CBC Front Page
Indepth »
Zone française»
Local Sites
Message Boards
Program Websites
On-Air Guide
About CBC

Search News:

CBC Corporate


Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2002 CBC
All Rights Reserved

cbcca homeshop · help · contact · search   
In the terrorism crunch, Canada has JTF2
Martin O'Malley, CBC News Online
Updated: December 06, 2001

ritain's Special Air Service (SAS) probably was the first on the ground in Afghanistan. There were reports that a four-member team of the elite commandos had engaged a firefight with Taliban soldiers near Kabul when it unexpectedly encountered Taliban fighters in the foothills outside the Afghan capital.

British SAS soldiers in Sierra Leone in May 2000
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Next, United States Rangers parachuted in southwestern Afghanistan, then quickly left on Black Hawk helicopters after a night-time raid on a Taliban facility.

We are talking about special forces, elite fighters, super-secret soldiers deployed to trouble spots to act with stealth and deadly force. They are trained to rope down from helicopters, live off the land for months, break a combatant's hip with a kick to the upper femur.

  • INDEPTH: Target Terrorism
    Full Coverage of the War on Terrorism

In the United States, there are the Rangers, the upper-rung Delta Force, also Night Stalkers. In Canada, it is Joint Task Force Two, or JTF2. Defence Minister Art Eggleton mentioned JTF2 after the attacks on the World Trade Center as a resource Canada may offer in the war against terrorism. In December, Eggleton announced JTF2 was preparing to join U.S. and British commando units in Afghanistan, but he did not flesh out their precise operation.

The lack of detail is no surprise. These are always top-secret operations. If truth is one of the first casualties of war, secrecy is one of war's first exigencies.

According to BBC News Online, Britain's SAS team entered northern Afghanistan from Tajikistan during the week after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Its mission was to seek intelligence on Osama bin Laden, locate land mines and establish what routes bin Laden and his fighters might take out of the country. London's Sunday Times and The Mail both have reported that the SAS team has linked up with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The training for these elite units is intense. The numbers for U.S. Delta Force probably apply to the SAS and JTF2. A quarter of those who volunteer for the elite units - those who volunteer are top soldiers – are routinely washed out; of those who pass this test, one in 10 makes it to the elite unit.

rom what we know of JTF2, it was set up in 1993, taking over counter-terrorist responsibilities from the RCMP. The Toronto Star quoted a military source that said JTF2 has about 350 members, with an average age of 28 and a budget of $25 million. JTF2 has trained with both elite U.S. units and the SAS in Britain. They are acknowledged to be specialists in cold-weather operations, having done extensive training in the Canadian arctic.

Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine, has said JTF2 is as good as the American Delta Force and Britain's SAS. It is believed JTF2 was on the ground for a time in Kosovo, finding important targets and using lasers to guide military aircraft and smart bombs toward them.

When Conservative MP David Price told the House of Commons that JTF2 was on the ground in the Kosovo campaign, the government heatedly denied it - but with covert operations, this is the requisite government response. To do otherwise would be to risk JTF2 lives. JTF2 almost certainly was deployed to Quebec City in April as back-up during the violent protests during the hemispheric trade talks.

As for a role in today's war against terrorism, with emphasis on the rugged landlocked country of Afghanistan, Taylor of Esprit de Corps expects JTF2 will be called upon by the U.S.-led NATO mission against terrorism.

"This is exactly the role for them," Taylor told the Star. "These guys would go in. They would be a special covert operation. They would just simply be putting their lives on the line. Every one of these guys, they joined for that purpose…."

David Rudd, with the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, told CBC News the soldiers of JTF-2 are not trained to "take and hold ground."

"What they do is infiltrate into dangerous areas behind enemy lines, look for key targets and take them out. They don't go out to arrest people. They don't go out there to hand out food parcels. They go out to kill targets."

uring the Kosovo campaign, Michael McAuliffe of CBC's The National reported on the early days of JTF2.

"Everyone seems eager to talk about the secret Canadian commandos," McAuliffe said. "Everyone, it seems, except the Chrétien government. Canada's Joint Task Force Two are experts at remaining out of sight, out of mind, out of the headlines.

"Joint Task Force Two has been something of an open secret ever since it was formed in 1993. People have been aware of its existence, but it's rarely discussed in the media because no one will ever talk about its operations. That's partly for reasons of safety, but it's also because JTF2 has been far more active overseas than either the Chrétien government or Canadian military seem prepared to admit."

In the mission to find Osama bin Laden, a sobering postscript. The U.S. Rangers and Delta Force were deployed to Somalia in the early 1990s. The elite unit came with heavily armed, troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopters, and with the speedy, bubble-topped AH-6 attack choppers known as Little Birds.

The mission was to kill or capture Habr Gibr clan leaders, especially warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. Eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed, along with nearly 1,000 Somalis. This was the ugly street battle remembered by the ghastly photograph of a Black Hawk crew member dragged on his back, naked and dead, through the streets of Mogadishu.

The elite soldiers knew where Aidid was hiding – the city, the street, the building – but they were never able to get him.

JTF2: Canada's secret soldiers
war in the Balkans
Target Terrorism
Indepth coverage of the war on terrorism
Special Ops:
you fight dirty, we fight dirty

Sept. 24, 2001: Chrétien, Bush meet to discuss Canada's role more>

Dec 05, 2001: Elite Canadian 'commandos' get marching orders more>