Canada’s military operations commander in line for top defence post, sources

A former combat commander, who leads Canadian military operations both at home and abroad, has emerged as the front-runner to be the country’s next top military commander.

OTTAWA — A former combat commander, who leads Canadian military operations both at home and abroad, has emerged as the front-runner to be the country’s next top military commander.

Sources say Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, who twice led the army’s task force in Kandahar during the Afghan war, is the likely successor to Gen. Tom Lawson, the current chief of the defence staff.

Lawson announced earlier this year that he was stepping down, and is expected to be replaced by early summer, before the next federal election.

Vance currently serves as the country’s joint operations commander, and has been the face of high-profile public briefings on the combat mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Aside from twice being task force commander in Kandahar — in 2009 and again in 2010 — Vance has served in several key posts, including head of the strategic joint staff, the military’s nerve centre in Ottawa.

He also did a stint as deputy commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples.

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s staff would confirm Vance’s appointment, saying an “announcement will come in due course.”

There has been a short-list of four candidates, including Vance, the head of the navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the head of the army Lt.-Gen. Marquis Haines, and the former head of special forces Lt.-Gen. Mike Day.

It is Kenney who recommends the chief of defence staff to the prime minister and at least once source said Vance had a meeting with Stephen Harper recently.

Straight-talking, Vance could be a popular choice for a military struggling to redefine itself following the Afghan war. His field experience, including the fact he has personally been under fire, gives him an important amount of street cred.

His command convoy was attacked by a Taliban roadside bomb on July 3, 2009. The light armoured vehicle in front of Vance was hit, killing the driver, a member of his personal detail.

As a stafff officer, he was instrumental in drafting the army’s counter-insurgency manual, which became a blueprint for the army in the latter half of the Kandahar mission.

His father, Lt.-Gen. Jack Vance, rose to the post of vice-chief of defence staff.

Lawson, a former fighter pilot, who has led the military through a painful retrenching, notified the government earlier this year that he wanted to retire, rather than to continue to serve past the customary three-year mark.

He took over the top job in October 2012. Since the government will be in the throes of an election campaign this fall, sources said it was thought best to replace Lawson as quickly as possible.

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