*** They do a great job every single time. God bless them for keeping us safe. MS ***
OTTAWA – Canada’s future military engagements around the globe will be complicated and dangerous, warns the head of the army, suggesting that the image of calm United Nations’ peacekeeping missions are a thing of the past.
But the army is ready to tackle those challenges, thanks to its experiences in Afghanistan, some of them bloody, says Lt-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the chief of the land staff.
“I’m not aware of too many UN missions which are like Cyprus of many years ago,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“We’ve got threats ranging from international narco-terrorists to the curse of war lords who seek to acquire power to people who are not the least bit shy about using (improvised explosive devices) to cause and sow chaos and confusion,” Leslie said.
“The capabilities we have acquired, the lessons that we’ve learned, sometimes paying blood to learn them, I think will serve us in good stead where ever we go next,” Leslie said.
After four years as head of Canada’s army, Leslie is moving to a new posting. But as he prepared to turn over command, he reflected on how the mission in southern Afghanistan has transformed the army.
He took command of the army in June, 2006, just as the Canadian Forces was engaging in its toughest mission in decades – the battle for Kandahar. Now as that mission gets set to end in 2011, the army is in the best shape it’s been in years - bigger, better equipped and boasting a corps of battle-hardened troops, he said.
“The equipment that the people of Canada have been willing to buy for their army has been nothing less than staggering. And the money they’re willing to invest in training their soldiers has been a Godsend,” Leslie said.
Billions of dollars have been pumped into buying new equipment to help soldiers fight and move on the battlefield, everything from tanks, artillery pieces and helicopters to night vision gear and personal protection gear.
He says the army will leave Afghanistan “well respected for its combat abilities, better able to operate under complex circumstances, and it doesn’t get any more complicated than in Afghanistan.
“Canada now has an enormously competent, well-equipped, fully-manned army,” he said.
Thanks to those investments – the army budget is up some 50 per cent in four years -- and the warm glow of publicity that has surrounded the military in recent years, he said young people are knocking down the doors of recruiting offices to enlist.
“We have thousands of young Canadians who are joining to serve their country because of, I think, the sense of pride that the nation has for what their soldiers are doing,” Leslie said.
As a result, the army is now at nearly at full strength with 23,000 full-time troops and another 23,000 reservists.
Leslie spoke in his 19th floor office at defence headquarters. He has already started to empty his quarters and boxes were on the floor and pictures were off the wall.
Earlier this year, Leslie had been touted as commander of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a posting that Ottawa declined. He betrays no disappointment at not getting the job, saying “I go where I’m told, as soldiers do.”
And while Leslie’s name has long been in the mix as a contender for the military’s top job as chief of defence staff, he also concedes his next job as Chief of Transformation could be his last in uniform.
“It might well be. That’s up to the government to decide,” Leslie said.
In his new job, his focus will shift from the frontline to the bottom line with an eye to making the Canadian Forces more efficient at a time of spending restraint. The goal is to reduce overhead and try and get more uniformed personnel “back out in battalions and regiments and ships and servicing the flight lines,” he said.
“Where can we shift things to get better output for Canadians?” he said.