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Canadian forces: commandos see expanded mission portfolio.

To boost its unconventional warfare capabilities, Canada is revamping its special operations military organization and emphasizing counter-terrorism skills in elite unit training programs.

"We've known for some time that there's been a void," says Col. David Barr, commander of the recently established Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

The Canadian military has long had special operations and counter-terrorism units, such as Joint Task Force Two. But a growing demand for counterinsurgency skills and innovative tactics to cope with unconventional threats called for additional capabilities, he says. "We've needed a capability to augment our Joint Task Force Two. We did not have a stand-alone unit that had been trained specifically for that."

A major element of Canada's Special Operations Forces Command is a new regiment that will specialize in training foreign military forces and evacuating non-combatants. It will fill a role much like the U.S. Army Rangers.

"It's a good move in Canada," says Michael Vickers, director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Having more commando teams will allow for more sustained and larger-scale operations in multiple countries, he says.

The U.S. Special Operations Command declined to comment on whether it has any plans to help its northern counterpart train the new commando teams or eventually work with them.

Vickers, a former U.S. Army special forces officer, says the regiment "will make the Canadian military more capable in places like Afghanistan and allow them to do things with the United States that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do."

The Special Operations Forces Command for the first time will unify three existing but disparate elements of the Canadian forces: the JTF2 counter-terrorism unit, the 247 Aviation Squadron and the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense Company.

"We had a very capable and highly respected special operations force in Canada well before the stand-up of the Special Operations Forces Command," says Barr.

"There is an understanding that we need more special operations forces and the way to do that is ... in an integrated command, so it's done in a coherent way," says Barr.

The command is currently building up the first third of the regiment, which at full strength will have 762 troops. The initial recruits are volunteers from across the Canadian forces, says Barr, with the largest share coming from the army.

"We're getting more people, more authorized growth, and with that will come money to equip and train special operations forces," says Barr.

The operating budget for the first year is about $25 million Canadian, says Maj. Doug Allison, command spokesman.

Because the regiment also may be required to perform in conventional environments, most of its equipment will resemble that of a standard light infantry battalion, says Allison. However, he adds, it will be kitted with some special operations-capable gear.

Barr says Canadian Forces has sufficient helicopters and crews to handle domestic terrorism threats. The country's defense chief has placed the procurement of a medium or heavy helicopter high on the equipment priority list.

"It's certainly high on my list," says Barr.

The acquisition of such a helicopter would take the special operations force "to the next level," he says, "to conduct operations, particularly internationally, without having to rely on others for these key enablers."

While Barr says the Canadian military has a "tremendous array of training facilities," he acknowledges that over time, additional ranges, including military operations urban training facilities and close-quarter facilities, will have to be built to meet requirements.

By the end of next month, the command plans to have 260 commandos in the regiment, ready for operations.
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Author:Jean, Grace
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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