Inside Politics

Dropping bombs, dodging questions on Libya


Lt.-Col. Sylvain Menard, right, stands amid laser-guided bombs used to enforce a UN no-fly zone over Libya, as he talks with, from right, Gen. Walter J. Natynczyk, Ambassador James Fox, Col. Donald Denne and Chief Petty Officer First Class Robert Cléroux during a visit to the Canadian detachment based out of Trapani, Italy. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)


James Cudmore reports for World Report:

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The Canadian military is refusing to say how many bombs its fighter pilots have dropped on Libyan targets.

The Canadian Forces lead spokesman Wednesday told reporters the information was protected because of operational security concerns.

Brig.-Gen. Richard Blanchette says disclosing the number of bombs dropped might be useful to Libyan intelligence agents, though he couldn't really say why.

"How could they use it?" Blanchette asked. "It's not necessarily clear right off the bat. But, it could be used in a way that would be going against the effort that we're having in the theatre of operation."

The question was fairly precise, and it came from Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese.

"I was wondering if you could discuss the amount of munitions that have been dropped by Canadian war planes, during this operation so far."

But it was a question Blanchette simply wouldn't answer.

"For operational security reasons we cannot divulge the number," he said. "There's a risk of having that information being used by regime forces."

Blanchette launched into a lengthy discussion of what intelligence-types call "the mosaic effect."

It's the suggestion lots of tiny bits of information can be collected by foreign intelligence and woven together like a mosaic into a much more complete picture.

"A very basic principle of intelligence is not to underestimate what the opponent's forces can gather from this information," Blanchette said. "But piece by piece it would help (Libyan) regime forces to continue their negative actions against civilians."

That answer had reporters listening to Blanchette by teleconference reaching for the key pads of their phone to register for follow up questions.

Blanchette was asked to clarify: What sort of useful intelligence could Libyan regime forces learn from knowing Canada's seven CF-18 war planes had dropped, say, a hundred bombs, or a thousand?

If the Libyans knew how many bombs were dispatched onto how many targets, Blanchette said, "they would be able to deduce whether we were successful in what we were doing, and they would be able to adapt their tactics."

Of course, the question wasn't about how many bombs, on how many targets. It was about how many bombs, period.

Blanchette's steadfast refusal to either answer that question, or clarify precisely what the intelligence threat was, only puzzled reporters.

Surely the Libyans know where and when they were bombed -- which is a lot more useful when devising military strategy, than knowing how many bombs one nation of many dropped over the past couple of months.

On top of that, NATO releases much more detailed information about its air strikes every day.
Wednesday morning, for instance, NATO said during the previous 24 hours, coalition pilots flew 53 strike sorties, destroying two tanks, two armoured personnel carriers, two missile launchers and two radars -- and that was just in Tripoli.

Here's more of what NATO released:

"In the vicinity of Misrata: 1 Command & Control Bunker, 1 Rocket Launcher, 6 Truck-Mounted Guns."

And on the naval front:

"A total of 21 ships under NATO command are actively patrolling the Central Mediterranean.

"13 Vessels were hailed on 17 May to determine destination and cargo. 1 boarding (no diversion) was conducted.

"A total of 954 vessels have been hailed, 41 boardings and 5 diversions have been conducted since the beginning of arms embargo operations."

And this, NATO releases every day.

So, if that's ok, why not the number of bombs dropped since Canada joined the air war on March 21st?

"It's a ruse," says NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar.

"This is more about not divulging information period as opposed to what they claim, which is operational security."

Curiously, the military has just published -- publicly -- a request to buy 1,300 new $100,000 laser-guided bombs, reportedly all for use in the Libyan campaign.

So, Canadians might not know how many bombs have already been dropped, but they know how many more could be on their way.

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