Friday, March 10, 2017

Is there Canadian National Interests in Sending Troops to Mali?

Globe and Mail Editorial

The federal Liberal government sometimes acts as if it absolutely must fulfil one ill-considered election platform promise from 2015.

During the last election, Justin Trudeau vowed to revive the peacekeeping of the 1950s, which Canada helped to invent. Now in power in the 21st century, the Liberals are tying themselves in knots to find Canada a nostalgic role in what is now referred to as "peace support operations."

Image result for MINUSMA.
The UN's MINUSMA mission is largely a counter-insurgency mission; which might make it a difficult sell when the Government was seeking a return to "Peacekeeping"  especially as the mission has already seen 114 fatalities. 
Whatever we call these operations, it is not clear that they serve the interests of Canada. They aren't the peacekeeping missions of old, in which Canadian soldiers in blue helmets patrolled an international border in support of a recognized ceasefire.

Read more: Dallaire says Canadian troops must be prepared for child soldiers

The modern operations, as described by the government itself, more accurately resemble dangerous counter-insurgency missions. They look nothing like what Canada did 50 years ago.

Nonetheless, Canadian cabinet ministers and high-ranking civil servants are being required to turn themselves into pretzels to give meaning to the government's peacekeeping aspirations – Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, former foreign minister Stéphane Dion, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and now Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have all been involved.

The African country of Mali has become a leading candidate for Canada's first mission. It was part of the former French empire in Africa, and France has been hoping that partly francophone Canada will contribute to the fight against jihadi extremists there as part of the United Nations "peace stabilization" campaign – a.k.a. counter-insurgency – known as MINUSMA.

The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan. Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest? An especially disturbing aspect of the mission is the Malian jihadis' use of child soldiers. The Canadian Forces have no experience dealing with such tactics.

"We know we have to make the right decision for Canada," Prime Minister Trudeau said recently about "peace support operations." Sometimes, the right decision is to stay home.

CAF Deployed in Latvia to include ‘Cyber Warriors’

By: Matthew Fisher, The National Post 

Canada is to deploy “cyber warriors” to Latvia this June to defend its military computer networks and the information on them from sustained attacks by Russia, as a Canadian-led NATO battle group begins an open-ended deployment to the small, strategically important Baltic nation.

Canadian and Latvian soldiers in Kadaga, Latvia, during Operation Reassurance in September 2015.
Canadian and Latvian soldiers in Kadaga, Latvia, during Operation Reassurance in September 2015. (Cpl. Nathan Moulton -DND)
Separately, the Canadian Forces have been preparing the 450 troops bound for Latvia to act as a tripwire to deter Russian aggression to be ready to for a smear campaign orchestrated by the Kremlin to create tensions between them and their Latvian hosts, through the placement of “fake news” about their behaviour and about NATO’s motives in Central Europe.

The moves are part of a little-known plan to rapidly build Canada’s cyber and information warfare capabilities to counter threats, not only from Russia but adversaries such as Islamic State and al-Qaida.

“We definitely have to get it right. We have to go to Latvia with a strong defensive posture,” said Brig.-Gen. Paul Rutherford, commander of the newly created Joint Forces Cyber Component. “First and foremost, we recognize cyber as a domain of warfare.… We are constantly under attack.

“We will educate our troops about vulnerabilities, because Russia is quite adept in the cyber and information warfare domains.”

As well as defending against attempts to hack into military computer networks, troops had to be ready to defend against blatant disinformation in Latvia. This was underscored last month when bogus stories about German troops raping Lithuanian women began circulating on social and mainstream media within two weeks of the arrival of the German-led battle group.

“When you see how quickly it happened with the Germans, that shows us what to expect,” said Lt. Col. Richard Perreault, who recently returned from Latvia. “

Are they going to try? Yes they will. We fully expect such actions by the Russians.”

The Canadian approach in Latvia would be much different than Kandahar, “where we went in with a war mindset,” Perreault said. To counter Russian attempts to shape the narrative with false and deceptive information, “we will communicate facts and the truth,” the colonel said. “We will provide clear and transparent information. If we see inaccurate facts, we will take action.”

The danger posed by cyber attacks was of such crucial significance that the military was creating a new cyber trade specialty, Rutherford said.

“We want to bring people into the trade to become what I call cyber warriors,” the general said. “To retain these experts, we need a career path for the duration of their careers.

“That is what they eat and dream about and we need to do this for them. We want a breadth of cyber operators. We need analysts who can understand. We also need guys who understand the strengths and weaknesses of our systems and cyber intel. We have to invest heavily to ensure from a cyber perspective we can anticipate and bolster our defenses.”

Training, promoting and paying these soldiers enough that they will want to remain in the Forces was a top priority, as was the need to invest in cutting-edge technology for them, Rutherford said.

Like Ukraine, the Baltic states have been particularly susceptible to Russian propaganda and trolls because large Russian minorities there can easily tune in television stations from Moscow. The Lithuanian ambassador to the U.S. has said that “cooked” broadcasts from Russia were designed to turn his countrymen against NATO.

Russia’s cyber assaults first attracted intense attention when the Estonian parliament, banks and media were swamped and disabled in 2007 by massive amounts of electronic spam and malware. More recently, Russia was the sole suspect behind a cyber blitz that tried to shut down Ukraine’s power grid and banking system.

Moscow has also been accused of using cyber attacks to try to interfere in the U.S. presidential election and in impending European elections from Norway to Italy.

The Russian efforts were made plain this week with the revelation — never denied but hitherto unknown — that the grandfather of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland ran a pro-Nazi publication in Ukraine during the Second World War.

This is part of what Russia’s top general, Valeri Gerasimov, has called “hybrid warfare.” Cyberspace “opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov said in an article published four years ago.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is close to President Vladimir Putin, recently announced that a new military unit designed to conduct “information operations” was being created.

As U.S. forces in Afghanistan discovered, computer networks can be seriously compromised by something as simple as a soldier buying a USB stick outside the base gates for personal use that was infected with a virus.

“That is exactly what I am talking about,” Rutherford said. “From the electronic signature perspective, they must be highly educated.” he said. “They have to know how to use devices such as smart phones or to not bring them with them.”

Canada reviewing how NATO members calculate defence spending

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press 

OTTAWA – Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he has ordered officials to look at how Canada calculates military spending compared to other NATO members, to ensure all allies are comparing “apples to apples.”

“We have to be cognizant that different nations use a different formula,” Sajjan told the House of Commons defence committee on Thursday.

“So right now the deputy minister is working with our closest partners to look at exactly the formula that they were using so we can have a good comparison.”

The comments come as Canada and other NATO allies are facing pressure from the Trump administration in Washington to increase the amount they spend on their militaries.

While all NATO members agreed in 2014 to work towards spending two per cent of their gross domestic product, or GDP, on defence, only five have reached that goal.

Canada is not one of them, and is actually near the back of the pack. It currently spends less than one per cent of GDP on defence, which ranks it 23rd among 28 NATO members.

Sajjan would not say whether the government will actually roll in the spending on the coast guard or veterans programs like the U.S. and Britain, which would inch Canada closer to two per cent.

“But at the same time, we do need to look at what our closest allies are actually using so that we can then compare apples to apples in terms of that commitment,” he told The Canadian Press after the meeting.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to all but dismiss the two per cent target during a visit to Germany last month, saying: “There are many ways of evaluating one’s contribution to NATO.”

That is the message the government has repeatedly delivered to Washington, emphasizing Canada’s military contributions to Latvia, Ukraine and Iraq in lieu of large spending increases.

Sajjan repeated it during and after his committee appearance, adding that the government would invest in what it believes the military needs to do its job rather than to meet a specific target.

“We are going to invest in defence and what we need for outputs,” he said. “That’s how we conduct a defence policy review. That’s what makes it credible.”

Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said there is validity to the government’s argument that spending alone isn’t a good measure of a country’s contributions to NATO.

But the fact the government is reviewing the formula indicates it is at least a little concerned about how Canada compares to other NATO members, particularly given the messages coming out of Washington.

It is also another indication that the government is not planning to include any big injections of money into the military in the upcoming budget or its new defence policy, which is expected in the coming weeks.

“If they were about to unleash a big increase to the budget,” Perry said, “you’d kind of wonder whether or not they’d be going through the exercise of figuring out what to count.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Canadian Officials Still Assessing Mali Peace-Support Missing Possibilities

German armed forces members check their vehicles at Camp Castor as part of the UN-led MINUSMA enforcement mission in Gao, Mali.
German armed forces members check their vehicles at Camp Castor as part of the UN-led MINUSMA enforcement mission in Gao, Mali. (ALEXANDER KOERNER / GETTY IMAGES)
By: Bruce Champion-Smith, Toronto Star 

OTTAWA—Canadian aid and foreign affairs officials have made repeated visits to Mali — including one visit just last week — as politicians continue to consider a long-awaited peace operation, the Star has learned.

While cabinet ministers insist that no location has been picked for the coming deployment, Mali has been the destination of choice for bureaucrats attempting to scout locations and determine how personnel, combined with millions of dollars in aid and development funding, can be best put to use.

Those “non-stop” visits to the African country over recent months have involved personnel from the Defence Department, Foreign Affairs, Aid and Development, a source told the Star.

The most recent visit came last week when officials attached to the newly formed Peace and Stabilization Operations Program in Global Affairs Canada spent several days in the Malian capital of Bamako.

Another team had travelled to the country just a few weeks before that. “There’s been so many assessment missions,” the source said.

Details of the visits were provided by an official familiar with the government’s work on the file, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Seven months after first pledging personnel for the peace mission, the federal cabinet has yet to take a formal decision on the deployment and the ongoing visits suggest that the government is still scoping out the exact role.

But the harsh realities and potential dangers of a mission in Mali could be one reason for the protracted decision amidst fears that Canada could get stuck in a “quagmire.”

“It’s not a peacekeeping mission. It’s a counter-insurgency mission,” the source said.

Indeed, the peace mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, is the UN’s most dangerous: 114 soldiers have died, 72 the result of “malicious” acts. Their foes are Islamist radicals tied to Al Qaeda who have put UN forces in the crosshairs of direct attacks, roadside bombs and deadly ambushes.

The Liberal government came into office in November, 2015 and committed a swift return to peacekeeping, a role Trudeau has said was neglected during 10 years of Conservative rule. Last August, the Liberals announced that they would commit 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to the initiative.

At the same time, they also announced the creation of the peace and stabilization operations program, backed by the promise of $450 million over three years, to fund projects that “help to promote peace and security,” according to the government.

But launching that peace mission has taken longer than expected. The Liberals have publicized the fact-finding visits by cabinet ministers. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion all made fact-finding trips to Africa last year.

A January cabinet shuffle that saw Chrystia Freeland take over as Foreign Affairs minister and the election of Donald Trump have also contributed to the drawn-out decision-making.

The government has not revealed the more frequent travels of bureaucrats who have been doing their own fact-finding.

While Canada’s delayed peace mission may ultimately be deployed to several spots, Mali has been a site of great interest for federal officials, the source told the Star.

The Foreign Affairs department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on whether these visits are tied to the peace mission or related to a different project altogether.

But the growing delay in deciding where and how the Liberals will make good on the peacekeeping pledges is causing frustration. A decision was expected before Christmas but weeks have passed since then with no word of an announcement.

Trudeau and his cabinet ministers have given no reason for the delay, saying only that the government is taking the time it needs. “We know we have to make the right decision for Canada,” Trudeau said last week.

This week, Sajjan and Freeland justified the lengthy deliberations.

“It is a very big decision for Canada and for our government, and I think all Canadians understand that it is important for us to work together, to work with all our allies to make the right decision,” Freeland told reporters.

But NDP MP Hélène Laverdière, her party’s foreign affairs critics, said it’s been months and “still nothing has come out.”

“It’s not only that it hasn’t been decided. It’s that we have no information. There’s been no debate . . . We’re completely in the dark about where the government wants to go, and sometimes it gives the impression that the government itself is in the dark,” said Laverdière, herself a former Canadian foreign service officer with postings that included Dakar and Washington.

But the delay has apparently cost Canada a chance to lead the mission. Several days ago, the United Nations announced that Maj.-Gen. Jean-Paul Deconinck of Belgium would take command of the stabilization mission, a post that was being held for a Canadian.

R22eR Taking over Niger Training Mission From Special Forces

By: Murray Brewster, CBC News 

As many as 25 Canadian soldiers, based out of Valcartier, Que., will soon take part in a revamped mission to train security forces in the troubled western African country of Niger.

Last summer, CBC News reported that regular army troops would take over an ongoing deployment, known as Operation Naberius, from Canada's elite special forces.

A handful of the highly-trained soldiers have since 2013 helped train the Niger Armed Forces in marksmanship, reconnaissance and other basic military skills.

National Defence confirms troops from the French-speaking 1st Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, will assume that responsibility and carry out "periodic" instruction of local forces from now on.

There will be two deployments per year and each will last between two and three months. The military will not say precisely when the first team will be in the field.
Mission flies below the radar

The intent, according to spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier, is to buttress "regional efforts to counter the influence of violent extremist organizations in the Sahel region of Africa."

Members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, better known as the Van Doos, parade at the Citadel in Quebec City last September. Members of the Van Doos' 1st battalion will head to Niger to train military personnel there. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Unlike other high profile training missions in Iraq and Ukraine, there has been virtually no attention paid to the latest mission.

There has been no formal announcement by National Defence and the news comes after requests for comment by CBC News and the online military publication

The mission is separate, but could be complementary to the Liberal government's long-promised return to United Nations peacekeeping, which has been in a holding pattern.

Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, says there is anticipation and some impatience among planners at the UN.

"Countries are eagerly awaiting the government's decision," said Dorn. "They're surprised it has taken this long."
Dithering causes distress

Last summer, the Liberals committed to deploying 600 soldiers and 150 police officers into a series of UN missions, with details expected by the end of last year.

That didn't happen as the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president forced politicians and decision-makers in Canada to take stock of how each policy would be perceived in by the new administration in Washington.

Walter Dorn, professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College, says Canada's decision on a peacekeeping mission is eagerly awaited. (Mike Blanchfield/Canadian Press)

The UN had held open command of the peacekeeping mission in Mali for a Canadian, but that appointment has now gone elsewhere and allies in New York are drumming their fingers.

"The dithering has caused problems with UN planning," said Dorn.

The training of local forces in Niger does not fall within the mandate of the world body because the UN does not conduct counter-terrorism operations.

Le Bouthillier would not say why the switch is being made, other the notion that the military "continually examines and reviews all operations."

Last summer, defence sources told CBC News that officials now believe the basic-level training is best delivered by regular army soldiers.
Precarious security

A small reconnaissance team visited Niger in the fall of last year and the Quebec-based troops have been preparing for the handover ever since, Le Bouthillier said.

The operation flew almost entirely under the radar since it was first ordered by the former Conservative government, which faced repeated calls from the international community to help beat back Islamic militants, who in 2014 had overrun a large swath of territory in neighbouring Mali.

Le Bouthillier said the government of the day determined that special forces, which usually operate in secret, were "best-suited for this type of capacity-building operation."

The mission has also been precarious.

Canadian trainers briefly pulled out of a town in Niger that had been the scene of heavy fighting between government troops and Boko Haram militants in 2015.

No Canadians were involved in combat at Diffa, which sits on the border with Nigeria, but the incident served to underscore the instability in the country.

The deployment is being funded by Global Affairs Canada, which has counter-terrorism capacity building program.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

RCN Divers Survey HMCS Thiepval for Unexploded Ordinance

Originally Published by: David Pugliese, Defence WatchAdditional details by: Daniel Maillet, CAF Dispatch Moderator

Divers from Maritime Forces Pacific’s Fleet Diving Unit are working on the wreck of HMCS Thiepval off the Broken Island Chain of British Columbia. The diving unit is conducting a reconnaissance survey for any unexploded ordnance on the site.
HMCS Thiepval MC-10041.jpg
Updated Photo of HMCS Thiepval (DND - Public Domain)
HMCS Thiepval was a 44 meter-long Battle class trawler, built in Kingston, Ontario in 1917 and commissioned into the Navy in the final months of the First World War, according to the Royal Canadian Navy. It was transferred to Esquimalt in 1919 and was engaged in a variety of patrol activities throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

Following the war, the vessel was decommissioned and transferred to the Department of Marine and Fisheries. It was reacquired by the RCN in April 1924, and went on a Trans-Pacific Voyage to Japan and the Soviet Union, becoming the first Canadian Warship to visit both countries. During this voyage, The government had also given Thiepval the secret assignment of investigating American and Japanese territories in the North Pacific to see if they were being fortified in contravention of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty; it turned out that they were not.

The Thiepval returned to its regular patrol duties in 1925. The ship sank on February 27, 1930 after it struck an uncharted rock during a patrol in Barkley Sound, between Turret and Turtle Islands (part of the Broken Islands group) off the coast of B.C., according to the RCN.

The wreck of HMCS Thiepval has been under the management of Parks Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park since 1970 and is considered a ‘Shipwreck of National Historical Significance’.

The wreck is at a depth of approximately 45 to 55 feet (12 m to 17 m), according to the RCN.

The dive activities, which started Monday, are expected to go until Thursday.

Following the survey, the dive unit will return to the wreck of HMCS Thiepval during the summer to complete the removal of ordnance and dispose of it safely.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ALMACO To provide the Superstructure for iAOR Resolve

Originally Published by: MarineLog March 7, 2017

Canada’s Davie Shipbuilding recently awarded a contract to the ALMACO Group for the delivery of the superstructure of Project Resolve, a Royal Canadian Navy AOR vessel.

Superstructure for Royal Canadian Navy's Project Resolve
This would be the first project carried out as part of ALMACO and Davie’s cooperation and technology transfer. The fleet supply vessel’s superstructure is built in Finland and will be delivered by ALMACO as a single structure to be integrated to the hull at the Davie shipyard in Lauzon, Quebec, Canada. The remaining parts of the superstructure that were not outfitted will be completed by Davie once it is integrated to the hull. The superstructure will have a transport weight of 2,200 tons.

ALMACO’s scope of work includes the full EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract for the Living Quarter superstructure including cabins, public areas, galley, provision stores, wheelhouse and technical spaces. All areas are built with high standards and high quality to enable the best possible living conditions for the vessel’s crew. ALMACO was chosen for the project due to the extensive expertise and history of providing cost efficient and high quality accommodation and catering areas to Marine and Offshore clients.

“We are proud to be part of this project where ALMACO and Davie will combine Finnish shipbuilding expertise with Canadian shipbuilding capabilities to the great benefit of the vessel’s end users and to meet the timeline for the delivery of the superstructure,” says Vilhelm Roberts, ALMACO Group’s President and CEO. “ALMACO will be sharing its skills and technology in accommodation areas with Davie’s personnel as the company has a long and successful history of providing modular prefabricated structures and cabins around the world.”

Davie Shipbuilding and ALMACO Group are planning to continue the cooperation for potential future projects combining Canadian and Finnish shipbuilding expertise. Each country has extensive experience in the construction of a variety of vessels including ocean and river cruise ships, vessels for navy applications and demanding icebreakers.

ALMACO’s concept of fabricating accommodation solutions globally is an advantage for future projects carried out at Davie’s shipyard premises, which will strengthen the cooperation between the companies even further.

“ALMACO is looking to establish a more permanent presence in Canada in the future by supporting projects at Davie, with the aim of fabricating modular cabins in Quebec in the coming years”, states Mikael Liljeström, President of ALMACO’s Offshore division.

Taylor: Canada’s Actions in Iraq are Sending Mixed Messages

By: Scott Taylor, The Chronicle Herald 

From 2002 to 2014 the Canadian military had one primary mission and a singular focus and that was, of course, the mission in Afghanistan. The rotations of contingents into Kandahar became so routine that the Canadian Army constructed a full-scale replica of the southern Afghanistan region at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright for training purposes.

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Canadian Forces members in southern Afghanistan in 2006. 
In preparing for their deployments, troops would spend upwards of six months conducting exercises in mock Afghan villages with civilian actors playing the part of Afghans, including pretend local journalists because, as we all know, perception can soon become confused with reality.

We did not win the war in Afghanistan but those days of purpose and clarity have been replaced with a perplexing set of new challenges for the Canadian military.

We currently have approximately 200 elite commandos deployed to train Kurds in northern Iraq. These Kurds are battling Daesh — aka ISIS evildoers — and this is a good thing. However, the Kurds fly the flag of Kurdistan and proudly display that same symbol on their uniforms. As a show of soldierly camaraderie, the top-level decision was made to allow Canadian trainers to also wear the bright red, white and green flag of Kurdistan on their uniforms.

The problem with this practice is that Kurdistan is not a recognized state, and the Canadian government’s stated policy is to support a unified, post-Daesh Iraq (i.e., not an independent Kurdistan).

The Kurds have clearly stated they are fighting to establish their own country and will therefore not submit to the central Iraq authority that Canada purports to support.

The last Daesh stronghold in Mosul is under an allied siege that, although it may take months yet, will result in a Daesh defeat. At that juncture Canada will have to make some serious choices, as the most likely scenario will see the present allied, anti-Daesh coalition begin to battle each other for the spoils.

Since the summer of 2015, a contingent of approximately 200 Canadian trainers has been deployed to Ukraine on a mission that is due to expire at the end of this month. The rationale for our troops being there is to boost the capability of the Ukrainian military to resist pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels in the country’s eastern provinces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been widely condemned for assisting the pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels with the provision of weapons and training.

But it begs the question: If it is wrong for Putin to take sides in a simmering civil war in Ukraine, even when it is on his doorstep and involves ethnic Russians, how can it be a good thing for Canada to be facilitating a military build-up on the other side of the battle lines? Training and equipping young men to fight does not seem like the smartest path towards a peaceful resolution in any conflict.

Then there is the commitment to put 450 Canadian troops in Latvia on a non-permanent, rotational basis beginning this June. The Canadian contingent is part of a 4,000-strong multinational NATO force intended to deter Russian aggression against Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. As full-fledged NATO member states, all three Baltic States have the alliance’s assurance of collective defence.

This virtual handful of NATO combat troops is being described by some as a tripwire, with defence analysts speculating that an actual Russian attack would capture the Baltic States within 60 hours — with or without these 4,000 allied soldiers. In other words, unless the NATO treaty is not worth the paper it is printed on, we are committed to protecting the liberty of these nations. Having our troops dangle as bait up on the Russian border therefore seems an unnecessary provocation.

Canada does not have an unlimited defence budget and therefore any money spent on building necessary infrastructure to house our contingent in Latvia means infrastructure dollars not spent on upgrading our bases here in Canada.

Then, of course, there is the long-delayed decision on where to send an additional 450 peacekeepers in Africa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains adamant that Canada will send in this force of UN Blue Helmets — along with a mission budget of $500 million. He just still doesn’t know exactly where or why.

Almost makes one yearn for the good old days of the war in Afghanistan.

Ukraine Looks to Canada to Help Modernize Military's 'Soviet Mentality'

By: Evan Dyer, CBC News 

As the war in Eastern Ukraine grinds on, away from the international headlines, the country's Soviet-era military is struggling to suppress separatist forces backed by a modern, well-resourced Russian machine.

And it is looking to Canada for help.

Canadian military instructors and Ukrainian servicemen take part in a military exercise at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, Ukraine in this July 2016 file photo. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)
Both sides in the three-year-old conflict blithely ignore commitments made under the Minsk agreement — the ceasefire plan signed in early 2015 — to keep heavy weapons out of the conflict zone.

The Ukrainians, worried by U.S. President Donald Trump's closeness to Russia and his talk of accepting the annexation of Crimea, have been manoeuvring to win back some areas where they had agreed to remain out.

The combined Russian-separatist side has also upped the tempo of its rocketing and shelling, and still tends to be more effective in using those weapons, thanks to superior command, control and communications.

The Ukrainian side, meanwhile, continues to closely resemble its Soviet predecessor with outmoded uniforms, equipment, organization and training.

Russia's armed forces have been through years of rapid modernization. The effects can be seen among the separatist forces of Luhansk and Donetsk, which include thousands of Russian soldiers nominally fighting as "volunteers" of Novorossiya or "New Russia."

A member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic forces inspects a building, damaged during battles with Ukrainian armed forces in Donetsk. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The result is a conflict that sometimes resembles the Russian Army of today fighting the Russian Army of 25 years ago — the one that suffered defeat in Afghanistan and the first Chechen War.

But Ukraine and its Western allies, including Canada, are determined to change that dynamic.

'DRAB' to the rescue

Jill Sinclair, a former assistant deputy minister of defence who once led the Canadian government's efforts to ban landmines, now holds Canada's seat on a panel designed to bring the Ukrainian armed forces into the 21st century.

Ukraine's Defence Reform Advisory Board (DRAB) is charged with steering the Ukrainian military through a crash transformation even as it fights a low-level war against a far-stronger neighbour.

She likens the task to "changing the wheels on a bicycle while the bicycle is moving."

Her co-chairs are a trio of retired generals: former U.S. Centcom commander John Abizaid; the U.K.'s Sir Nick Parker; and Jonas Andriskevicius, former commander of Lithuania's armed forces.

Sinclair says there's currently "a Soviet mentality" in the Ukrainian armed forces and Defence Ministry. "The Ukrainians would be the first to say that."

While the Russian military underwent dramatic upgrades under Vladimir Putin, Ukraine's military stagnated from independence in the early 1990s, through to the outbreak of hostilities in 2014.

Outclassed on the battlefield

For Ukraine, the war in the east began with crushing defeats. First at Ilovaisk in summer of 2014, then again at Debaltseve six months later, Ukrainian units were first encircled, then decimated by Russian artillery.

The battles showcased new Russian tactics that combined drone and satellite reconnaissance with modern communications and targeting, to produce devastatingly accurate and concentrated barrages.
Renewed fighting in Ukraine pushes town to brink of catastrophe

Survivors who straggled back to Ukrainian lines brought tales of incompetent commanders, confused orders, chaotic supply lines and abandonment by Kyiv.

It all led to a commission of inquiry, where those recriminations were aired publicly. The inquiry estimated that 1,000 soldiers died at Ilovaisk alone.

Ukrainian forces have never recovered the territory lost in those battles. But the debacle brought home the need for reform. "They really hit the reset button three years ago," says Sinclair.

She says the Ukrainians turned to their allies in the West to ask: "How are they going to position themselves so they're not constantly being bested by the other side?

"They want to move, by the end of 2018, to a civilian Ministry of Defence, and by 2020 to full civilian control of the armed forces," she says. "They also want to get to full interoperability with NATO by 2020."

That last goal is a monumental challenge for a military that still depends almost entirely on Warsaw Pact equipment.

But Ukraine's state defence conglomerate, Ukroboronprom, has already begun production of a licensed version of the American M16 assault rifle, which will ultimately replace the Russian-made Kalashnikov designs currently used, allowing Ukrainian forces to use NATO small arms ammunition.

Canadian companies are also finding plenty of opportunity as Ukraine retools its defence industry. Pratt & Whitney Canada, Esterline/CMC Electronics, IMP Aerospace, and L-3 Wescam all have joint projects with Ukroboronprom.

Training mission wrapping up?

Ukraine's foreign advisers are looking beyond the current conflict, Sinclair says.

"Canada's starting point is Ukraine's stated goal of joining the Euro-Atlantic family," she says, adding that Canada's training mission at Yavoriv, in western Ukraine, is focused on overall modernization and professionalisation.

"We're never sitting down with the Ukrainians and saying, 'How do we help you to defeat the Russians?'," she says. "We are looking at the long haul, but of course in the meantime, people are being deployed [to the front lines]."

The effects of that training can be seen in those eastern battlegrounds, Sinclair says. "The last 24 months or so, they've been holding their own a lot better."

As of this month, more than 3,000 Ukrainians had completed courses given by Canadian Armed Forces trainers, mostly either small-team infantry training or explosive ordnance training.

Canada's training countering improvised explosive devices, Sinclair says, has been a lifesaver for Ukrainian troops.

But Canada's training mission is set to end on March 31, and the Trudeau government has yet to say whether it will be renewed. Donations of free equipment to Ukraine have essentially dried up since the Harper government delivered several shipments of non-lethal assistance in the winter of 2014-15.

Profiteers and freebooters

Meantime, the internal battles in the Ukrainian Defence Ministry are focused on corruption and militias — two perennial issues that the country is finally determined to tackle, Sinclair says.

"You can't look at defence reform without looking at the militias," she says of the powerful paramilitary brigades that operate — at least nominally — under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Some of the militias, including the Azov Regiment and Right Sector, are given to displaying far-right and even neo-Nazi symbols that have embarrassed the government and provided ammunition for Russian propaganda. But the Ukrainian government is also painfully aware that their rush to the front lines may have saved the Ukrainian military from total collapse in the war's disastrous early days.

Ukraine's foreign advisers are looking beyond the current conflict in the east, hoping for a modernized military that will be under civilian control by 2020. (Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters)

Some of the brigades answer to individual Ukrainian oligarchs who recruited them and paid to equip them as patriotic gestures; their obedience to central command is questionable.

"They have been playing fast and loose. Does the Ukrainian government have its arms around all of that?" asks Sinclair. "Donor countries want to see more order and more cohesion."

As for corruption, the bane of Ukraine's recent governments, profiteers who sought to get rich from the war, are finally being driven out, Sinclair says.

"Previously, somebody's brother was getting the contract to feed the troops. Now it's a German company with full transparency."

HMCS Winnipeg & Ottawa Sail for Indo-Asia-Pacific Deployment

HMCS Winnipeg better 2017 sized
HMCS Winnipeg departs CFB Esquimalt on Monday, March 6, 2017, for a nearly six-month deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region on POSEIDON CUTLASS 17. Image credit: Katelyn Moores.
By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Her Majesty’s Canadian (HMC) Ships Winnipeg and Ottawa departed Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Monday for the Indo-Asia-Pacific region for the Royal Canadian Navy’s POSEIDON CUTLASS 17 deployment.

“POSEIDON CUTLASS 17 will include numerous opportunities to exercise with regional partner navies at sea, as well as in key events and engagements in ports across the region,” the RCN noted in a news release. “This near six-month deployment of multiple warships signals the strategic importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to Canada and reinforces Canada’s commitment to the maintenance of regional peace and security.”

During the POSEIDON CUTLASS 17 deployment, HMC Ship’s Winnipeg and Ottawa will make a number of strategic port visits throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, and Japan.

Monday, March 6, 2017

OP UNIFIER Extended until March 2019

DND Press Release 

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs today announced that the Government of Canada is extending Operation UNIFIER, the Canadian Armed Forces military training mission in Ukraine, until the end of March 2019.

Through Operation UNIFIER, the Canadian Armed Forces provides military training and capacity-building assistance to Ukrainian Forces personnel in support of Ukraine’s efforts to maintain sovereignty, security, and stability.

Together with our allies and the Government of Ukraine, the Canadian Armed Forces will continue to support the professional development and enhance the capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces through a range of training activities such as:
  • small team training
  • explosive ordnance disposal
  • military policing
  • medical training
  • logistics system modernisation 
The Canadian Armed Forces will also be transitioning over time to support strategic institutional reform of Ukraine’s defence establishment.

Operation UNIFIER supports broader Government of Canada efforts to advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine through development, financial, humanitarian, and non-lethal military assistance.

“The Government of Canada is committed to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as they work to build a more secure, stable and prosperous country, and Canada continues to be at the forefront of the international community’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. I am proud of the talented and dedicated women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces who contribute to a more stable world as we demonstrate our reliability as a partner to our allies and our commitment to European security.” Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence

“Canada is unwavering in its support to Ukraine, both in helping to preserve and protect Ukraine’s sovereignty, and in providing assistance to Ukraine to implement key reforms. Operation UNIFIER represents a critical piece of our multifaceted support to Ukraine. It supports the professional development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who are essential for deterring aggression and creating a safe space for the sustainable social and economic development that the people of Ukraine want and deserve.”  Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs

“Our highly-skilled soldiers have provided valuable military training and capacity building to our partners in Ukraine, and they will now continue to do so. I am confident this renewed mission will help the Ukrainian Armed Forces ensure stability in the region.” General Jonathan H. Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff

Canada has provided a broad range of assistance (development, financial, humanitarian, non-lethal military) to Ukraine, totaling more than $700 million since January 2014.

Canada has contributed over $16 million in non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces.

The extension of Operation UNIFIER will continue to involve approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed in Ukraine.

Since the start of the training in September 2015, more than 3200 Ukrainian Armed Forces members have been trained by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Bids For Permanent Fleet to Replace CF-18s Expected in 2019

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

The Liberal government plans to request bids for a new fleet of fighter jets as early as 2019, which would coincide with the next federal election.

That move, along with the push by the Liberals to have the first of the interim Super Hornet fighter aircraft delivered by that year, could help blunt criticism about bungled military procurements and delays in buying a new jet, say military insiders and analysts.

Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed the 2019 date for the release to industry of the request for proposals for the permanent fighter fleet.

The department also noted the government expects a deal in place by the end of 2017 or early 2018 to acquire the 18 Boeing Super Hornets as an interim measure. The Liberal government has been pushing to get the first of those planes delivered some time in 2019, industry sources say.

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said such moves could provide political cover for the Liberals. “It could be politically useful in an election year to have both in the works,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. “That’s a pretty good way to buy some political insulation.”

Shadwick said if the first Super Hornets arrive during the election year, that in particular would be a tangible event the Liberal government could highlight.

The Liberals had promised during the last campaign to purchase a replacement for the CF-18 jet fleet, pointing out that it would go for a cheaper alternative to the controversial F-35 stealth fighter that had been selected by the Conservative government.

That’s a pretty good way to buy some political insulation

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced in November the government’s decision to begin negotiations to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornets as “interim” fighter jets until a permanent fleet for the existing CF-18 aircraft could be bought.

The Liberals said Canada is facing a capability gap because it doesn’t have enough jets to fulfil its military missions, a situation Sajjan has blamed on the previous Conservative government for bungling the project to replace the aging CF-18s.

Canadian CF-18 Hornet flies beside two Portuguese F16 Flying Falcons over Lithuania on Sept. 15, 2014.
Cpl Gabrielle DesRochers/DNDA 
The Liberals’ upcoming Defence Policy Review will also contain details on the project to acquire a permanent replacement fleet for the CF-18s.

“These requirements will include the number of aircraft needed, the level of in-service support required and the estimated time of delivery,” noted the recently released update from Public Services and Procurement Canada. “Planning for the competition is already underway, and we anticipate a request for proposals will be issued in 2019.”

But the Liberal plan to buy the Super Hornets has come under fire from retired Royal Canadian Air Force generals, who say it is too costly. They argue the Liberals should cancel the Super Hornet deal and proceed immediately to a competition to buy permanent replacements for the CF-18s.

Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Sajjan, said the government is continuing with its negotiations on the Super Hornets. “The Royal Canadian Air Force faces a significant challenge because it does not have the number of fighter aircraft available to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO obligations if called to do so simultaneously,” Owens said.

Critics, including the Conservatives and some retired officers, have disputed that position and questioned whether there is such a gap.

The Liberals have reversed their position somewhat on the F-35. They now say they will hold an open competition for the permanent fleet of fighter jets and that Lockheed Martin is welcome to propose the F-35.

Ottawa Weighing UN Peace-Support Operation and Child Soldier Risks for Mali Mission

By: Robert Fife and Steven Chase, Globe and Mail

The Trump administration has given the green light to Canada to dispatch up to 600 soldiers on a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Mali, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding back approval as he assesses the volatile risks of fighting Islamist rebels who use child soldiers.

Peacekeepers stand guard at the entrance to the Minusma peacekeeping base in Kidal, Mali, July 22, 2015. (© Adama Diarra / Reuters/REUTERS)
Peacekeepers stand guard at the entrance to the Minusma peacekeeping base in Kidal, Mali, July 22, 2015.
(© Adama Diarra / Reuters/REUTERS)
A new Canadian Armed Forces directive, published last week, warns troops that child soldiers are likely to be encountered “on an increasing basis” in future UN or NATO-led missions and cautions them if they are not sufficiently armed they could be vulnerable to “human wave attacks” employed by child soldiers – frontal assaults where the target is overrun.

Canada does not require U.S. approval to deploy troops, but in late 2016, the Trudeau government paused a decision, originally expected by December, on where it would deploy peacekeeping troops. The Liberals wanted to obtain a better sense of what the Trump administration expects of allies and ensure it wasn’t offside with the new President who has repeatedly accused Western countries of falling short on basic defence commitments and has said he wants the NATO military alliance to focus more on counterterrorism.

Campbell Clark: A Canadian peacekeeping mission in Mali could be most dangerous choice
Related: Canadian troops could face wide range of heavy weapons if deployed to Mali
Globe editorial: On Mali, proceed with maximum caution

A senior Canadian official, however, told the The Globe and Mail that U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis raised no objections to a Mali peace mission during recent talks with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Trudeau cabinet is still mulling the pros and cons of committing Canadian troops to a dangerous UN peace-support operation, which defies the traditional label of peacekeeping.

While Mali might appear remote to Canadians, this West African country is on the front lines of the fight against terrorism, including al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. It’s a safe haven for terror groups despite French military intervention and a UN stabilization mission. Mali has, at times, served as a base for Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a terrorist leader who is the target of an RCMP arrest warrant for holding two Canadian diplomats hostage in Mali in 2008 and 2009; his extremist group also claimed responsibility for the deadly assault on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in November, 2015. In 2013, he spearheaded an attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed at least 39 foreign hostages.

More than 110 peacekeepers have been killed over the last four years in Mali; the location has become the deadliest ongoing UN peace operation today. UN records say 72 of these deaths were attributed to “malicious acts.” The security environment in that country sharply deteriorated in 2013, but French and African Union forces pushed back Islamist rebels who had taken control of the country’s north.

“It is the most dangerous UN mission but at this juncture … it is way, way less dangerous than any phase we were in in Afghanistan,” a second senior official said. “If you look at the 114 casualties, a majority of them came from very poor tactics, very poorly trained troops and really crappy equipment that ran over clearly visible road mines.”

The first government official said the Trudeau cabinet will not commit unless there is a carefully laid-out plan to explain to Canadians why such a peacekeeping mission is in the country’s national interest. The official said there needs to be “Canadian buy-in” before approval is granted and that may be months away.

Uppermost in the minds of federal policy-makers is the disturbing likelihood that Canadian troops would encounter battle-hardened Islamist militants including child soldiers, who are recruited as suicide bombers, fighters and spies.