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.