New role for armed forces

Counter-insurgency operations will eventually displace the army’s traditional peacemaking capabilities as it prepares for life after the Afghan mission, says the general in charge of Canada’s land forces.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Counter-insurgency operations will eventually displace the army’s traditional peacemaking capabilities as it prepares for life after the Afghan mission, says the general in charge of Canada’s land forces.

Though the Canadian military is drawing up plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011, the counter-insurgency lessons it has learned from the mission will occupy a central role in the spectrum of the military’s capabilities, said Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of land staff.

He believes the current geo-political situation, in which developed countries are concerned about the security threats presented by failed states, has made the long-time penchant for peacemaking irrelevant.

“Peacemaking still saw the diplomatic political powers interacting with protagonists who were willing to sit down at a conference table with essential force being almost a last resort,” Leslie said in an interview with The Canadian Press during a recent trip to Afghanistan. “It’s not going to be peacemaking anymore, it’s going to be counter-insurgency because the odds of us doing peacemaking between two functional states are probably pretty low, ergo COIN (counter-insurgency).

“Counter-insurgency will not form the cornerstone of our operations, but it’s right in the centre of our spectrum of capabilities we’re going to train for.”

But Leslie stressed that eschewing peacemaking capabilities for counter-insurgency does not mean the army will cease peacekeeping. He views counter-insurgency and peacekeeping existing on a spectrum that includes classic warfare at the extreme end.

Leslie’s comments provide an indication about how the army is preparing to configure itself following the end of the Afghan mission. Defence Minister Peter MacKay made it clear Friday the Conservative government has no intention of seeking to extend Canada’s combat role beyond 2011 as agreed by Parliament.

“We cannot be in Afghanistan fighting to preserve and protect democracy and not respect our own. Given the stringency of the deadline, Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk has ordered Leslie to get ready to scale down the military’s involvement in Afghanistan”.

Leslie said the army will cease providing mission-specific training to battle groups by mid-2011, when their range of operations in the country will gradually decrease.

“We will continue all that we are doing now up until July of 2011, without any diminution of effort,” he said. “From august 2011 until December 2011, as is the will of Parliament, that’s when we ramp down and bring all our soldiers and equipment home.”

But recruitment numbers are up, and Leslie says he now has more volunteers for overseas missions than there are spots available. However he has yet to be told what, if any, future missions they should prepare for.

In the meantime, he will focus on retooling the army ability to conduct counter-insurgency operations. While that means incorporating lessons learned from Afghanistan into future training, it also requires continuing the overhaul of the army’s equipment.

“Our equipment of 15 years ago had a lot of armour on the fronts and tops because we were going to go toe-to-toe with the Russian bear,” Leslie said.

“Almost of all vehicles now are going to have massive capability on the bottom and side.”

The IEDs and landmines are not a threat limited to Afghanistan, but they will be the weapons of choice for insurgents in any theatre, he said.

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