Monday, May 08, 2006

The Conservatives ditch Darfur.

From the Globe & Mail, the Tories say no Canadian troops can go to Darfur:

The Canadian army doesn't have enough soldiers to deploy to the Darfur crisis in Sudan while maintaining its current commitment to Afghanistan, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said Monday.

Mr. O'Connor told a Senate committee on national security that the military has sufficient ground troops to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.

”We would be challenged to take anything else on,” he testified.

The Tories have been downplaying Darfur as a foreign policy priority for a while now. Now that Darfur is back in the news, and the prospect of opening up Darfur to Western peacekeepers is back on the table, they seem to be making their non-interest official. The NDP for its part would very much like to see Canada assume a role in post peace-treaty Darfur, but Jack Layton and NDP defence critic Dawn Black agree with O'Connor that a Candian presence there would have to come at the expense of the Afghan mission:

NDP defence critic Dawn Black, whose riding Mr. Layton visited, said it is unlikely the armed forces can make the necessary commitment to a Darfur mission and maintain its forces in Afghanistan at current levels."

"There seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether we can do both," she said. "Roméo Dallaire thinks we can put some troops into Darfur.

"But I think to meet the kind of commitment the UN is asking for in Darfur, it's not likely that we can do that with what [Defence Minister Gordon] O'Connor has said, [that] we're fully extended already into southern Afghanistan."

Remember, Dallaire supported the Liberals' decision not to send troops into Darfur against Khartoum's wishes last year. But now that the gridlock between Khartoum and the main Darfuri African rebel group has been broken, here's what he said in a recent op-ed:

The concept of operations must revolve around a highly skilled and fully equipped, core ground force that is supported by approximately 20,000 troops -- two battle groups for each of Darfur's eight subregions.

The UN Multinational Stand-by High Readiness Brigade for United Nations Operations, or SHIRBRIG, is the ideal core force for the task. This multinational brigade-size force of about 4,000 troops was created to provide a rapid deployment capability of up to six months. Canada is one of a dozen Western powers that have signed on as a full participant to SHIRBRIG, a Danish initiative. It provides a highly trained force with operational experience, efficient command and control, and credible deterrent capabilities when needed.

SHIRBRIG's signatory countries must provide equipment such as command and control, armoured personnel carriers, unmanned aerial vehicles and air defence systems, which would make SHIRBRIG the force commander's reserve or the "force de frappe". This core force must be supported by a large observation capability, the bulk of which should be provided by developing countries from the region and abroad.

...Finally, Canada must demonstrate its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine it has endorsed by supporting the United Nations in this mission -- by providing not only resources and expertise but, most importantly [once the force deploys], boots on the ground. A reinforced battle group of approximately 1,500 soldiers, with a sizable transport capability for return and humanitarian support, should be Canada's contribution to a robust UN mission to bring peace and stability to the region.

So are the Conservatives and the NDP right that Darfur and Afghanistan make an either-or proposition for Canada, even though they'd be quite different types of mission? Is it purely a question of insufficient manpower for two large missions? (Dave, I'd love to know your opinion on this one.) And are we heading toward the same sort of debate American (and American-centric) pundits are currently having about the theoretical and practical compatibility of Iraq and Darfur, but with regard to Afghanistan and Darfur? (Will the Liberals take the position that we can and should engage in both conflicts?) I have my opinion on this, but,without a good understanding of what Canada's military limitations really are, it's a relatively uninformed one. Thoughts?

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