December 09, 2011
KINGSTON—Jamaican commandos storm the Tivoli Gardens slum in May 2010, hunting down an alleged trafficker and drug baron wanted in the United States.
One year later on the other side of the world, a little-known squad of Afghan cops fend off volleys of Taliban bombs and bullets during a siege of the governor’s palace in Kandahar City.
Tying the two events together are small groups of Canadian special forces who travel the world training foreign militaries how to fight terrorism. It’s a modest investment of foreign ministry money and Canadian Forces personnel meant to halt threats of violence and instability before they spread to Canadian shores.
The emphasis is on “modest,” particularly in a time of federal deficits, budget reviews and economic uncertainty, said Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.
“If you’re in a resource-constrained environment why wouldn’t you make a small investment into the development of someone else’s forces if they’re gong to do that work for you,” he told the Star.
With the training for the Jamaican Defence Force, which has been ongoing since 2008, Thompson likes to think his soldiers contributed in some way to the capture of Christopher Dudus Coke, the notorious gang leader and drug trafficker who operated with impunity.
The rare peek behind the curtains of Canada’s special forces came during a conference in Kingston this week that brought Canadian and American soldiers together to discuss what could be the future of this country’s special operations.
Hostage rescue, terrorist takedowns and protecting high-value targets like the Canadian embassy in Libya remain the top priorities for Joint Task Force 2 and the rest of the unit, but training foreign forces to do the job themselves is “essential,” Thompson said.
“Threats are eliminated there before they can reach our borders, or at least they are contained within remote or inhospitable areas where terrorists have limited ability to pose a threat to others.”
Canada’s legacy over six years in Kandahar will take more time to sort out, but Canadian commandos still take pride in the individual battles they helped to influence.
One among them was the coordinated attacks of early May 2011 in Kandahar City while members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment were mentoring a Provincial Response Company made up of Afghan police.
“They went from an organization that was completely new, with absolutely no trust from the Afghan government simply because they were an unknown entity,” said Lt.-Col. John Vass, Canadian Special Operations Regiment’s commanding officer. “Once they were trained up . . . they actually became a very reliable organization for the higher levels of leadership in Afghanistan.”
With the combat mission in Afghanistan over, the Canadians have been working since September with the Kabul-based Special Operations Advisory Group to get Afghan commandos up to snuff before Canada’s training mission ends in 2014.
But they are increasingly turning their attention to the Sahel region, a narrow band of predominately Muslim countries reaching across northern Africa from Senegal to Sudan.
The first deployment to train Malian special forces, who are trying to defend against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, was in the fall of 2010. That was shortly after the kidnapping of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in neighbouring Niger. Mali’s government was reportedly closely involved in negotiating their release.
“I don’t think you draw a direct line (between the kidnapped diplomats and the training mission) but you can probably make some inferences there,” said Thompson. “But the point is that Al Qaeda in the Maghreb is still a threat and that’s what we’re focused on.”
A 15-man Canadian team will be training about 100 Malian soldiers in things like marksmanship, operating in close quarters like a house or building, communications and how to track and disrupt terrorist networks. The training efforts are closely tied to the larger American special forces efforts across the region.
To tailor the training to Mali, the Canadians have had to abandon some of the more sophisticated equipment in their arsenal like GPS tracking devices and satellite communications and bone up on more rudimentary devices used in more remote parts of the world like high frequency radios and cellular telephones.
“There are other places on the horizon,” Vass said, but their movements are for the time being limited by the size of the force, which after five years stands at 440 people.
The other limitation is a complex geopolitical calculation that balances the threat of instability against a force’s ability and the country’s political will — all designed to ensure the skills Canada passes along don’t fall into the wrong hands.
History is littered with such warning signs, the most glaring being the American decision to train and equip Afghans to fight the Soviets, only to face off against them more than a decade later as the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
In the words of retired U.S. Air Force special operations commander Gen. Donald Wurster: “You’ve got to make sure you’re not training the next coup leader.”
The U.S. results have been mixed. Even the Canadian efforts have had some unintended outcomes.
It was Canadian commandos that trained a Jamaican team responsible for disarming a young man who hijacked a Canada-bound jetliner in Montego Bay in 2009, resolving the standoff without firing a shot. That was a clear winner.
But the 2010 capture of Dudus Coke, the druglord, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding last month.
The decision was partly the result of his poor handling of the extradition to the U.S., where the druglord pleaded guilty to drug and weapons trafficking. Golding resisted the American pressure for nine months before agreeing to track down the kingpin of Tivoli Gardens — Golding’s political power base.
With a U.S. surveillance airplane watching from the skies, three security personnel and 73 civilians were killed over four days. The controversy raged much longer with accusations soldiers killed innocent civilians and executed suspected gangstershttp://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/politics/article/1099761