Author Topic: The post-Afghanistan Canadian Army  (Read 7258 times)

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Offline lberthiaume

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The post-Afghanistan Canadian Army
« on: May 23, 2012, 10:34:45 »
Good evening,

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lee Berthiaume and I'm the foreign affairs/defence reporter for Postmedia News (i.e. the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun, etc).

I'm working on a story about what happens to the Canadian Army now that the government has decided not to extend the training mission past March 2014. I was talking to some senior Army officers in recent weeks who acknowledged that there will be challenges after the end of the mission as the operational tempo drops significantly and the focus is expected to turn to training and small deployments. I could be wrong, but I find it difficult to believe that Canada will undertake another major ground deployment anytime soon.

I'm trying to find someone who deployed to Afghanistan and enjoyed the experience, and is now contemplating getting out of the Forces or already has gotten out because the opportunity to engage in a major deployment, particularly one in a hot conflict, is unlikely.

I can be reached at or 613-369-4806.

Thank you very much.


« Last Edit: May 23, 2012, 12:11:54 by lberthiaume »

Offline E.R. Campbell

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Re: The post-Afghanistan Canadian Army
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2012, 11:35:19 »
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Ottawa Citizen is Mr. Berthiaume's article:
Just what’s next for Canada’s ‘warrior spirit’?
By Lee Berthiaume, Psotmedia News

May 25, 2012

When the last Canadian soldier boards an aircraft and takes off from Kabul on March 31, 2014, the event will be welcomed by a war-weary Canadian public and political leaders alike. For better or worse, this country’s longest military engagement will have come to end.

But within National Defence Headquarters, a new challenge will emerge: What to do with a well-equipped and battle-hardened military that has been infused with a new-found “warrior spirit” but is facing the prospects that Afghanistan will be Canada’s last ground war for a generation?

It’s a question that has been voiced, both publicly and in private, by senior military officers, who acknowledge the army is entering a down period, where soldiers who have grown accustomed to war will face disillusionment, impatience and frustration.

Much has been written about the psychological and physical toll the Afghanistan mission has wrecked on Canada’s men and women in uniform over more than a decade: 158 soldiers killed; more than 2,000 wounded; and countless thousands more suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental injuries.

At the same time, the army’s fleet of armoured vehicles has been forced into the garage for refits and overhauls after years of heavy use and IED attacks. As a result, pundits and military officers said the Canadian Army would need at least a year to recover once the mission in Afghanistan was over — a well-earned break that Canada’s tired soldiers would willingly welcome.

But when Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk was asked by members of Parliament this past Nov. 3 whether the military was looking for a breather after more than a decade in Afghanistan, his response spoke volumes.

“The first question (by soldiers) no matter where we go is, ‘Sir, where are we going to go next? We want to go somewhere, where is it going to be?’” Natynczyk told members of the Commons’ defence committee.

“And even when we’re welcoming those folks home — they’re on their way home and they haven’t seen their loved ones yet — their first line to us is, ‘Sir, where is the next mission? I just want to know’.”

Indeed, as a testimony to their desire to serve in Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of the nearly 40,000 Canadian soldiers who went there did two or more tours despite having ways to stay home if they wanted.

Explaining to Postmedia News earlier this year why he was saying goodbye to his wife, Beth, and their home in Kingston to return to Afghanistan for a fifth time, Sgt. Paul O’Brien said: “I went there because this is what I do. I love what I do, and if I didn’t, I’d pack it in tomorrow.”

He looked back at the “dirty ’90s,” when soldiers were so bored they’d change the tires on the trucks to keep busy, and how his career “peaked” when he was involved in Operation Medusa in 2006, which was the scene of some of the most intense combat Canadian soldiers had seen since Korea.

“When you get back into garrison life, it really discourages a lot of guys,” O’Brien said. “The question becomes, ‘When do we go next?’ Adrenalin is a drug and they need that heart-pumping excitement and that level of unknown to keep them happy now.”

Speaking to the Commons’ defence committee on Nov. 22, Canadian Army Commander Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin said: “Conflict and war are great for recruiting, to be quite honest with you. The lineups at the recruiting centre are long when there is anticipation of representing Canada powerfully in conflict.”

But Devlin also acknowledged that with the end of the Afghan mission, “I suspect the lines will not be as long in the years ahead.”

This will not be a concern for the army; even if the federal budget hadn’t capped the size of the military at current levels, the end of the Afghanistan mission means creating and sustaining a large fighting force is no longer the top priority.

Instead, the focus has already shifted from recruiting front line soldiers to finding Canadians with technical expertise, such as mechanics and communications specialists, who are in short supply.

Even then, says retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded all NATO troops in southern Afghanistan in 2006, it is vitally important that the military hold onto the soldiers who served in Afghanistan because of the valuable experience they gained there.

“The army’s all about people,” he told Postmedia News. “We have to keep and maintain our people. There’s so much invested in them that, if we lose their support, it would be very hard to rebuild the organization that we have right now.”

Still, for those who signed up in the hopes of serving in Afghanistan or on another major mission — and for the hundreds if not thousands of Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan and are looking for their next deployment — a new reality has arrived.

The war in Afghanistan, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself noted will have lasted longer than the two world wars combined as of 2014, has created a wariness in Canada and other NATO countries about sending ground forces into conflict.

At the same time, NATO’s air and sea campaign in Libya last year has been seen as an unmitigated success — especially since Canada and its allies were able to leave soon after and not get caught in a protracted war.

Canadian soldiers will still lend a helping hand in emergencies such as floods and forest fires at home, while small numbers can look forward to peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, Africa and Haiti.

But the heady days of deploying to Afghanistan or another theatre of war as part of a robust fighting force appear to be over for the foreseeable future — which the head of the army acknowledged will create challenges.

“Guys and gals join the Canadian Forces because they want to do good things for their country,” Devlin told the Senate committee. “They seek a level of excitement and challenge.

“Certainly soldiers join because they want to do what they have trained for and they expect to be used. We are alert to that.”

Devlin indicated the short-term answer will be a focus on training for new missions, such as jungle warfare and the Arctic.

“Winter warfare training is something that a generation of soldiers have not done,” he said. “It is genuinely exciting to learn how to get dressed in order to operate in the winter and to understand how complex it is to operate in the winter.”

But a senior officer told Postmedia News that Canada’s soldiers can only go to the Arctic so many times before they get bored. And there will be those who will find the prospects of going back to a period of seemingly endless training extremely difficult to swallow.

Fraser says the situation is similar to what the Canadian military faced after the Second World War.

“We’re kind of back in 1946, where the Canadian Forces have come out and they are battle-tested; they have young men and women that all they’ve ever known is combat,” he said. “So the leadership challenges are more pronounced today than they ever have been.”

In an article written in November 2009, former chief of defence staff Maurice Baril put forward the idea of Canada returning to peacekeeping and participating in stabilization missions — as happened when 2,000 soldiers were deployed to Haiti to provide short-term assistance in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake.

“Suggesting that the (Canadian Forces) return home and retire to mothballs seems a waste of talent, treasure, life and lessons learned,” Baril said. “Peacekeeping is not dead, but has evolved. Having Canada re-engage substantively in UN missions and UN-mandated mission with ‘boots on the ground’ could have significant and positive impact.”

A poll conducted by Nanos Research in October 2010 indicated Canadians believed peacekeeping and North American security should be the military’s priorities, while most Canadians were opposed to another combat mission like Afghanistan. As of this past April, Canada ranked 53rd out of 117 nations with 163 personnel deployed on UN peacekeeping operations. That number is deceiving, however, as 130 were police officers and only 14 were soldiers.

The nature of peacekeeping has changed in the past decade.

The majority of blue berets now are from countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt and Brazil, with developed countries such as Canada offering high-level support. Peacekeeping missions are also increasingly focused on protecting civilians rather than separating warring factions, and also include stabilization and assistance — as the Canadian military did in Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

Baril said the Canadian military’s experience in Afghanistan would lend itself to either mission.

“The (Canadian Forces’) experience in the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan has resulted in military forces whose capacity to engage in either peace enforcement or robust peacekeeping would be valuable to current UN operations,” he wrote.

“The return of CF to a more active role in UN peace missions would provide a means by which the experiences in Afghanistan could be shared with other troop and police-contributions countries,” Baril added.

Whatever role the army finds itself in over the next few years, Fraser says, the keys will be strong leadership to ensure frustration and impatience doesn’t set in — as well as to make sure the army doesn’t get gutted of resources. But it will also require ensuring front line soldiers feel they have some type of input.

“The warrior spirit has to evolve,” Fraser said. “We want to build on that spirit and empower our people to take what they learned and build on it. It’s a very sophisticated paradigm shift.”

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

It is ill that men should kill one another in seditions, tumults and wars; but it is worse to bring nations to such misery, weakness and baseness
as to have neither strength nor courage to contend for anything; to have nothing left worth defending and to give the name of peace to desolation.
Algernon Sidney in Discourses Concerning Government, (1698)
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Offline justin9

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Re: The post-Afghanistan Canadian Army
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2014, 00:55:54 »
Can someone provide any more news of this?

Offline MCG

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The benefits to Canada from our military mission in Afghanistan
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2014, 14:19:57 »
What Canada gained (and lost) in Afghanistan
The list of significant positive by-products of Canada’s lengthy and costly involvement in Afghanistan does not justify the sacrifices made.

Eugene Lang 
25 March 2014

Last week marked the end of Canada’s 12-year odyssey in Afghanistan. Assessments of our involvement in that country are now emerging. Some claim we failed in our objectives. Others argue it is premature to pronounce mission success or failure.

Irrespective of what happens in Afghanistan, any assessment of Canada’s missions there should acknowledge some positive by-products that have accrued to this country as a result of Canadian sacrifices.

Those sacrifices were significant. One hundred and fifty-eight Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) fatalities and five civilian deaths. More than 2,000 wounded Canadians. Sixty-eight hundred veterans on disability for their Afghanistan service. Estimates that 13 per cent of the 40,000 CAF personnel who served in Afghanistan will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. Between $14 billion and $18 billion spent on military operations, development assistance, and the costs of death, disability and medical support for CAF personnel.

Canada has made a major sacrifice in Afghanistan over the past dozen years. But the mission was not without positive outcomes.

The CAF conducted pretty close to the full spectrum of military operations in Afghanistan: stabilization, reconnaissance, counter-insurgency, reconstruction, special forces operations, and training and mentoring of Afghan security forces. Today, Canada’s military is the most operationally experienced we have had in this country in over half a century. That experience extends all through the ranks.

Canada also has a more integrated force than we did a decade ago. CAF operations in Afghanistan required a level of integration among the services — Air Force, Army, Navy and Special Forces — that hadn’t been required in previous post-Cold War foreign deployments.

The Canadian Army is now one of the world’s most expert in counter-insurgency. Given the number of insurgencies in play around the globe that is a skill set worth having, if only for consultative purposes.

Canada’ special forces — JTF2 — were deployed successfully for years in Afghanistan and increased significantly in size over the course of the missions. Having robust, experienced Special Forces is an invaluable tool to respond to both domestic and international crises.

And equipment purchases — heavy-lift helicopters, tanks, drones, and transport aircraft — were driven by Afghanistan mission imperatives, further enhancing capabilities.

In short, today the government of Canada has a significantly expanded capability set to work with. You cannot put a price on this when working through the calculus of providing a useful contribution to a multinational armed force that mitigates risks to Canada and is consistent with Canadian values.

Another byproduct of the missions was an improvement of our institutions of government over the last dozen years. Afghanistan required more joined-up foreign policy institutions (CIDA, the Department of Foreign Affairs and National Defence), not just in Ottawa, but also in theatre. Afghanistan forced government to do the hard work of connecting the silos, ending turf wars and bridging different world views among these departments. In responding to future international crises, interdepartmental co-ordination will be far easier to achieve.

Parliament has matured, too. Afghanistan set an important Parliamentary precedent when two votes were taken in 2006 and 2008 to extend Canada’s military involvement. In future, it is hard to imagine any government putting the CAF into a hostile situation abroad without Parliament’s approval. Having Parliament onside, which is not required constitutionally, is important in maintaining broader public support for foreign military operations and in educating citizens about what their military is being asked to do on their behalf.

Among Members of Parliament there is somewhat more literacy on foreign policy and the armed forces than there was a decade ago. Canadians, too, have a better understanding of what their military is and can do.

The connection between the military and the Canadian population — which had broken down in the 1990s due to the incidents in Somalia and their aftermath — has been fully restored as a result of the missions in Afghanistan. The CAF is considered again to be one of the premier institutions in Canada.

Perhaps most importantly, our politicians, public servants and military leaders have a more sophisticated grasp of the limitations of military force in effecting foreign policy outcomes. That knowledge and humility only comes from being involved in conflicts in complex societies like Afghanistan.

These are significant positive by-products of Canada’s lengthy and costly involvement in Afghanistan. Are they reasons to go to war? Absolutely not. Do they justify the sacrifices? No. But when assessing mission “success” or “failure” we should at least consider the benefits that have accrued to this country.

Offline Colin P

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Re: The benefits to Canada from our military mission in Afghanistan
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2014, 16:23:09 »
I would not say connections between military and population fully re-connected, but certainly improved.

Offline Hisoyaki

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Re: The benefits to Canada from our military mission in Afghanistan
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2014, 01:43:15 »
Strange that he doesn't mention Al-qaeda training camps or terrorism at all.

It is as if the journalist is too cynical to realize betterment of the CF is not a war goal in itself.

Online MarkOttawa

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Re: The post-Afghanistan Canadian Army
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2014, 08:54:39 »
It's just typically Canadian--all about us and the was it "worth it" meme--no real concern for the poor bloody Afghans:

Ça explique, mais ça n'excuse pas.