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Canadian army to rely more on civilians to train new soldiers Print

Nov 20 2006

By Murray Brewster

OTTAWA (CP) - The Canadian army is stretched so thin by the war in Afghanistan that it will rely increasingly on civilian contractors and reservists to train new recruits, the country's top soldier said Monday.

But Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie said he draws the line at using civilian contractors as a mercenaries in war zones. "There's no doubt the army is under tremendous pressure," Leslie told the all-party Commons defence committee.

Despite that, he said he's confident the forces under his command would be able to do everything asked of them. "If I wasn't, I'd tell you," said Leslie, who is in charge of the army.

The mission in Afghanistan has meant that junior officers and non-commissioned officers or NCOs, the backbone of army training, are in short supply at home.

The gap is being filled by outsourcing some training, such as driving courses for armoured vehicles and other non-combat related instruction.

Even though they're under pressure, Leslie said seasoned NCOs and junior officers will still direct all combat training and mercenaries will not be used to fill any gaps on the front lines.

Other countries, notably the United States, employ civilian security consultants in war zones, a practice the general says Canada has no intention of copying.

"There are some countries that use private security firms because they either don't have enough soldiers - or don't want to use their soldiers for those tasks," he said after the meeting.

"I've seen them operating in certain parts of the world, when I was in Croatia and in Bosnia and elsewhere. And I'm very glad to tell you I do not believe it's the Government of Canada's intent to ever employ such individuals - armed individuals - carrying out what essentially I believe are soldier's tasks."

Relying on civilian help to get recruits ready for war is just the latest in a series of moves the army has been making to sustain the Conservative government's commitment to keeping combat forces in Afghanistan until February 2009.

A few weeks ago, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, revealed plans to use sailors and aircrew in non-combat roles overseas, such as truck driving. The controversial measure - called re-rolling - is meant to free infantry who might have been stuck in such support roles.

Earlier in the day, NDP defence critic Dawn Black asked in the House of Commons how over-extended the army might be. She tabled a ministerial briefing note she obtained which suggested the army will not able to sustain an overseas deployment and provide security for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver at the same time.

"Given the chief of defence staff believes we'll have to be in Afghanistan for 10 years or more, where will the minister find the troops to protect the Olympic venue?" Black asked during question period.

"Will he choose Vancouver or Kandahar?"

O'Connor suggested the question was hypothetical because British Columbia had not formally asked the army to be involved in Olympic security.

Later in testimony before the all-party defence committee, Leslie said planning is already underway for the event and the army expects to use a number of reservists for the job. 

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