Chat with Gen. Hillier
Last Updated March 2007
Gen. Rick Hillier (Les Perreaux/Canadian Press)
Before taking command of the Canadian Forces in February 2005, Gen. Hillier was in command of the NATO's stabilization force in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2000. In 2003, he was appointed Chief of Land Staff, commanding the Canadian army, and later commanded the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2004.
Recently, Hillier gave a speech at a meeting of the Conference of Defence Association Institute in Ottawa, in which he described the "negative legacy" of the defence spending cuts that began in 1994 and that left "deep wounds." He called the past 10 years in the Forces "a decade of darkness," but didn't name the Liberal government specifically.
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre called Hillier's comments "highly political" and "inappropriate."
"I never thought he would become a prop for the Conservative party," Coderre said. Full story
In a later interview with CPAC, Hillier said he's "been called every name in the book." But, "I don't think I've ever been so insulted as to be called a prop for a political party," he said. Full story
Hillier has also faced questions about the mission in Afghanistan and whether other NATO members are pulling their weight. Gen. Hillier on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos
These are his replies to questions asked earlier this month by our readers.
Hillier: I thank you for taking the time to ask me questions through this forum, and for being patient with me, as I took some time to respond to your many excellent questions. As many of you know, I was in Afghanistan last week and hoped to respond from there with that immediate and fresh context in my mind. Once I received your questions, however, it was clear that I needed to dedicate several hours to respond fully, and thus I have given your questions the thought and time they deserve. I hope you have found it worth the wait. Thank you for your interest in the work of the outstanding men and women serving in the Canadian Forces, whom I have the honour to represent.
Question 1 from Michael Ellis
Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have limited resources. I understand that energy is being expended in equipping and training our soldiers. Imagine the fact that 10 years ago, the CF did not have any suitable combat clothing for the desert! But, my question is: Why have we not brought all the capability that the CF has to bear on the Afghanistan mission? We have many combat aircraft capable of providing support such as CF-18 fighters capable of delivering weapons as close air support, and CP140 Aurora long-range aircraft capable of delivering weapons and surveillance. It seems that we are not truly "Being all we can be" when we leave these astonishingly capable aircraft at home, and leave the air superiority to others, who might, or might not, show up to the fight. I say our troops deserve better.
Hillier: We consider very carefully the demand in Afghanistan, balanced against the demand here in Canada (our first priority of course is to protect Canadians where they live and work, at home, here in Canada) to decide on what we would recommend to government as our commitment in a mission like Afghanistan. Then we overlay the fact that we will have to sustain it for some time, i.e. we could put every soldier we have there, but could not sustain that long enough to get a lasting effect. Lastly, we consider what our allies and friends are doing, and therefore what gap can we best fill while getting the best effect for our contribution. In Afghanistan, it comes down to our Battle Group, a Provincial Reconstruction Team, a Strategic Advisory Team in Kabul plus an Afghan Army training team, our C130 tactical air fleet and then supporting assets. Our allies have much in the way of airpower in the country so at the moment there is no need to deploy F-18s - they simply are not required. We monitor all of the above every day and stand ready to make recommendations to our government for force changes, if needed. A good example of that is the recommendations made during Op Medusa last September where we recommended to the government of Canada that a tank squadron, an additional infantry company, engineer, reconnaissance and other assets were needed. Government direction was provided to deploy those, all of which are in Afghanistan now and proving to be of great value. Our ability to respond quickly when circumstances change and the demands are urgent, is key.
Question 2, from Captain (retired) Robert Smol
Virtually all of my colleagues from the Forces who are now disabled are upset at the provisions of the new veterans legislation. By the terms of this new legislation, which you publicly endorsed, a soldier returning disabled from Afghanistan will receive far less than his father or grandfather received at the end of World War II.
Case in point instead of a disability pension a disabled soldier is only entitled to a one-time lump sum payment. Also gone are the educational privileges that my father's generation enjoyed. I know you are well aware of the lack of care that young vets receive since I have it on good advice that you have instructed the CF to keep the wounded soldiers within the Canadian Forces for as long as possible. If you support this New Veterans Legislation then why not let the wounded go and take advantage of it?
Hillier: Our, and my personal, concern is to ensure that our veterans, and in particular those who are wounded in the service of our country and the families of those who were killed are supported in absolutely the right manner. We believe that is happening, and includes keeping those who "take a bullet for Canada" in the Canadian Forces for as long as is practical. This helps their recovery enormously and, as a greedy CDS, I realize that we get a continuing great return from them.
One of the things we realize is that those who have been wounded are all individuals with "no reverse" in them, and they contribute in a manner which most of us would like to do. Having said that, I did support the new Veterans' Charter, as did all of the various associations of veterans, because we realized that it was time to re-shape how we did things.
You are correct in stating that under the New Veterans Charter, a CF member injured in the line of duty receives a one time, tax-free, lump sum payment; however, the Charter focuses on providing all the necessary support to get men and women re-integrated in our society, with their families, and prepared to return to a full life. For example, in addition to the lump sum payment, Veterans Affairs Canada provides other financial benefits for qualified Veterans or their survivors such as an earnings loss benefit, a permanent impairment allowance, a supplementary retirement benefit, and Canadian Forces income support. The Charter also includes a rehabilitation program, group health insurance, and a job placement program.
I believe the New Veterans Charter provides the programs and benefits that our men and women need. We continue to follow, support and sustain our wounded, their families and the families of our fallen. That support, as I mentioned above, is not limited and we learn each day how to do it better. Thank you for the question.
Question 3 from Wendell
When those who resist foreign occupation of their country are called "scumbags", do you think this creates conditions to de-humanize them? And do you think the soldiers of the occupying army are justified in torturing and abusing such as "scumbag"?
Hillier: We do not de-humanize anyone we deal with, even those who try mightily to kill Canadians who are simply there to help Afghans rebuild their families, their communities, their country and, through that, their lives. Our enemy is not the individual involved, but an extremist Taliban leadership who refuses to accept the frustrations of a political way ahead to shape their country, preferring instead to impose their harsh views through violence. Our soldiers are well prepared for this and treat all they come in contact with humanely and appropriately. That is the mark of any who wear Canada's uniform.
Question 4 from Dave
Why is it that a major offensive against the Taliban is sometimes announced well ahead of time? Isn't the element of surprise important?
Hillier: As you can imagine, specific decisions about operations — Operation Medusa, Operation Achilles as examples — are made by commanders on the ground. They provide, if you will, strategic warning, so as to enable individuals in specific areas to avoid violence, let them know what we are doing to help them rid themselves of the Taliban and why we are doing that. Since we are in the area anyway, this tells the Taliban nothing new (they try to watch us closely), and our tactical operations within that are conducted with much secrecy, surprise and in ways to effectively break the Taliban hold on their victims while engendering minimum risk to our soldiers. All these issues are thought through carefully before overall announcements are made.
Question 5 from David Smith
What happened to the purchase of new Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue aircraft? The Forces identified the urgent need for new aircraft to replace the Buffs and SAR Hercs several years ago. The March 2004 federal budget announced funding for a new fleet of FWSAR aircraft and "fast-tracked" the acquisition.
Here we are 3 years later, still no closer to new fixed-wing planes for the SAR teams that put their own lives at risk to save others. This even though the last two governments have said FWSAR is a priority program. My question: General Hillier, is DND still planning to acquire new FWSAR aircraft, when will this acquisition move ahead and when can we expect to see new FWSAR aircraft on the ramp?
Hillier: I am well aware of the vital importance of contributing to an effective and efficient Search and Rescue system for all Canadians and we will in time acquire an appropriate Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue aircraft (FWSAR) aircraft. Canadian SAR requirements are unique and likely the most demanding in the word, given the vast size, harsh climate, and varied geography of our country. It is essential that the new FWSAR aircraft be able to provide an acceptable level of immediate assistance to those in distress anywhere in Canada. A new FWSAR aircraft will be required to replace the Buffalo fleet and the aging Hercules aircraft in the FWSAR role. Our responsibility is to ensure Canadians have the appropriate level of search and rescue available to them when they are most in need. We will continue to do that while trying to balance the acquisition of many fleets of equipment. Our ability to acquire and bring into service numerous fleets of aircraft, ships and vehicles means we have to move on each acquisition carefully to get it right, as we will in this case.
Question 6 from Jay Patterson
I've recently had the opportunity to speak with a soldier back from a tour in Afghanistan and ask for a no-nonsense assessment of where we are at. What I heard concerned me regarding the access and influence the Taliban have been able to have on some of the more remote villages (ones not near or under the protection of forces near KAF). I have images of Vietnam where villages were pacified and cleaned out of enemy forces, only to be retaken by enemy forces once US/ARVN forces left. My question is how is this history being prevented from recurring in Afghanistan, and what steps are being taken to keep villages that are cleaned out of Taliban, safe from their predations in the future?
Hillier: This is a question with which we wrestle each day. The Taliban, particularly in the south (their "home") have had the luxury of imposing themselves on many people and their communities because of the lack of an Afghan army, Afghan police and international military forces to help them resist. The equation has now changed.
Op Medusa solidified for the Taliban that we were coming into those communities and they were leaving. That shook them. Concurrently, the Afghan National Army is growing and becoming more capable each day, as is the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Auxilliary Police. These Afghan security forces are now present in more strength in the south and in the region where the Taliban had felt they held the ground. The Taliban were there when they had no opposition to their brutal behaviour, and now they are being pushed out.
I just returned, just a few days ago, and what I saw out in Kandahar province, in small villages, which were 'owned' by the Taliban as recently as October, is very different. Police are visible, Afghan soldiers work with us, people are coming back to their homes, they are talking to us to identify Taliban, schools (quite a few) have been opened and more are being re-built, new construction (things as simple as grape drying huts, vineyards, mud compounds) is visible, and lights are on. The Taliban are still trying to come back in but have been put in a very different context over these last few months.
Question 7 from Jim Harrop
Why did you have to single out defence as suffering unduly when all facets of Canadian society had to do with less in order to get our country back in shape. Go through the list: health, education, welfare, arts, every organization did with less. Should the defence department stand separate from everybody else?
Hillier: I focused on defence simply because that is my responsibility as Chief of the Defence Staff, to articulate to my soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen why we are in the condition we are and therefore why we must proceed in these next several years in a certain, perhaps cautious manner. Nowhere in my remarks did I comment on anything else. In short, governments made decisions, here were the implications for us and this is why we now can handle a certain amount of change, growth, and operations in the near future.
Question 8 from Jeff Rankin-Lowe
Why is the air force shrinking? We're down to 80 front-line fighters. There are several USAF bases that have almost that many each. It's a ridiculously small number for a country our size. Our troops should have their own air cover, not have to borrow it.
Our maritime patrol fleet was already too small and it's going to shrink again at a time when our coasts should be under greater surveillance. Adding a few UAVs does not adequately replace even one retired Aurora.
It's robbing Peter to pay Paul when the air force shrinks to pay for a bigger army. The government should increase funding to avoid that. And here's my vote for new aircraft for the Snowbirds, which should remain a nine-plane team.
Hillier: We constantly work to refine the needs of the Canadian Forces to meet our responsibilities. Those include defending Canadians at home, working with the United States to defend North America (through NORAD for example) and conducting operations around the world as directed by our government. We balance those needs, because they always are greater than the budgets allocated, against our budgets, infrastructure holdings and other needs.
We then assess the absolute essential lists to do our job. In the case of the air force, the investment over this next five years is immense. We are upgrading the F-18 as we speak (a $2 billion program that will give us a world class high performance aircraft for this next decade) and have concluded that 80 will allow us to our job. Eighty aircraft will allow us to defend our aerospace in NORAD, respond appropriately and quickly to incursions or incidents involving civilian aircraft and still be able to project packages of aircraft off shore if the mission comes our way.
We are looking forward to receiving the first C17 strategic aircraft this summer as the lead in giving us a strategic flexibility (both in Canada and internationally) that we have never had and hope to have both the new tactical lift aircraft and medium- to heavy lift helicopters in service in the next few years. We start late in 2008 to receive our first new Maritime Helicopter to replace the tired Sea Kings and are preparing acquisition projects for the UAVs, as you mentioned. More will come. In short, the air force will be more capable in the near future than at any time since I have been in uniform.
Question 9 from James Johnson
Has the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, along with the eradication of the former RCAF's rank structure had a negative impact on esprit de corps and unit cohesion? In the case of the air force in particular, it would seem that the stampede of the 60s and 70s to rid Canada of British traditions has simply imposed American ones instead. Didn't the abortive use of military ranks aboard naval vessels show that imposing non-organic unification is a lost cause? Would it be possible both logistically and politically to give the forces back their former separate identities and, where appropriate, the titles bestowed by the monarchy?
Hillier: I believe the Canadian Forces is the most effective way to get a better bang for the buck for Canada. We don't replicate things in the air, land and sea environments that don't need to be replicated, and we are proud to be soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen, but not so proud as to be too stupid to work efficiently together as one Canadian Forces — and that is important.
Almost no mission, at present or in the future, involves just one service, and we must all work together to be successful in those missions. The Canadian Forces, although it has some flaws, provides us the best command structure to do that. We have rebuilt, where perhaps some was lost, the pride in being in the air force, navy and army, but not at the cost of serving Canada in the Canadian Forces. This makes huge demands on our leadership but I would accept no less.
Question 10 from Bob Thomas
With the money spent on trying to recruit new members of the CF why have we not spent any money on retention or the American style re-enlistment bonuses. Is it not more cost effective to pay a bonus to retain fully trained soldiers than start training recruits from scratch?
Hillier: First, let me say that our recruiting program has been very successful in bringing in the kind of young people we are looking for. "Men and Women of Action" who want to serve in the Canadian Forces, they are excited by the mission in Afghanistan, and they want to be part of something better and bigger than themselves as individuals, and they want to serve their country. We are meeting our recruiting targets, though I would like to see more young people with technically oriented skills — Geeks of Action I have called them.
We require a balance of the young and old, the experienced and the new. We need the experience to train and mentor, yet we need the fresh minds and energy of the young. I am having soldiers come up to me who have served 15 to 25 years of service saying "General, a couple of years ago I couldn't wait to get my 20 or 25 years in. Now I want to stay forever." Overall the Canadian Forces attrition rate is relatively low ranging from 6-8 per cent over a number of years, and our attrition rate is the envy of our allies.
Experience shows that one cannot 'buy commitment' Instead, we encourage our men and women to stay, to contribute, feel satisfied with our mission and their careers, and feel valued by our organization. This involves providing good leadership and building commitment by eliminating or reducing irritants, providing fair compensation and benefits, including support to families, and recognizing the value of our people and the importance of their contributions to operations and the overall Canadian Forces mission. To date, retention remains high and attrition is low.
Question 11 from Ernie Coombs
How do you reconcile the military's combat mission with its reconstruction activities? Isn't there a contradiction when part of your force is busy hunting down bad guys, and another part is building schools or digging wells? Does that contradiction affect the soldiers view of themselves: are they warriors or humanitarians? Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and for your passionate leadership of the CF during this challenging period.
Hillier: Ernie, thank you for your question and the compliment: You must have been talking to my mother! We liken what we do to the "Three Block War", a concept that accepts the fact that in the chaos of a destroyed country with an active and capable enemy like the Taliban, we must help provide security without which nothing else can proceed. In some cases this means combat operations to directly confront the Taliban and make sure they cannot destroy any further hope for the future.
Equally, however, we know that continuously fighting the Taliban will not help us accomplish the aim of helping Afghans re-build their country alone, that their ability to govern themselves nationally, provincially and by district has to also be rebuilt and, also concurrently, the infrastructure that was completely destroyed over 25 years of violence must be built.
Doing all three simultaneously is extremely difficult, and I don't minimize the challenges. For example, we lead many operations now against the Taliban because the police and army in Afghanistan are not yet able to do so. Therefore, while we lead those operations we put enormous effort in helping select, train, equip and prepare the Afghan security forces to meet their responsibilities in defending their country and protecting their population. Those efforts are paying off, because their soldiers and police serve with us on operations, and in the not distant future, they will be capable of taking the lead and, eventually, do operations with minimal assistance.
Equally, it is pointless to win tactical fights against the Taliban in an area if people cannot come back to their homes. Thus our civil-military cooperation teams work with a variety of organizations to get them food, water, rebuild their homes, get their schools started, provide them medical care, remove mines or other explosives left by the Taliban etc.
Lastly, while doing those two things, we work with governments at all levels to help them get organized to look after their own populations. Since most public servants were either killed during the past decades of fighting or are living in the west, they need lots of help, whether to conduct a census (something never done in Afghanistan but a basic tool for helping your people), lay out their plans, get assistance for them in telecommunications equipment, road building, and in many other areas.
You are right, this is hard to do but we have the finest young men and women in the world involved, they are trained so as to be as well prepared as possible for this task, and we continue to learn lessons, and apply them, every day. For example, we in the Canadian Forces, with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), are learning much about how to deliver aid and development assistance to those in need — what part we must do, what CIDA does best and what part we must do together. In summary, we are one of the few military forces in the world that can attempt the "three block war", let alone have some significant success in it.
Question 12 from Jeff McIlquham
Thank you for this opportunity to ask you questions regarding our men and women serving in Afganistan. My first question is regarding the families of our service personel.Are the children getting the support they need in the absence of a Mom or Dad serving? Professional care in the area of physical and mental health? The loss of a loved one in the service of their country should be supported by the best possible care. The recognition of a soldier knowing that his family is getting the best possible care would bring contentment during a life and death situation. I extend my regards to all who serve this wonderful country!
Hillier: Jeff, we learn every day how to do things better, particularly to support our families. I myself sat with families in Edmonton, Petawawa and in Gagetown recently, to talk through the challenges they face during the deployments. We learn lessons in one place and have made significant efforts to impart those lessons to the next base supporting deployments. The impact on children concerns us all and we have learned a lot. One of the things we work towards is having child psychologists available at the Family Support Centres to help children cope.
This, frankly speaking, is a new area for all of us and we have many fine people focused on providing the right support at the right places and at the right times. What I can say is this, we're getting better at providing the essential support. We are not perfect, in some areas perhaps not even very good, but we are hugely better than a year ago, immensely better than five years ago and not nearly as good as we will be next year or the year after. I just attended a Family in Crisis conference on 20 March along with members of military families and many supporting experts to continue that improvement and ensure my personal support is evident.
Question 13 from Toby
What are the defence departments plans for increasing our presence and control over our arctic territories?
Hillier: While other government departments and agencies remain responsible for dealing with most security issues in the North, we in the Canadian Forces have a significant role to play in supporting them, asserting our sovereignty, and providing assistance to Canadians. Our efforts are carried out in partnership with these other government departments and agencies, such as the Canadian Coast Guard and the RCMP.
We have Joint Task Force (North), a regional sub-command of Canada Command that is the Canadian Forces formation responsible for the conduct of routine and contingency operations in Canada's North using navy, army, air force and Canadian Rangers personnel and resources. Canadian Forces' sovereignty patrols and operations contribute to wider Canadian efforts at improving northern surveillance and reconnaissance, and strengthening our presence. We are increasing those sovereignty patrols and exercises, including both maritime and land deployments.
We continue to examine options to improve our surveillance and response capabilities, expand our overall presence — our footprint — and enhance our command and control in the North. One of our new tools is called Polar Epsilon, that we expect will be in place by mid 2009. Polar Epsilon is a space-based wide area surveillance and support capability that will allow the Canadian Forces to conduct all weather, day/night observation of Canada's Arctic region and its ocean approaches out to 1000 nautical miles.Question 14 from Mike Minnich
Are there any firm plans to create a Canadian equivalent to the U.S. Purple Heart medal for CF members who are killed or wounded in action? The Wound Stripe now worn on the left sleeve seems very inadequate. With the unprecedented (since Korea, anyway)casualties due to operations in Afghanistan, I think this is a good time to create such a medal.
Hillier: I, personally, do not believe the wound stripe is the right way for us to recognize those who have been wounded by an enemy while those great men and women serve our county. I have asked our personnel department to develop, quickly, options that would give more appropriate recognition of this very special sacrifice. "Watch this space!"
Question 15 from Dale Shortliffe Can you give us your word, as a soldier and a gentleman, that wounded and injured returning soldiers are given the proper physical and emotional care as well as financial assistance and support they need, in order to make as full a recovery as possible? Needless to say, I am asking because of the recent discoveries of the shabby treatment given to returning injured U.S. forces personnel.
Hillier: Dale, you have my word. More importantly perhaps, the men and women who do so much for us, so well, so far away from home, have my word.
PS. Having been called every name in the book, I like being called a soldier and a gentleman!
Question 16 from Nathalie S
My family was recently posted from Petawawa to Kingston on promotion of my husband who is in the military. Due to the increased rent of military housing in Kingston, and increased cost of living, my family is now losing $450 (plus) a month. What is the military doing to address the issue of cost of living in Canada, where the members pay does not change, but items like rent do. PLD is great if you live in Toronto or Quebec, but $16 PLD (post living differential) for living in Kingston does not make up for the $450 a month we lose for being posted here. Since the military is the entity that decides where and when service members move, the military should also come up with a FAIR way to ensure pay is not affected.
Hillier: First of all Nathalie, I am sorry to hear that you believe your family has been disadvantaged by the posting, and I recommend you document your concerns about the PLD and forward them to our Director General Compensation and Benefits. I have passed on your message to that Directorate. It is difficult for me to offer personal support here in this forum, as the circumstances that affect each military family can be different. We believe our process to be fair, but we can improve it if we learn from your experience.
For the benefit of those not in the military, the Canadian Forces has a process in place to manage the fact that it costs more or less to live in different parts of Canada, and because our people can be posted to several different communities within their career, they notice and can be affected by these variations. The intent of the Post Living Differential is to stabilize the overall cost of living of our people and their families residing in Canada. Determining the Post Living Differential is a complex process examining local circumstances that include household costs, taxes, transportation costs, rent and mortgage interest, home maintenance costs, utilities, the local costs of goods and services, and many other considerations. These Post Living Differential values are assessed on a regular basis to ensure they are responsive to changes in the local economy.
Question 17 from Hilary Miller
If we increased the budget for the Department of Defence, what could we accomplish? As a middle power, will we really have an impact? Will this be more beneficial than increasing funding to, say, combating environmental degradation and developmental problems in the world, or perhaps getting at the roots of conflict rather than just creating band-aid solutions to them? Will more troops on the ground and more military technology solve the problems in the countries Canada is currently involved in?
I do respect the Canadian military and work done by the Department of Defence. I am curious to hear what you think about my questions, however. Thank you!
Hillier: I like the question because it is one more sign that people like you are more interested in the Canadian Forces than ever. The government of Canada assigns our budget, based obviously on a national balance including what you mentioned and much else. Any increases that we get go directly to ensuring that we can defend Canada and Canadians (including you and your family) here in Canada — working more effectively with other government agencies to do fisheries patrols, help prevent illegal drug importation, assert national sovereignty in the north and off our coasts, control the skies over our country, respond in the event of man-caused or natural disasters, conduct search and rescue operations when Canadians are lost, hurt or at the mercy of nature, support police in many activities and respond if, God forbid, terrorists strike Canada. Outside Canada, we could have greater impact helping nations that have descended into chaos climb out, and thereby eliminate the chance that terrorists like al-Qaeda would take advantage of said chaos to plan, recruit, prepare and project their venom here.
As others around the world see it and tell us soldiers frequently, we should have more capacity to help others in all of those things as befits, perhaps, a G-8 nation, a founding member of the UN, a founding member of NATO and a nation that has always been a beacon of light and aid to those around the world who need our help.
Question 18 from Karl Hager
Why does it take so long for our soldiers to receive the packages we send to them. Especially the soldiers in Camp Nathan Smith and when will the soldiers in Camp Nathan Smith get wireless internet like KAF. Also when will the soldiers of Camp Nathan Smith be able to purchase Tim Hortons. Isn't Camp Nathan Smith just as important as KAF, it seems they are not as they do not have the same amenities as KAF.
Hillier: We spare no effort to look after our uniformed men and women on operations, including those in Afghanistan. They have appropriate facilities, whose levels or standards depend completely on the security situation. Hence they are excellent at Kandahar Airfield, very good at Camp Nathan Smith - limited by space, re-supply and the security - and extremely limited at the forward operating bases where most of our troops spend their time. Tim Hortons established a franchise in Kandahar, based on the fact that some 8,000 international military personnel and contractors live there, versus the some 350 at Camp Nathan Smith. Since many in Camp Nathan Smith visit Kandahar Airfield regularly, they also get access to a "double-double". We do the best we can and the folks in theatre appreciate it and tell me that every time I visit.
Question 19 from Bill Scott
Since opium is a major source of revenue for the Taliban and the Afghan farmers, couldn't we do something like buy the opium from the farmers, thus depriving the Taliban of their revenues, but not the farmers?
Hillier: The issue of opium production is a complex one, and there is no short-term or easy solution, and if unchecked, the production and trafficking of opium threatens all reconstruction efforts. To finally resolve the production of illegal drugs like opium in Afghanistan, you actually have to build a country, where there is more effective governance, where you have a justice system, where you have security forces as part of that justice system, and the rule of law.
With that, you have to have a basic economy so that you can encourage people to grow other crops. They then need the roads to get those products out to a market and then a marketing distribution plan that allows that to occur. Drug eradication, including military action against narcotic producers, is not part of our mandate in Afghanistan. It is important that Afghanistan retain ownership of counter-narcotics programs and activities, and Afghan authorities are responsible for the implementation of Afghanistan's counter-narcotics strategy. Canada is committed to support the Afghan authorities in their efforts to fight the narcotics threat.
Question 20 from Michael
The recent announcements for future equipment for the Canadian Forces seems to be anything that will support the Army, such as the Chinook helicopter, the Joint Support Ship, or even the recent announcement of new tanks. Will plans for new frigates or fighter jets be sidelined? How do you balance the needs of the three services?
Hillier: Michael, out of our first "big five" announcements, the Joint Support Ship was overwhelmingly the first priority for the navy, the strategic and tactical aircraft the overwhelming first priority for the air force, and the helicopter high priority for the air force and army. The trucks announced will support all the Canadian Forces. It is not difficult to balance each of the environments but I am not interested in balance simply to preserve some kind of equality amongst services. What I am interested in is the best balance to achieve one effect wherever we work, for Canadians, working as one air/land/sea force. Thus we shape all our plans for that. Achieving one, greater effect in each mission will continue to require effective, multi-role, combat-capable maritime, air and land forces.
Question 21 from Scott Mitchell
Why did Canadian troops move from Kabul to Kandahar, from peacekeeping to warfighting, without a mandate from the Canadian people? Canadians support their troops once committed but I never saw them asking for troops to be sent. Who decided to send soldiers to die for something that wasn't a priority to Canadians?
Hillier: Scott, the great thing about a democratic nation such as ours is that when a government makes a decision on things, for example the move from Kabul, where much of our work was finished, to Kandahar, where our assistance is sorely needed by Afghans, it makes that decision on behalf of all of us, whether we like it or agree with it or not. The mission in Kabul had succeeded. Just last week when I was there, it was obvious that the security of the capital was being capably handled by the Kabul City Police and Afghan Army with minimal assistance needed from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Our role there enabled the cantonment of heavy weapons so they could not be used for further fighting, i.e. it took them out of the hands of militias and rendered them safe, and concurrently, enabled the demilitarization and demobilization of many militia forces. Now, in Kandahar, we help the fledgling Afghan security forces there to keep the Taliban from destroying the developing province and allow Afghans to start to move towards what we consider a normal life — one where going shopping will not entail dodging gunfights or suicide bombers, where schools can safely teach children, boys and girls, without teachers being assassinated for their work and where medical care can be developed such that two out of five Afghan children do not die before the age of five. I could go on. I don't know if we call that peacekeeping, peace support or any other term but I do know that we are doing what is necessary to help Afghans and, as they told me in numerous ways last week, they both need it and appreciate it.
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