(the Toronto Star version)
Canadian Forces 'not capable', says ex-general
Contradicts defence chief's statement that military stronger than decade ago
OTTAWA (CP) - Contrary to what senior military leaders say, the Canadian Forces are not as combat-capable today as they were 10 years ago, a retired general says.
At a Commons defence committee meeting Tuesday, retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie flatly contradicted what Gen. Maurice Baril, the chief of defence staff, told the same MPs just a week ago.
MacKenzie, who won fame in the Balkans war nine years ago, also suggested Canada should pull out of Bosnia after more than a decade.
He was blunt about the state of the army.
''If I was an enemy force commander, I would much prefer to fight the Canadian army of today, rather than the Canadian army of 10 years ago,'' MacKenzie told the committee.
The outspoken MacKenzie, who led Canadian soldiers into Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in the turbulent summer of 1992, said the army simply isn't up to snuff.
''We're not capable of fighting beside the best against the best in a high-intensity conflict,'' he said.
Last week, Baril said the Forces are more capable today because of new equipment and strong leadership.
In disagreeing, MacKenzie suggested Baril was following a required political line.
The army hasn't exercised at the brigade level - about 5,000 soldiers with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery - in eight years, MacKenzie said.
''I have no doubt that the individual soldiers are up to the task,'' he said, but they haven't trained in large groups, which are the units that fight in combat.
MacKenzie told MPs on the committee the army is no longer capable of meeting the requirements of the 1994 white paper.
That document calls for a vanguard force consisting of a 1,200-member battle group and a 1,000-member battalion, with a brigade to follow in 90 days.
It can't be done, he said. The first two requirements would devour five of the army's nine understrength battalions. The remainder wouldn't be enough to round out the brigade.
He said peacekeeping missions are patched together from various units and lack the coherence and support that comes from training together for prolonged periods.
In 1992, the soldiers he led to Sarajevo - two thirds from the Van Doos and a third from the Royal Canadian Regiment - had lived, worked and trained together for years as part of the Canadian brigade in Germany.
''They were a cohesive battalion who trusted each other,'' he said. ''That's a combat-capable battalion. It's more than a collection of individuals.''
Perhaps as a result, he said, there wasn't a single case of post-traumatic stress syndrome in the outfit. In contrast, dozens of soldiers from follow-up missions have become stress casualties.
Soldiers who don't have the support and camaraderie that comes from long service together may be more susceptible to stress, he said.
MacKenzie also told MPs the peacekeeping commitment in Bosnia - currently about 2,000 people - should be abandoned to reduce the strain on the military.
''The army tears itself apart only to provide a couple of thousand of our folks in Bosnia.''
Canada has done enough there, he said.
''We paid our dues in Bosnia, with 21 dead and more than 100 wounded and millions of dollars,'' he said. ''Surely the Europeans can take that over.''