Politics

MacKay says Canadian troops getting results in Libya

Canadian troops in Libya are saving lives and helping to mount pressure on the country's dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says ahead of an international meeting in Turkey to discuss Libya.

Canada among delegates in Turkey to discuss aid to Libya's main opposition group

HMCS Vancouver set sail earlier this month for the Mediterranean Sea to support Canada's involvement in the NATO-led mission in Libya. Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Thursday the mission is achieving results. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Canadian troops in Libya are saving lives and helping to mount pressure on the country's dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Thursday.

MacKay praised the Canadian Forces personnel involved in the NATO-led mission in Libya during a teleconference Thursday from Naples, Italy, calling them "our greatest citizens and our best ambassadors."

The defence minister met Wednesday with some of the 650 troops stationed at bases in Italy for the operation. Despite the ongoing violence in Libya, MacKay said the Canadian military is helping to achieve "tangible results."

"Our operations in Libya, to be very frank, are saving lives, and they are setting the conditions for the Libyan people to determine their own future," said MacKay. "Because of our operations and other NATO allies, there is mounting pressure on the Gadhafi regime to come into compliance with the UN resolutions. And to be very clear, that is our goal."

NATO members have been conducting airstrikes on Libya and enforcing a no-fly zone since March, and the Canadian commander leading the mission, Lt-Gen. Charles Bouchard, said the operation has been successful in reducing violence against civilians by Gadhafi's troops.

He said during the teleconference that the city of Benghazi is "near normal," but other areas, including the capital of Tripoli, remain "tense." Gadhafi's troops are keeping the population there down and their safety is constantly threatened, he said.

Gadhafi ordered destruction of refineries

Bouchard told reporters that Gadhafi is ordering his forces to destroy facilities, including refineries, if they are forced to retreat from their positions. He wouldn't provide further details about the orders or what other infrastructure might be targeted but said just because Gadhafi has given the instructions, doesn't mean they will be followed. He added that NATO has observed a number of Gadhafi's troops abandoning their posts.

"This is a leader that will not hestitate to kill his own population to achieve his personal goals. He has lost all legitimacy to lead his people," said Bouchard.

He said he is confident that the NATO mission would fulfil its mandate issued by the UN.

"We've reduced the violence against civilians and we continue to make great strides to add more stability to the country," he said.

MacKay said the NATO mission aims to get Gadhafi's troops to retreat, provide humanitarian aid and create the conditions for Libyans to determine their own future, which they haven't been able to do under Gadhafi's rule.

Baird to attend meeting on Libya's future

What that future would look like is something MacKay said he didn't want to speculate on and is likely a topic that will be discussed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird when he attends a meeting Friday in Turkey with the Contact Group on Libya. The group is made up of foreign ministers, Libyan rebel leaders, NATO and other representatives interested in Libya's political future.

"The post-Gadhafi state or post-Gadhafi world if you will, will clearly require much of the international community's attention, but we're not there yet and so to go any further down the road on this question is pure speculation," he said.

It will be Baird's first time attending a Contact Group meeting. Last month, the new foreign affairs minister visited Libya and met with anti-Gadhafi rebels. Canada is among the countries that have recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative body of the Libyan people.

NATO has conducted more than 5,600 airstrikes since the end of March, and Canadian CF-18 jets have dropped approximately 399 laser-guided bombs. In addition to air support for the NATO operation, the Canadian Forces has HMCS Charlottetown stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. It will be replaced next month by HMCS Vancouver.

Before MPs left Ottawa for the summer break, they voted to extend Canada's participation in the Libyan mission until the end of September.