The Canadian military has been working on a plan to create with the United States a bi-national integrated military force to deploy to hot spots around the world.
The so-called Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces would be the result of an agreement between the two countries under which air, sea, land and special operations forces would be jointly deployed under unified command, outside Canada.
The forces would operate in the same manner as those controlled by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad), but would be used on expeditionary operations, and not in defence of the homeland, according to a source.
The briefing note, released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act, was written in October 2013. It contemplates how the military could remain globally engaged as Afghan training mission was coming to a close.
Canada and the U.S. have for long partnered together on military operations, including in the war against ISIS and in Afghanistan.
Both countries would continue to operate their own separate militaries, which would contribute units based on need.
But the plan laid out in a military briefing note written for then chief of the defence staff general Tom Lawson goes further. It suggests military officials from both countries were seeking to align some forces in a permanent and formal arrangement.
A source familiar with the planning told CBC News the CAN-US IF, as it’s called, would be scaled in proportion to the conflict it was being deployed to. Such a force could feature just ships, or ships and planes, or some combination of all military forces including ground troops and special operation soldiers.
The “conceptual development” of the force would include devising techniques for the management of the force, its command structure and its links back to national headquarters in both countries.
It would also have to deal with some thorny questions around the use of force and varying interpretations of the laws of war.
History of co-operation
Soldiers from Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 counter-terrorism unitencountered difficulty in Afghanistan operating alongside U.S. government forces who allegedly committed unlawful killings in full view of Canadian commandos.
The JTF-2 soldier who raised those allegations also claimed that in January 2008 his team was sent to conduct a mission alongside an American team. He said he witnessed the U.S. forces kill a man who was wounded and unarmed — a war crime.
The soldier maintained the military did not take seriously the allegations, which led him to report the matter to the Canadian Forces ombudsman.
Canadian investigators eventually cleared all Canadian soldiers of criminal wrongdoing. But, the file was handed to American forces for review.
But not all experiences were so difficult. Canada worked extensively alongside U.S. forces throughout its Afghan deployment, and of course has a long history of engagement in Norad and NATO.
Military planners advised the chief of the defence staff the proposed integrated force would help Canada “demonstrate a continuing commitment to the U.S.” They also say “close engagement with the U.S. will enable the achievement of other [Canadian] regional strategic objectives.”
The planning work laid out a series of potential missions for Canadian troops overseas in order “to support government of Canada objectives internationally” and “under the assumption that current CAF operational commitments abroad will be maintained.”
The document CBC News obtained shows military planners were searching for operations and exercises on which to deploy Canadian troops in order to contribute to “international peace and security,” but also to support objectives such as retaining “readiness” and to assert the military’s “relevance and credibility” to Canadians.
The integrated forces concept is one of several such ideas the document says the chief of the defence staff could propose “in his role as the adviser to the prime minister for employment of the nation’s military.”
Other engagement abroad
The document also suggests engagement with the NATO Response Force and with a new arrangement led by the United Kingdom called the JEF, or Joint Expeditionary Force. To that force, the document proposes linking Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, a company group of infantry trained in non-combatant evacuation operations, and a special operations hostage rescue (HR) capability.
“A linking of DART, the NEO Coy Gp, and other Canadian HR forces to this initiative could improve our interoperability with the U.K. and the other involved nations as well as provide more options to the [government of Canada] to co-operate with these countries in times of international crises.”
A source with knowledge of the thinking inside the Defence Department as this document was written said all of these joint efforts are designed to improve relationships with allies and to promote familiarity between allied nations’ militaries.
A Conservative spokesman said the party had no desire to create a new standing force, but not address whether one could nevertheless be established with units on both sides of the border trained to work with one another.
“While we often work with like-minded allies like the United States, there’s no desire for a standing integrated force. The Canadian Armed Forces and its personnel ultimately answer to Canada,” Stephen Lecce said in an email to CBC News.
Military planners offered the Western Hemisphere as the central focus of the military’s foreign military engagement, followed by the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the North Atlantic, the Middle East and North Africa, and finally, the rest of Africa. In each case, apart from Africa, there was a recommendation for more engagement.
“The [Strategic Joint Staff] assess that the [Canadian Armed Forces] current footprint in Africa is sufficient to meet Canadian foreign policy objectives at this time,” the planners wrote.
The staff also recommended the military not increase the number of troops deployed on Peace Support Operations (PSOs), such as United Nations or African Union peacekeeping operations.
“An ongoing mission review is occurring to validate whether CAF presence on PSOs provides desired strategic benefit to Canada.”
The document hints at a reset of the government’s Canada First Defence Strategy. Military observers in Ottawa have long been anticipating just such a review, but none has yet been discussed by the government.
Reminiscent of the Devil’s Brigade
Stephen Saideman at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs says the military planning document suggests the Forces were planning to stay engaged globally though military to military contact in a bid to stay current with other nations’ capabilities and efforts.
But he expressed some confusion about the purpose of the integrated force, which he said was reminiscent of the 1st Special Service Force, the so-called Devil’s Brigade, a joint Canadian-U.S. special operations unit created during the Second World War.
“It’s kind of surprising the Americans would buy into this in any big way, because the Canadians are so small, they don’t really add that much to what the Americans can do,” Saideman said.
“On the other hand, what the Canadians proved in Afghanistan on the ground in a harsh battlefield, the Canadians and the Americans are quite compatible.”