet aircraft as an interim measure pending the eventual replacement of our venerable CF- 18 fighters. It is our firm belief that the interim strategy is ill- advised, costly and unnecessary. Most important, it would significantly impair the Royal Canadian Air Force for years to come and ultimately damage the nation’s defence posture. The situation is complex, but our call for dropping the Super Hornet buy is based on some compelling facts, which we offer for your consideration.

First, we have serious misgivings about the use of a “capability gap” as the basis for your interim plan. Your government’s newly created policy calling for the Royal Canadian Air Force to meet its NATO and NORAD treaty obligations concurrently does not reflect a real and sudden change in the strategic situation. In our experience, it has been decades since Canada had sufficient fighter aircraft to meet all our commitments simultaneously. Over the years the air force, by judiciously balancing strategic risks and available resources, has managed its operational contributions reasonably well. We certainly welcome any initiative that promises to close the longstanding capability gap, but purchasing eighteen Super Hornet aircraft would in fact exacerbate the gap in the near to mid- term by imposing a heavy burden on the RCAF’s existing resources without producing a meaningful increase in fighter availability.

Although the Super Hornet does have some commonality with our current CF- 18s, it is a different airplane, requiring its own training system for pilots and technicians, as well as new flight simulators, logistic support and maintenance organizations specific to the Super Hornet. The air force would have to draw personnel from the existing CF- 18 fighter fleet (usually its most experienced people) to help bring into service a new and more complex fleet of fighter aircraft. But that would not be enough. It would be necessary to recruit, train and qualify several hundred new technicians and dozens of pilots. Recent experience indicates that the RCAF would face difficulty in achieving this; it can take four to five years from recruitment to produce fully trained, operationally ready pilots and specialists for advanced fighter aircraft. We foresee that bringing in an interim fleet would create serious practical problems of this kind.

Quite apart from such technical issues, we are aware that buying, operating and supporting an interim fleet of Super Hornets would be an expensive proposition, with cost estimates ranging from $5-$7 billion. We therefore ask that your government seek a better way of keeping the RCAF operationally effective until its fleet of CF- 18s is replaced with a modern fighter.

To this end, we respectfully recommend that three important initiatives be undertaken.

First, the RCAF should be given the necessary resources to conduct an aggressive recruiting and training process to eliminate existing personnel shortfalls and to provide for the interim period leading to CF- 18 replacement.

Second, if your government feels compelled to acquire additional fighters for the interim, it should seriously examine the prospect of purchasing so- called legacy Hornets (i.e. basically the same as our current CF- 18s) that are increasingly becoming available as Canada’s partner nations replace their older Hornet fleets with the F- 35. For example, both the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force will have surplus F- 18s that are very close in configuration to our own. These would require very little modification to make them essentially identical to the CF- 18, having the same operational effectiveness and excellent safety record as today’s fleet. The capability exists in the Canadian aerospace industry to do the necessary modifications. The acquisition cost would be a fraction of a Super Hornet buy. Of critical importance, all the training, logistics and infrastructure needed to support the additional CF18s are already in place, and the larger CF- 18 fleet would fill the operational capability gap in the interim. All of this would be achieved without the cost, delay and disruption of burdening the RCAF with a second fleet of fighters.

Finally, and emphatically, we urge the government to proceed without further delay to implement the open and fair competition that you promised for replacement of our CF- 18s. Completing this within the next few years is entirely feasible, and it would allow for a faster, more effective and much less costly transition to full operational service by the CF-18’s eventual replacement.

We offer these recommendations based on our collective experience of many years of serving Canada’s air force, with the sole purpose of bringing to your attention some important realities regarding the future of the RCAF and the nation’s defence. We look to you for wisdom in resolving the matters that we have placed before you.


Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Larry Ashley

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Yvan Blondin

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Lloyd Campbell

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Bill Carr

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) André Deschamps

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Dave Huddleston

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Dave Kinsman

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Steve Lucas

General (Ret’d) Paul Manson

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Don McNaughton

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Ken Pennie

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Fred Sutherland

Lieutenant- General (Ret’d) Angus Watt