Monday, April 10, 2006

hillier sells war for our poorly equipped military; and his retoric of unpatriotic ...

Stick to your job, Hillier
April 10, 2006, The Chronicle Herald, SCOTT TAYLOR

NOW THAT it has been announced there will be a parliamentary debate on the Afghanistan mission, the chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, and his public relations machine have stepped up the rhetoric in order to "sell" the war to the public. Last summer it was Gen. Hillier who masterminded the change in our military role, from the provision of a UN-sanctioned security force in the relatively stable Kabul, to a combat mission under the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom banner in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Last month, when the casualties skyrocketed, Canadians began asking questions, such as: "What exactly are we hoping to achieve in Afghanistan?" At first, the Conservative government threw full support behind Hillier’s Kandahar expedition. Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew into the forward operating base and announced there was no need for any parliamentary debate because "Canada won’t cut and run."

At this point, Hillier pushed his luck too far by announcing that the military’s commitment to Afghanistan should last at least another decade. Obviously, those sorts of decisions are made by the political, not military, leadership and Stephen Harper’s people had to find a way to rein in Hillier. The debate will not result in any withdrawal from the current commitment, but it will hopefully set out some clearly defined objectives for Canada’s long-term.

To keep hammering home his point, Hillier has wrapped himself even tighter in the flag. Anyone who doesn’t agree with a limitless, endless commitment of military resources is a national disgrace — cowards who "do not support the troops." Keeping in mind that it is not the average citizen’s job to recruit, train, equip and supply the Armed Forces, they can "support the troops" by educating themselves about the missions on which we send them. Public debate in a democracy is the very cornerstone of our freedom, and concern for soldiers shouldn’t be called unpatriotic.

As the chief of defence staff, Gen. Hillier’s job is not to "sell" wars, but to ensure our troops are properly equipped and trained. While it is true that Hillier secured some funds and went on a shopping spree to prepare the expeditionary force for Kandahar, there are a few items that were overlooked; for instance, the entire fleet of army trucks grounded in 2001. At that time, the 2,769 medium logistic vehicles (wheeled) were already 20 years old, the wheel rims were cracked and the supply of spare parts run out.

As contractors lined up to pitch a replacement truck, DND decided to invest $35,000 per vehicle to keep the them roadworthy until a replacement could be purchased. But it quickly became evident that on the new, non-linear battlefield, highways are the frontline, and every vehicle must be armoured. The old vehicles no longer have a place. Recognizing this, in the spring of 2005, contractors pitched designs for armoured cabs on new trucks. In the works is a $1.2 billion project that would include 1,500 military spec vehicles (including a large number with armoured cabs), 800 commercial trucks and 300 trailers.

Fourteen months later, this project remains unfunded, and our troops are already on the ground in Afghanistan. What did Gen. Hillier do to support the troops in this instance? On Dec. 23, 2005, DND issued an untendered contract to bolt some extra armour onto 60 of the old vehicles. The cost will be $45,000 per vehicle; the armour is a stopgap measure at best; and the added weight will reduce the vehicle’s payload capacity and reliability.

Pushing paperwork through the procurement channels and banging on Treasury Board desks is certainly not as exciting as junketing around the globe with planeloads of demi-celebrities on a war-selling tour, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the country’s top soldier.

As citizens, we’ll do our bit to "support the troops" by ensuring that their lives are not wasted on senseless ventures, and we expect our Defence officials to do their bit by ensuring that our soldiers, once deployed, have the best possible equipment.