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Tidbits from Both Sides of the Fight

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 16 May 12

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  • Afghanistan (1)  Canada is to cut its military footprint in Afghanistan by more than 100 soldiers beginning in July, with further reductions likely over the next year. “We’ll have less than we have there now. We will have less than 800,” said Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the head of the army, which provides most of the troops for the training mission that began in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat last year while thousands of Canadian combat forces left Kandahar. Those returning home from South Asia beginning this summer are part of a group of more than 900 trainers mostly drawn from a New-Brunswick-based battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, which only arrived in Afghanistan two months ago. Canadian Maj.-Gen. Mike Day, who runs NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, indicated when he spoke with Postmedia News in Kabul in February that he was preparing recommendations to cut the number of alliance trainers because the training program would soon be larger than what was needed for the Afghan army. The force has expanded rapidly to more than 300,000 soldiers and is now taking in fewer new soldiers. “The numbers may go down,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay acknowledged. “(The Afghans) are going to run out of recruits to train over the next 18 months. We don’t want our soldiers to be there if they are only sitting on their rucksacks.” ….”
  • Afghanistan (2)  What Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had to say in the House of Commons on the future of Canada’s role in Afghanistan:  “Canada is committed until 2014 to participate in an international mission to train Afghan security forces to prevent that country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We will assess that as we will assess what is necessary to meet those objectives. We have not made any final decisions at this time …. We e sent a training mission to Afghanistan that arrived last year and will go until 2014 to help the Afghan forces develop the capacity so that they can provide for themselves and their country’s own security. The men and women of the Canadian Forces are doing an absolutely splendid job representing Canada and assisting the people of Afghanistan in that security. We wish them very well in that important mission. The House of Commons did vote on the combat mission, as the House is permitted to by any of the opposition parties from time to time. The Prime Minister has made a commitment that before any combat troops or any military mission takes place off our shores that there will be a vote and that he will consult Parliament. The Prime Minister has shown more respect to Parliament in that regard than any prime minister in our history.”
  • Mark Collins spots an interesting tidbit buried in the above-mentioned story“…. “On Nov. 1, 2012 we will be ready to do anything the government of Canada asks us to do. And we will get better over time,” the “three-leaf” general [Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the head of the army] said. “All the high readiness bits of (Quebec-based) 5 Brigade — the troops, the task force HQ, the enablers, etc. — they will be operationally ready then ….”
  • Syria (1)  The escalating violence and unrest in Syria has added to the risks and challenges faced by Canadian Forces (CF) members working for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). Recent events that have been widely reported in the media have added challenges to the entire UNDOF team, as well as the three Canadians who serve in it. Maj Catry, a Royal Canadian Dragoon officer based out of CFB Kingston, has noted that because of the unrest in Syria, as well as Nakba and Naksa Day protests last year, UNDOF’s work load, tempo and intensity have increased dramatically in maintaining the peace in the Golan Heights. As the Military Assistant/Advisor to the Force Commander of UNDOF and as the Force’s Senior Staff Officer for personnel respectively, Maj Catry says he and Lieutenant-Commander Rohe, a Royal Canadian Navy Finance Officer from Ottawa, are busier than usual dealing with contingency plans and preparations. ““My job has changed in the sense that it has become busier and slightly more tension filled due to the increasingly more complex situation,”” says Maj Catry. ““Whenever UNDOF goes high-tempo, we go high-tempo.”” Maj Catry says the recent events have made the environment more complex and risky, but adds that the experience the CF members have from previous deployments helps them adjust to the dynamic situation in Syria. They take care to identify and avoid problematic areas in Damascus, and keep their protective gear close at hand ….” - more on Operation Gladius here and the U.N. mission it supports here
  • Syria (2)  Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister being “appalled” at, “concerned by”, and condemning the latest violence in Syria over the past few days.  The latest from Syria here (Google News) and here (European Commission news aggregator, English-language news on Syria)
  • Opposition MPs and military observers are reacting largely in favour to a major overhaul being made to the Canadian Forces, one that cuts a quarter of the command structure put in place in 2006 through consolidating several headquarters. Yet while several heralded the change as a long time coming, the Department of National Defence has passed on going as far as retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie had envisioned in his controversial report. Even so, the government considers this move as “one phase of the defence renewal initiative.” On May 11, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced a new, unified single operational command, called the Canadian Joint Operations Command. It consolidates three headquarters offices—one overseeing continental missions, another overseeing overseas operations, and a third providing operational support. The new structure will result in a 25 per cent cut to national-level headquarters overhead, according to DND. It will free up staff to be shuffled around to different offices, and allow the military to “focus on domestic operations.” The structure will be phased in over several months, and will be commanded by a lieutenant-general. …. Mr. MacKay’s spokesperson, Jay Paxton, wrote in an email that the May 11 announcement was “one phase of the defence renewal initiative.” “This tranche will result in a 25 per cent reduction in national-level command and control overhead, and will result in a more efficient use of administrative resources,” he wrote ….”
  • QMI’s Ottawa boss David Akin raises a good point re: the upcoming NATO meeting in Chicago“…. The bigger issue for Canada at this weekend’s NATO summit is getting the alliance to break out of its Eurocentric mindset. As retired Canadian colonel George Petrolekas told MPs Tuesday: “It’s trying to push NATO to recognize their boundaries don’t end in the Bay of Biscay. They end in the Straits of Juan de Fuca.” His point: NATO still thinks its boundaries are the western shores of France rather than the western shores of Canada and the U.S. If NATO members could figure that out, that would indeed be smart defence.”
  • Where’s the Chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Been Travelling? (1)  “The chairman of an embattled veterans review board billed taxpayers on two occasions to attend high-brow lectures in Britain where his wife was a participant. John Larlee has regularly attended the Cambridge Lecture series, but went on the federal government’s dime in 2009 and 2011. The prominent events at Queen’s College at Cambridge University north of London, attract movers and shakers in the British and Canadian political and legal communities. Set amid the neatly manicured lawns, waterways and stone ramparts of the centuries-old university, the lectures have featured the likes of former prime minister Paul Martin and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada. Larlee’s bills for both trips, listed as professional development in the expense records of the Veterans Review and Appeal board, totalled $7,285.97, including flights, accommodations and meals. His wife, Justice Margaret Larlee of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, has been a fixture at the events. She was moderator of a panel on ending rape in both war and politics at the 2009 conference and led a discussion in 2011 on the role of Israel’s supreme court in the fight against terrorism. Justice Larlee was also featured at the 2007 lectures, discussing commissions of inquiry and whether they are worth the money. Her husband accompanied her that year as well, but paid for the trip out of his pocket, according to a veterans board spokeswoman. The chairman refused an interview request, but Danielle Gauthier, who speaks for the independent agency, says the trips were justified ….”
  • Where’s the Chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Been Travelling? (2)  “Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney has ordered a ban on international travel for members of an arm’s-length agency that reviews the claims of veterans. The order late Tuesday follows growing controversy over expense claims from John Larlee, chairman of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board since 2009. The Canadian Press reported this week that Larlee took two taxpayer-funded trips to attend lectures in Britain, where his wife was also a participant. A group representing Canada’s veterans, the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says the trips are suspect and wants Larlee called to account before a House of Commons committee. New Democrats went further on Tuesday and demanded he be fired. The minister turned aside those demands, saying the board is an arm’s-length agency that is accountable for its own actions. “We will stand by the tribunal and expect all board members to be responsible and show respect for taxpayer dollars at all times,” he told the Commons. “I am confident this board will keep on providing good services for our veterans.” ….” - more from Minister Blaney during Question Period in the House of Commons yesterday
  • Where’s the Chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Been Travelling? (3)
  • A retired RCMP officer from Bath has filed a complaint with the Auditor General of Canada demanding members of the federal police force have access to more mental health treatment programs. Eric Rebiere, 54, who in 2006 left the police force after 24 years, said the federal government has refused to fund treatment for RCMP officers suffering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other occupational stress injuries (OSI). Rebiere said he plans to follow his complaint to the auditor general with a similar submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “It is a human rights issue. You can’t put money ahead of lives,” Rebiere said. “Like the military, Canada has a moral obligation to take care of the RCMP, injured officers and veterans.” ….”
  • Way Up North/What’s Canada Buying?  “Department of National Defence, 1 ESU, Moncton, NB, requires one supplier to provide accommodations, meals and vehicle rental for the period July 14, 2012 – August 5, 2012 for military personnel as they undertake improvements to their C-Span project at Resolute Bay Airfield, Resolute Bay, NU. The estimated value of the contract: $131,250.00, taxes included ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1a)  Welcome back to the stand, Mr. Auditor General  The auditor general is blasting critics of his report on the Harper government’s stealth fighter program. Michael Ferguson is making a repeat appearance before the Commons public accounts committee, saying he stands behind the facts and figures in his April 3 audit, which set off a heated political debate. The report accuses National Defence of hiding the full cost of the F-35 program by not publicly reporting $10 billion in operational expenses and criticizes Public Works for not demanding more justification for the sole-source purchase. Defence Minister Peter MacKay calls the discrepancy an accounting difference, but Ferguson says Treasury Board policy requires life-cycle cost reporting ….” 
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1b)  Auditor General Michael Ferguson responded directly to officials from the Defence Department …. disputing their contention that they aren’t required to count the full costs of a project like the F-35 fighter jet procurement. “I am concerned with suggestions that accurate estimation and the inclusion of personnel, operating and maintenance costs are not important, since they would be incurred regardless of the aircraft selected to replace the CF-18,” Ferguson said in his opening remarks to the House of Commons public accounts committee Tuesday ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2a)  No political overstatement here ….  Angry and frustrated over what they see as an intentional effort to obfuscate, opposition members declared Tuesday that their confidence in Defence officials is wearing thin and the department is either out of control or, worse, gone “rogue.”  There’s no faith in this department anymore,” NDP MP Malcolm Allen said following another round of parliamentary committee hearings into the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program. “None whatsoever.” ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2a)  Meanwhile, Minister Fantino remains on message in the House  “We have, as was indicated, accepted the findings. We are acting on the recommendation of the Auditor General. There is a seven step plan in place. We intend to honour that stepped plan. There is a secretariat in place that will put finite numbers to the issues that the Auditor General was concerned about …. The Government of Canada is taking action to ensure that due diligence, oversight and transparency are firmly embedded in the process to replace Canada’s aging fighter aircraft. We are following a seven step action plan to fulfill and exceed the Auditor General’s recommendation. We are going to stick to that and do the best we can for our men and women in the Canadian Forces, as well as Canadians.”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (3)  Analysts: Remember, it’s still early days to be guessing prices/costs  “Debates about the costs of the F-35 stealth fighter overlook a crucial point: It is only a prototype that’s still being tested and modified. As the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in March, the Pentagon is “incurring substantial additional costs to retrofit produced aircraft to correct deficiencies discovered in testing.” Worse yet, “until manufacturing processes are in control and engineering design changes resulting from information gained during developmental testing are reduced, there is risk of more cost growth.” Design changes are needed with regard to the “fibre mat” that is cured into the composite surfaces of the aircraft, and which provides a large portion of its stealth …. How much will the final version of the F-35 actually cost? How long is a piece of string?”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (4)  In other news, some good news to report (via the Lockheed-Martin Info-machine)“The twelfth Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II destined for the training fleet at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., was ferried today. U.S. Marine Corps pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk piloted the aircraft, known as BF-11, which departed Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas at 10:02 a.m. CDT for an approximate 90-minute flight to Florida’s Emerald Coast. The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing production jet is now assigned to the Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501 residing with the host 33d Fighter Wing, where it will be used for pilot and maintainer training ….”
  • Memorial to Canadian animals of war set for dedication 1 Jul 12 in Nova Scotia (via Army.ca)
  • A security geek once portrayed by police as a budding terrorist flashed victory signs Tuesday after his acquittal on charges of possessing explosives ahead of the G20 summit marred by violence and mass arrests. Despite his two-year ordeal, which included 11 months in jail following his arrest two years ago, an ecstatic Byron Sonne said he would continue to “test” the system. “I’m not going to stop,” a trembling Sonne, 39, said after his exoneration. “It’s more important than ever that we fight against the slippery slope of what’s being done with our rights, against our ability to participate how we see fit.” Sonne was arrested in the days before the June 2010 summit. Although police found no bombs, he was charged with four counts of possessing explosives and one of counselling mischief. Police alleged he planned to combine the myriad neatly labelled legal chemicals he had at his upscale home into explosives, and that he incited others to scale or tear down the three-metre security fence erected around the main downtown summit site. “You guys are making me look like some kind of terrorist or something,” he told police after his arrest. In her 87-page judgment that took almost two hours to read, Ontario Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies accepted Sonne’s claims the chemicals police seized could have been used in pursuit of his rocketry hobby, for camping or for gardening ….” – more here (via Google News search)
  • Two people among 492 Tamil refugee claimants who landed on the West Coast of Canada two years ago have now been charged with helping to organize the smuggling operation. Lesly Jana Emmanuel and Kunarobinson Christhurajah are accused of organizing, inducing and aiding in the operation that brought the Tamils by boat to British Columbia. The MV Sun Sea landed off Victoria in August 2010 with the refugee claimants on board. The court indictment against the pair alleges they planned their crimes between August 2009 and August 2010 in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand ….” – more from the RCMP here, and from media here
  • The former head of U.S. counter-espionage says the Harper government is putting North American security at risk by allowing a giant Chinese technology company to participate in major Canadian telecommunications projects. In an exclusive interview in Washington, Michelle K. Van Cleave told CBC News the involvement of Huawei Technologies in Canadian telecom networks risks turning the information highway into a freeway for Chinese espionage against both the U.S. and Canada. Huawei has long argued there is no evidence linking the company to the growing tidal wave of international computer hacking and other forms of espionage originating in China. Nonetheless, the U.S. and Australia have already blocked Huawei from major telecom projects in those countries, and otherwise made it clear they regard China’s largest telecommunications company as a potential security threat. Van Cleave, who served as top spy-catcher for the Bush administration until 2006, describes Huawei as a potential “stalking horse” for Chinese military and intelligence objectives. Even Canada’s own intelligence agencies have warned the Harper government of the risks of throwing open the door to Chinese telecom companies. Despite all the warnings, the federal and Ontario governments have rolled out the red carpet to Huawei, officially praising the Chinese company’s partnerships in Canadian telecom projects with Telus, Bell, SaskTel and WIND Mobile ….”  More on why the Aussies are worried about Huawei here and here and a U.S. open source intelligence document on the company here
  • War of 1812  Some of the usual suspects bemoan  “The big project this year is an attempt to rebrand the War of 1812 between Britain (along with its Canadian colony) and the United States. That part of the war fought on what is now Canadian soil was, in reality, a series of tawdry and incompetently planned skirmishes in which neither side really won. But the “new warriors”, led by the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and assisted by a platoon of Defence department flacks and eager academics, are attempting to turn 1812 into an epic Canadian victory. This is not only or even mainly about history — it is rather about using history to justify and glorify Canada’s recent military adventures in places like Afghanistan and Libya, and to justify bloated expenditures on new jet planes and military hardware, not to mention to sustain an increasingly autocratic Canadian political regime ….”

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