Spe­cial forces op­er­at­ing on ‘bor­rowed time’, need more troops: gen­eral

The Western Star - - Obituaries / Canada -

Canada’s elite spe­cial forces sol­diers risk be­ing run ragged af­ter spend­ing three years de­ployed in Iraq, as well as in sev­eral other lesser-known places around the globe, their deputy com­man­der warns.

That’s why Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe says the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to add 600 more troops to the ranks of the spe­cial forces is not only wel­come, it’s nec­es­sary, con­sid­er­ing the threats Canada faces now — and can ex­pect to face in the fu­ture.

“The re­al­ity is that we de­liver the ef­fects that the gov­ern­ment deems ap­pro­pri­ate, that they direct us to de­liver,” Dawe said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“And we’ve been do­ing it for a while, frankly, on bor­rowed time. We’ve been work­ing our folks very hard. A bru­tal op­er­a­tional tempo.”

The plan to grow Canada’s spe­cial forces is one of the many mea­sures in­cluded in the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s new de­fence pol­icy, which promised more than $62 bil­lion in new mil­i­tary spend­ing over the next 20 years.

The ex­pected growth is noth­ing to sneeze at, given the mil­i­tary cur­rently has only about 2,000 spe­cial forces per­son­nel, di­vided be­tween four dif­fer­ent units.

Those in­clude Joint Task Force 2, the Cana­dian Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Reg­i­ment, a spe­cial he­li­copter de­tach­ment and a unit that spe­cial­izes in re­spond­ing to bi­o­log­i­cal, chem­i­cal and nu­clear in­ci­dents.

Most of the at­ten­tion since Au­gust 2014 has been on their mis­sion in Iraq, where mem­bers have been help­ing Kur­dish forces and, more re­cently, the Iraqi army in their fight against the Is­lamic State group.

That in­cludes one JTF2 sniper who re­cently shot and killed an ISIL fighter from more than 3.5 kilo­me­tres away, shat­ter­ing the pre­vi­ous record for long­est kill shot.

Dawe said many of his sol­diers have done mul­ti­ple tours in Iraq — a num­ber that is likely to in­crease af­ter the gov­ern­ment an­nounced last week that the mil­i­tary will stay in the coun­try an­other two years.

But Iraq isn’t the only place where Cana­dian spe­cial forces have been re­cently op­er­at­ing.

There have also been smaller mis­sions to dif­fer­ent parts of Africa, south­east Asia and Cen­tral Amer­ica, where the Cana­dian sol­diers have helped train lo­cal forces fight­ing ex­trem­ist groups or or­ga­nized crime.

Such de­mands for Cana­dian ex­per­tise show no signs of di­min­ish­ing given the spread of ISIL and other vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism to dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

“For the most part, much of the work that we do is in the realm of ca­pac­ity build­ing,” Dawe said.

“When there’s a bit of a vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion nexus or the need for more gener­i­cally speak­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism sort of ca­pac­ity, then that’s re­ally sort of our baili­wick.”

West­ern gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing Canada, have also in­creas­ingly turned to spe­cial forces in re­cent years as a way to in­ter­vene in con­flicts over­seas with­out hav­ing to de­ploy thou­sands of troops, like in Afghanista­n.

Dawe said his sol­diers have suc­cess­fully and re­peat­edly demon­strated their pro­fes­sion­al­ism and prow­ess in Iraq and other parts of the world, but that there are con­cerns the force is be­ing over­worked.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of man­ag­ing it, I would tell you, but in some ar­eas we need ad­di­tional depth be­cause we’re not deep enough,” he said.

“When we keep go­ing back to the well for the same sort of ca­pa­bil­i­ties over and over again, it gets very tax­ing. And not only on the mem­bers, but on their fam­i­lies.”

And while adding 600 more sol­diers to the mix will go a long way to ad­dress­ing those con­cerns, new spe­cial forces per­son­nel can’t sim­ply be re­cruited off the street — suit­able can­di­dates need ex­pe­ri­ence and spe­cific skills and traits.

“It’s a com­plex prob­lem,” Dawe ac­knowl­edged, “but one we’re very con­fi­dent we’ll be able to tackle.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.