News Highlights – 21 Jun 11

  • Libya Mission (1)  Flying low, slow and vulnerable, a pair of lumbering Canadian spy planes operate just off the Libyan coast at the edge of shoulder-fired missile range, eavesdropping on pro-Gadhafi forces and feeding critical targeting information. The Auroras, Cold-War-era submarine hunters newly kitted out with sophisticated sensors, are playing a little-known and relatively risky role as part of Canada’s biggest involvement in a military conflict in decades. The range of Canada’s war-fighting assets – fighter-bombers, surveillance aircraft, tankers and a warship – represents the broadest array of commitment to a relatively small conflict in many years. Compared with previous conflicts, including the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 1999 Kosovo air war, Canada has a bigger role and a far bigger command presence ….”
  • Libya Mission (2)  Civvy cas = less Canadian support?  “The deaths of Libyan civilians in NATO air strikes are raising fears that international political support for the mission could weaken, and that Canadians could become reluctant to back it even though there are no soldiers on the ground …. In Canada, the opposition New Democrats warned that civilian casualties will have an impact on support.  “Yes, it does have an impact on how it’s perceived, if there is civilian casualties, absolutely,” said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar. “That’s why there has to be caution, oversight. That’s why I think there needs to be strengthening in the oversight and in the communications between the UN, the Arab League, and NATO.” ….  “When you’re conducting a bombing campaign, it’s inevitable that you are going to kill civilians,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, the only MP who voted against extending the Canadian mission in Libya …. Josh Zanin, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said “the goal of the mission is, and will continue to be, the protection of civilians and to stop the Gadhafi regime’s attacks on civilians.  “In pursuing this goal, NATO makes every reasonable effort to ensure the safety of civilians.” …. “
  • Afghanistan (1)  Welcome home!  About 60 soldiers received a warm homecoming when they arrived in Quebec City Monday from their final tour of duty in Afghanistan. The soldiers were all members of the Royal 22nd Regiment based at CFB Valcartier near the provincial capital and they were the first group to be sent home as Canada winds down its combat role against the Taliban. About 1,900 troops are expected to return to Valcartier by the end of July. They comprise the majority of the approximately 2,700 soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan ….”  More from Postmedia News here.
  • Afghanistan (2)  It’s not JUST the troops preparing to return home.  “As he sat amid the blackened, bombed-out ruins of a bazaar in western Panjwaii, Joffre Leblanc could sense something was different. At the time, it was pure instinct. But there was something about the unfamiliar faces who showed up for a shura, or meeting, following a grinding NATO sweep through Kandahar province last fall that told him change was indeed in the air. “You do have moments here when things certainly become a lot clearer,” said Leblanc, 26, who grew up in Halifax. As a district stabilization officer, one of a handful of gutsy civilians working along side the military, Leblanc’s job was to fortify an all-but-non-existent bond between Kabul and villagers in far-flung areas who knew little of their government, and cared even less ….”
  • Afghanistan (3)  Petawawa-area MP recognizes contribution of troops in the House of Commons.
  • Afghanistan (4)  Remember the swack of Afghan detainee documents a team of MPs was looking at to figure out which should be released?The coveted and long-awaited Afghan detainee documents — the first tranche of 25,000 or so anyway — are set to be released Wednesday, QMI Agency has learned. There are only four days this week when the House of Commons is sitting before MPs vamoose for the summer until Sept. 19, and the documents have been ready for release since the election. Two sources close to the file confirmed to QMI Agency Sunday the documents will be released Wednesday, but it’s still not known what will be revealed. Liberal MP Stephane Dion, who is his party’s representative on the committee reviewing the documents, said the government had not informed him of a timeline for the release of documents. And, as Dion and the others signed an oath of secrecy in order to read the documents, he would not say what Canadians might learn when they see the documents. “I have not even told my leader, Mr. (Bob) Rae,” Dion said Sunday in Vancouver where he was his party’s official observer at the NDP convention ….”
  • Afghanistan (5)  Good question.  “There may be some excitement in foreign capitals over Sunday’s confirmation by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that preliminary peace talks with the Taliban have begun. From Ottawa to London, Paris, Berlin, Canberra and Washington, everyone in the West wants to be done with this war. Some countries, such as Canada, are already heading for the exits. Others, such as France and Germany, purposely avoided all the heavy lifting, and now, with the Taliban on the ropes militarily in much of Afghanistan, are eager to claim a peace dividend. The U.S., which provides two-thirds of troops and about 90 per cent of the combat power, is days away from announcing an accelerated exit strategy that many in Congress insist is justified because Osama bin Laden has been killed. One group that does not share this enthusiasm for peace talks is the majority of Afghans. Although long weary of war and keen for peace, they have heard about secret talks with the Taliban many times before, only to find there was nothing to them. The Norwegians, the Turks, the Saudis and others have been trying to foster such discussions for a while with no tangible results. Why, they wonder, will this time be any different? ….”  More on talkin’ to the Taliban at the 3Ds Blog here.
  • Afghanistan (6)  Speaking of talking to the Taliban, a Foreign Affairs Minister’s spokesperson says we’re not “involved in negotiations” with the Taliban. “Canada is not talking to the Taliban, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday after U.S. reports confirmed the Americans were chatting with the terrorist group. “Canada is not involved in negotiations with the Taliban,” Chris Day said in an e-mail. Day was responding to queries after U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed on the weekend that State Department officials have been in direct talks with Taliban members in recent weeks ….”
  • Bigger, better things coming for the Chief of Defence Staff?  Canada’s top soldier is in the running to become NATO’s most senior military officer, according to sources within the alliance. Walter Natynczyk, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, is said to be keen to become the alliance’s Chairman of the Military Committee, when the post becomes vacant this September. General Natynczyk would need the Prime Minister’s blessing to run for the job of becoming principal military adviser to NATO’s Secretary General, since Canada has to pick up the multi-million-dollar tab to pay his salary, staff and security. A government spokesman said it is “premature” to comment on the General’s prospective candidacy. It is understood the Conservative government is concerned about another high profile loss of face, if the General’s candidacy becomes official and he loses. Canada lost its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, while Defence Minister Peter MacKay was beaten to the job of NATO Secretary General by Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying? (1)  Mark Collins with “F-35: Why Can Denmark Have a Fighter Competition and We Can’t?”
  • What’s Canada Buying (2)  Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, responding to an NDP question in the House about why Canada isn’t collecting any penalties linked to the delay of delivery of new helicopters to replace Canada’s Sea Kings“…. when we sign a contract with a military supplier, we expect its obligations under the contract to be met. The first interim maritime helicopter has arrived at 12 Wing Shearwater to support training of Canadian Forces air crew and technicians for the maritime helicopter project. It is important to know that Sikorsky has confirmed that it will deliver the 28 fully compliant maritime helicopters on schedule starting in June of this year.”
  • What’s Canada Buying (3)  Wanted:  Someone to train firefighters at CFB Petawawa.
  • Remember the Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study Some new coverage:  “Despite the obvious risks faced by military personnel, new data shows Canadian soldiers have a significantly lower death rate than the general population. Statistics Canada’s Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study, which looked at health information for soldiers over a period spanning more than three decades, shows those who enlisted in the Canadian Forces between the start of 1972 and the end of 2006 had a 35% lower chance of dying of any cause within those years in Canada than the average person in this country. “Canadian Forces personnel, in order to get in, have to pass a certain medical standard and a certain physical standard, so we’re generally a healthy population to start with,” said Col. Colin MacKay, who co-chaired the study’s advisory committee and also served as director of Force Health Protection. “It’s hard to say whether that full 35% reduction in risk for mortality for all causes is attributable to the healthy worker effect. There may still be some effect from the culture within the Canadian Forces, where we try to promote health and physical fitness.” ….”
  • Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery and a safe trip home.  Several members of Maine’s largest Army Guard unit, the 133rd Engineer Battalion, were injured when a bus carrying them through a training center in Gagetown, New Brunswick, crashed Monday morning. “A bus rolled over and 16 soldiers were sent to the hospital, treated for minor injuries and released,” Capt. Shanon Cotta of the Maine National Guard said Monday afternoon. The Maine National Guard soldiers are training at the Canadian Forces Base-Gagetown located near the village of Gagetown. Soldiers from the 251st Engineer Company — based in the town of Norway and dubbed the sappers — are leading the training. Sappers are engineers who specialize in gaining access to buildings, towns and other strategic locations and destroying them, Cotta said. In Canada, “they’re conducting urban breaching operations” as part of their training, he said ….”

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