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Send old APCs to Iraq.

ONE OF THE COMMON criticisms of my columns is that, while I'm quick to point out faults and screw-ups in government policy, I rarely offer up any concrete solutions to these complex issues. In order to appease those skeptics, I hereby provide an unsolicited proposal to Stephen Harper's new government. If implemented, this plan would not only improve Canada U.S. relations, it would also help to re-establish a credible Iraqi security force.

But to set the stage for this grandiose project, we must first revisit a previous screw-up in our defence policy planning.

In the early 1990s, when Canada deployed two large peacekeeping contingents into war-torn former Yugoslavia, the mainstay of our infantry forces was the 1960s vintage M113 armoured personnel carriers (APC). Designed as a protective battlefield taxi, the M113 was meant to transport infantry close to the actual positions where they would dismount and then fight from outside the vehicle.

As such, these APCs were not ideally suited to the task of providing convoy escorts through the disputed villages and towns of central Bosnia. Nevertheless, our troops made do with what they had, cannibalizing parts and fashioning hasty modifications such as the addition of an armoured cupola to provide extra protection for the machine-gunner.

After the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in 1995, and the Liberal government announced that our over-rotated army units were coming home from the Balkans for a "rest and refit," the M113 APC fleet was sent en masse for a complete modernization overhaul. Valued at around $400 million, the M113 upgrade program had barely gotten underway when the army brass decided to plot a different course for the future. Instead of buying replacements for our aging Leopard main battle tanks, the revised plan was to acquire Stryker mobile gun systems (MGS).

Without tracked Leopard tanks, there was no longer a need to operate tracked M113 APCs and the future Canadian army will instead field a family of wheeled light armoured vehicles. As a result of this policy shift, one could argue that the Canadian taxpayers effectively flushed $400 million down the Defence Department toilet by refit ting some 300 M113s and then immediately mothballing them as "surplus." In fact, for some of the old M113s the axe came prior to their re-assembly, so a number of these armoured vehicles are still sitting in pieces at a defence contractor's workshop.

In an effort to recover some of the lost capital, the Canadian government quietly put the entire M113 fleet up for sale. (It's amazing the things you can find on eBay!) However, with the strict regulations controlling the export of Canadian military hardware, the likelihood of finding a serious buyer seems rather remote.

Now for the good news.

The Bush administration is frantically trying to contain the ever-escalating fiasco in Iraq. The U.S. military remains bogged down, unable to suppress the insurgency and averaging over 500 casualties (killed and wounded) per month. Canada and most of the other NATO nations steered well clear of contributing troops to the original U.S.-led intervention, and now that Iraq has become a three-year, ongoing nightmare of violence, even the most delusional planners at the White House know that the so-called "coalition of the willing" is not about to grow in membership anytime soon.

The Pentagon's sole remaining pipe dream is to train and equip a capable Iraqi defence force to help shoulder some of the burden in fighting the insurgents. To date, the Pentagon does not want to put heavy weapon systems into the hands of potentially disloyal Iraqis. As a middle-of-the-road solution, the U.S. recently began providing the Iraqi army with M113 armoured personnel carriers courtesy of the Indian army after they declared them surplus.

So here's where we tie things up. Canada can unload 300 or so unused armoured vehicles onto the new Iraqi army. As they have just been completely overhauled and refurbished, these M113s would be a godsend to the Iraqi soldiers, and they would be compatible with the ones they now possess.

For Bush and his hard-pressed accountants on the Iraq file, this generous gesture would equate to more than a billion dollars worth of hardware, and it would provide protection for approximately five battalions worth of Iraqi soldiers. Most importantly, as the M113 possesses no integral weapon system, it poses no risk to American troops, and even Canadians fervently opposed to Bush's invasion of Iraq cannot voice opposition to the provision of protection to Iraqi security officers.

So, if this grandiose scheme comes to pass, remember ... You heard it here first.

Scott Taylor is publisher of Esprit de Corps and co-author of the best-seller Tarnished Brass
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Taylor, Scott
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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