OTTAWA — A top Canadian general says the situation on the ground in Libya is “static” as a NATO-led mission grinds into its fifth month.
Maj.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, director of the strategic joint staff, offered that assessment during testimony Monday to a special summer sitting of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.
Rebel forces are trying to unseat dictator Moammar Gadhafi while Canadian war planes continue to take part in NATO’s aerial bombardment of government and military targets. Vance said rebel fighters continue to gain access to more resources and are becoming more experienced, but he described their progress as modest.
“The situation has been described as somewhat static, which is accurate…. We’re seeing incremental increases and improvements.”
Vance, who has commanded Canadian troops in Afghanistan, appeared less than enthusiastic when asked about reports of rebel fighters making their closest advance to Tripoli by taking the town of Bir al-Ghanam, 80 kilometres from the capital.
“I don’t think we’re anticipating a cataclysmic military end as a result of anti-Gadhafi forces ground movement,” he said. “It’s slow and steady. We’re certainly not seeing the reverse.”
Vance said Gadhafi’s forces have been significantly degraded to the point where they can no longer harm their own citizens at will. But they are not returning to their barracks to lay down their arms, which is a goal of the UN Security Council resolution that NATO is trying to enforce.
One of Vance’s superiors, Maj.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, is commanding all NATO forces from a base in Italy. In a recently published interview, Bouchard rejected suggestions that the military campaign to unseat Gadhafi has become a stalemate.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Vance was only stating the obvious. He reiterated his party’s commitment to vote against any extension of Canada’s military mission.
The NDP unanimously supported extending Canada’s military participation in the NATO bombing campaign to the end of September. Parliament voted 294-1 to extend in the mission in June.
“There is a stalemate. Clearly something has to change. Many are pushing for a more robust diplomatic response,” Dewar said after Monday’s committee meeting.
“We need to be very clear, I think from Canada’s perspective, our contribution to the military component is done come the end of September. Then we have to turn the page to the next piece … the diplomatic side.”
Vance testified along with Canada’s ambassador to Libya and officials from the Canadian International Development Agency.
Sandra McCardell was ordered from her post as Canada’s ambassador to Libya in February, when she was evacuated by Canadian Forces C-17 transport.
McCardell accompanied Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on his visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in June to meet the National Transitional Council.
She said Canada will play an important political role in the post-Gadhafi reconstruction of Libya. But beyond consulting with its allies in the international contact group, comprised of about three dozen countries, she had few specifics.
In June, Canada recognized the NTC, a collection of mainly lawyers and academics, as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.