BRUCE WALLACE October 1 1990



BRUCE WALLACE October 1 1990




The brief but poignant ceremony underscored how easily the lives of men and women are buffeted by the winds of war. Last week, in the chapel of Scharzach, a tiny German town 15 km from Canadian Forces Base Baden-Söllingen, 26-year-old Cpl. Russell Payne of Victoria married Angela Gagnon, 24, from Edmonton. Like many couples at the altar, both were visibly nervous throughout the 14-minute ceremony. But their nervousness was heightened by the fact that Payne is an aircraft technician for Canadian Forces 409 Squadron, whose CF-18 tactical fighter jets are scheduled to leave this week to join the blockade of Iraq. The wedding itself was hastily moved ahead from next April because of Payne’s impending departure. “I feel great about the wedding,” said Gagnon, a civilian base employee. “I do not feel very good about where he is going. But I know there is no choice.” Then, the couple stepped into a black convertible. A handwritten sign attached to the back of the car was a bittersweet reminder of the perilous times. It read: “Just deployed.” In their rush to the altar, Payne and Gagnon were in step with the frantic acceleration of events that swept over Canada’s armed forces last week as they prepared to strengthen the country’s commitment to the United Nationssponsored blockade in the volatile Persian Gulf.

In the process, they faced taking part in their first foreign war since the Korean conflict erupted in 1950. At Canadian bases at Baden and nearby Lahr in southern Germany’s Rhine Valley, military personnel scrambled to send 18 CF-18S and their 450 pilots, mechanics and support staff to the Gulf (page 24). The planes will provide a defensive air shield for three Canadian naval ships already on their way to the region (page 26). Last week, those ships passed through the Red Sea on their way to the southern sector of the explosive Persian Gulf, where they will join the tightening economic choke hold on Iraq aimed at reversing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s Aug. 2 invasion of neighboring Kuwait (map, page 22).

Last week, the likelihood of an armed conflict or full-scale war increased after Hussein warned his people in a television broadcast to prepare for “the mother of all battles” (page 30). But Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s decision to send ships and planes to a region growing more tense by the day has aroused little palpable alarm among Canadians (page 23). Said Toronto’s York University historian

J. L. Granatstein: “People do not sense any real major involvement that would cause casualties and the loss of Canadian lives.” He added: “We are just a small cog in a large mob.”

Crisis: Mulroney’s decision will undergo greater scrutiny throughout the week with the resumption of Parliament. But most observers agreed that the Iraqi crisis represented a new chapter in international relations, one that was likely to force Canada to re-examine its military role. Indeed, another indication of the changing focus of Canada’s military commitments arose last week with the announcement by National Defence Minister William McKnight that Canada would reduce its 8,000 troops stationed in central Europe by 1,400 in 1991. McKnight said that budget cuts and the thaw in East-West relations made the reduction both necessary and possible.

But at the bases in Lahr and Baden, attention focused not on the cuts in personnel, but on the ambitious deployment of 409 Squadron to the Middle East. The sleek 1,300-m.p.h. twin-jet CF18s are the jewels of Canada’s air force. Equipped with Sidewinder air-to-air and Sparrow air-to-ground missiles and with a combat range of 662 miles, the planes will patrol the skies over the Gulf’s shipping lanes, now congested with more than 100 warships from the navies of about a dozen nations. Their principal task: to protect Canada’s two destroyers and one supply ship in the southern Gulf, only about 500 miles from Iraqi-controlled ports. Mulron-

ey’s decision to send the CF-18s, said Bernard Wood, executive-director of the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security, was “a useful military contribution—not a startlingly large one, but significant.”

The squadron, trained to operate from an established base in Europe, was hastily preparing last week for the more difficult task of operating from a field base 3,000 miles away in the Gulf. The main challenge will be to establish new supply and support facilities in the region. Said Lahr base commander Col. Keith McDonald: “To deploy up to 450 personnel in the Middle East has never been part of our mandate. But we are prepared for any such task.”

Last week, Brig.-Gen. Jean Boyle, the commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division in Europe, travelled in the Middle East scouting potential bases for the CF-18s. Although no Forces spokesman was ready to disclose the favored location, citing security concerns, most analysts expected the aircraft to be based in Bahrain or Qatar.

Scratch: But officers in Lahr said that troops would have to build an entire base almost from scratch wherever the squadron is sent. In fact, they said that they expected to find little more than an airstrip in the desert on their arrival. Capt. Michael Fowler, the military engineer in charge of organizing the mission’s ground support, for one, said that the squadron would erect a tent city for housing. He added that the ground personnel of 409 Squadron were equipped to build impromptu camouflaged han-

gars for the unit’s planes, using poles, wiring and a light, strong material made from wood pulp and glue. The vital supply link to the squadron’s home base in Europe will be maintained with daily flights between Baden and the Gulf by a Hercules CC-130 supply plane. Said Fowler: “If the supplies are not in hand, you are in a world of hurt.”

In fact, ground support personnel may face the greatest risks if full-scale war breaks out. Groundcrews at the air bases would be likely targets if the Iraqis resorted to the use of chemical and biological weapons. As a result, members of 409 Squadron’s aircrew and groundcrews spent last week training to dress in the cumbersome protective suits that are designed to isolate them from lethal gases—a task that takes about seven minutes. Once garbed in the impermeable suits, however, they may still be vulnerable: until the arrival of new high-quality gas masks ordered from an American supplier, the Canadian personnel will rely on older, comparatively primitive masks.

The quality of Canadian military equipment provoked concern earlier this summer, after Mulroney announced, eight days after the Iraqi invasion, that he would send Canadian battleships to the Gulf. Before the ships and 934 sailors left North American waters, the vessels were hastily refitted in Halifax with new electronic equipment and more weapons, including a highly effective Harpoon antiship missile launcher on one of the destroyers. Despite those additions, however, the ships have only two on-board defence systems against such

lethal Iraqi weaponry as French-made Exocet missiles: decoys intended to draw missiles away from the ships and Phalanx rapid-fire machine-guns whose range is one mile.

Cake: Many naval analysts pointed out that the Canadians will be operating alongside the British and American navies, with whom they have had long experience in joint exercises. Said Frederick Crickard, a retired Canadian rear admiral now at Dalhousie University in Halifax: “We have exercised with the Americans for 40 years, and our traditions and a lot of our procedures are based on the British navy. This will be a piece of cake.” Others noted that Canada’s well-trained, all-volunteer navy has performed extremely well in NATO exercises, despite its older equipment. Said Crickard: “Even though our ships are old, our sailors are known to be some of the best in NATO.” Canada was also among the first Western nations to respond to U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s Sept. 10 plea for wider international participation in the military buildup in the Middle East. Indeed, the swiftness of Mulroney’s response concerned some opposition politicians, who unsuccessfully demanded an early recall of Parliament to debate Canada’s participation in the blockade. But Mulroney’s initiative gained broad support among Canadians. Canadian defence analyst Gwynne Dyer, for one, called the deployment an “appropriate contribution.” He added, “The likelihood of us sending ground troops is very small.”

The Pentagon also welcomed the contribution as an important political symbol, even


though the size of the Canadian effort was dwarfed last week by the larger deployments by Britain (which committed 6,000 troops and 120 tanks to the region) and France (which pledged 4,000 ground troops, 78 planes and 48 tanks).

But even with those larger troop commitments from Europe, it was the United States that was in effective charge of the forces in the Gulf. Said retired U.S. Admiral Eugene Carroll, now deputy director of the Washington-based

Centre for Defense Information: “We are the top gun. Everybody else is being asked to pitch in to support the belief that the community of nations is behind the UN embargo.”

Troubled: Meanwhile, some Canadian analysts said that they are troubled because Ottawa’s commitment appears to be open-ended. In fact, military commanders advised the families of personnel aboard the destroyer Athabaskan not to expect their relatives home until February. But even that commitment may be exceeded. Said Danford Middlemiss, a naval strategist at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies in Halifax: “This was done so quickly and with such enthusiasm that it is going to be hard for Canada to disengage.” And even as yellow ribbons, a symbol of vigil for loved ones away from home, sprouted on trees in Halifax, retired navy Cmdr. Peter Haydon predicted: “We might be out there for a very long time. We had better be prepared for some shocks.” But among Canadians generally, there seemed to be little expectation of war. Playing

cards at Halifax’s downtown branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, 69-year-old Carroll Pothier, who was among the first Canadian soldiers to leave for Europe in December, 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War, said, “It does not look like the real thing.” And in Lahr, some Canadian soldiers said that they were surprised at the lack of public awareness of the danger of war breaking out. Said one army captain, who requested anonymity: “Back there, in their comfortable little world,

they either do not understand or do not care.” Many Canadians were clearly preoccupied by domestic issues, notably the drawn-out stalemate between soldiers and armed Mohawk Indians in Oka, Que. Said novelist Timothy Findley, author of The Wars. “Peoples’ minds are far more focused on our own country and the general mess here. There is no sense of the true horror of the Gulf crisis because, outside of the military families involved, no one really believes that this is anything more than a political gesture.” Other analysts noted that, aside from the period of the Korean War, military affairs have become more remote from the lives of Canadian civilians in the decades since 1945, as the armed forces shrank and professional soldiers replaced conscripts. Said Ronald Haycock, a military historian at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.: “Canadians still do not perceive themselves as a military people.”

Ottawa’s decision to slash its troop levels in central Europe was an indication of Canada’s

changing military stance. The announcement took place two days after U.S. Defence Secretary Richard Cheney said that Washington will make its first major reduction in Europeanbased forces since the end of the Second World War. The Americans plan to close or reduce operations at 150 military sites, including 108 in Germany. Soviet troops are also withdrawing from Eastern Europe, dramatically lessening the likelihood of a European war.

Siege: But Ottawa may have to increase the size of its forces to fill new post-Cold War roles. This year, Ottawa planned to spend $12 billion on the military. But analysts noted that the combination of the protracted siege at Oka and Canada’s assistance to the UN task force— for which defence planners have yet to calculate the eventual cost to taxpayers—has stretched the Canadian Forces close to the limits

of their resources. But in Baden last week, those concerns were secondary to the immediate task of arming and equipping the CF-18s for action. Before 409 Squadron’s pilots and groundcrew left Europe this week, Col. McDonald said that he planned to assemble the troops and tell them: “There are some unknowns. But preparing for the unknown is part of being a military officer.” And among the pilots and groundcrews preparing to embark, a widely held conviction that the Canadians would excel in the Gulf hid any nervousness. Like many of the young soldiers who have gone to war in previous generations, the newly married Cpl. Russell Payne shared that conviction. “We are as ready as we will ever be,” he said. But whether the nation—or the world—was really prepared for the war that may unfold in the Persian Gulf in the months ahead remained in doubt.