Thursday, September 14, 2006

Canada loans Dutch armoured vehicles

CANOE -- CNEWS - Canada: Canada loans Dutch armoured vehicles: "OTTAWA (CP) - Canada has loaned its Dutch comrades five heavily-armoured Nyala patrol vehicles for use in southern Afghanistan. "

And in an exchange steeped in irony, our European ally has offered up flight time on helicopters - some of which more than likely belonged to Canada and were sold to the Netherlands by the Mulroney government in 1991.

A defence spokesman said the loan of the armoured vehicles will not affect the army's ability to carry out operations - nor will it imperil Canadian troops who routinely face roadside bomb attacks.

"It's a temporary loan until the Dutch are ready to receive their own vehicles," said Maj. Luc Gaudet, a spokesman for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Two of the five are brand-new vehicles, while the others are models previously used by Canadian engineers to clear roadways of booby traps.

In June, the Dutch cabinet approved the $31.7 million purchase of 25 Australian Bushmaster armoured patrol vehicles in order to provide more protection for troops operating in Uruzgun province, north of Kandahar.

The proliferation of deadly road-side bomb attacks has sent many of Canada's NATO allies in Afghanistan scrambling to replace - or upgrade - lightly armoured jeeps.

Gaudet said it's not clear when the vehicles will be returned, but he expects it to be sometime this fall.

While there is no specific exchange outlined in the memorandum between the two countries, the Dutch Defence ministry noted Canadian troops need help getting around the far-flung desert battlefield and have put forward routine access to CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

Gaudet was asked whether it was a formal exchange.

"Yes and no," he replied.

Given that Canada sold its 12 Chinooks to the Netherlands as a cost-cutting measure, the collegial offer wasn't something the Canadian army was eager to trumpet.

"All countries contribute to the overall success of the mission in southern Afghanistan," said Gaudet.

"Everybody shares. As part of the overall effort some resources from the Dutch, as well as resources of other allies, have been put at the disposition of the commanders in the field."

The Americans and British also maintain fleets of Chinook helicopters in Kandahar, which Canadian troops have used on occasion.

Military officials both in Afghanistan and at home refuse to say whether the Dutch aircraft used by the Canadians the spring are the refurbished ones sold to the Netherlands.

The absence of heavy-lift battlefield helicopters has long been a bone of contention for the chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier.

Early this summer, the new Conservative government said it intended to buy 16 brand new medium-to-heavy lift helicopters, which will more than likely be Boeing Corp.'s CH-47 Chinook helicopters at a cost of $2.7 billion.

The delivery date remains unclear, but a defence analyst said the federal government should negotiate something more substantial for troop transport than the informal arrangement with the Dutch.

"The objective is to get the capability as quickly as possible," said Don Macnamara, a retired air force brigadier-general and member of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Failing a quick purchase, he said Canada could get into some kind of lease arrangement, likely from the United States "if they're the same kind of helicopter we're going to be flying the future."

The military has stepped up purchases of long-neglected equipment since 2,200 Canadian troops deployed to southern Afghanistan last winter.

Last November, the Liberal government rushed through the purchase of 50 new patrol vehicles and followed up in February with an order for an additional 25.

Both the Nyala and Bushmaster have heavily reinforced V-shaped hulls, which are better able to withstand mine blasts than most other armoured vehicles.

The Dutch have agreed to replace any of the $1.3-million vehicles that are destroyed in combat.

No comments: