Canada's JTF-2 to hunt al Qaeda in Afghanistan
CTV.ca News Staff
Canada's JTF-2 soldiers will be heading to Afghanistan to join the fight against "detestable murderers and scumbags," the country's top soldier told reporters during a luncheon Thursday.
Gen. Rick Hillier put a more urgent, aggressive face on the Canadian Forces in his briefing, saying they're focused more than ever in protecting Canadians' interests at home and abroad.
"We're not the public service of Canada," he said. "We're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people."
Prime Minister Paul Martin, speaking to reporters in Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia Friday, defended Hillier's bold statements.
"General Hillier is not only a top soldier, but he's a soldier who has served in Afghanistan," Martin said.
"And the point that he is simply making is that, 'Look, we are at war with the terrorists, and we are not going to let them win.'"
It was the first time Hillier had confirmed that members of Joint Task Force 2 -- Canada's elite and secretive commando unit -- will be involved in combat missions against al Qaeda supporters and remnants of the former Taliban regime.
The terrorist bombings in London are proof that "we can't let up" in the fight against international terrorism, Hillier said.
The commandos will be part of about 2,000 Canadian soldiers who will be deployed in Kandahar by February in dangerous missions to hunt down militants.
In just over a week, 250 soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province. They'll be joined by Foreign Affairs officials, development workers and members of the RCMP, as part of what's being called a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).
Afghan officials have warned that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network is planning attacks against soldiers in the region.
Last month, an American PRT in Kandahar was hit by a suicide bomber -- in the same area where Canada's team will be deployed. Four soldiers were injured in the attack.
Hillier said casualties are a reality of military life, "but there needs to be an awareness across Canada that we're in a dangerous business."
Despite the increased danger in Kandahar -- compared with the relatively safe haven of Kabul where Canada lost three soldiers in the line of duty -- the military plans to use the "same, exact strategy" in the PRT, said Hillier.
Canada will be taking "a three-block war" approach, where troops will focus on small pockets within communities to avoid getting involved in large conflicts.
"We're going to prosecute some operations there and we're going to go after the Taliban in some cases," Hillier said.
In Kabul, Canada's efforts to provide security while aiding reconstruction projects has been successful in their strategy of winning over the hearts and minds of some local residents.
But it remains to be seen whether Canadians will be welcome in Kandahar.
"We're going to take absolutely every step possible to set up conditions for success and a reduced risk," Hillier said.
"I believe we can put in place in Kandahar ... the best-equipped structure inside of Afghanistan."
"But we still can't reduce the risk to zero. It's still a high-risk area."
With a report from The Canadian Press
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