Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Canadian Navy's return to the Persian Gulf

This would be a normal rotation. However, there is a problem.
The Canadian navy is preparing to return to duty in the Persian Gulf.

The federal cabinet will soon be asked to approve the deployment of a single combat ship to the region in order to support the war on terror.

The chief of maritime staff wouldn't identify the warship because the formal order hasn't been given, but Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson says he expects the vessel to sail within a few weeks.

“The effort in the region is going to be ongoing for some time,” said Admiral Robertson, who commanded Canada's biggest naval deployment to the region in 2001.

The navy took a breather since last spring from what's been almost continuous operations in the region.

HMCS Ottawa returned in March after a six-month deployment where the frigate was part of a U.S. carrier strike group.

Admiral Robertson indicated that the ship being readied will come from the navy's principal East Coast base in Halifax and has already been exercising with American warships.

Stop right there, Admiral.

Canada was the first country to respond to the call by the United States after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11/09/2001. After the US itself, Canada immediately dispatched ships to the Persian Gulf. It was a genuine military response to a bona fide requirement. We've been there ever since with the exception of an operational pause which was needed to provide refit and maintenance time for ships and a chance for over-tasked ships' companies to update training and just plain catch their breath.

I had no problem with such deployments provided they were fulfilling the role of hunting down the elements of the body which committed the attacks prior to, on and subsequent to the event which has come to be known as 9/11.

When HMCS Ottawa, however, was attached to US Expeditionary Strike Group 5, questions were raised. While our frigates are well suited to that kind of force integration, that's not the point. Ottawa's deployment may have looked normal enough, but it was attached to a group which was deployed deliberately to provoke Iran.

This next deployment is being sold as normal operations in the Global War on Terror, and the Admiral is speaking as though not much has changed to alter the presence of Canadian naval forces in the Gulf.

But there has been a considerable change.

Attachment to a US Expeditionary Strike Group carries with it the implicit requirement to carry out duties assigned by that task group commander. If the US operation order includes strikes on Iraq or actions which may involve a US strike on Iran, Canadian integration into such a force means a Canadian sovereign entity is also involved in those actions. The degree of participation is irrelevant.

Canada's involvement is related to Afghanistan and the interdiction of persons who perpetrated certain acts. Iraq is not the central front in the War On Terror. The United States started the war in Iraq. The terrorists Canada offered to assist in rooting out were not a part of that action until after the Bush administration created the conditions which led to the situation today.
Canada is expected to be called next year to lead the multinational naval task force in the region, which it has done in the past.
That is a different mission and a different organization. The two deployments are different in nature.

Again, I would be interested to see the operation order for the USN Strike Group. The distinction between Operation Iraqi Freedom, of which Canada is not a part, and Operation Enduring Freedom, (Afghanistan), is difficult to make if the group to which this next Canadian frigate is being attached is there to perform in both areas.

Given the intransigence and incompetence of the Bush administration over Iraq and the Bush admin saber-rattling over Iran, attaching a Canadian frigate to a US Carrier Strike Group at this stage of the game is not only a stupid idea, it could conceivably involve Canada in an attack on Iran.

Vice-Admiral Robertson needs to come clean on exactly what the duties of any Canadian ship attached to a USN CVSG in the Gulf will be, how they are expected to clear themselves of any operation which the Canadian government has not declared itself a part of, and where the line is drawn when the carrier is launching strike missions.

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