Allan Woods, Toronto Star
August 25, 2009
Guarding 2010 Games and G8 summit means compromises elsewhere – even in Afghanistan, defence documents say
OTTAWA—Canada is considering outsourcing military work in Afghanistan and pulling soldiers from low-profile foreign missions to relieve the pressure of fighting in Kandahar, guarding the 2010 Olympics and protecting world leaders in Muskoka.
According to documents obtained by the Toronto Star, more than 32,000 military personnel — about half the entire Canadian Forces — will be in training or set to deploy on missions to Kandahar, the Vancouver Olympics and next summer’s G8 meeting in Huntsville between now and July 2010.
That staffing burden makes it impossible to carry on current operations and still respond to the weekly requests for Canadian soldiers from the Americans, NATO and the United Nations, the military says.
The defence department has labelled the problem “Personnel Crunch 2010.”
“We … are now at the point where some requests that would seem to be minor (e.g., for only a few personnel) are, in reality, difficult to source initially and impossible to sustain over the 2010 timeframe,” says a March 17 memorandum to chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk.
Already military officials are considering passing some signature work in Afghanistan, such as the operation of a military college for Afghan army officers, to civilian contractors or retired soldiers.
Canadian soldiers in Kandahar will also be ordered to train and mentor additional Afghan army battalions on the front lines without more troops, say the documents, obtained under the Access to Information Act.
The training function was one of Ottawa’s key priorities when Parliament agreed to extend the Afghan mission to 2011, a program Defence Minister Peter MacKay said just last month Canada was “proud to sponsor.”
Canadian participation in smaller peacekeeping missions could end or be drastically cut, the memo also reveals.
“If positions on missions (other than Joint Task Force Afghanistan) are no longer required because of changing capabilities or mission parameters, positions should be deleted … with the aim of accruing personnel … `savings.’”
The documents don’t say which missions could be axed, but Canadians make small contributions to 14 other international operations in the Middle East, Sudan, Haiti, Cyprus, the Balkans and elsewhere.
The only operations where Canadian support seems solid are those that “represent opportunities for increased influence and strategic effects,” according to the memo to Natynczyk. It cites one example as Operation Proteus, a three-officer contingent working with the U.S. to establish security between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Disaster Assistance Response Team, a key foreign assistance tool dispatched after earthquakes and hurricanes, has been ordered to stay in Canada from January to March in case of emergency around the time of the February Olympics.
The $900 million RCMP-led Olympic security operation will send more than 4,000 soldiers to B.C. this winter. “Operation Podium” will include regular and reserve forces, special operations soldiers and JTF2 commandos. Sailors will protect the coastline and pilots will be overhead both for surveillance and search-and-rescue operations. In the event of a major security breakdown, Canadian and U.S. fighter pilots with NORAD could also be called into action.
Even the Afghan mission, which has claimed the lives of 127 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat and billions of dollars since 2002, will take a back seat as the Olympics become the “priority mission.”
As challenging as the Olympic security operation will be for the military, the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., in late June will be “as big or bigger than Op Podium,” army planners say. Heads of the world’s leading industrialized nations, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, are usually accompanied by leaders from dozens of other countries at such summits.
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