By Scott Taylor
As 2017 comes to an end and we plunge forward into a brand new calendar year, it is a good time to take stock of just where Canada sits in terms of international military commitments.
From 2002 until 2014, the sole focus of the Canadian military was the mission in Afghanistan. That failed intervention ate up a fortune in terms of human and equipment resources, propping up a corrupt, despotic regime in Kabul. However, the very longevity of that campaign coupled with the fact that there was never any hope to achieve an actual ‘victory’ made things extremely simple for those planning our military operations.
We simply trained and equipped battle group after endless battle group to deploy into Kandahar to continue waging the counterinsurgency that never ends. Hell, we even built a full-scale mock Kandahar training area at CFB Wainwright, complete with actual Afghan actors, to prepare our soldiers prior to every deployment.
However, with the termination of the Afghan mission, that sense of focus has been lost.
The appearance of the Daesh (aka ISIS) scourge in Iraq in 2014 created a new bogeyman on the scene and Canadians were supportive of the Harper Conservative government’s decision to send in some fighter jets and a handful of special forces trainers to help battle the Islamic extremist evildoers.
That same year saw the onset of the political crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. The Harper government became one of the most strident anti-Russian voices among the NATO alliance and to demonstrate Canada’s resolve, a number of token military assets were committed to NATO’s collective Operation Reassurance in Eastern Europe.
When the Trudeau Liberals came to power in 2015, they pledged to get Canada out of shooting wars and to make Canadian peacekeeping great again.
That all sounded good, but it proved to be far easier said than done. Trudeau did finally withdraw Canada’s CF-18 fighter planes from the anti-Daesh mission in Iraq, but to appease our U.S. allies he also agreed to boost the number of Canadian Special Operations Forces trainers to 200. We also agreed to provide a 50-person field hospital to treat those wounded in the fight against Daesh.
This past June, Canada took the bizarre step of announcing a further two-year extension to our anti-Daesh commitment in Iraq. At the time of the extension announcement, Daesh diehards were fighting a last-stand battle in the city of Mosul, one of their final strongholds in Iraq.
By August, Mosul had been liberated, and the war in Iraq moved into a whole new phase. Those Kurdish fighters that our soldiers had been training to battle Daesh began fighting the Iraqi security forces that Canada’s foreign policy purports to support.
As a result, since late October Canada’s ‘advise and assist’ role has been suspended. That’s right, we currently have over 200 of the best Special Operations Forces soldiers in the world sitting idle on the edge of a civil war, without a clearly defined role, until the arbitrarily announced deadline for withdrawal of March 31, 2019.
We are also spending $134-million annually to maintain 450 Canadian soldiers in Latvia to deter a possible Russian invasion. While no one in their right mind actually believes Russia would invade the Baltic states, Article 5 of the NATO charter makes the entire deployment of Canadian troops a needless expense and a dangerous provocation. As full members of NATO, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are guaranteed the collective defence of the NATO alliance regardless of whether we have soldiers on the ground or not.
As for the long-awaited Liberal promise to return to UN peacekeeping, this amounted to a lot of sizzle but no steak. The mid-November announcement of Canada’s new peacekeeping policy named no specific mission or troop numbers, simply a few planes here, a couple of helicopters there.
We also pledged to use our long-dormant peacekeeping expertise to train the militaries of other countries prior to deploying their soldiers into harm’s way, and we set up a $15-million trust fund to act as incentive for other countries to send their female peacekeepers into global hotspots.
Not exactly a classic case of leadership by example.