Do they stay or do they go? Ottawa needs to decide on Van Doos future in Haiti

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA, Ont. - The Conservative government, which has enjoyed positive reviews for its handling of the Haiti disaster, needs to make tough decisions soon about whether to keep troops in the earthquake-ravaged country, say defence experts.
About 1,000 soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, Que., that were sent to Haiti are on a tight schedule.
The same unit, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, goes to Afghanistan in December and is slotted for combat training in Fort Irwin, Calif., this April.
That means the so-called Van Doos will have to be out of Haiti by mid-to-late March, just when defence analysts say security in the disaster zone may need to be increased.
"I just don't know how you maintain it, but by the same token I don't know how you pull out given that it's such a continuing human crisis," said Robert Huebert, of the University of Calgary.
The United Nations this week set up permanent distribution sites for aid and food, in an attempt to head off potential violence. Noting that Haiti remains "stable but potentially volatile," the world body also reported an armed group attacked a food convoy at an airport in the southwest.
Experts have said gang violence and social unrest is likely to increase in the coming months.
Huebert says the "Forces are getting no down time, no rest time" and the government needs to make up its mind how the future mission will unfold.
The military also has its disaster-response team, two warships and regular air force relief flights going to the island nation.
A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay lauded the work the military has done in Haiti, but acknowledged no decision has been made on whether the humanitarian deployment will be extended.
"We are looking at it day by day and assessing as the situation evolves," said Dan Dugas.
An army spokesperson declined comment Tuesday, saying only they are reviewing the matter.
"We are stretched like a bungee cord as far as human resources go," said retired general Lew MacKenzie.
Several defence sources said one solution is to bring in more reservists, making the part-time soldiers the largest element of the security force.
MacKenzie said reserve soldiers would be well suited for crowd control and relief operation duties.
But he said recent belt-tightening within the military has been felt keenly among the part-time force. Courses have been cancelled and some contracts of soldiers have been terminated as the Defence Department scrambles to reallocate funds for high-priority missions.
"The search for money has really hammered the reserves," MacKenzie said.
Pulling together a part-time force for Haiti would have "budget implications," and the government would have to come to come up with cash, he added.
The Van Doos' time in Haiti could also be extended and another unit sent into the Afghan rotation. But MacKenzie said in either case a decision is needed soon.
Canada's already stretched military was able to pull together an almost 2,000-member relief contingent for Haiti, despite the Afghan combat mission and the commitment to the Vancouver Olympics.
The night after the Haiti earthquake, many of the army's senior commanders had gathered at a well-known Ottawa steak house for a dinner in honour of Dutch Maj.-Gen. Mart de Kruif, who commanded NATO forces in southern Afghanistan and was visiting the city.
BlackBerrys started humming even before dinner was served.
Each of the commanders eventually excused themselves and went back to their headquarters to get the machinery rolling, said a defence insider.

Organizations: University of Calgary, United Nations, Defence Department NATO

Geographic location: Haiti, Ottawa, Afghanistan Fort Irwin Canada Southern Afghanistan

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