8-11 SEPTEMBER 2009 - VISIT TO CANADA by the SUB-COMMITTEE ON TRANSATLANTIC DEFENCE AND SECURITY CO-OPERATION (DSC)
1. Canada has made major contributions to the international engagement in Afghanistan since 2002, particularly in Kandahar Province, but this effort has strained its military capabilities through an extremely high operational burden in very challenging conditions. Although a parliamentary motion calling for the withdrawal of Canadian combat forces in 2011 has been agreed to, no political decision on the shape of any remaining Canadian military presence in Afghanistan after that date has been made, even if it is widely assumed that a strong civilian contribution will remain.
2. These were the central messages heard by a delegation of 25 members of Parliament from eleven NATO member states and Sweden, during a September 8-11, 2009 fact-finding mission to Canada hosted by Canadian Senator Joseph A. Day. The visit took place with Canadian public and media attention focussed on the repatriation of the remains of two Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
3. The visit of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defence and Security Co-operation, chaired by Senator Day, aimed to better understand Canadian operational commitments, ongoing developments in the defence sector, and the force generation of its military. The delegation also sought information on Canadian views on issues of increasing importance to NATO, including cyber security and the High North.
4. The Delegation held meetings in Ottawa with senior government and military officials, and also had the opportunity to visit several important Canadian defence facilities, including:
5. According to Colonel Richard Giguère, Director of Current Operations for the Canadian Forces since Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001, over 26,000 Canadian forces have served in theatre. There are currently an all-time high of 2,832 Canadian personnel deployed in the region. One result of this very high level of commitment for a relatively small force has been the historically high level of participation of very young veterans, with some 25-year olds having already seen three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
6. Canada strongly believes that, in accordance with standard counterinsurgency doctrine, the conflict in Afghanistan will not be solved by military means alone; progress in the areas of governance and development is ultimately as important as security. To this end, Canada has gradually increased its civilian presence in theatre, with 100 public servants additionally deployed.
7. Towards the end of 2007 and early 2008, Canada went through a significant period of reflection regarding its participation in Afghanistan, embodied in the report of the Manley Panel on Afghanistan, according to Charles Court, Director of Afghanistan Policy at the Privy Council Office. As the expiration of the original Canadian military mandate for Afghanistan approached, the Canadian Parliament agreed to a motion in March 2008 to extend the mandate of combat forces to 2011, contingent on three conditions that were subsequently met: first, a Canadian demand that NATO would have to secure a battle group to rotate into Kandahar by February 2009 – this was filled by forces from the U.S. Second, the government increased its acquisition of critical assets including medium lift helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for use in theatre.1 Lastly, Canadian efforts would be re-focused, using a “Whole-of-Government” approach that would focus on limited but achievable programs and outcomes.
8. In order to better support the mission, several initiatives were thus undertaken on the recommendation of the Manley Panel: the increased deployment of civilian assets and a smaller geographic focus on Kandahar itself; a commitment to make decisions according to the needs as expressed by commanders in the field; the creation of a Cabinet Committee on Afghanistan to ensure sustained, high-level attention; and the spelling out of benchmarks, reported on in quarterly reports to the Parliament, ensuring that progress be measured and communicated to the public. Similar approaches were subsequently adopted by the UK and the Netherlands, according to the briefers.
9. Members of the delegation were provided with the most recent quarterly report to the Canadian Parliament on the mission, and expressed their appreciation for such detailed reporting and lamented the lack of such mechanisms in some of their own countries.
10. In addition, the government re-focused its efforts along three “Lines of Operation” (Security, Development, Governance), further detailed in six “policy priorities” (Security, Basic Services, Humanitarian Aid, Border, National Institutions, Reconciliation) and three “signature projects” that could be delivered prior to the expiration of the military mandate.
11. The three signature projects include the repair of the Dahla Dam and its irrigation system, which is intended to help strengthen the Afghan government’s institutional capacity to deliver core services and promote economic growth. Through its Education Signature Project, Canada will invest up to CAD12 million over the next three years, building or rehabilitating 50 schools. Finally, to help the Afghan government provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people, the Polio Eradication Signature Project will see the immunization of an estimated seven million children across Afghanistan, including 350,000 in the province of Kandahar in an effort to eradicate polio in Afghanistan by the end of 2009.
12. Overall, the briefers described a situation of steady, albeit incremental progress in the Kandahar area, which was largely credited to the geographically reduced focus of Canadian Forces, enabled by the recent influx of additional U.S. forces. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in the area were now able to properly conduct counterinsurgency operations, holding territory long enough to pursue development and governance objectives in a sustained manner.
13. Under current planning, in compliance with political direction, Canadian military forces’ mission will end in July 2011 (U.S. forces will take control of Regional Command South in October 2010), with a withdrawal completed by December 2011.
14. Among the many issues discussed in regard to Afghanistan, one member of the Delegation underlined what he viewed as a fundamental inconsistency between the observation that progress had been made possible by a substantial influx of new (U.S.) troops on the one hand, and the commitment to withdraw Canada’s military forces on the other. Members also noted how difficult it was to sustain the argument in their own Parliaments that announcing specific timetables was counterproductive to the overall effort, when some countries had begun to declare pullout dates.
A. CYBER SECURITY
15. Robert Gordon, the head of the National Cyber Security Strategy Initiative for Canada (within the Department of Public Safety), briefed the Delegation on Canada’s approach to Cyber Security. In 2004, Canada announced its first National Security Policy, which articulated the core national security interests of Canada and proposed a framework for addressing the threats it faced. The policy included for the first time a commitment to develop a National Cyber Security Strategy.
16. Canada has recognized the threats posed by accidental or intentional cyber incidents to its economy, critical infrastructures and way of life. Indeed, Canada has determined that electronic information is now a strategic asset, for instance due to the government’s reliance on electronic communication with the public. Threats range from web site defacements, to organised crime, to the practices of foreign intelligence agencies. While the number of actors with such resources is quite small when compared to cyber criminals, there are approximately 100 nations that possess a sophisticated cyber attack capability.
17. Mr. Gordon pointed out that cooperation among and between different actors – whether an individual, a company or a government, or many governments – would be critical to address cyber vulnerabilities. He suggested that the adage that “we are only as strong as our weakest link” is well suited to the cyber environment.
18. Canada is currently drafting its Cyber Security strategy, according to Mr. Gordon. He confirmed that Canadian policy did not include the conduct of computer network attacks. He pointed to the need for a common vocabulary on cyber security issues before the development of any international legislation. NATO’s role as an international interlocutor would be critical in fostering the necessary cooperation in this area.
B. THE HIGH NORTH
19. The Canadian High North is a vast region of approximately 10 million square kilometres (40% of Canada’s landmass), characterized by extremely harsh weather conditions. Climate change is having an impact in the region, principally through the lengthening of the season when ice melting allows an increase in shipping, in regions that were previously inaccessible
20. The improved accessibility of the region is projected to lead to increased activity in several sectors, including maritime and air traffic, mining, tourism, and re-supply of remote outposts, according to Erik Bjornson, Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy) of the Department of National Defence. Given the increased amount and diversity of traffic, the likelihood of an incident requiring search-and-rescue or environmental consequence management has increased. Mr. Bjornson also pointed to the risk of increased involvement of organized crime, particularly in the trafficking of valuable gems, of which Canada is the fourth global producer.
21. In security terms, Canada sees no conventional military threat in the Arctic. Recent activities by Russian elements have been extensively covered by the media but are judged to be more of a posturing than threatening nature. Indeed, Mr. Bjornson believed it is in the Russian interest to keep tensions low in the region in order to maintain the export markets it requires.
22. Mr. Bjornson rejected recent media headlines suggesting a ‘mad rush for territory’ was underway in the Arctic. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nations had recently submitted their claims regarding the continental shelf, a process that was marked more by cooperation than tension or conflict. Indeed, while Canada has three discrete diplomatic disputes in the Arctic over territorial claims, all are well managed and are projected to be resolved through diplomatic means. Indeed, Mr. Bjornson reminded the Delegation that the Arctic nations repeatedly confirm the importance of international law in resolving their disputes. Good cooperation will remain critical in addressing issues linked with foreign cruise ships, tourism and implications for search-and-rescue, oil spills, or shipping safety.
24. Canada recognizes NATO interest in the High North and hopes that the Alliance would be active in areas where it provides unique capabilities. Regarding NATO’s potential role in the High North, Mr. Bjornson suggested that the NATO-Russia Council would be a useful forum to discuss Arctic issues with Russia; that NATO assets (and mechanisms to share them) could be useful in potential search-and-rescue missions; and that some of the more technical NATO committees could ensure scientific and technical exchanges of information.
C. CANADA’S DEFENCE FORCES
25. The delegation was briefed on ongoing defence reforms by Colonel Paul Fleury, Director of Military Capability Management for the Canadian Forces. Among its key reforms, Canada has recently established a new military Command Structure, notably centralizing all domestic operations under Canada Command. Colonel Fleury also briefed on the Canada First Defence Strategy, which is underpinned by a 20-year Investment Plan. Under the Strategy, the roles of the Canadian Forces are, in order of priority, the defence of Canada; the defence of North America; and the contribution to International Peace and Security.
26. The Delegation had the opportunity to visit several impressive defence facilities, including the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, which is one of the seven units of the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA). According to Major-General Daniel Gosselin, Commander of the CDA, the professional development of Canadian forces has evolved through forty years of trial and error. The CDA has extensive contact with NATO and provides support through a number of specific initiatives including curriculum development, professional development discussions, courseware, and language training.
27. The Royal Military College, a fully- accredited university that grants undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees, has roughly 1100 undergraduates selected on the basis of military and academic standards, according to its Commandant, Commodore William Truelove, and Principal Dr. Joel Sokolsky. On graduation, cadets incur a five-year commitment to the Canadian Forces. The Delegation engaged in an extended exchange with cadets on issues including NATO’s role in cyber defence, NATO enlargement, the problem of caveats in military operations, elections in Afghanistan, and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.
28. On visiting the Peace Support Training Centre -- part of the Land Force Doctrine and Training System under the command of Major-General Marquis Hainse -- the Delegation learned about the various elements of training provided to military forces (and increasingly civil servants) prior to deployment. Various types of training were provided for different missions, including specific training for UN military observation missions, and training on Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and mines.
29. In addition, for the past two years the Centre has housed RANA Radio, a Pashtun-language radio. RANA Radio is broadcast by Afghan-Canadians to Kandahar, aiming at a target audience of 15-25 year-old Afghan males with content including news, music, and public service announcements.
30. The Delegation was welcomed by Colonel Russ Williams to 8 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Trenton where it had the opportunity to visit transport aircraft including the CC-130 Hercules, CC-150 Polaris and CC-117 Globemaster. The Wing’s missions include strategic airlift (into and out of Afghanistan), tactical airlift (within theatre), and Search and Rescue, as well as support to the movement of senior governmental officials.
31. Canada, and 8 Wing in particular, faces an extremely difficult challenge in re-supplying its forces in Afghanistan, given that the operational theatre is 8000 nautical miles from Canada, creating an extremely long logistical pipeline. As a result, Canada uses a local base in the Persian Gulf to provide tactical lift into Kandahar. Overall, 8 Wing has faced a very high operational tempo since 2001, and as a result the air base is the busiest in Canada; significant investments and renovations at the base are intended to address that situation. Amongst these investments is the plan to purchase an additional 17 new CC-130 Hercules aircraft.
32. Finally, the Delegation had the opportunity to visit Land Force Central Area /Joint Task Force Central Headquarters in Toronto, where Brigadier-General Jean-Claude Collin, Commander, and his staff offered details on the Ontario-specific mission of Land Force Central Area and the separate role JTF Central plays in preparing troops for operational deployments, particularly in Afghanistan. Among the various subjects discussed was the fact that the vast majority of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan result from IEDs, leading to the prioritization of anti-IED technologies in procurement policy. Unfortunately, since the enemy adapts to armouring or jamming counter-measures, the only solution appears to be persistent surveillance of roads and awareness, placing a higher value on UAVs in particular. Additionally, General Collin reaffirmed his support for the Canadian approach of a six-month tour length, decided on the basis of many factors, one of which is its effects on quality of life for military families.
1 Several interlocutors noted that 2/3 of Canadian casualties were the result of attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and that UAVs were a critical capability to address this threat.