Op Reassurance getting a boost
The Canadian Armed Forces’ largest overseas mission, Op Reassurance in Latvia, is going to get bigger this summer with the arrival of 15 Leopard 2A4M main battle tanks and two Taurus armoured recovery vehicles as well as supporting personnel and equipment.
They are among more than 35 Canadian Army assets committed today in Brussels by Defence Minister Anita Anand at the close of the 13th meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group founded last year and comprised of all 31 NATO members and 23 other supporting countries.
“Deployment of a Canadian Army Tank Squadron to Latvia demonstrates Canada’s continued commitment to Latvia’s security, and the collective defence of NATO,” Anand said.
The other assets bound for Latvia include maintenance, fuel, supply, and transport vehicles to directly support the tank squadron. The Department of National Defence said Leopard-specific tools and test equipment also will be shipped “to ensure that a robust maintenance capability is established.” DND said in a statement that the goal is to have all the vehicles in place by the fall but that the full complement of approximately 130 personnel should be in place by next spring.
The tanks are being taken from the Army’s fleet of 20 of the German 2A4Ms, upgraded with extra belly armour for mine protection in addition to modular armour and other enhancements after 80 were purchased from the Netherlands as 2A4s in 2007. They are coming from 3rd Canadian Division Support Base Edmonton and 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.
“The initial deployment is anticipated to be three months with members of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) in Edmonton,” DND told FrontLine. “In January 2024, deployment will be conducted by C Squadron, The Royal Canadian Dragoons from 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown for a duration of six months.” As with any deployment, the Army will rotate personnel and equipment as required to maintain operational capability.
The squadron will join the Canada-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia, a 10-country alliance Canada has led as the “framework nation” since 2017. It effectively surges the battle group to a combat-capable brigade.
During the NATO ministerial meeting, discussion focused on continued support for Ukraine generally but emphasized conditions for its long-term military success and a strengthened relationship with NATO, while also ensuring sufficient defence production.
Anand also had meetings with other NATO defence ministers, setting the stage for the upcoming NATO Summit set for July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania, a meeting at which the alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, is expected to press Canada and other countries to increase their defence spending. Talks also are expected to include a push to have NATO strengthen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister whose NATO appointment expires in September after nine years in the role, offered a preview of what to expect when he visited Washington June 13 for talks with President Joe Biden.
He said NATO will work “to sustain and step up support for Ukraine” and “further strengthen our deterrence on defence” while sending a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It was not only an attack on Ukraine but also on our core values and on free people everywhere,” Stoltenberg said. “Putin must not win this war because that will not only be a tragedy for Ukrainians but also make the world more dangerous. It will send a message to authoritarian leaders all over the world, also in China, that when they use military force, they get what they want.”
On the issue of defence spending, he said he planned to push NATO members to fulfill a U.S.-led pledge to commit 2% of their gross domestic product to defence, a goal only about a half dozen members have met. Moreover, he said 2% “should be a minimum” investment in “collective security.”
It’s a long-standing sensitive issue for the Canadian government, which used its 2022 budget 2022 to commit more than $8 billion in new funding over five years to better equip the Canadian Armed Forces and to strengthen Canada’s contributions to core alliances and partnerships.
Since Putin began his “special military operation” against Ukraine in February 2022, Canada has committed more $8 billion in aid to Ukraine, including at least $1.5 billion in military assistance. “Canada’s support for Ukraine is unwavering, and our commitment to the NATO Alliance is ironclad,” Anand said in Brussels.