Canada, coalition not even containing ISIS

By Scott Taylor

In the early, heady days last fall, when Canada first deployed CF-18 combat planes to battle ISIS militants in Iraq, there was keen media interest in the conflict. The good guys were off to smite the evildoers and the Conservative government felt that a six-month timeframe ought to do the trick. Once our flyboys actually started dropping their explosive ordnance, the early reports of their success against ISIS seemed a little exaggerated.

  A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Hornet loaded and prepared for a mission sits on the tarmac on February 5, 2015 during Operation IMPACT. DND photo. 


A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Hornet loaded and prepared for a mission sits on the tarmac on February 5, 2015 during Operation IMPACT. DND photo. 

One early attack near the city of Fallujah destroyed a bulldozer and a couple of dump trucks. Military officials told the media that ISIS had intended to use this construction equipment to dam up the Tigris River in order to flood entire communities. In other words, thanks to the RCAF, a genocide was averted. ISIS may have attained an almost mythical status for their capacity to commit atrocities, however, it would take a hell of a lot more major engineering equipment to even attempt to dam the mighty Tigris.

As the weeks dragged on into months of the coalition air campaign, officials explained that the dearth of actual targets engaged by the RCAF was due to ISIS having been contained. The failure of ISIS to provide the allies with clearly identified combat vehicles or troop formations led Canadian officials to claim that this meant ISIS was now “on their back foot.” This is an old boxing axiom which means you have your opponent off-balance and in a defensive posture — i.e. right where you want him.

That was the situation on March 30, 2015 when the Conservative government voted to extend the Iraq commitment by another 12 months and to expand the target area into the sovereign territory of Syria. One of the claims made for Canada to violate international law by bombing targets in Syria was that it was necessary in order to continue the downgrading of those ISIS forces which had been forced to retreat into Syria. Now, our pilots were going to seek them out in their hidey holes.

The Iraqi city of Ramadi. Wikimedia photo. 

The Iraqi city of Ramadi. Wikimedia photo. 

Victory seemed ever so nigh. Then came the unexpected ISIS offensive in mid-May against the Iraqi government forces in the city of Ramadi. Despite desperate allied air intervention, ISIS captured the city, and along with it, a last arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons, ammunitions and combat vehicles. Turns out that if ISIS was on their back foot, it was only to wind up for the Ramadi haymaker blow. At the most recent technical briefing, hosted by DND last Friday, it was acknowledged that during the three months since the Conservatives authorized themselves to bomb targets in Syria, only three such missions have been launched.

The reason given for the paucity of the bombing attacks is the fact that the allied air force has very few actual spotters on the ground to clearly identify ISIS targets. This would also explain why the allies mistakenly thought ISIS forces in Iraq had retreated into Syria when they were in fact planning a massive offensive. All of this brings us back to the earlier claims by Canadian officials that our participation in the air campaign had successfully contained ISIS. That would come as a bit of a shock to the residents of Ramadi, who now find themselves toiling under the black flag of ISIS.

If one pulls back a little from the immediate Iraq and Syria situation, it becomes quite clear that ISIS is anything but contained. In war-ravaged post-Gadhafi Libya, ISIS has quickly become a dominant force amidst the anarchy which pervades. The April 19 brutal mass decapitation of kidnapped Ethiopian Coptic Christians firmly established ISIS as the big boy on the block in Libya. Then we have the June 26 beach attack against tourists in Tunisia, which appears to be a harbinger of an ISIS offensive to destabilize that nation as well. There is also the good news-bad news story that U.S. drones have killed Shahidullah Shahid, the ISIS commander in Afghanistan. The good news is that they killed him, the bad news is that ISIS is now present in Afghanistan.

If Canada is committed to another nine months in Iraq at a total cost of $500-million to not even “contain” ISIS, it is time to review our strategy. 

Another expensive, unnecessary photoshoot

By Scott Taylor

I’m not sure exactly who is masterminding Prime Minister Harper’s public image machine these days, but whoever it is, they seem intent on convincing Canadians that he is some sort of Warrior King. The latest instalment was last week’s photo op aboard HMCS Fredericton, conducting a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea. Harper, his wife Laureen and a small entourage, including Defence Minister Jason Kenney, spent a total of 20 hours aboard the Canadian patrol frigate.

Also included in that small group were the photographers and videographers whose task it was to capture images of our fearless leader staring down those evil Russian aggressors. A series of photos were published in the national media with Harper staring intently through a pair of binoculars while standing next to an ominous looking .50-calibre heavy machine-gun. The object of Harper’s gaze, we were told, was a pair of Russian warships barely visible on the horizon.

Stephen Harper aboard the HMCS Fredericton.

Stephen Harper aboard the HMCS Fredericton.

Kenney also had himself photographed with the binoculars and he announced to the media in attendance that because the Russian ships altered course at the same time as the Fredericton, they were, in fact, tracking the Canadian vessel. To drive home the level of intimidation on the part of the Russians, it was announced that, at one point, the Russian ships came as close as seven nautical miles from Fredericton. This, of course, sounds a lot closer than the metric equivalent of 13 kilometres, but then, why hesitate to torque up what was truly a non-story?

The PM scouting for Russians on the horizon 

The PM scouting for Russians on the horizon 

Of course the Russian navy would want to monitor the activities of a NATO warship in the Baltic, especially when Fredericton sailed within 20 kilometres of the city of Kaliningrad. They would be remiss if they did not. This was fully understood by the Fredericton’s captain, Cmdr. Jeff Murray, who put the Russian ships appearance in perspective: “I fully expect they’re keeping situational awareness, as all militaries do when they are operating,” Murray told reporters.

He added, “I would say they do what we do and they make sure that they know what vessels are operating in waters near their areas of interest.”

The ironic part of Harper’s photo op, complete with anti-Russian aggression rhetoric and hype about Canada’s contribution to NATO’s containment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was the fact that in order to stage the PM’s visit, Fredericton had to interrupt its participation in the NATO squadron exercise. In other words, if we really are on the brink of Armageddon, Harper actually jeopardized the safety of the free world by taking Fredericton off station in order to get his photo taken.

This outing comes close on the heels of Harper’s whirlwind visit to Kurdistan last month. Although it was a closely held secret until it actually transpired, it required a tremendous amount of planning, and a tremendous amount of military resources to pull it off. An entire platoon of JTF-2 commandos, Canada’s elite special forces, had to be flown in, along with an entire convoy of heavily armoured sport utility vehicles. Although the media pool had to remain in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, Harper, Kenney, the JTF-2s and a film crew made their way to the front lines. Once there, Harper and Kenney took turns having their photo taken as they stared out over no man’s land at what was reportedly an ISIS fighting position several kilometres away. Once that was out of the way, it was time to pack up the tripods, bundle the heavily armed JTF-2 commandos back into the SUVs and race back to the Erbil airport. One can only imagine the amusement on the part of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who witnessed this little stunt.

The Peshmerga have been fighting in northern Iraq for the past 30 years. They have fought against Saddam Hussein, fought against each other, and most recently they have been battling ISIS for the past year. To suddenly see a column of souped-up SUVs discharge a mob of heavily armed elite commandos in order that two heavy-set, middle-aged Canadian politicians could have their picture taken looking out at the enemy must have seemed absurd to them. I know it seems absurd to me.

Harper's hypocritical finger-wagging growing tiresome

By Scott Taylor

At every opportunity, the Harper government is ramping up the rhetoric against Russian aggression in Ukraine. The usual media toadies gleefully report that, in order to back up his tough words, the prime minister has put “boots on the ground” to make Russian President Vladimir Putin think twice before trying to seize any more territory.

Unfortunately for would-be sabre rattlers in the Harper brain trust, the 200 combat soldiers deployed as trainers to western Ukraine are but a tiny token in the grand scheme of things.

Following partial mobilization, Ukraine’s armed forces number nearly 270,000 members — the largest army on continental Europe — and that did not give Putin pause for thought before he annexed Crimea.

There have also been reports that another 200 Canadian soldiers were conducting a NATO training exercise in Romania. This too was touted as proof of a further deterrent to Putin. To drive home the point of how serious this was, Defence Minister Jason Kenney told the media that the Romanian exercise was “very real.” As a personal aside to the honourable minister, I would like to point out that an “exercise” cannot be “real.” It is either one or the other.

Canadian soldiers taking part in the NATO exercise in Romania. Taylor reminds Defence Minister Kenney that a training exercise, by nature, cannot be 'real.' 

Canadian soldiers taking part in the NATO exercise in Romania. Taylor reminds Defence Minister Kenney that a training exercise, by nature, cannot be 'real.' 

The very fact that we deployed a token number of trainers into a non-NATO nation that is embroiled in a civil war eliminates whatever moral high ground Harper had when he famously quipped to Putin, “Get out of Ukraine.” If it is morally wrong for Russia to militarily support a Ukrainian faction in this civil war, then it must be equally wrong for Canada to be fuelling the other side.

While on the topic of moral high ground, had Putin been quicker on his feet when confronted by Harper, he could have responded to the “Get out of Ukraine” comment by retorting, “Fix Libya.”

The crisis in Libya can best be described as a failed state enmeshed in violent anarchy.

There are two rival governments — one in Tripoli and one holed up in Tobruk. Neither of these two self-proclaimed administrations has any real authority, as various militias control their own fiefdoms. The lawlessness and abundant weaponry has attracted a cadre of ISIS fighters who have now captured vast tracts of Libya, including the city of Sirte.

Without law and order, human traffickers have run amok. What had previously been a clandestine trickle of illegal migrants has become a veritable tsunami of human beings seeking access into Europe. The overpacked, unseaworthy vessels have often capsized and sunk, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,800 refugees this year alone.

The migrant crisis has become so severe that the European Union has proposed taking pre-emptive military action in the form of sinking the Libyan vessels before they can be put to sea with their human cargo. It is highly unlikely that such a military intervention, aimed solely at stopping the flow of refugees, would be sanctioned with a United Nations resolution. Russia holds a veto as a member of the permanent UN Security Council, and it has already expressed the opinion that destroying the migrants’ boats would be too extreme.

For the sake of historical record, it must be remembered that it was a UN resolution back in 2011 that led to the present state of anarchy. In March of that year, President Moammar Gadhafi had survived an initial rebellion, which had begun in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. His loyalists had rallied and the rebels were fleeing in full retreat.

Seven CF-188 Hornet fighters and one CC-150 Polaris refueler fly in formation over the ceremony parade on Parliament Hill for the termination of Operation MOBILE in Libya. 

Seven CF-188 Hornet fighters and one CC-150 Polaris refueler fly in formation over the ceremony parade on Parliament Hill for the termination of Operation MOBILE in Libya. 

Fearing that Gadhafi would use his air force to punish civilian supporters of the rebels, the UN hastily approved Resolution 1973, authorizing NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. For the record, both Russia and China abstained from the vote. Canada happily took command of that allied operation, supplying six CF-18 fighter jets, two Aurora maritime patrol aircraft and a patrol frigate in addition to Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, who became the overall NATO force commander.

In the end, Gadhafi never even attempted to bomb his own people, but NATO planners immediately discarded their no-fly zone mandate and instead embarked on a massive aerial bombing campaign aimed at defeating Gadhafi and effecting regime change. That was finally accomplished with Gadhafi’s brutal execution on Oct. 20, 2011.

The problem, which soon became evident, was that no one had given any thought of who would replace Gadhafi. Instead of a regime change, NATO only implemented a “regime removal.” The diverse militias that ousted Gadhafi refused to disarm and immediately began fighting one another.

As much as the Harper government would love to ignore the mess it created in Libya and blame it on someone else, there is no undoing the elaborate victory parade we staged when we claimed credit for the “success.”

Before poking Putin in the chest over Ukraine, Harper needs to consider all the death and suffering that continues as a result of our own blundered intervention in Libya.

ISIS not on its back foot in Iraq, Syria

An American soldier in Ramadi in 2008. ISIS captured the city, which is less than 100 km  west of Baghdad last week. 

An American soldier in Ramadi in 2008. ISIS captured the city, which is less than 100 km  west of Baghdad last week. 

By Scott Taylor

The propaganda machine of the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq suffered a serious setback last week. Contrary to what we have been told for months, ISIS fighters were not “on their back foot,” nor have they been “contained” as a result of allied airstrikes. Instead of being downgraded and on the defensive, ISIS has been very much on the attack.

In a whirlwind offensive, ISIS captured the city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, just 100 kilometres west of Baghdad. The most damaging aspect of this ISIS victory is that, once again, Iraqi government troops put up less than a token resistance.

As ISIS advanced, the Iraqis doffed their uniforms, threw away their American-supplied assault rifles, abandoned their armoured vehicles and fled in panic. Within hours, the very grateful ISIS victors were videotaping themselves driving around in their captured U.S.-built Humvee patrol vehicles. Presumably, the fleeing Iraqi soldiers made sure to leave the Humvees fully gassed up and the windshields clean — just like they did last spring when ISIS captured Mosul and, along with it, a vast arsenal of war materiel gifted by the Americans.

Anbar province is the cornerstone of what is known as the Sunni Triangle, and it is Iraq’s marginalized Sunni minority that provides ISIS with its primary support base.

With the government troops routed, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his increasingly impotent regime in Baghdad called upon the Shiite militia to mount a counteroffensive against ISIS in Ramadi. Although some Sunni tribal leaders have claimed to support the use of the Shiite militia against ISIS, those who remember the vicious Sunni versus Shiite inter-factional clashes of 2006 and 2007 recognize that such a plan is akin to pouring gasoline to douse a fire.

The fear is that moderate Sunnis, already feeling excluded by the Baghdad regime, would see the Shiite militia encroachment as a threat against their very existence, and thus drive them into the ranks of ISIS.

Since the onset of the ISIS crisis last spring, U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear that his strategy does not involve putting American boots on the ground. The U.S.-led air alliance, of which Canada is a member, has the limited objective of containing ISIS advances and downgrading their ability to conduct operations.

In other words, the fall of Ramadi and the loss of all that Iraqi army weaponry means a big double fail for the alliance. Given that the combat air armada is to hold the line, alliance members — including Canada — are engaged in arming and training Iraqi and Kurdish security forces to enable them to defeat ISIS.

Last week’s defeat would therefore represent another rewinding of the eventual victory clock, as all those weapons and all that training disappeared in a flash at the first sign of an ISIS advance.

The speed with which the Iraqis deserted led them to be labelled “reverse supermen” because they wore their civilian clothes under their uniforms and disappeared when danger arose. More ominously, the hefty haul in war bounty that ISIS picked up in Ramadi would more than make up for any downgrading they have suffered in the months-long allied bombing campaign.

According to official reports, the Royal Canadian Air Force has mounted more than 937 sorties since October and successfully destroyed only a couple of dump trucks, a checkpoint and a suspected bomb factory.

During his usual spin-o-rama, Defence Minister Jason Kenney commented to the media that the Ramadi setback was essentially “no biggie.” It is Kenney’s depth of experience in such martial affairs that in war, you often suffer a setback (or two). The problem with Kenney’s current rosy assessment is that it in no way jibes with his previous comments regarding ISIS.

RCAF members in Kuwait. 

RCAF members in Kuwait. 

When the decision was made at the end of March to extend the mission in Iraq and expand it into Syria, Canadians were told that this was necessary because of the allied air force’s success against ISIS. We were told that ISIS losses in Iraq had forced them to withdraw their heavy equipment into Syria and hence, if we were to continue to take the fight to the enemy, we needed to chase him into his hiding place.

Well, it turns out that ISIS is not hiding after all. They are on the offensive in Syria as well, having just captured Palmyra, and with the securing of Ramadi, they are very much on their front foot in Iraq.

Of course, if no one admits that the present U.S. strategy is flawed, then we will simply continue the cycle of arming and training Iraqis in perpetuity. While the current effort may have begun in the fall of 2014, don’t forget the U.S. has been arming, training, and mentoring Iraq’s security forces since the invasion in 2003.

The very definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Keep on believing, Mr. Kenney.

Professional military: Teaching the Kurds a lesson

By Scott Taylor

Last Tuesday, the Defence Department held a news conference to inform Canadians of the details surrounding the March 6 friendly-fire incident in Iraq. At the time of the tragedy, the Kurds had been very quick to blame the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron, and the wounding of his three comrades, on the Canadians themselves.

Members of Canadian Special Forces carry the casket of Sgt Andrew Doiron.

Members of Canadian Special Forces carry the casket of Sgt Andrew Doiron.

According to Kurdish officers, the Canadians were not expected at the Kurdish front-line position, and one Kurdish commander told the CBC, “You don’t conduct training on the front lines,” implying that our Special Forces soldiers should never have been there in the first place.

Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, finally presented the official Canadian side of the story. Looking every inch the combat soldier, Rouleau explained to the attendant press corps that a total of three separate investigations had been conducted into the incident. The Canadians conducted two of these probes, while the Americans, who have command authority over allied forces in the region, initiated the third.

It was in the detailing of the mandates of the two Canadian investigations that Rouleau’s presentation first started to go off the rails: one was to determine what happened that fateful night, while the second was to determine whether Sgt. Doiron and his three comrades had done anything criminally wrong. That’s right — they wanted to determine if the dead man and the three wounded victims were guilty of a criminal offence.

Notably, there was no investigation into whether the Kurds who gunned down our soldiers were in any way criminally responsible. As for the details of the shooting, Rouleau made it very clear that fatigue on the part of the Kurds was a huge factor. There had been a firefight with the deadly ISIS terrorists the night before, and these Kurds were really, really tired and jumpy.

Then he explained that, to make things even more dangerous, the Kurds had completed a shift change before the arrival of the Canadians that night, and the new shift was not told that the Canadians were on the way. At this point, the hands should have shot up to request a clarification from Rouleau. Were these dead-tired, jumpy Kurds, or newly arrived fresh replacements that were not up to speed? Because, although it makes for a good story, they can’t be both.

Then he introduced another twist: the presence of a pack of wild dogs. Apparently, as the Canadians approached, these dogs began to bark, and this in turn made the Kurds really nervous. These would be the same Kurds who have been fighting for the past 30 years in this region, where packs of wild dogs are commonplace.

Peshmerga on top of a T-55 tank.

Peshmerga on top of a T-55 tank.

When pressed to comment on whether the Kurdish soldiers responsible for the shootings would face any disciplinary action, it became apparent that Rouleau hadn’t a clue about what the Kurds intended to do. Instead, he emphasized that this was all a tragic accident in a case of mistaken identity.

His kicker was the quip that the guilty Kurd “did not wake up that morning with the intent to kill a Canadian.” The problem is that a Kurd (or Kurds) did in fact kill a Canadian soldier and wounded three others.

Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that discipline is harsh; the profession of arms is one that involves life-and-death decisions.

When Canadian soldiers were responsible for a friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, manslaughter charges and a court martial resulted. We even sent military police over to see if we could lay charges against Doiron and the other three victims.

The entire purpose of Canada deploying military trainers to Kurdistan is to instruct the Kurds on how professional armies adhere to a strict command structure and uphold the rule of law. The peshmerga know how to fire automatic weapons and rocket launchers but still require instruction in the areas that separate an armed mob from a professional fighting force.

The March 6 incident offers the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the Kurds that a lack of weapons discipline resulting in the death of allied soldiers does not occur without severe consequences. To not hold the Kurds to the same standards of professional conduct that we enforce on our own soldiers undermines the entire rationale for us deploying our trainers in the first place.

One of our soldiers is dead, and three others were wounded. We are providing the Kurds with trainers, weapons and, most recently, some $160 million in aid money. Surely we are entitled to know the identities of those responsible, and what measures the Kurds are taking to ensure that such a tragic incident does not recur.

After all, Rouleau repeatedly affirmed that our soldiers had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet the Canadians have taken measures — such as bringing a Kurd (instead of an Arab) with them when they visit the front line — to make sure we continue to improve the perfection of our soldiers’ conduct in the future.

'Ok. Ok. Now me again!' Harper's propaganda squad lands PM in hot water

By Scott Taylor

Last week’s elaborately staged photo-ops in Kurdistan, Iraq and Kuwait quickly backfired on Prime Minister Stephen Harper when his office breached security protocols by posting videos online that clearly revealed the faces of Canadian special forces operatives.

Back from Iraq: Canadian soldiers welcomed back from Iraq. See any of their faces?

Back from Iraq: Canadian soldiers welcomed back from Iraq. See any of their faces?

From the outset of Canada’s commitment to combat ISIS in Iraq, the Conservative government has conducted a persistent fear-mongering campaign aimed at frightening Canadians into blindly supporting this military endeavour. To paraphrase the Conservative rhetoric, our brave soldiers are fighting genocidal terrorists “over there” so that they don’t murder us “over here” in our beds.

To hammer this point home, it became policy that media were not to publish the names or reveal the faces of any Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to the Middle East. No longer was it just the mysterious, elite Joint Task Force 2 troopers who could not be identified, it was every army cook and air force mechanic who had to be protected lest ISIS identify them and target their defenceless families back home in Canada. To date, the media have diligently complied with this policy.

However, in their excitement over having footage of Harper and Defence Minister Jason Kenney doing their best to present a commanding martial presence near the front lines, Prime Minister’s Office staffers goofed. The footage, which they first uploaded, made no attempt to hide the identities of either the protection forces in Kurdistan, nor those of the air force personnel at a hangar in Kuwait.

Heh heh heh... No harm, no foul, right? Defence Minister Jason Kenney answered questions in the House of Commons about showing the faces of Canadian soldiers in Iraq.

Heh heh heh... No harm, no foul, right? Defence Minister Jason Kenney answered questions in the House of Commons about showing the faces of Canadian soldiers in Iraq.

In what has become typical fashion, when the security gaffe was noted, the videos were removed, but the PMO claimed there was no wrongdoing because the Defence Department had already vetted the footage. This was not true, but by that point the military was already clinging to the bus’s undercarriage. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson sent out a statement to the effect that it considered the breach to be of “low risk” to Canadian personnel and no soldiers would be brought home as a result. Always quick to twist a phrase, Kenney told the House of Commons that there was no harm, so no foul.

During the same fateful junket, Lawson used the proximity of the attendant media corps to put forward his spin on the March 6 friendly fire shooting incident. That tragedy left Sgt. Andrew Doiron dead and three other Canadian special forces operatives wounded following a nocturnal fusillade of gunfire from a Kurdish checkpoint. In the wake of that incident, the local Kurdish commanders had been quick to blame the Canadians for their own misfortune. They claimed that the Canadians had arrived unannounced in an area where they were not supposed to be. One Kurdish officer told the CBC, “You don’t conduct training on the front lines,” implying that the Canadians were exceeding their training mandate at the time of the shooting.

In response to the Kurdish allegations, Defence Department officials said they were waiting for the full results of the investigation before giving comment. Unofficially, however, an anonymous “well-placed” source contacted a few gullible mainstream media contacts to give them the “inside scoop.” According to the mole, Canadian soldiers had done everything correctly that night. They had informed the Kurds they would be arriving at the outpost and had even agreed to use an Arabic phrase as the password. Now, given the fact that Kurds speak Arabic like most Albertans speak French, and our Canadian boys don’t speak Arabic but ISIS does, that would make this part of the tale laughable if the outcome wasn’t so tragic.

Now Lawson has gone one step further by stating that the findings of the yet-to-be-released investigation report indicate that the Canadians acted perfectly that fateful night. In lockstep, all the stories fueled from Lawson’s comments were headlined with the theme “Canadian soldiers not at fault.” Given that there were only two parties present at the scene, that means the Kurds had to be at fault. While Lawson alluded to the fact that fatigue may have been a factor, Canadian soldiers know that this would not justify manslaughter inside the military justice system.

What really happened on the day that Sgt Andrew Doiron died? Canada's top soldier, Tom Lawson insists Canadians weren't in the wrong.

What really happened on the day that Sgt Andrew Doiron died? Canada's top soldier, Tom Lawson insists Canadians weren't in the wrong.

The reason our soldiers are deployed to Kurdistan is to train the Peshmerga into a professional force. If their ill discipline leads to the death and injury of our soldiers, they need to learn that, in a professional army, that comes with consequences. If a Canadian soldier mistakenly killed Doiron and wounded three others, he would be facing serious charges, even if he was dog tired at the time.

Let’s remember, it was the Kurds who shot our guy and then they bad-mouthed our troops’ professionalism. Why does it seem our government is trying to pacify them?

Sexual Abuse in the Military: History repeats itself

By Scott Taylor

Last Thursday’s release of the long-awaited report on sexual attitudes in the Canadian Armed Forces was depicted as a bombshell revelation by the national media.

Headlines proclaimed that Canada’s military suffers a “sexualized culture” and statements that women in uniform “endure a toxic work environment” sent pundits, analysts and feminists to the pulpits to shake their fists at the perpetrators of this perpetual misogyny.

In response, the senior military brass were paraded in front of the cameras where they, once again, vowed to enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward any and all sexual bias within the ranks.

For longtime observers of the Armed Forces, these latest revelations were not shocking, for the simple reason that we have heard them all before. This latest internal report was commissioned one year ago by chief of defence staff Gen. Tom Lawson, following a damning series of media reports in Maclean’s magazine and its French-language counterpart, L’Actualite.

Former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps

Former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps

These stories were based on interviews with victims who painted a picture of a military culture that condoned sexual abuse and ostracized those who suffered the abuse. To quell the raging media storm, Lawson commissioned former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps to conduct a sweeping internal inquiry into the allegations. Over the following 12 months, Deschamps and her investigators travelled across Canada and conducted interviews with more than 700 witnesses. Given that there are about 100,000 uniformed personnel in the regular Forces and the reserves, that has to be considered a very thorough cross-section of the Canadian military.

Deschamps’ conclusion was in lockstep with the Maclean’s and L’Actualite’s findings in 2014. “There is an undeniable problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the CAF which requires direct and sustained action,” Deschamps wrote, adding that the military brass, despite their protestations to the contrary, refused to admit, “the extent and pervasiveness of the problem of inappropriate sexual misconduct.”

She tabled a list of 10 recommendations for the Forces to adopt in order to address these shortcomings and to alter the existing culture of sexual harassment tolerance. While the military immediately agreed to accept two of Deschamps’ recommendations, and agreed “in principle” with the remaining eight, it steadfastly refused to accept the notion of creating a process of reporting sexual abuse that is independent of the chain of command.

Analysts were quick to seize upon this point and to note that several of our key allies, such as the United States, France and the Netherlands, have successfully implemented such independent oversight. What remains missing from the current debate is any mention of the fact that this whole clamour about the sexual climate in the Forces has been brought to the public spotlight before — not just one year ago in the Maclean’s-L’Actualite reports, but 17 years ago in the spring of 1998. Once again, it was Maclean’s magazine leading the charge, only at that juncture it took an unprecedented four consecutive front-covers feature exposes to force the political leadership of the day into announcing sweeping reforms.

The 1998 stories were eerily similar to the most recent revelations, in that victims of rape had also been victimized by a military chain of command intent on protecting careers and the reputation of the institution, at the expense of administering justice. By then, the public had already soured on the Canadian military after more than two years of public inquiry into a top-level attempted coverup of a murdered prisoner at the hands of Canadian paratroopers that became collectively known as the Somalia Scandal.

CDS General Tom Lawson has been scrutinized by the public as well as the government over his handling of the sexual abuse crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces.

CDS General Tom Lawson has been scrutinized by the public as well as the government over his handling of the sexual abuse crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Then-Liberal defence minister Art Eggleton had at first attempted to defuse the bombshell as a tempest in a teapot, but by the fourth weekly front cover body blow, the public clamour was too loud to ignore. In response to the outrage, Eggleton announced the appointment of Andre Marin as the first-ever ombudsman for the Forces. Marin was a keen young lawyer, and in the interest of full disclosure, I consider him a friend.

However, despite all the fanfare that accompanied the creation of the ombudsman’s office, the powers which Marin insisted he needed to effectively challenge the chain of command were never granted.

Now that we are back to Square 1, 17 years later, perhaps the solution is not to create another non-independent layer of oversight, but to simply revisit those powers Marin recommended but never received.


By Scott Taylor

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier upon arrival at Kandahar Airfield for his first official visit to Afghanistan in March 2006.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier upon arrival at Kandahar Airfield for his first official visit to Afghanistan in March 2006.

Shortly after being elected in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew into Kandahar Airfield to deliver a rousing pep talk.

At that juncture, the Canadian contingent was experiencing a dramatic increase in casualties, and for the first time Canadians were beginning to question our military involvement in Afghanistan.

To rally the troops, Harper uttered the Churchillian phrase “Canada does not cut and run.” This was grist for the tub-thumpers’ mill, and the pro-war pundits hailed Harper’s words unquestioningly.

Those with clearer memories pointed out that, since the Korean War, Canada has pretty much “cut and run” from every military intervention we embarked upon: Cyprus, Bosnia, East Timor and Kosovo are all still patrolled by international forces that no longer include Canadian contingents. Canada was also part of the ill-fated intervention into Somalia in 1993 that ended in withdrawal and embarrassment for the United States-led coalition.

By 2009, with casualties still mounting and victory still elusive, Harper’s defiant tone softened considerably and the phrase “exit strategy” came to the fore. Following a whirlwind fact-finding trip led by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, it was decided to extend the mission in Afghanistan, but not indefinitely. Canada was to end the combat mission in 2011 and then conclude its training mission by the spring of 2014.

This decision to “cut and run, just not right away” displeased the warmongers immensely. “We didn’t set an arbitrary date when we were fighting the Nazis,” they whined collectively, “we fought until the job was done.”

Despite these protests, Canada did lower the flag in Afghanistan and staged a “Day of Honour” ceremony in Ottawa to mark the occasion because a victory parade was too ridiculous a notion to even suggest.

However, even as the crowds gathered on Parliament Hill to salute our Afghanistan veterans, a new phenomenon that called itself ISIL, ISIS or Daesh was sweeping out of Syria and capturing a vast swath of Iraq. The overwhelmed Iraqi security forces fled in the face of the ISIS threat, leaving behind the multibillion-dollar arsenal that had been provided to them by the U.S.

In a desperate move to halt any further advances of these fanatical beheaders, the impotent regime in Baghdad called for U.S. and Iranian military assistance. The U.S. agreed to help, and Canada quickly joined the newly formed anti-ISIS coalition.

Last October, Parliament agreed to a six-month deployment of a small combat, reconnaissance and refuelling air force contingent and a training cadre of up to 69 army personnel. No one, at that time, seriously believed that ISIS would be defeated within a six-month window, especially since there would be no actual international combat troops on the ground.

But there was no outcry from the Colonel Blimps and war hawks over the fact that, once again, Canada was fixing a date to our commitment. Results didn’t matter as long as our sons and daughters were once again off to a real shooting war. Wave that flag and thump that tub.

Last month, when Canada agreed to extend the mission in Iraq and violate international law by expanding the bombing campaign into Syria for one more year, again no one mentioned victory. Hell, given the complexity of the multi-layered conflicts in both Iraq and Syria, it seems no one can even define what victory might look like, let alone how we will achieve it in a year.

The government is also a little hard-pressed to define Canada’s role against ISIS that means we are allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Hezbollah, Shiite militias commanded by Iranian officers, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish terrorist organization) and Kurdish al-Qaida — all of whom are also fighting ISIS.

If one needs a clear example of what results occur when you don’t fully think through a military intervention, the recent migrant drowning deaths in the Mediterranean should do the trick.

Canada proudly took the lead role in the 2011 NATO air campaign to oust Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi. Following his death at the hands of the rebels, Canada cut and ran, celebrated with a victory parade and conveniently ignored the fact that Libya was still wracked with inter-factional violence. Libya is now a completely failed state, engulfed in violent anarchy, a breeding ground for Islamic extremists, including ISIS, and, as evidenced by the human wave seeking sanctuary in Europe, a thriving haven for human traffickers.

At the very least, Canada should be contributing heavily to the naval search and rescue efforts off the coast of Libya. After all, we took great pride in creating the power vacuum that led to this current crisis.

Harper shoots first, asks questions later

By Scott Taylor

Canadian Armed Forces members board a CC-150 Polaris aircraft in 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, in preparation for departure in support of Operation IMPACT. (Combat Camera)

Canadian Armed Forces members board a CC-150 Polaris aircraft in 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, in preparation for departure in support of Operation IMPACT. (Combat Camera)

In the dumbed-down world of political fear-mongering and posturing, it has become the Harper government’s stock-in-trade policy to commit our military resources to a cause by simply informing Canadians of what we are fighting against.

For 12 years Canada sacrificed the lives of our soldiers and spent billions of dollars to fight the evil Taliban in Afghanistan. Of course, no one thought it wise at the time to point out that by battling the Taliban we were, in fact, shoring up one of the most detested regimes on the planet.

After all that expenditure in blood and gold by the international community, Afghanistan is currently ranked 172nd out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the violence level is at its highest since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and the Taliban remains a significant political force.

In 2011, as the so-called Arab Spring rolled across the Middle East, Canada was quick to leap to the fore against Libya. Canadians were told that our combat pilots were enforcing a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libyan territory to prevent a power-mad dictator from massacring his own rebellious people. By portraying Moammar Gadhafi as a completely crazy, genocidal monster, Canadians had no problem with our pilots going above and beyond their authorized mandate.

In fact, from the outset, the Canadian-led NATO air campaign openly attacked Gadhafi loyalist forces in support of the rebels. To fudge around this technicality, NATO interpreted the UN mandate to be that of protecting civilians. Therefore, NATO spin doctors labelled the rebels as “armed civilians” to justify attacks against Gadhafi loyalists as pre-emptive protection.

Again, we were happily in the midst of a military campaign and no one wanted to spoil the fun by asking, “Just who the hell are we fighting for?”

Only after Gadhafi was defeated and then murdered in the street, did people begin to examine just who these Libyan armed civilians were. Upon closer inspection, it turns out they were a collection of Islamic extremists, criminals and common thugs. Since 2011, Libya has rapidly descended into a failed state, rife with violent anarchy, and has become a new breeding ground for ISIS extremists.

Fresh from that major cock-up, the Harper government wasted little time in joining a U.S.-led force to battle ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yes, once again we are being told our brave boys and girls are fighting against the forces of evil incarnate. According to Defence Minister Jason Kenney, ISIS forces are “genocidal terrorists” which gives us the “moral clarity” to bomb targets in foreign countries, even if adherents to international law might disagree.

Also in the fight against ISIS is a very mixed bag of dubious characters, including the militias loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and their Hezbollah allies. Hezbollah — Shiite Palestinians backed by Iran — are considered terrorists by the Harper government. Inside Iraq, the anti-ISIS campaign is headed by the Shiite militias that were called in by interim Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi when Iraqi government forces melted away last spring. Acting as advisors to the Shiite militia are Iranian military commanders.

In northern Iraq, however, it is the Kurds who are keeping ISIS at bay. Their goal is the creation of a Greater Kurdistan and their ranks include fighters from the PKK, which Canada still lists as a terrorist organization. Even more ominous is the presence of the al-Qaida Kurdish Battalion (AQKB), which has joined their fellow Kurds to combat ISIS.

However, the Harper government has assured us that our pilots are not bombing “for” any of these questionable allies; we are simply bombing against ISIS.

It has been the same pattern of oversimplification when it comes to the Harper government’s response to the crisis in Ukraine: Russia bad, Ukraine good.

From the outset, Canada has unreservedly backed the new government in Kiev after it seized power from President Viktor Yanukovych last February. We know that they oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin and because Harper hates Putin, that must make the Kiev regime good. Therefore, no one wants to take a close look at exactly who we are “for” in this simmering civil war.

Far from a democratic institution, the current Ukraine government is a collection of in-fighting oligarchs — some with their own private armies and neo-Nazi militias. With a ranking of 142 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is unsurprisingly the most corrupt country on the European continent.

If the Harper government is truly seeking to garner the Ukrainian-Canadian vote in advance of this year’s election, it would do better to leverage economic relief for Kiev’s crippling debt load in exchange for implementing truly democratic, progressive reforms. That would be a hell of a lot more helpful than poking the Russian bear and beating the war drums.

Lack of intelligence? Jason "I'm not aware..." Kenney

By Scott Taylor

When your troops are in a war, you'd better make sure you get up to speed on what you're doing.

When your troops are in a war, you'd better make sure you get up to speed on what you're doing.

Last week, as he was relentlessly advocating for Canada to extend its military mission in Iraq and expand it into Syria, Defence Minister Jason Kenney unwittingly revealed the fact that Canada really has no clue about our effectiveness in the allied campaign to date.

When a reporter asked if he knew how many civilian casualties had been caused by the allied airstrikes against ISIS, Kenney replied, “We are not aware of civilian casualties or so-called collateral damage by the Royal Canadian Air Force.” When the reporter clarified she was asking about American airstrikes, Kenney stuck to his “I’m not aware of any” position. For the record, U.S. authorities are investigating at least three separate incidents of Iraqi civilian casualties caused by their airstrikes.

Never mind Kenney’s propensity to exaggerate the facts and to ignore embarrassing truths, his claim of unawareness in this case certainly rings true. This is not the fault of our military but rather the fact that we have no independent intelligence-gathering apparatus in the entire region.

In the heady days of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, Canada had sided with the Syrian rebel forces and declared the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad to be illegitimate. Our embassy in Damascus was shuttered and Syrian diplomats in Ottawa were sent packing.

In a similar bout of chest-pounding anti-diplomacy, John Baird, then the minister of foreign affairs, shut down Canada’s embassy in Tehran on Sept. 7, 2012, and ordered all Iranian diplomats off Canadian soil.

Then last spring, when ISIS first swept into northern Iraq, the Canadian Embassy in Baghdad was shut down.

Thus, when the anti-Assad forces that we had originally championed morphed into evil ISIS and the beleaguered Iraqi leaders were forced to call in Iranian military support to contain ISIS, Canada was pretty much in a total intelligence vacuum.

As a result, our Royal Canadian Air Force contribution to the U.S.-led coalition has had to rely almost entirely on the intelligence-gathering resources of the Americans.

Yes, folks, that would be the very same CIA and military intelligence services that fabricated the threat of Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The same U.S. intelligence sources that spent more than 10 years unsuccessfully attempting to subdue an Iraqi insurgency. During that decade, the Americans were in full occupation of all of Iraq, meaning that, even inside the volatile Sunni Triangle, they could hire informants and bribe factional leaders into temporary loyalty.

The current military campaign is an entirely different kettle of fish. There are no American intelligence operatives in the ISIS-controlled swath of Iraq and, as a result of ISIS’s barbaric beheadings, there are no foreign observers in the form of either journalists or non-governmental organizations.

From a public relations perspective, this is a godsend for the Canadian Armed Forces because it means media coverage of the war must rely entirely upon information provided by the military.

Not surprisingly, our RCAF has so far given itself a staggering grade of 100 per cent on its self-generated report card. With no way to independently verify their claims, we must believe that our fighter pilots have destroyed every dump truck, bulldozer, roadblock and bomb factory they have engaged to date, hurting no one but ISIS evildoers in the process.

Of course, war is not simply a case of good PR or, in this case, the absence of any bad PR.

The fact that ISIS has established itself in an almost impenetrable intelligence vacuum means that the U.S.-led coalition cannot easily identify targets. The vast arsenal of armoured vehicles, artillery and heavy weapons ISIS obtained following the capture of Mosul remains intact within the ISIS-controlled territory of the Sunni Triangle.

The Harper government’s claim that Canada must expand the current mission into Syria because ISIS has transported this same arsenal there defies logic. Given the treeless desert terrain of the region, the allied air forces would love nothing better than for ISIS to attempt such a major withdrawal of its heavy combat equipment. With satellite imagery and round-the-clock aerial surveillance — including Canada’s provision of two Aurora reconnaissance planes — such a retreat could not have gone unobserved.

It is what happens inside ISIS-controlled villages and cities that we cannot ascertain, not large-scale troop movements in open desert.

For further reference, when Kenney claims to be “unaware” of specific activities in the Iraq campaign, he is not lying. Without solid intelligence reports, we are all “unaware.”

For Public Consumption: Politicans dumbing down war

By Scott Taylor

Prime Minister Stephen Harper simply steamrolled over any resistance from the opposition parties by announcing Canada would not only be extending the military mission in Iraq but also expanding it to include bombing targets inside Syria.

For the moment, Harper’s decision has proven to be a popular one, with over two-thirds of Canadians polled supporting a continued and wider fight against the ISIS evildoers. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, this support is not based upon a deep knowledge of the complexity of the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts but rather out of a simplistic sense of fear for all things radical Muslim.

The buzz phrases used by the Harper spin machine are that we have the “moral clarity” to counter “genocidal terrorists.” The reason they are claiming moral clarity is because extending and expanding the mission is completely devoid of any strategic or legal clarity.

American soldiers inspect Iraqi's during the U.S. occupation of Iraq

American soldiers inspect Iraqi's during the U.S. occupation of Iraq

In the strategic sense, simply attacking ISIS fighters and their weapons systems does not remove the root causes of what lured Sunni volunteers into their ranks in the first place.

During Saddam Hussein’s more than 30-year rule, the Iraqi Sunni minority enjoyed special privileges. Despite all his megalomaniacal faults, Saddam was a devoted secularist who believed in educating his citizens — particularly women.

How is it possible that these same moderate secular Sunni Muslims are now throwing in their lot with ISIS fundamentalist extremists?

The answer lies in the fact that, during its occupation of Iraq, the United States imposed a democratic system without ensuring safeguards were in place to protect the rights of minorities. Naturally enough, the Shiite majority elected its own leaders, who immediately set out to marginalize the Sunnis and strip them of authority.

This sparked vicious resistance from Sunni insurgents against both the U.S. occupation forces and the Shiite militia. In turn, this led to the arrival in force of Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaida.

The success of the 2006–2007 U.S. surge strategy in Iraq was largely due to the fact that American commanders — armed with suitcases containing millions of U.S. dollars in cash — purchased the temporary loyalty of moderate Sunni tribal chieftains. With al-Qaida’s support base eliminated, the U.S. and its secular Sunni allies were able to eliminate the threat.

When American troops were finally withdrawn in 2011, Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki ignored all pleadings by outgoing U.S. advisers to keep the Sunnis onside. Instead, he embarked on yet another campaign of marginalization that climaxed last spring with Iraq’s Sunni triangle welcoming ISIS fighters as their liberators. The U.S.-trained and -equipped Iraqi security forces essentially dissolved without a fight at the first sight of ISIS in the summer of 2014.

Haider Al-Abadi, Iraq's 75th Prime Minister, took office in September 2014.

Haider Al-Abadi, Iraq's 75th Prime Minister, took office in September 2014.

With Baghdad threatened, al-Maliki called in Iranian military advisers and begged the U.S. to assist. The first condition of the U.S. involvement was the abdication of al-Maliki in favour of Haider al-Abadi.

While al-Abadi may be a more moderate U.S. puppet, he is still relying upon his Iranian-led Shiite militia to take the fight to ISIS. Those familiar with Iraq’s deep-rooted factional divisions are aware that launching the Shiite militia into the Sunni triangle is a recipe for a bloodbath.

As Canada cannot be seen as an ally of Iran, the Harper government has made it clear that our fighter jets will not support the Shiite militias who are battling ISIS in the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit. We are instead equipping, training and bombing in support of Kurdish peshmerga in their fight against ISIS.

Here is where the legal grounding for Canada’s military action starts to get a little fuzzy.

Canada was never asked by al-Abadi’s Baghdad-based government to commit troops. The U.S. was asked to support al-Abadi and then the Americans set out to build a coalition, which we joined. This is a pretty tenuous link for legitimacy in deploying lethal forces in a foreign sovereign state.

It gets even more thinly stretched when you realize that the Kurds we are supporting are not beholden to al-Abadi’s Iraqi administration. The Kurds have their own government, their own flag, their own country — Kurdistan.

Where the legal aspect breaks apart completely is when the Harper government tries to tell us that our participation in this coalition with wildly divergent strategic objectives in Iraq allows us to bomb targets in Syria in self-defence.

ISIS in Syria and even ISIS in Iraq pose virtually no risk to our soldiers in Erbil, Kurdistan or our aircrews in Kuwait. The only casualties we have incurred to date have come at the hands of our Kurdish allies in a friendly fire incident.

If Canada does not have a seat at the big boy table to help shape a strategically viable long-term solution to this multi-layered complex conflict, we should not be committing military resources at the tactical level.

This is not our fight.

Annexation: One year later

It has been just over one year since Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated the virtually bloodless annexation of Crimea.

At that juncture, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s elected president, had just been ousted by pro-West protesters following months of violent demonstrations in the streets of Kiev.

With Yanukovych officially deposed by a vote in parliament, the long-standing divisions within Ukraine rose to the fore. Ukrainians living east of the Dnieper River, many of them ethnic Russians, began their own violent demonstrations in rejection of the new interim administration in Kiev.

In the midst of this political turmoil and instability, Russian military personnel based in Crimea moved quickly to surround and disarm Ukrainian military garrisons with whom they shared the strategic peninsula.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and independence of Ukraine in 1991, Russia had been leasing the port of Sebastopol, the home base for the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet.

In April 2010, the two countries negotiated the Kharkiv Pact and an extension of the lease until 2042. However, with Kiev under new management and threatening closer ties to the West, the Kremlin was taking no chances over any future eviction notice.

Despite the fact that the Ukrainian military outnumbered the Russians, they surrendered their weapons and bases without firing a single shot. In fact, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel who were detained voluntarily re-enlisted in the Russian military, where they would receive a considerably more lucrative salary.

Those Ukrainian soldiers wishing to leave Crimea were allowed to do so, along with the majority of their major weapons systems, such as tanks and fighter jets.

A Ukrainian naval officer leaves his base in Sebastopol under the gaze of masked Russian fighters.

A Ukrainian naval officer leaves his base in Sebastopol under the gaze of masked Russian fighters.

To give an element of legitimacy to his annexation, Putin staged a hasty referendum in March 2014 that produced a result of over 95 per cent of the popular vote in favour of uniting Crimea to Russia.

This resulted in international howls of indignation, with Canada’s then-foreign affairs minister, John Baird, likening Putin to Adolf Hitler.

Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, blustered that “You can’t simply redraw the lines of the map of Europe.” This would, of course, be news to any student of 20th-century history.

The Treaty of Versailles, following the First World War, saw the creation of numerous independent countries and territories that once belonged to the vanquished German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, while the Russian Bolsheviks, in turn, annexed territory to create the Soviet Union.

Ditto the end of the Second World War, when the victors rewarded allies and punished foes by redrawing the maps. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which coincided with the start of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the division of the Czech and Slovak republics, not to mention the reunification of East and West Germany.

While many of these developments were bloodless, it was a different story in both the former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus. The bitter civil wars and border disputes in these two regions remain simmering global hot spots and frozen conflicts.

As for redrawing maps, it was Hillary Clinton’s husband, then-president Bill Clinton, who was instrumental in leading NATO’s intervention against Serbia in the spring of 1999. After a 78-day bombing campaign that killed more than 1,200 innocent civilians, Serbia capitulated and allowed NATO troops to enter the disputed province of Kosovo.

The Americans immediately began the construction of an enormous military base known as Camp Bondsteel, which remains a strategic foothold in the Balkans.

In February 2008, the ethnic Albanian Kosovar majority unilaterally declared independence and the United States was the first nation to redraw the map of Europe by recognizing the newly created state of Kosovo. Unlike Crimea, there was no referendum.

The thankful Albanian Kosovars officially recognized the contributions to the creation of their country. In Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, there is a seven-storey portrait of a smiling Bill Clinton on Hillary Clinton Way.

In 2015, however, times are tough in Kosovo. Since last fall, a mass exodus of young Albanians has been underway, flooding into Europe, complaining of poverty, unemployment and widespread corruption in their new country.

This couldn’t be further from the one-year litmus test taken among the newly annexed residents of Crimea. Obviously hoping to prove dissatisfaction with the annexation, a Canadian government-funded survey of 800 Crimean residents taken in January proved the exact opposite. The poll revealed that 82 per cent fully supported the annexation, 11 per cent partly supported it and a mere four per cent opposed it. The majority also reported that their standard of living had improved in the last year.

That evil Putin has some nerve gobbling up territory and making people happy.


Iraq: "Senseless to continue" with no desirable outcome

By Scott Taylor

In the wake of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron’s death and the wounding of three other Canadian soldiers in the March 6 friendly-fire incident, one would have hoped the debate about the possible extension of Canada’s military commitment to Iraq would intensify.

However, instead of trying to gain a better grasp of the complex equation the crisis in Iraq presents, we have been caught up in such petty details as the distance Doiron’s patrol was from the front line at the time of the tragedy, and what defines combat in a non-combat role.

For opposition politicians, the primary attack point is that members of Parliament voted and approved the government’s proposed mission last October, which clearly specified our personnel would have a training role.

After it was revealed that our special forces in northern Iraq had come under fire on a number of occasions — well before the friendly-fire incident — the military and Conservative government claimed that the mission had “evolved” since the fall.

Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson admitted that the mission in Iraq has "evolved" from that of a training role.

Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson admitted that the mission in Iraq has "evolved" from that of a training role.

Of course, no one thought to tell Canadians about this evolution, even though the Canadian military has been diligently holding weekly technical briefings for the media since our soldiers first deployed to Iraq.

Rather than get caught up separating the pepper from the fly crap, let’s examine the bigger picture.

Last spring, ISIS burst onto the scene, quickly defeating the American-equipped Iraqi government security forces. Within weeks, ISIS had captured a vast swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, proclaiming their own Islamic caliphate. Videos of the beheading of captured western journalists and prisoners proved just how evil ISIS is.

In an effort to combat and contain the spread of this evil, Canada joined a U.S.-led alliance with a six-month provision of six CF-18 fighter jets, two Aurora patrol aircraft, one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueller, plus up to 69 special forces trainers. The roughly 600-member Air Force contingent has been stationed in Kuwait, while our soldier-trainers are based in the city of Erbil.

So far, so good. Good guys deploy to fight bad guys. The problem starts with the fact that our soldiers are not in Iraq — they are in Kurdistan. The flag emblem worn on the sleeves of the peshmerga militia being trained by the Canadians consists of red, white and green stripes with a yellow sunburst in the centre. This is the flag of Kurdistan, not the Iraqi flag, which now consists of three horizontal stripes of red, white and black with the inscription in Kufic script “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) arranged horizontally in the centre of the white stripe.

This is not a petty point, as the Kurds have been autonomous from the central Baghdad authority since the end of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

A Kurdish soldier props up that flag of Kurdistan.

A Kurdish soldier props up that flag of Kurdistan.

Furthermore, it was these same Kurdish peshmerga who took advantage of the ISIS crisis last spring to push south and seize the vital oilfields of Kirkuk from the demoralized Iraqi security forces. Now that they possess a third of Iraq’s vast oil resources, they have no intention of ever assimilating again.

At the core of the ISIS forces are fanatical Sunni Arabs. The territory ISIS seized and now controls became known as the Sunni Triangle during the bloody U.S. occupation. To the south of this territory lies Baghdad, with its relatively impotent regime under interim Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

When the Iraqi security forces dissolved through demoralization last year, al-Abadi called out the private militia of the Shiite Arab majority. Armed and equipped by Iranian military advisers, the Shiite militia successfully stopped the ISIS encroachment toward Baghdad.

Just last week, this Iranian-led force battled its way into the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit in the first major sustained counteroffensive against ISIS. Canada, of course, cannot heap praise upon the Iranians for this achievement because we have repeatedly demonized the Tehran regime as evil. In fact, the Canadian military made it clear that our aircraft would in no way be bombing in support of the anti-ISIS attack into Tikrit.

Iran is, of course, also assisting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against the ISIS threat in his country, as are Hezbollah Shiite fighters now in Syria, who believe they are fighting a holy war against the Sunni extremists.

So before the Canadian government decides to extend a mission to keep our soldiers in harm’s way, let’s establish a clear objective by which we can define victory.

Baghdad during the American "Shock and Awe" campaign.

Baghdad during the American "Shock and Awe" campaign.

Eliminating ISIS in Iraq will leave a weak central government in Baghdad that is completely under the influence of Iran. Likewise, the elimination of ISIS will strengthen the position of Assad in Syria. We are also pouring weapons and training into a Kurdish security force that sees itself as the vanguard of creating a greater Kurdistan. This would require the secession of territory from Iran, Syria, Armenia and, of course, NATO member Turkey.

Iraq is a huge, complicated mess, and not one of Canada’s creation. If we really want to fight ISIS, we should look at combating them in Libya. We led the NATO mission that ousted Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and the country is now a failed state in which ISIS is gaining an ever-stronger foothold.

It is senseless to continue sending troops to fight a war in Iraq wherein there is no desirable outcome in the foreseeable future.

Iraq: Fighting for what? Canadians deserve to know.

               Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron

               Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron

Last week, just prior to the shocking friendly-fire incident that left Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron dead, and three fellow Canadian special forces soldiers wounded, newly minted Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson made a covert visit to Iraq. Nicholson’s junket came on the eve of Canada having to decide whether it will extend its six-month military commitment beyond the current April 7 deadline.

Immediately upon returning to the safer soil of neighbouring Jordan, Nicholson advised reporters via teleconference that Canadians should brace themselves for an extended mission.

Without any hint of irony, Nicholson prophesied that the campaign against ISIS in Iraq could very well mirror Canada’s more than decade-long deployment to battle the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“Being in this for the long term is similar to what we did in Afghanistan, for instance,” he stated.

“We were in Afghanistan, but we indicated that we would continue our assistance, and we have in Afghanistan.”

For the record, Canada ended its combat mission in July 2011, and completely withdrew all military personnel in March 2014.

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan leave Kabul in 2014.

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan leave Kabul in 2014.

Although the Harper government staged an elaborate Day of Honour to recognize the sacrifice and courage of our troops who fought in that bloody counter-insurgency, no one in their right mind would ever pretend that we were victorious in Afghanistan.

With United States forces largely withdrawn, Afghan security forces have been unable to contain a resurgent Taliban, with violence across the country currently at the highest levels since the U.S. invasion in 2001. In theory, the challenge of rebuilding a functioning state in post-Taliban Afghanistan should have been a cakewalk, compared with the complex inter-sectarian strife that presently grips Iraq.

The fact that Nicholson had to make two stops in Iraq — first to meet the nominal central government officials in Baghdad, and then to meet with Kurdish leaders in the northern city of Erbil — illustrates that there is no single cohesive Iraqi entity combating ISIS.

The remnants of the impotent but elected regime in Baghdad are representatives of Iraqi’s Shiite majority and have always maintained close political ties with Iran. When the U.S.-trained Iraqi security force dissolved last spring at the first sight of ISIS fighters, the Baghdad leadership called out their Shiite militia and welcomed Iranian military advisers into their midst.

Tikrit is was the hometown of Saddam Hussein. He was captured just outside the city, now controlled by Islamic State militants.

Tikrit is was the hometown of Saddam Hussein. He was captured just outside the city, now controlled by Islamic State militants.

A major battle is being waged by Iranian-led Iraqi-Shiite militias to reclaim the ISIS-held Sunni stronghold of Tikrit. Despite battling a common enemy for a strategic objective, Canadian military officials confirmed to the media that the Shiite militia can expect no support from either Canadian or allied warplanes.

This is, of course, because Canada has labelled Iran as evil, and we cannot be seen using our military assets to help entrench further Iranian influence in Iraq, even if they are fighting ISIS terrorists in support of Iraq’s elected government.

Now flip back to the Kurdish leaders in the north. They too have no loyalty to any central authority from the Baghdad regime. In fact, when ISIS first appeared, the Kurds took advantage of the Iraqi military’s collapse to launch their own offensive against the central government. In those initial chaotic days, the Kurdish militia pushed south to capture the Baba Gurgur oilfield outside the city of Kirkuk. Baba Gurgur pumps about 33 per cent of all Iraqi oil, and having this prize in their grasp makes an independent Kurdistan economically feasible.

For the record, Kurdistan has existed as an autonomous region since the end of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. It has its own flag, which peshmerga militiamen proudly wear on their sleeves, and they fight for the establishment of their own state.

What makes this politically problematic is that large tracts of land, which Kurds consider to be part of their nation, are currently within the borders of Syria and, more importantly, Turkey.

As a NATO ally, Turkey sees the creation of an independent Kurdistan as a potential lightning rod to reignite the Kurdish separatist movement in the eastern provinces. During the 1990s, Turkish security forces battled Kurdish insurgents in a bloody campaign that left over 30,000 people dead.

Arming and training Kurdish militia and bombing ISIS in support of them may seem like the only short-term option available to Canada. God knows we cannot be seen to be supporting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even though his loyalists are in the fight against ISIS. And we sure as hell can’t bomb ISIS in support of those evil Iranians. But if we bomb ISIS in support of Kurds, their long-term goal is to break up Iraq and seize chunks of Syria and Turkey.

Before any decision is taken regarding extending our military mission in Iraq, I believe Canadians need to know the ultimate objective. Selectively bombing ISIS is not a strategy. And it is not enough to know what you are fighting against; you need to know what you are fighting for. Especially now that we have started taking casualties.

So far, it is clear that the Harper government hasn’t a clue when it comes to Iraq.

Found money? Ukraine broke, Poroshenko shops for weapons

Poroshenko shakes hands with representatives from the UAE while shopping for weapons at IDEX in Abu Dhabi.

Poroshenko shakes hands with representatives from the UAE while shopping for weapons at IDEX in Abu Dhabi.

Last week, I was surprised to see photographs of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko touring the exhibition halls of IDEX (International Defence Exhibition) in the United Arab Emirates.

Last September, Poroshenko visited Ottawa and Washington, pleading with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama for the provision of lethal military hardware. To date, Canada and the U.S. have only supplied Ukraine with non-lethal aid in the form of boots, tents and sleeping bags. However, Poroshenko’s quip to Harper and Obama was that, while he was grateful for all of the used camping gear, “one cannot win the war with blankets.”

Poroshenko’s presence in Abu Dhabi is shocking and surprising. First of all, since when does a president attend an arms bazaar? Secondly, just how does the Ukrainian president plan to fund the purchase of new sophisticated weapon systems?

Since the outset of the crisis in Ukraine, the western media has portrayed it as a clash between freedom-loving, European democracy lovers and evil pro-Russian separatists. The unmentioned elephant in the room is the fact that successive Ukrainian governments, both pro-western and pro-Russian, have bankrupted the country. Analysts estimate that Ukraine needs an infusion of US$78 billion from outside sources just to meet its financial obligations, not to reduce its debt.

Now on the table is a massive bailout package totalling US$40 billion — $22.5 billion from the coffers of the European Union and $17.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund. Of course, this is the same EU fund that is struggling to keep Greece afloat, not to mention Portugal, Spain and Italy — as these three countries are also struggling with their own massive debt loads.

Surely there must be some concern on the part of the major European powers — as they will have to tighten their own belts to meet the financial proposal for Ukraine — when they see Poroshenko out on a shopping trip to purchase weaponry.

If the Feb. 15 ceasefire fails and full-fledged fighting between the Ukrainian factions resumes, presumably the new weapon systems will be employed to reduce even more Ukrainian infrastructure and utilities into rubble.

This does not sound like a solid business plan for a nation’s economic recovery.

In terms of a Canadian connection to the arming and equipping of pro-government Ukrainian forces, the Globe and Mail recently ran a feature titled “Bypassing official channels, Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora finances and fights a war against Russia.” According to this report, Ukrainian-Canadians have raised $10 million to $15 million since the crisis began, with at least $1 million being spent on the provision of military materiel and vehicles.

What was noteworthy in the article is that the Ukrainian-Canadian volunteers noted that their support was necessary because of endemic corruption within the Ukraine military. Not trusting their own army officials, volunteers take the donated equipment directly to the front lines to deliver it into the hands of the troops. One source explained that, in this way, “we go around the corruption and the stealing.”

Further hampering the effectiveness of the regular Ukrainian armed forces has been a lack of resolve on the part of those recruits called up in the initial conscription. The poor morale of these units has led Poroshenko’s Kyiv regime to officially recognize the nearly 30 private volunteer militias that have been established since the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted from power in February 2014.

Many of these militias are brazenly sporting neo-Nazi symbols and are commanded by extreme right-wing nationalists. At least six of the most effective volunteer battalions are privately funded by Ihor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch who is increasingly at odds with Poroshenko over the conduct of the war.

After the recent military debacle at the town of Debaltseve — where Ukrainian troops and volunteers were surrounded and routed — many of the militias blamed Kyiv authorities for the defeat. As a result, militia leaders have requested autonomy from Poroshenko’s direct control, thus setting the stage for even more internal dissent and violence.

So, yes, it was surprising to see Poroshenko in the UAE shopping for new weapons that his country cannot afford to equip neo-Nazis he cannot control.

You broke it? You own it.

By Scott Taylor

Immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, United States President George W. Bush declared a war on terror.

No one was exactly sure what that meant, but since every nation was petrified to invoke the wrath of an angered, wounded American, almost everyone simply pledged their allegiance to Bush.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was an exception, and they refused to extradite 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This led to the November 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, with the dual objective of toppling the Taliban and capturing bin Laden.

It took only a matter of weeks, at a cost of three U.S. servicemen’s lives, to oust the Taliban (bin Laden successfully evaded execution until May 2, 2011). However, once the U.S. had created the power vacuum in Afghanistan, it became readily apparent that no plan had been made for a post-Taliban era.

The Band-Aid solution from the outset was to appoint existing tribal leaders and warlords, and then keep them pliable through the generous provision of aid money. There were subsequent farcical attempts at staging elections, which were presented as exercises in democracy, but the same cast of corrupt characters remained in power.

Despite the fact that they knew the Kabul regime was one of the most corrupt and despised governments on the planet, the NATO alliance, including Canada, deployed an ever-increasing number of troops to prop up the Afghan leaders. The exit strategy for NATO then became focused on the creation of an Afghan security force capable of independently maintaining the corrupt Afghan regime after NATO troops withdrew.

To this end, NATO poured in weaponry and trained hundreds of thousands of young Afghan men how to fire those weapons. After more than 13 years of international intervention, we left the Afghan people at the mercy of a repugnant government protected by a semi-capable but woefully unmotivated security apparatus.

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

In the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the only objective was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The U.S. flat-out fabricated the excuse that he possessed weapons of mass destruction to justify invading a sovereign state in the name of self-defence.

Once Saddam’s military was shattered and it was clear that no WMDs existed, the U.S. began spinning the mission as a humanitarian intervention to free the Iraqi people from a brutal tyrant.

The problem with that argument is that, once again, the U.S. had a plan for a military operation but not for the post-Saddam power vacuum. Like Afghanistan, a few puppet administrations were pronounced to have been elected through a democratic process, and like Afghanistan, this central authority had no power beyond the range of American weapons.

Once again, the exit strategy was to pour weapons and training into an Iraqi security force that could independently hold up a Baghdad regime that was, in itself, a divisive factor amongst Iraq’s various factions.

Unfortunately for all involved, the U.S. investment of an estimated $22 billion and nine years worth of training and mentoring didn’t prevent the Iraqi army from disappearing at the first sight of ISIS fighters last summer. With the swift collapse of the Iraqi army, the Shiite leaders once again called out their militia in southern Iraq, and the Kurdish peshmerga militia took up the fight against ISIS in the north.

The international community’s immediate response was to flood in weapons and military trainers. Canada has taken a lead role in providing weaponry and mentoring to the Kurds, while Iran has been the primary sponsor of the burgeoning Shiite militia in the south.

A map depicting the Kurdish region of Iraq

A map depicting the Kurdish region of Iraq

While everyone focuses on the immediate issue of militarily defeating the ISIS fighters, no one seems to be discussing what form of authority will fill the power vacuum left in the wake of ISIS. Without a rapprochement between the Sunni tribes supporting ISIS and the predominantly Shiite leadership in Baghdad, the cycle of violence will continue.

For their part, the Kurds, who our Canadian special forces are training, are not fighting for Iraq, they are fighting to establish Kurdistan as an independent nation.

The clearest example of planning for war but not the aftermath is the conflict in Libya.

Under Canada’s leadership, NATO helped Libyan rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. While we celebrated victory, the ragtag Libyan rebels — many of them Islamic extremists — continued to fight each other.

During the uprising, NATO had enforced a strict arms embargo against the Gadhafi loyalists while flooding in weapons, munitions and training to assist the rebels. Since Gadhafi’s death, Libya has descended into a total state of armed anarchy and become a safe-haven breeding ground for Islamic extremists, including ISIS members.

Despite Libya’s proximity to southern Europe and the threat posed by ISIS, NATO officials have maintained that they will not revisit the idea of another military intervention in that country.

“The problem is there isn’t a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory,” claimed British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in response to the crisis.

“There isn’t a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support.”

Given that it was NATO that destroyed both the Libyan government and the military in 2011 and did not even attempt to replace them, how can NATO now use the resulting circumstances to dismiss itself from further responsibility?

As they say in Pottery Barn, “You broke it? You own it.”

Baird finally puts the crayons away

By Scott Taylor

Confused about your enemies? Baird recommends drawing hats on then (but don't use more than two colours).

Confused about your enemies? Baird recommends drawing hats on then (but don't use more than two colours).

While the sudden departure of former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird admittedly came as quite a shock, what was truly shocking was the heap of unblemished praise pundits, colleagues and the media dumped into his legacy-forming farewells.

I’m not one to relish in kicking a guy when he’s making a voluntary exit, but in this case — for the sake of bringing a little balance back to the equation — I think a few pointed reminders are in order.

My press gallery colleagues can muse all they want about what a quiet, gentle man Baird was in private, but his public persona was that of the Conservative Party’s barking monkey and loyal pit bull defender of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Kind-hearted analysts credited Baird with having single-handedly forged Canada’s current foreign affairs policy. This would not have taken Baird very long to do, as he admitted early on in his tenure as minister that he simplified all equations into either Black Hats or White Hats (Bad Guys vs. Good Guys).

Armed with this failsafe formula, Baird was quick to plunge Canada into the civil war in Libya in the spring of 2011. Crazy old Moammar Gadhafi had to be the black hat, so Baird set about with his white crayon drawing white hats on the Libyan rebels. While Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard led the international military intervention, Baird became by far the most strident of all Western leaders in pushing for Gadhafi’s ouster.

As the uprising stagnated into a military stalemate, international observers began to examine just who constituted the assortment of Libyan rebel leaders. It quickly became apparent that they were a motley collection of Islamic fundamentalists, human traffickers and ruthless criminals.

However, this did not deter our man Baird, who flew into the rebel-held city of Benghazi in June 2011 to meet with the anti-Gadhafi leaders. At that juncture, it seemed that even with the full might of the NATO air armada on their side, the rebels could not make any additional headway against the Gadhafi loyalists.

South Africa was pushing for a negotiated peace that would have seen a partitioning of Libya, with Gadhafi left in control of the western half of the country.

Although ferocious in the House of Commons, those close to him say Baird was mild-mannered out of the public spotlight.

Although ferocious in the House of Commons, those close to him say Baird was mild-mannered out of the public spotlight.

While some rebels had been weighing that option, after Baird’s visit all peace talks were off.

With additional weapons, ramped up NATO airstrikes, and the covert provision of Western Special Forces, Baird was finally able to give the Libyan rebels their victory. His captors captured Gadhafi alive and brutally murdered him in the street. Again, such barbarism — Gadhafi was sodomized with a tent spike and left to bleed out — might have been a clue as to the mindset of Baird’s Libyan allies.

Of course, there was no time for such an assessment; Canada had a massive $850,000 victory celebration to plan for in Ottawa.

On November 24, 2011, the skies above Parliament Hill buzzed with the sound of a flypast that employed more planes than we had deployed to the Libyan conflict. On the ground, massed bands paraded with the ship’s company from HMCS Charlottetown and a contingent of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR).

It is significant to note that none of our NATO allies or coalition partners staged any similar victory festivities. There was also no such celebration in Libya.

Immediately following Gadhafi’s death, rebel factions refused to disarm and soon began fighting among themselves, conducting horrific reprisal killings while Libya quickly began a steady descent into the violent anarchy of a failed state.

Under Baird’s direction, Canada took a lead role in ousting Gadhafi, and Canada alone celebrated the alliance’s military victory. Thus, the Libya fiasco cannot be divorced from Baird’s legacy.

Ditto for when Baird took his white and black crayons and again drew hats on the stakeholders in the Syrian civil war. Naturally, Bashar al-Assad was the bad guy, so those opposed to him must be the good guys. It was a no-brainer.

Then, once again, as the civil war dragged on, analysts started to examine just who exactly was doing the fighting to oust Assad. It turned out that the democracy-loving moderate Syrian opposition were sitting in cafés in Istanbul while Islamic fundamentalists were on the ground in Syria battling Assad loyalists.

It was these same Syrian anti-Assad forces to which Baird initially pledged Canada’s full support that eventually morphed into what we now call ISIS.

For all of Baird’s previous chanting that “Assad must go,” now, no matter how you try to spin it, the Canadian military is engaged in battling Assad’s ISIS enemies in Iraq and Syria.

Baird also drew black hats on the Iranians, shutting down diplomatic relations with Tehran on September 7, 2012. However, our soldiers are now undeniably allied with the Iranians who support the Shiite militias in Iraq in the battle against ISIS. Of course, Assad is also backed by Russia and Hezbollah, which would have truly led Baird into a crayon colour-choosing crisis.

Baird was a loud, petulant checkers player at a world chess tournament. While gone, he will not soon be forgotten.

Stupid Idea: Canadian "defensive" Weapons for Ukraine

By Scott Taylor

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was once again baiting the Russian bear and telling Vladimir Putin to “back off” from his involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Harper’s jingoistic tough-guy rhetoric came on the eve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande flying to Moscow to meet with Putin in an effort to peacefully resolve the Ukraine conflict through mature dialogue. Germany and France are, of course, the central European military and economic powers that have the most skin in the game should the civil war in Ukraine dissolve into a wider clash involving NATO and Russia.

Backing up Harper’s taunts, Canada has but a single anti-submarine frigate cruising in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, more than 1,500 kilometres from Russian soil, and a handful of troops conducting a training exercise in Poland. Canada has also dispatched, with great fanfare, several tonnes of non-lethal military aid to support the Ukrainian armed forces. This material could best be described as used camping gear in the form of surplus tents, sleeping bags and cold-weather gear.

Subsequent to that generous provision of stores, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, came cap in hand last September to beg for additional military donations from Canada and the U.S. During his speeches in Ottawa and Washington, Poroshenko noted repeatedly that “one cannot win the war with blankets.”

It has taken some time, but now senior U.S. policymakers are also advocating that “defensive weapons” should be provided to the Ukrainian military to help them crush the upstart rebels in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. There is, of course, no actual military designation of a weapon system as being “defensive” in nature, other than air defence, and since the Ukrainian rebels in those regions possess no aircraft, this makes the new U.S. policy an exercise in political spin.

                                                                 What could possibly go wrong with sending weapons to Ukraine?

                                                                 What could possibly go wrong with sending weapons to Ukraine?

Pouring weapons into a simmering civil war would be reckless in the extreme, but providing freedom-loving, pro-western Ukrainians with a means of self-defence against Russian aggression seems not only prudent but necessary. The problem with this simple, oft-repeated storyline of defenceless Ukrainian citizens threatened by a Russian military juggernaut is that it is complete hogwash.

While a Soviet republic, Ukraine had an obligatory two-year conscripted military service and a vast arsenal of combat equipment. Following the country’s declared independence in 1991, Ukraine radically downsized its standing army, but kept its ample stock of war material and a trained reserve force of 700,000 former soldiers.

Last March, when Russian troops seized control of the Crimean peninsula, they did so from their naval base at Sevastopol, which they had officially leased from Ukraine until the year 2042.

What was little reported on at the time was the fact that Ukrainian troops were also stationed at airbases and ports in the Crimea. Despite the fact that the Ukrainian military force outnumbered that of the Russians, the annexation was uncontested. Subsequently, a significant number of those Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered without firing a shot chose to re-enlist in the Russian military. Those who did not opt for this, and who remained loyal to the new government in Kyiv, were peacefully repatriated to Ukraine.

Even some of the tanks and combat aircraft that were initially seized by Russian forces in the Crimea were returned intact to their Ukrainian owners.

Furthermore, at present, through rapid conscription and mobilization, Ukraine has just eclipsed France in possessing the largest military force in Europe.

As evidenced by its steady stream of reversals at the hands of the rebels, size is not as important as motivation in military conflict. The lack of will to fight and die for the corrupt and bankrupt regime of Poroshenko is reflected in the statistic that Kyiv is pursuing 7,500 criminal cases against males of military age who have refused conscription.

The most effective units fighting to contain the rebels have been the foreign volunteers combat unit known as the Azov Battalion and the former neo-Nazi militia group called the Right Sector. Both of these forces openly display Nazi symbols and swastikas, and the Right Sector still lionizes Stepan Bandera, a Second World War ultra-nationalist and fascist.

While it is true that the majority of Ukraine’s Cold War Soviet arsenal is somewhat antiquated, the pro-Russian rebels are using exactly the same equipment — they do not possess secret super-weapons. Despite the pleas for assistance from Poroshenko, Ukraine’s military is neither outnumbered nor outgunned; in fact, it is quite the opposite. What is lacking is the will.

That being the case, providing more “defensive weapons” and meaningless taunts from Harper will solve nothing. While the NATO hawks may wish to fight Putin to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, it seems that most rational Ukrainians are averse to that outcome.

Let us hope cooler heads prevail — soon.

Decoding the military-speak of missions

Operation Impact, Canada’s military mission to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is certainly having an impact domestically as politicians and generals frantically strive to redefine the English language.

Last Thursday, Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, accompanied Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to face questions at a rare joint sitting of the House of Commons committee on foreign affairs and defence.

However, by his own definition, Lawson did not “accompany” Nicholson and Baird because the Canadian military has its own distinct interpretation of that word.

Although widely used in politics and in military circles, 'gobbledygook' is not, in fact, a real language.

“In military terms, (accompanying troops) has a very clear other meaning,” Lawson told the assembled parliamentarians.

It is when “you are now up front, with the troops that you have been assigned to, with your weapons being used to compel the enemy.”

Lawson’s loophole was offered as an explanation to bridge the gap between what had been the authorized mission for Canada’s soldiers to train Iraqi security forces and the fact that our troops have, in fact, been involved in combat themselves.

The Canadian military has confirmed that on at least three occasions, our special forces were engaged by direct hostile fire. In response, our commandos “neutralized” the opposition. It was also reported that on at least 13 occasions, Canadian soldiers who were accompanying (but not militarily accompanying) Kurdish militia used laser technology to paint targets for allied ground attack aircraft.

Opposition critics have cried foul that they were misled by the government, or at least not informed that the approved training mission had evolved into a semi-combat mission.

The power of propaganda and the fear-mongering by the media to exaggerate the ISIS threat to ridiculous proportions is evident in the fact that most Canadians do not seem to care whether or not the government lied about the mission.

Instead of public outrage and level-headed questioning as to exactly why Canada would be taking a lead role fighting ISIS, we have a vocal majority cheering on our warriors in their fight against evil.

Since it was the revelation that our troops were under fire that sparked questions about the increased mandate, some military cheerleaders in the media believe one would be better off not knowing what our soldiers are doing. In their opinion, the British, Americans and Australians have the right idea because they do not report the activities of their special forces personnel.

By default then, it seems Canada is leading the charge against ISIS because we are the only nation in the alliance admitting that our troops are targeting ISIS on the ground.

Illustrative of the mood among the tub-thumpers is a letter to the editor published last week in the Ottawa Citizen. The writer agreed that no news is good news when it comes to reporting on military activity.

Harking back to the good old days, he reminded readers of the old saying, “loose lips sink ships.” Then his letter descended into full absurdity when he paraphrased recent comments by Sun News Network commentator Raymond Heard, asking “Could we imagine our allies during the Second World War telling Hitler what they were doing?”

While the Second World War was a little before my time, there is plenty of evidence that politicians and the media were constantly informing the public of events. Sure, the media did their part to diminish the defeats and exaggerate the victories, but in recognition of the importance of maintaining popular support for the conflict, the public was definitely kept informed.

What is missing from the equation in Iraq is the answer to this question: What constitutes final victory for us in this conflict?

In the Second World War, the Allies’ goal was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, as well as the liberation of the nations that had been occupied by these Axis powers.

In Iraq, we are battling ISIS militants in what is known as the Sunni Triangle. Our soldiers are accompanying (but not militarily accompanying) Kurdish militia who are proudly fighting to establish their own independent state.

The central Baghdad government and the American-trained Iraqi security forces collapsed at the first sight of ISIS last spring. In their absence, Iraq’s Shiite leaders have mobilized their own militia — with the assistance of Iran — to protect themselves and the vital oil fields of Basra.

Without even mentioning the overlapping complex conflict in neighbouring Syria, just what does victory in Iraq entail for our troops? This is what our political leaders need to be debating, instead of playing word definition games.