March 06, 2002



I don't normally have a lot of time for retired colonel/commentator Michel Drapeau. I find him to be a bit of a whiner and an alarmist, when it comes to Canadian defence policy. (If I want to be criticized as a soldier, I'll listen to a guy who actually fought, like Lew Mackenzie, instead.) But he's dead on the mark today in the Globe and Mail:

Relying on Canada both for military assistance to fight the pockets of resistance from remnants of al-Qaeda and Taliban guerrilla forces, and for international political support in its enduring quest for safe skies and public places everywhere, the United States may well find our continued presence in Afghanistan beyond June to be of incalculable strategic value. If so, an early pullout of our troops from Afghanistan could be suicidal for U.S.-Canada relations. Chances are, our brave soldiers serving in Kandahar might not be able to strike camp for return to Canada this coming June. Absent some creative contingency planning, however, Canada simply lacks the sustaining power to maintain the current tempo of military operations, let alone the ability to augment our current commitment to Afghanistan to backfill behind U.S. troops deployed, say, to Iraq.

Drapeau's absolutely right, of course. We used up the last remaining regular force reserves we had to send 880 men to Kandahar. That's it... we're tapped out. (We also have large contingents in Bosnia and Eritrea.) With a six-month rotation those troops are going to start coming home in June. But these guys are almost half the Kandahar defence force, currently... the Americans aren't going to let them go happily if there's fighting on. And the odds the Taliban are going to give up before June now have to be seen as exceedingly small. Between now and June, the chance of a few Canadian combat casualties is high: those alone would make a perceived retreat or withdrawal from the coalition in four months a politically impossible move at home, as well.

Okay, so then what? Drapeau's right: we can't conjure another battalion out of thin air between now and June. The easiest option would be to draw the curtain on the Bosnia commitment. NATO may not like that much, but it's a viable option that Drapeau doesn't mention. Another would be to replace the land forces in Kandahar with a squadron of F-18s in Kyrgyzstan, or perhaps in Turkey as part of the air blockade over Iraq if that theatre heats up in the meantime. Another would be to rerole another combat arm of limited usefulness (like the artillery units, which almost never deploy anywhere), and turn them into infantry.

The one option Drapeau does consider, the turning up the heat on the reserves, is frankly the least viable. There is a very similar precedent: in 1952 Canada needed a brigade in Germany with NATO and another in Korea simultaneously, which was beyond the capacity for the regular force to sustain. Reservists were called up in large numbers to form a reserve brigade, which took the NATO job, allowing the regulars that had been slated for that post to go to Korea. At the time Canadian troop strengths were at a low ebb (even lower than today), and to avoid pulling out of the Korean War it had to be done. In many ways, it was the most successful deployment of reservists in Canadian history (far more so than the hamhanded efforts at the start of the two world wars) and has served since of the model of what Canadians would do the next time they got into dire military straits.

Well, we're there now. But it still can't work. You see, in 1952, the reserves were still largely manned by ex-World War 2 soldiers, many of whom wanted another kick at the can, or were otherwise having troubles reintegrating into civilian life. It was easy to pull in another brigade. That's not possible now... there's just not the installed base. A lot of people might want to go, but without any job protection legislation for reservists, they can't risk their civilian jobs. (And there's no way you could pass that kind of legislation in this country in three months.) So instead what we're going to see is a mishmash of multi-unit contingents (the need to draw on three battalions to get enough troops for Kandahar is the first sign of that), pushing the reserves as hard as they will bear (which isn't much more than they're already doing now), and possibly some reroling. But the likelihood we're still going to have to withdraw in embarrasment from a foreign commitment by June is still very high.

Posted by BruceR at 09:53 AM



You can't blame the New York Times for pulling an offensive Ted Rall "cartoon" off their website: it really is indefensible, by any standard higher than that of a sewer rat. As one of those who wrote the publisher asking them to show responsibility, I am more than impressed with the promptness of their response.

Of course, that doesn't mean that cartoon isn't in broad syndication elsewhere. Ted Rall is syndicated by UPS, just like Dear Abby, Doonesbury, Tom Toles, Cathy, etc. etc. (You can find a list of some of their other clients here.) UPS is also responsible for Uclick and Ucomics, their own websites, which obviously still have the cartoon insulting WTC widows, and possibly Mariane Pearl, in circulation (else I couldn't have linked to it). My writing campaign is done, but if anyone else wants to drop a line to UPS executive VP and editorial director Lee Salem, the email address is It's fun, it's easy, and it has the potential to hurt Rall where he lives.

Anyone whose favourite cartoonist/columnist is also distributed by UPS might consider dropping them a line as a heads-up, too. Does anyone really think Abigail Van Buren or William F. Buckley wouldn't at least make a point of mentioning they were offended to UPS, if they were made aware of this particular little hate crime? Van Buren, after all, is responsible for Operation Dear Abby, which encourages average people to write servicemen and women to thank them, and has counselled lots of grieving people over the years... just an idea...

Posted by BruceR at 01:45 AM



Me, I'd support the subjugation of the Taliban based on this, alone. But I'm a sentimentalist.

Posted by BruceR at 12:44 AM