On August 1, 2018, Canada commenced operations as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Canada has sent two CH147 Chinook battlefield transport helicopters and four armed CH146 Griffon helicopters, 250 soldiers assigned to the UN force’s military helicopter detachment, another 10 Canadian soldiers working at the UN headquarters in Mali, and 20 police officers. The Liberal government has framed this as peacekeeping in numerous statements, including the May 29, 2018 “Statement by the Prime Minister on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers” where Justin Trudeau stated that Canada has “committed new military capabilities, including an Air Task Force to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali”. However, Canada's chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance came a bit closer to the truth when he said, "think of it as a UN mission, not necessarily a peacekeeping mission," as reported by the CBC in June 2018. The Liberal government has also insisted that Mali is a non-combat mission, but officials have been vague on what rules of engagement Canadian soldiers would abide by. As reported by the Globe and Mail on July 5, 2018, a government official simply said that “for self-defence, we will do whatever is required to protect our UN partners and Canadians.”
Those who pine for Canada to return to the days of peacekeeping should remember, Canada’s so-called peacekeeping has a bloody history. One stark example is the torture and murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian “peacekeepers” in 1993. Abuse was more widespread than this tragic case and included a commander permitting troops to shoot the legs of suspected thieves, and another senior officer authorizing the abuse of prisoners at their camp as a “deterrent to theft” as reported by the New York Times in 1994.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow, no matter what name is given to the mission, Canadian troops abroad are maintaining the imperialist interests of the government of Canada. Last year the government of Canada announced an increase to its annual military budget by nearly three quarters over the next decade, reaching $32.7 billion by 2026-27, as announced by Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan on July 7, 2017. The day before, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland also promoted increasing Canada’s military capacity, saying “Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power.” A government does not increase a military budget for no reason. The move is setting the stage for the government of Canada’s plan for a greater role in imperialist wars and occupations worldwide.
Afghanistan: Canada’s debut in the new era of war and occupation
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the U.S. imperialist strategy for a new era of war and occupation was set into motion. Afghanistan was the first target as the U.S. with their allies planned to gain hegemony over the region of the Middle East and North Africa. These brutal actions served to gain control over new markets and resources, as a band-aid solution for a capitalist economy in crisis. From the beginning, Canada had a huge role to play, initially with naval forces, and then with Canadian ground troops and air forces. Canada's troop levels were at times the third highest number of troops deployed, after the U.S. and Britain. NATO’s ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) was the main force in charge of the occupation of Afghanistan, and Canada led different regional ISAF operations throughout the occupation. Most notably, from February to August 2004 Canada’s Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier was the commander of ISAF. This is the same general who in 2005 said that Canada was fighting “detestable murderers and scumbags” in Afghanistan and that the job of the Canadian forces is “to be able to kill people.”
Although in July 2011 Canada claimed to have ceased combat operations, they continued to have a role in the occupation of Afghanistan with 950 Canadian Forces trainers and 45 police as part of a NATO training mission. It wasn’t until March 2014 that the government of Canada announced the end of their military mission in Afghanistan.
When Canada entered Afghanistan, it was with sweet-sounding promises of promoting democracy and women’s rights. Today, what is the result of over 12 years of Canada’s occupying forces, and the continued NATO presence in Afghanistan?
In conflicts, children are the most vulnerable section of the population and a good indication of the health of a country. According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a baby, a child or a mother. A recent World Bank report shows alarming statistics that back up this deplorable statement. Some factors include poverty fueled by an employment rate of only 41% in 2016/17. The education system has also suffered in Afghanistan, with only 43% of children and youth under the age of 24 actively attending school. The fact that many children work to survive is also keeping children from getting an education, with 29% of children between the ages of 7 and 12 working. Under occupation, Afghanistan’s health system has lacked attention and funding to the point that there is little to no access to medical treatment for the people of Afghanistan. It is not only a lack of funding but direct hits from occupation forces that have crippled Afghanistan’s healthcare system. On October 3rd, 2015, repeated and continuous U.S. airstrikes on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killed more than 42 innocent people, mainly patients and staff.
However, one doesn’t even have to look to Afghanistan to see the extent of this crisis. Just look to the shores of Europe where Afghan refugees make up a significant part of the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen. This refugee crisis is fueled by the fact that war, occupation and imperialist intervention have made many countries uninhabitable. This is the shameful legacy of the war and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan, and these are the bloody hands of Canadian imperialism.
Canada Military Aggression Beyond Afghanistan
Canada’s imperialist project didn’t end with Afghanistan. Despite the government of Canada’s claims that they did not participate in the 2003 war in Iraq, this is far from the truth. Paul Cellucci, the former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, provided much insight to Canada’s involvement in Iraq when he said: “Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us." This is not a recent statement, but is from March 27, 2003, during the invasion of Iraq. From the beginning and behind the scenes, Canada provided substantial naval and air force resources and personnel, as well as 25 military planners that participated in the initial invasion. In fact, in 2004, Canadian Brigadier General Walter Natynczyk was deputy chief of policy, strategy and planning in Iraq, with 35,000 U.S., British and Australian troops under his command!
Canada’s more recent role in Iraq included the infamous fighter jets which operated in Iraq, as well as in Syria, between October 30, 2014, and February 15, 2016. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to paint a more acceptable picture of Canada’s military by stopping its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and declaring Canada’s involvement “non-combat,” he quietly increased military personnel in Iraq from 650 to about 850. This included increasing the “train, advise and assist” mission in northern Iraq from 69 to as many as 220 special forces.
Just recently on July 11, 2018, during the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be taking command of a new NATO “training and capacity building” mission in Iraq. This will include four Griffon helicopters and at least 250 Canadian soldiers, who will take part in military training, “force protection” for NATO operations, and the running of operation headquarters. All of this is in addition to the 850 military personnel and special forces already part of Canada’s military intervention in Iraq. While a “training mission” may seem tame enough, take this into consideration. Canada’s “train, advise and assist” mission in Northern Iraq included about 220 Special Forces soldiers, made up of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) counter-terrorism unit and Canadian Special Operations Regiment, in addition to other soldiers and military personnel. In 2010 the Globe and Mail described the Joint Task Force 2 as “a shadowy counter-terrorism force about which little concrete can be said” and “Canada’s most elite troops – the faceless soldiers who go to places they won’t name, to complete missions they won’t talk about.” On March 8, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau authorized Canadian soldiers to shoot first in Iraq as soon as they detect “hostile intent” from Daesh fighters. At that time, about 20% of Canadian Special Forces training time took place close to or directly at front lines. With authorization to shoot first, how “non-combat” are these training missions? Proving this point even more, in May 2017 a Canadian Special Forces sniper in Iraq broke the world record for the longest confirmed “kill shot” in military history, at 3,540 metres.
Another country on Canada’s growing list of military interventions is Libya. Between March 19 and October 31, 2011, NATO imposed a no-fly zone and launched nearly 10,000 sorties against Libya. Canada was a major player in the bombing campaign and deployed six CF-18 fighter jets and also provided three planes for air-to-air refueling and two reconnaissance aircraft. Libya, which before this imperialist intervention had the highest standard of living in Africa, now is in chaos and lacking any sort of stable government. As documented in a December 1, 2017 report by TIME magazine, Libya has become a haven for the slave trade and human trafficking. The report says there are estimates of 400,000 to almost one million migrants and refugees captured by the Libyan Coast Guard, with the funding of the European Union, and held in abysmal conditions in detention centers. The bombs that Canada’s fighter jets dropped on Libya led to this horrific situation.
Canadian troops aren’t limited to Africa and the Middle East but are also taking part in NATO’s aggressive actions towards Russia. Canada is leading a battalion in Latvia, one of four battalions also in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland comprised of about 1000 troops each. Alongside leading a battalion, Canada has provided 450 Canadian troops, armoured vehicles, up to six CF-18 fighter jets and naval frigates. This flexing of military might is positioned on Russia’s doorstep and is an unwarranted and provocative move against Russia.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of where in the world Canada’s troops, special forces, navy, air force and military strategists are positioned. Canadian naval operations are taking place in the Asia-Pacific region, Canadian Armed Forces recently carried out military training in Niger, and Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force are currently part of U.S.-led military exercises in the Pacific Ocean. This is all listed on the Canadian Forces web page.
Where is NATO in today’s imperialist war drive?
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was originally formed in 1949 as a Cold War alliance of the U.S., Canada and 10 European countries bolstering their forces against the former Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, rather than NATO dismantling it has instead expanded to 29 members and is more of an active military force today than it ever was during the Cold War. Now NATO is what imperialist countries are using to commit bloody atrocities around the world, under the false auspices of the “international community.”
Alongside its full members, NATO also has several “global partners” - Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and most recently the first Latin American country, Colombia. With these countries, NATO is spreading its reach around the globe and both increasing their NATO forces and the regions where they have a foothold from which to intervene in.
NATO was first used as a military force in the 1990’s when NATO intervened in former Yugoslavia with numerous military missions which served to help break up Yugoslavia. NATO’s military missions were culminating in a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999. Yugoslavia was brutally and indiscriminately bombarded by 14,000 bombs, including depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions which have had long-lasting destructive impacts. This so-called “humanitarian intervention” resulted in over 2,000 civilians killed, thousands more injured, over 200,000 people displaced and forced to leave their homes, and the destruction of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and homes.
In a June 2000 Amnesty International report, the human rights organization accused NATO of war crimes when it reported that “NATO forces did commit serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killings of civilians.” As part of NATO, Canada had a role in this deplorable attack on the people of Yugoslavia. The Canadian Air Force deployed 18 CF-18 fighter jets and was responsible for 10% of all bombs dropped on Yugoslavia. Today, NATO still has 4,500 troops operating in Kosovo.
As mentioned above, NATO has been the leading occupation force in Afghanistan since 2001 to today. Currently, there are 16,229 troops from 39 NATO members and partners in Afghanistan, as reported by NATO in their "Resolute Support Mission: Key Facts and Figures" July 2018 report. Also outlined above is the destruction of Libya by NATO forces, and their mild-sounding “no-fly zone” which was, in reality, a massive bombing operation and war against Libya. In Iraq, from 2004 to today NATO has led various training missions, including the ones that Canada is a part of already mentioned earlier in this article.
While Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, this hasn’t stopped NATO’s saber-rattling against Russia. Already outlined above is NATO’s “Enhanced Forward Presence” with currently 4,692 troops in four battalions on Russia’s doorstep. NATO also conducts what it calls “air policing,” monitoring the airspace of countries bordering Russia, which Canada is currently part of in Romania with five CF-18 Hornets fighter jets.
With approximately 20,000 military personnel conducting NATO missions worldwide, NATO is the expanding and dangerous face of imperialism today. With NATO, rather than stretching their military resources too thin, imperialist countries can better conduct this new era of war and occupation through a division of labour – thereby more effectively suppressing the right to self-determination of oppressed nations worldwide. At the recent NATO summit in Brussels, it was very clear that U.S. President Trump considers NATO an important tool for expanding imperialist wars and occupations when he pushed for NATO members to raise their military spending to 4% of their GDP. Already NATO members have a goal to spend 2% of their GDP on their military. In 2017, this brought total military spending by NATO members to $900 billion, which is 52% of overall global military spending.
Bring the Troops Home Now! Canada Out of NATO!
If NATO is how imperialist countries are conducting this new era of war and occupation, it is NATO that antiwar activists and peace loving people must organize against. The NATO Summit in Brussels was met with thousands of protesters, an anti-war counter-summit and anti-NATO actions around the world. For the antiwar movement today, coordinated and ongoing actions against NATO must be a central campaign, demanding the end of NATO. Here in Canada, we cannot let the government of Canada play their military exploits within NATO as contributions to the “international community.” As this article has outlined, Canada’s military interventions are inflicting bloodshed, destruction, and denying the self-determination of oppressed nations and countries. Therefore antiwar activists must demand that Canada gets out of NATO and whether in a NATO, UN or any other military mission, Canada must bring their troops home.
Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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