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Canadian Muscle: Darfur or Afghanistan? PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Saturday, 20 May 2006 12:15
Canadian Muscle: Darfur or Afghanistan?

- Linda McQuaig - As long as our military establishment is calling the shots, playing in the ?big leagues? with the Americans will be the top priority, even as the defenseless die in Darfur.


Can't we spare 600 troops for Darfur?

Linda McQuaig

May 15, 2006

[republished at PEJ News with author's permission]

Leaving aside politics, it's hard to imagine why Canada is sending troops to Afghanistan and not to Darfur.

It's not clear what good we're doing in Afghanistan, where we're aggressively going after ?scumbags? ? according to our top general, Rick Hillier ? as part of Washington's dubious ?war on terror.?

Compare this to the life-saving role we could play in Darfur, in western Sudan.

One can quibble over whether what's happening in Darfur is a genocide or just a series of massacres, but there's no disagreement that hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of being slaughtered by vicious, government-backed militias known as the janjaweed.

Some 200,000 people have already been killed and another 2 million driven from their homes.

An international intervention in Darfur could make an enormous difference, possibly even averting a Rwanda-style genocide. While the janjaweed, mounted on horseback and camels, easily kill and terrorize the unarmed people of Darfur, they're no match for a modern army.

Peter Langille, a defence analyst at the University of Western Ontario, notes that the Canadian army's fighting vehicles, the Coyote and Lav III, are equipped with top-of-the-line sensors and firepower that could easily stop the janjaweed in their tracks. Canada is well equipped to play a leading role in a UN mission to Darfur. Such a mission could be carried out by a special UN standby force known as SHIRBRIG, which was created in 2001 to deal with just this sort of crisis.

Canada was one of the moving forces behind SHIRBRIG, and one of 15 nations agreeing to support it. A Canadian general heads it up. But Ottawa has refused to authorize Canadian troops for a SHIRBRIG mission to Darfur, to assist overwhelmed African Union troops. Langille argues that a SHIRBRIG force of some 6,000 troops ? with Canada contributing about 600 ? could head off a genocide and get food to millions who may soon starve.

But there's strong political resistance from Canada's military establishment, which has worked doggedly ? and successfully ? to get Canada out of UN peacekeeping and involve us more in the ?big leagues? of U.S. military operations. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, a former general who's part of the military establishment, insisted last week that with 2,300 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, we're stretched too thin to get involved in Darfur.

But the Canadian army has 18,000 troops. Langille notes that in the mid-1990s, we managed to deploy more than 4,500 troops abroad with the same size army ? and a much smaller defence budget. We could certainly spare 600 out of our 18,000 troops for a UN mission to Darfur. But that might revive powerful feelings in the Canadian public about the vital role Canada can play in UN peacekeeping, feelings that our military leaders want to extinguish.

As long as our military establishment is calling the shots, playing in the ?big leagues? with the Americans will be the top priority, even as the defenseless die in Darfur.

Originally published by The Toronto Star
Linda McQuaig's column usually appears every Monday.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 May 2006 12:15

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