January 05, 2002



All three major Canadian newspapers had the same story today, based on the same "anonymous" interview by the same Defence Department official. The quotes, the facts, are identical. It's a nice piece of story placement by any measure. The gist is that a Canadian infantry battalion is going to Afghanistan, and it will be formally announced Monday.

All well and good. But details of the story indicate there's something much more interesting at work. The Canadian soldiers will not be part of the UN-mandated stabilization force, the one which has been confined to Kabul and environs, and is made up of European troops, led by Brits: it will be part of a separate, American-led stabilization effort working outside Kabul. The deal to be supposedly announced Monday involves Canadian troops working for Gen. Franks and U.S. Central Command, not the peacekeeping authority.

This is significant as much for what it says about Central Command's plans as it does Canada's. If they're assembling a larger American-led ground force now, it indicates a greater commitment to a sustained presence in Afghanistan and involvement in "nation building" than we've seen spelled out thus far. Currently there's only 1,000 Marines holding an airport in Kandahar... if the Canadians alone are sending 700 to this second stabilization force, how many other forces from the U.S. and other nations are being put on the ground with them? It sounds like Franks is settling in for the long haul, and a significant ramping-up of the U.S. ground presence, as opposed to preparing for a handover to the UN and the new government any time soon.

For Canada, it means rules of engagement likely even more robust than even those that were insisted upon by the Brits in Kabul. This isn't UN, or even NATO peacekeeping, anymore. The stories as written clearly suggest the Canadian battalion becoming a unit in Uncle Sam's army for a little while, anyway. In the entire history of Canadian ground forces, this has never happened before, outside of NATO (you could count the joint U.S.-Canadian 1st SSF in WW2, maybe, or the never-saw-action Canadian commitment to the forces that were being assembled to attack Japan in 1945, but those would both be stretches.)

Assuming this story is borne out by the facts on Monday, then as soon as they read between the lines, the peace lobby and Canadian-sovereignty worriers are both going to freak.

Posted by BruceR at 11:32 AM