- Reaction score
Another piece from the Kingston Whig-Standard from a conference under way this week, shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act - highlights mine:
For all of the secrecy that surrounds what Canada's special forces do overseas, those operations seem open and transparent to what units such as Joint Task Force 2 do in Canada.
Domestic counterterrorism, from cells intent on making and planting bombs in Canada to the big threats of nuclear and biological weapons, were the main reason the Canadian special forces were created 17 years ago and that remains their primary job.
"We only come in when we're called," Brig.-Gen Michael Day, commander of the country's special operations forces, said Wednesday at Royal Military College at an unprecedented public forum to discuss the future of the special forces.
"We're like Ghostbusters without the cool stuff and we don't get to decide when we're needed."
Domestic terrorism is a law-enforcement issue and the military works with Canadian intelligence, the RCMP and other police forces as it has no jurisdiction in Criminal Code matters. It considers a successful operation one in which it works at the invitation of local authorities and no one knows it was ever there.
The special forces are trying to figure out what shape that function will take with military budget cuts looming as Canada's mission in Afghanistan winds down. An outfit whose work is secret can be an easy target for politicians who can rationalize that if no one sees it now, no one is going to notice if it is cut back.
The Canadian special forces have not fired a shot in anger on Canadian soil since they were created in 1993.
In an interview, Day said he expects his unit to absorb its share of the cutbacks that are expected when Afghanistan ends and governments start the military budget-cutting that they do at the end of every conflict. Part of the purpose of the conference is to raise visibility of the special forces' function, both within government and to the public.
A number of American special operatives were at the conference, and having had their budgets gutted in regular waves over the years, they cautioned the Canadians about the dangers of that. The prime example is the cobbled-together rescue effort of the American hostages in Iran under president Jimmy Carter, a time when the U.S. special forces were particularly neglected.
The mission failed horribly, with helicopters crashing in the desert and soldiers dying in an international embarrassment widely seen as costing Carter his presidency.
U.S. navy Capt. Mike Sass was in the Arabian desert when that ill-fated mission took off and said it was the starkest possible example of how special forces have to be kept ready for the worst, because they are needed for the most complicated and politically sensitive missions on almost no notice.
"You need to convince government that special forces are a core capability and not a luxury," agreed David Charters of the University of New Brunswick, who also said the public had to be convinced of the value of such a specialized force.
"It's one thing to brief the chief of defence staff and the deputy minister, but the minister at some point will have to sell this to the public."
Charters, like many at the conference, fears the special operations will become a sacrificial cow in future budgets.
"I have to say I'm not terribly optimistic about the future. I'm afraid that special operations forces may become a target for the bean counters and the politically concerned, shall we say."
Emily Spencer of RMC, one of the conference organizers and a leading academic expert on Canada's special forces, said the elite corps will have to step out of the opaque bubble in which they are quite comfortable operating, to demonstrate publicly the value of what they do.
She also noted that special forces need to be ready because of the amount of training and specialization they require. The maxim is the difference between special and conventional forces is that the latter operates the equipment while special forces equip the operator.
"You cannot just create these forces when you need them, it just doesn't work," Spencer said.
"You have to have them ready (at all times) because when you need them, they have to be there."