Can sailors survive in dusty Afghanistan?

Canada’s military leaders are getting desperate. How desperate? Well, they’ve reached the point where they are considering sending the…

Canada’s military leaders are getting desperate.

How desperate?

Well, they’ve reached the point where they are considering sending the navy into landlocked Afghanistan.

It is only a proposal, but National Defence is suggesting this desperate measure because it lacks ground troops.

Currently, Ottawa has 2,300 infantry in Afghanistan. And the soldiers are sent there for a single six-month rotation.

Problem is, the nation lacks the manpower to stick to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment to keep the troops there through 2009.

So it’s looking at alternatives — it can send the infantry up against roadside and suicide bombers a second time, or it can begin a process known as “re-rolling,” and issue rifles to members of the air force and navy.

The problem is, the different branches of the armed forces come with different skill sets.

The soldiers who pilot sub-finding aircrafts or who navigate armed Zodiacs probably can’t just slip into a LAV III armoured personnel carrier and drive it through crowded streets in urban Afghanistan.

In fact, the other branches of the armed forces aren’t even that familiar with rifles, mortars and handheld missile launchers.

At best, a naval boarding party carries pistols. And there aren’t many boarding parties in the navy.

“I just can’t see how you turn a sailor into a soldier without taking as long to do it as it would take for you to take a recruit off the street,” University of Calgary professor David Bercuson, one of Canada’s leading military analysts, recently told the Globe and Mail.

The calculus is easy.

The army currently has enough ground troops to sustain its mission until August. After that, it runs out of warm bodies to send against Afghan insurgents.

So, it has to drum up 2,300 fresh recruits for that first wave. And another 2,300 for February 2008, for the next rotation.

Boot camp is 13 weeks long. So if you build in a bit of wriggle room, National Defence has until, say, March to recruit its first wave of replacements.

The unknown, call it X, is how many fresh recruits it will find by then.

But the navy has 9,900 members. The air force has 13,600.

And all those people who serve in Canada’s military signed a contract.

The terms are relatively simple — the nation trains them, pays them (not very well), provides them, in some cases, with housing and gives them a chance to see the world.

In return, they agree to do the nation’s bidding. And to die on its behalf.

In Afghanistan, they are doing so in alarming numbers. To date, 40 Canadian soldiers have been killed there.

For what?

How is the mission in Afghanistan protecting the national interest?

This is the central question Canadians must ask themselves.

Because sending sailors into ground combat is a desperate measure.

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union pulled its sailors into land combat to stop the Nazi advance into Stalingrad, noted the Globe and Mail.

So why is Canada thinking about dispatching its sailors to a dusty, landlocked nation that, coincidentally, whipped the mighty Soviet Army?

To warrant such a move, the objective must be pretty important.

So what is it?

To bring democracy to the poorest, most hardscrabble land in the world?

Is that why our soldiers are dying? Really?

And if so, is it worth it? (RM)

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