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Friday, June 23, 2017

Dithering or a Rethink on Peacekeeping Intentions?

By: Blair Gilmore, RUSI-NS

Three recent news items relate to Justin Trudeau’s intent to send troops on a UN peacekeeping mission. Outfits like the CDA Institute have released their analysis on Canada’s new Defence Policy, the Globe and Mail reported that a CAF sniper once again holds the record for the furthest kill shot, and MPs of the House of Commons are expected to rise for their summer break, which lasts from June 23 to September 18.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously (or infamously) declared in the early days after the 20 October 2015 election that “Canada is back!” This partly referred to our country’s apparent readiness to get back onto the world stage as a peacekeeping nation. The CAF had been regrouping after 12 years of operations in Afghanistan and had taken an operational pause. Cynics thought the Liberals just wanted a coveted seat back on the UN Security Council, while altruistic observers believed they wanted to bring Canadian ‘sunny ways’ to downtrodden portions of the planet. Either way, this promise to our allies to help with the ‘heavy lifting’ is going on two years with no fulfilment in sight.

Reminiscent of The Economist’s assessment of a former Liberal PM, Justin Trudeau seems to be turning into 'Mr. Dithers' The Sequel. He is hedging his bets by judiciously spending Canada’s "blood and treasure" on select hellhole missions around the world. The CAF has Special Operations Forces in hotspots sprinkled here and there and, as evidenced by the record-breaking kill shot, we are turning the ‘bad guys’ into pink mist. But these operations are shrouded in secrecy to minimise the PR fallout. We also are making a big deal of a contingent of 450 soldiers being sent to bolster Latvia; of CF 18s patrolling Iceland’s air space, and a frigate in the Mediterranean under Operation Reassurance in an effort to blunt Russia’s burgeoning re-emergence as an aggressive military world power. The world may be sliding back into another Cold War, but the potential for onesies or twosies of Canadian-flag-draped coffins coming home is minimal.

The government pumped out a comprehensive Canada Defence Policy which impressively lays out the CAF’s focus for the next 20 years along with substantive budget increases. There have been immediate results like overdue pay increases but the large expenditures will not kick in until after the next election cycle. Lots of good words and promises, but very little in the way of solid rubber meeting the road.

About a year ago, the Minister of National Defence (MND), Harjit Sajjan made the rounds of African countries for potential Canadian peacekeeping missions in an effort towards due diligence before fulfilling the PM's promise. The scuttlebutt has been that Mali was the lead contender of Canadian peacekeeping largesse. Mali is a particularly nasty quagmire with open Islamic civil warfare, use of child soldiers, frequent and numerous peacekeeper casualties – all with a generous dash of IEDs.

As a former Intelligence officer, the MND is no dummy. I think he and the PM were somewhat unprepared for the realities of Mali, and now recognise that dead CAF men and women will be regularly travelling the Highway to Heroes route if we send troops out on these peacemaking missions. This is why they dither when pressed on when the government is planning on making a decision.

I am no fan of sending CAF personnel into harm’s way. I have family and friends in uniform. I have lost military friends doing their duty. Frankly, in my opinion, some parts of the world are burning and that’s just the way it is. Let them sort their own crap out because all we seem to do as Western powers is muddy the water and waste our efforts. The government knows there is no upside to sending troops to a place like Mali, so they are stalling like mad, hoping other world events or opportunities will come up to distract us from that ill-conceived promise.

As reported by CBC's Murray Brewster, Canada has been presented with a long list of 'marquee command roles' for UN missions and has turned them all down except for a plum position in New York. With the rising of the House, the Liberals will undoubtedly push any decision further to the right by months until at least the fall session.

Opposition MPs will rightly want a debate before sending CAF troops into obvious peril – and this will be another excuse to, in military parlance, mark time.

There’s an old military adage related to the concept of leadership when it comes to making a choice. Either make a decision, follow, or get the hell out of the way. Our allies, like the Dutch in need of a tag-out in Mali, and the Germans who wanted the use of our helicopters instead of theirs, are probably dismayed that Canada is 'all talk and no action'.

Perhaps the innocents who are being killed, tortured, raped and maimed would like to stop holding out false hope that blue-beret-wearing Canadians are coming to their rescue. The world and our defence partners are realizing that Canadian ‘Sunny Ways’ and ‘Canada is Back’ talk is simply blowing sunshine up their collective behinds.
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– Blair Gilmore is a Research Fellow with the Nova Scotia branch of the Royal United Services Institute of (RUSI-NS)

Petrou: Canada Should Join Our Allies and Send Trainers to Afghanistan

By: Michael Petrou, CBC Opinion Column 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ruled out sending Canadian combat troops back to Afghanistan — despite requests from NATO commanders that member states contribute more soldiers to an ongoing mission.

"Canada has always been recognized as one of the go-to partners in NATO," Trudeau said, while essentially suggesting the alliance "go to" some other partner because Canada has already done its share.

This is a mistake. Afghanistan — a country that 158 Canadian soldiers died defending — is teetering on the edge of a dark abyss.

On Wednesday morning, a vehicle bomb in the diplomatic quarter of the capital, Kabul, killed at least 90 people and wounded hundreds. Reports suggested most of the dead are civilians. The Canadian embassy suffered "significant damage," according to a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, though Trudeau said Canadian embassy staff are safe and accounted for. More than 360 people have died in attacks in Kabul since last June. This attack appears to be the deadliest. 

Even without Canada's participation, Operation Resolute Support — NATO's support mission in Afghanistan — is NATO's largest current deployment, one that involves 13,000 personnel from member states and partner nations. It's a priority for the alliance. And Canada is particularly well-suited to it. Trudeau's past rhetoric suggests he knows as much.

While attempting to explain back in 2015 why he would end Canadian airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Trudeau said Canada would instead offer what it has "demonstrated tremendous ability at in Afghanistan and elsewhere: training local troops doing the fighting on the ground."

Now Afghanistan needs the sort of training Canada once provided; the training Trudeau says this country is so good at.
Lingering instability

Wednesday's atrocity in Kabul is only the most recent that Afghanistan has suffered in the past few months. The Taliban, which has denied responsibility for the bombing, is resurgent. A newly established branch of ISIS has launched numerous attacks in Kabul. Afghanistan's security forces are better than they once were, but are still unable to secure their country without help.

The "tremendous ability" Canada demonstrated in Afghanistan did not come easily. It grew out of more than a decade of battlefield and training experience, mistakes, learning, adjusting and sacrifice.

That makes the call to return there difficult to accept. Canadians can look at the ongoing insurgency, the corruption, the lack of a political settlement on the horizon and wonder what was the point of intervening there in the first place.

But this ignores what has been accomplished. For all the setbacks and frustrations, Afghanistan is a more hopeful place today than it was on September 10, 2001.
Far more girls school attend school in Afghanistan than would have if the Taliban still ruled Kabul. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
Fewer infants and mothers die. Afghanistan's infant mortality rate was 95 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000. In 2015, it was 66 deaths for every 1,000 births. What's more, Afghanistan is no longer the base for international terrorism that it was before al-Qaeda was routed (though inroads made by ISIS could change that). There has been a peaceful and democratic transfer of power for the first time in the country's history. And while far fewer girls probably attend school than the Afghan government has claimed, it's clear that far more do than would if the Taliban still ruled Kabul.

Giving up on Afghanistan also avoids confronting just how long it often takes to end insurgencies and civil wars and rebuild nations. In Colombia, a peace deal last year concluded a conflict that had persisted for more than five decades.
Canadians soldiers carry prepare to leave the Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan, in July 2011. Canadian troops transitioned from a combat to a training role that year and withdrew from the country altogether three years later. (Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press)
Progress in Afghanistan will be measured in generations. And long-term progress requires long-term commitments. Canadian soldiers' deployments in Afghanistan, generally six-month tours, were too short. Understanding a mission and nurturing relationships with locals take time, and a constant rotation of troops undermines this process. But over the years Canada was in Afghanistan, it built expertise and institutional memory. Afghanistan, and Canada's NATO partners in that country, would benefit from that now.

For a while, it seemed that Trudeau would instead put what Canada learned in Afghanistan to use in a United Nations peacekeeping mission somewhere in Africa, probably Mali, a country the UN is trying to stabilize in the face of an Islamist insurgency.

Trudeau appears to have developed cold feet of late, recently noting Canadians have a "difficult history in Africa as peacekeepers" and cautioning that he would not "fast-track" a decision to send Canadian soldiers there, despite previously expressing great eagerness to do just that.
Afghanistan needs Canada's help

Still, Canada's participation in a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa at least remains on the table for Trudeau, while a return to Afghanistan is something he says he won't consider.

Trudeau last year pledged to "revitalize" Canada's role in peacekeeping, something that would allow him to differentiate his foreign policy from that of his predecessor, Stephen Harper. And he likely sees Canadian participation in UN missions as a way to bolster Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2021.

But such considerations shouldn't influence where troops are deployed. Canada's ties to Afghanistan are stronger than are those to Mali. The need for Canada's help is greater there. And Canada's obligations to NATO — despite Trudeau's evident fondness for the idea of peacekeeping, if not its messy reality — are more important than is Ottawa's commitment to the United Nations. Canada should join its closest allies and return to Afghanistan.
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Michael Petrou is a journalist and historian. He’s a fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, the recipient of the 2017 R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship and the 2018 Martin Wise Goodman Canadian Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
@michaelpetrou

Canadian Trainers Would Face Risk in Afghanistan

By: Evan Dyer, CBC News 

As the security situation in Afghanistan continues to slip, NATO has asked Canada to help with its Resolute Support mission by sending trainers to help build an Afghan military and police force capable of defending the country.

For the past three years, Canadian soldiers have been training and mentoring Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq with great success and only one fatality: Sgt. Andrew Doiron was killed in a "friendly fire" incident that all sides agree was a tragic but honest mistake.

The Canadians have developed a relationship of mutual trust and even affection with their Kurdish hosts, according to Canadian military commanders.

So the Afghan training and mentoring mission NATO is now asking Canada to take on, might also seem to be a relatively safe assignment.

But bitter experience has taught NATO that the Afghan frontline runs through every army base, police detachment and training classroom. Western soldiers have died not only on the battlefield, but on the parade ground, the firing range and even sitting down to dinner with their Afghan counterparts.

"Insider attacks" have been a constant of the Afghan war, and many have taken the form of so-called "green-on-blue" shootings, in which foreign instructors are deliberately killed by their own students.

Opinion: Canada should join its closest allies and return to Afghanistan

In August 2012, an Afghan police commander called Asadullah sat down to a pre-dawn meal with three U.S. marines in Helmand province. The marines were there to train Afghan national police. Asadullah invited them, he told them, to discuss security arrangements.

Partway through the meal, Asadullah produced a pistol and shot the three marines dead. He then fled the base in the dark.

"He is with us now," Taliban spokesperson Qari Yusuk Ahmadi later confirmed to Agence France-Presse by phone.
Insider attacks

Sixty foreign advisers were killed by Afghan soldiers and police that same year, according to figures compiled by the International Security Assistance Force. The attacks prompted new measures by ISAF to protect trainers from their trainees.

The changes included strengthened identity vetting for Afghan security forces members.

That's no simple matter in a country where the typical recruit is an illiterate villager with no real birth certificate and often, no family name (many Afghans use only a first name).

The Afghan military is now using biometric scans, with equipment and supervision provided by ISAF, on all new recruits. Recruits must also provide references from two trusted elders from their home district.

Western trainers also instituted a system of "guardian angels," where a coalition soldier is assigned to stand guard over Afghan recruits at all times.
Afghan police demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony at a police training centre in the Adraskan district of Herat province, Afghanistan, in March, 2011. (Reza Shirmohammadi/Associated Press)
Not getting safer

On military bases where Afghan soldiers and police mix with foreign forces, the Afghans are required to be unarmed inside the gates, or have the firing pins removed from their rifles.

It was partly because of that rule that a recent Taliban attack on an Afghan army base in Mazar-e-Sharif was so deadly, says Bill Roggio, a former U.S. soldier who today edits the Long War Journal, published by the Washington think-tank the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies.

In that incident, about 10 attackers were recently able to kill about 140 mostly unarmed recruits.

"It tells you just how the Taliban strategy of conducting insider attacks has second and third order effects that people often don't consider," said Roggio. "They just aren't being trusted right now and trust is the first thing you need when you're partnering with foreign forces.

"You have cases where Afghan soldiers have gone through the vetting process, they didn't have any problems and then after a couple years in service, or a couple of months or weeks, they've been pressured or talked to by the Taliban and recruited to conduct attacks," he said.

Roggio says the countermeasures taken by NATO forces are not the main reason for the reduction in insider attacks.

"The primary reason for the reduction over the last several years is there's been less coalition forces partnered" with Afghan forces, he says, and fewer Westerners in Afghanistan generally.
Police forces clash with protesters during a demonstration in Kabul earlier this month. Hundreds of demonstrators demanded better security in the Afghan capital in the wake of a powerful truck bomb attack that killed scores of people. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)
Yet three more U.S. soldiers fell victim to such an attack on June 12. The men of the 101st Airborne were killed in Nangarhar province by an Afghan National Army soldier who was immediately killed by return fire.

A week later, seven more Americans were shot by an Afghan soldier inside the Mazar-e-Sharif base. All seven survived.


An Ottawa cop remembers

Canada has been involved in training Afghan police before.

Ottawa police Sgt. Colin Stokes, who trained Afghan police in Kandahar from 2009 to 2010, operated mostly out of Camp Nathan Smith.

He says his experience was mostly positive, but remembers the precautions he and his fellow police officers took, particularly when their students were armed at the firing range.
Ottawa police Sgt. Colin Stokes oversees an Afghan police trainee during weapons training in Kandahar. Stokes was posted with the Canadian Armed Forces as a trainer in 2009 and 2010. (Colin Stokes )
"When we were on the range with them, we always ensured there were other police officers, basically, very hands on and close to all the Afghan soldiers and constables that were on the line," he says.

Stokes said his Afghan trainees were mostly keen to learn, but says it's impossible to prevent all green-on-blue killings when dealing with armed recruits.

"Mistakes are made, things slip through the cracks. Everybody tries to do the best we can to vet personnel, but it's a war zone and you can't be too surprised when people get killed."

He says he'd be willing to return under certain circumstances.

"If Canada does go back, if I was to go back, I'd want to mentor Afghans that have the capacity to absorb the type of police training that we have to give."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

DND Appoints First Female JAG

DND Press Release

Defence Minister Sajjan announced the appointment of Navy Captain Geneviève Bernatchez as the 15th Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Canadian Armed Forces – the first woman to hold this position. Capt(N) Bernatchez will be promoted to the rank of Commodore and succeed Major-General Blaise Cathcart who will retire later this year. A formal Change of Appointment ceremony will take place on 27 June 2017 in Ottawa.

The JAG is the legal adviser to the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, DND and the CAF in matters relating to military law. The JAG also has the superintendence of the administration of the military justice in the CAF.


According to a DND press release, Capt(N) Bernatchez’s career with the Office of the JAG reflects diverse appointments and responsibilities involving the provision of legal advice and services in the areas of operational, military justice and administrative law.

She holds a Masters of International Legal Studies degree with a specialization in National Security Law from Georgetown University (Washington D.C.), a Bachelor of Laws from the Université de Montréal and a Diplôme d'Études Collégiales in Administration from the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (Montréal). She has been a member of the Barreau du Québec since 1993.

“Captain (Navy) Bernatchez has demonstrated the leadership and commitment to service before self that exemplifies the character and spirit of Canada’s women and men in uniform,” noted Minister Sajjan.

Captain (Navy) Bernatchez is the first woman to be appointed as Judge Advocate General.

Captain (Navy) Bernatchez enrolled in the Canadian Naval Reserve in 1987 and transferred to Regular Force in 1997 where she joined the Office of the JAG.

She was promoted to the rank of Captain (Navy) in 2010, serving as Deputy Judge Advocate General for Operations.

Captain (Navy) Bernatchez served subsequently as the Chief of Staff to the Judge Advocate General and most recently held the position of Deputy Judge Advocate General/Regional Services.

She has deployed in support of CF operations during the Kosovo conflict and, as the Deputy Judge Advocate General/Operations, was the senior legal officer responsible for the provision of operational and international legal advice to the Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces for all missions including Afghanistan and Libya.

She is a co-author of the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (the “Tallinn Manual”, Cambridge University Press, 2013), the first published manual on the legal framework supporting cyber conflict.

New Mission against ISIL won’t include sending troops to Syria: Sajjan

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Globe and Mail 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has ruled out sending Canadian troops into Syria as the clock ticks down on Canada’s current mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Military planners have been drawing up options for the next phase of the fight against ISIL, after the Trudeau government extended the current mission for another three months in March.

The hope was that the battle for the city of Mosul would be over by the new deadline on June 30, at which point the international community would have a better idea of how the next chapter was shaping up.

ISIL continues to hold out in parts of Mosul, but Sajjan said Friday that the government is looking at how the mission should change to better support the fight against the extremist group.

Yet Sajjan closed the door on sending troops into Syria, offering a clear “No” when asked if that option was on the table.

“Right now, as Canada, we’re focused on Iraq and we’ll continue that focus to make sure we reinforce some of the gains that we have made and make adjustments where it’s necessary,” he said.

That is despite the presence of several hundred U.S. troops in Syria and the fact that Canadian surveillance planes and a refuelling aircraft have flown missions over the country for the last several months.

Their efforts have fed into the larger U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.

Canada also has about 200 special forces operating alongside Kurdish and Iraq forces in northern Iraq, including inside Mosul, as well as medical personnel and a helicopter detachment in the area.

Sajjan said Canada remains committed to the fight against ISIL and supporting Iraq, where there are fears the extremist group will go underground and resort to more traditional terror attacks after Mosul.

That will require different training and support from the international community, which to this point has been largely focused on helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight ISIL as a regular military force.

There are also concerns about Iraq’s political future, with several potential conflicts bubbling just beneath the surface as the threat posed by ISIL appears to be receding.

The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region announced earlier this month that a referendum on independence will be held on Sept. 25, setting up a potentially explosive standoff with Baghdad.

Much of Canada’s military support in Iraq has gone to the Kurds.

Sajjan also said the Trudeau government continues to weigh a request from NATO to send police trainers to Afghanistan.