Canadian Forces still in combat, but for whom?

Finally almost 6 months after the election the Liberal government has announced its policy on Canada’s role in the growing maelstrom in the middle east. While there was talk Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.17.59 AMof “capacity building” and a commitment to humanitarian aid, the military part of Mr Trudeau’s earnest sounding speech speech is completely disingenuous.  The fact of the matter is “equipping, advising and assisting” is a combat mission.

Canadians need to understand very clearly that we are stepping farther into this fight, the consequences of which could be nothing short of cataclysmic. From the continued Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.29.26 AMhorrendous suffering of the Syrian people, which is seeing bodies of whole families washing up on European shores, to the possibility of igniting a huge regional conflict if the Kurdish forces we are training and equipping claim their homeland by forcibly cutting off pieces of Turkey, Iran Syria and Iraq,. The possibility of sparking a clash between NATO and the Russian Federation, highlighted by Turkeys shooting down of a Russian jet should be of massive concern to any sane human. At huge risk also is Canada’s basic sovereignty in military and Foreign policy.


I was a Canadian soldier for ten years. Training whole units for combat operations of necessity involves leading and assisting them in battle. General Vance Chief of the Defense Staff warned as much at the Liberal press briefing ,

new-defence-chief-20150717“We want Canadians to know that we will be involved in engagements as we defend ourselves and those partners who we are working with,” Gen. Vance later told reporters. “You put more people on the ground in a dangerous place, it is riskier over all.”  General Vance Chief of Defense Staff , February 8th, 2016

Sgt Dorian pictured above was killed on the front line in Iraq last year.  He was killed by mistake, apparently by the very Kurdish troops he was leading. The fact he and his unit were working on the front line during an engagement should be instructive to Canadian’s about what Mr Trudeau means when he says “advise and assist”. Witness also the recent assertion by  Maj.-Gen. Charles Lamarre, director strategic joint staff, that Canadian advisers played a vital leadership role in defending then retaking ground near Mosul on December 16th of last year. In plain English that means putting Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.34.17 AMrounds down range for Canadian special forces, it means Canadian soldiers personally leading platoon sized units into the fire of the enemy. There is evidence of the immediate ramping up of their operations as the CF announced this week the deployment from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron of additional specialist Griffon helicopters. The highly aggressive troops of the JTF2 are preparing to go on the offensive. The fact is we are excellent at this task, far more skilled than our American cousins, and that is why the Obama administration and the US pentagon have welcomed Canada’s new mission.

JTF2 will mostly be involved, as they have been, in training and leading the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. This is of huge concern. The Kurds have been fighting since the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 divided their Territory between the new Turkish State,  Iran, and the Sykes-Picot creations, Iraq and Syria. The area they claim as their homeland involves territory of all these countries. Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.05.02 AMThe Kurds have been fighting Turkey for autonomy since 1974 with a campaign of insurgent attacks. This has now resulted in the insane situation; NATO member Turkey, bombing both ISIS and Kurdish positions since this last November. Iran has grave concerns for the rise of Kurdish separatism even though in the fight against Sunni ISIS they are allies for now. Given the murkiness of Kurdish internal politics it is hard to predict the eventual outcome. This hasn’t stopped us from creating within the Kurdish movements a military capacity they have never had, and we continue to arm them to the teeth. Turkey is now threatening a land invasion of the area around Aleppo, Syria as it is attacked by forces loyal to Assad backed by Russian air power and likely Russia’s “Spetznaz” special forces doing the exact same job our troops are doing with the Peshmerga. This could result in Turkish and Russian troops trading fire.  These potential cataclysms aren’t even on the radar of most Canadians and from the evidence their government isn’t very aware either.

This new mission will involve Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 in its largest operations since Afghanistan. This highly secretive unit has been operating all over the world since its inception in the early 90’s with little to no oversight of its operations. jtf2ig-roi2ri-05-en-medThere has been a huge increase in the size and budgets of Canada’s special forces in the last 10 years. In 2006 the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was created increasing the numbers of special forces tenfold. Its counter insurgency manual is a copy of American  doctrine, a doctrine that has left them losing every ground war since WW2. For ten years in Afghanistan JTF2 fought virtually under American command.  There are still many unanswered questions about that period from the military’s own “sandtrap” investigations never truly completed and so heavily classified as to hardly exist. The JTF2 have been all over Africa and South America. They were in Libya helping with Khaddafi’s bloody ouster that has left it a failed state. There is even talk of forming a permanent joint Canadian -American Task force.  This is the danger here for Canadians. The budgets and prestige of this new special forces industry depends on their participation in American led operations around the world of questionable legality, morality, and importance to Canada’s security. Since these highly specialized soldiers are the ones who advise the government behind closed doors it is likely they will push to continue this trend to the possible detriment of our real security.

It is hard to exaggerate the almost seamless integration at the senior levels of the two forces, reinforced by personal networks longstanding friendships. Indeed Canada’s generals and admirals tend to be more concerned with their relationships with their American counterparts than they are with their own politicians in Ottawa
“Canada in Kandahar, the unexpected war” p14,  Janet Gross Stein and Eugene Lang , Viking Canada 2007

Canadians should have some grave and fundamental concerns about the sovereignty over the whole of their own military. Starting with the ascension of Gen. Rick Hillier as Canada’s top officer in 2005, there has been a massive shift toward a level of joint training and matching operational capabilities with American Forces that borders on wholesale integration. General Hillier was a graduate of the US Army War College and did an exchange as 2nd in command of the US Army 3rd Corps in Texas,  General Walter Natynchuck who replaced him as Chief of Defense Staff  in 2008 had the same resume but Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.22.02 AMas 2nd in command of 3rd Corps was instrumental in planning that divisions entry into Iraq in 2003. General Walter Natynchuck then fired General Andrew Leslie as chief of the Army and replaced him with Maj.-Gen. Peter Devlin another US Army War College alumni who served with the 3rd corps in Iraq, he then commanded the misnamed Iraqi Multi-National Corps, almost wholly manned by American troops in 2007-2008. This corps is accused of war crimes by some in Iraq. It seems that close association with American forces is becoming a prerequisite for command in Canada. Not a good sign.

The shiny new Liberal Defense Minister,Harjit Singh Sajjan, did his second tour in Afghanistan as an aid to US general  James L. Terry deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan. It is interesting to note that both LCol. Sajjan and General Andrew Leslie, a man who was highly decorated in Bosnia and Afghanistan at a much higher command level, and was commander of the Canadian Army, were both elected as Liberals in October. But it was Sajjan who became Minister of Defense leaving Leslie as Party Whip. This might be the second time Leslie lost out for his lack of American connections even though his pedigree is stunning. His father commanded the Canadian Artillery in Korea. One of his grandfathers was the famous General Andrew McNaughton, Canada’s best general in WW1 and the man who led the Canadian forces in WW2, his other grandfather was Brooke Claxton, Canada’s longest serving Defense Minister, both of whom fought on Vimy ridge. Perhaps Leslie’s loyalties lie too far north for some.

Interviewing Canadian military commentator Scott Taylor a few years ago he said to me “The Americans would like nothing better than for us to be a military adjunct to their forces…we are interoperable .. we even share common cultural references like “Family Guy”, and we are far far more skilled at small unit tactics.  General Roméo Dallaire agreed with him that inter-operability with the US was Canada’s new overarching priority.



So at present we are supporting both sides in a brutal civil war, training some rebel groups and bombing others. There is very credible evidence that ISIS exists as a direct result of US intervention in the region and was supported by the west, whether knowingly or not, in its early stages. The conflict in Syria could easily spiral out of control leading to a massive regional war over Kurdish autonomy or the beginning of a nightmare clash between NATO and Russia.

We need to immediately and aggressively start asking our government some much harder questions about the use of our Armed Forces around the world. We owe it to the men and women who serve, it is our duty as citizens. In these most dangerous of times we need to be a voice and a force for reason, to try and restore the peace of the world, not a “mercenary adjunct” of the U.S.

Read more about Canadian Military policy

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About the Author

   I am a ten year veteran of the Canadian Forces. I was with the 2nd Battalion PPCLI in Croatia in 1993 when they where awarded both the Governor General of Canada’s unit commendation and the United Nations Secretary Generals citation for halting ethnic cleansing in the Medak area. I started as a Journalist with community radio and writing articles. In 2009 I began working with CUTV Montreal. During the student strikes and subsequent social unrest I helped manage the Livestream ground teams. I am also a co-founder of and The founder of 3RTV, both citizen media groups. I also collaborated with Michelle Moore on the documentary film Déception Durable which was selected for the 2014 Montréal International Film Festival, and Films That Matter in Calgary on resource extraction in Quebec. I am a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists



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