Creating Canada's new Commandos


KAMLOOPS, B.C. - As part of a major expansion of Canada's special forces -- a move driven by the war on terror -- a new regiment of elite fighters will be ready for action by the end of the month.


KAMLOOPS, B.C. - As part of a major expansion of Canada's special forces -- a move driven by the war on terror -- a new regiment of elite fighters will be ready for action by the end of the month.

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment will be ready in an "interim operational capability" on Sept. 1 and fully ready for missions overseas or at home by the end of the year.

The regiment, to be based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, will provide support for Joint Task Force 2 -- considered the country's premier special forces unit -- and conduct its own missions.

"We've made some excellent progress to date," Lt.-Col. Jamie Hammond, the unit's commanding officer, said during a lull in training in the southern interior of British Columbia.

"There's a lot of training that will go on beyond this course, but right now I'm very happy with the quality of the people we've got, both the supporters and the actual candidates on the course."

The regiment will have its official "stand-up" ceremony at CFB Petawawa on Aug. 13.

At this point, the regiment has about 270 members, including headquarters and supply staff, as well as a training cadre. It is expected to expand to 750 over the next three to five years.

The regiment can be called upon to fulfil a number of roles, including training foreign soldiers, special reconnaissance operations or direct-action missions -- military parlance for attacking enemy targets or individuals.

Since the regiment is at high readiness, it could also be called on to help Canadians trapped overseas reach safety, similar to the mission that took place during the early days of the current crisis in Lebanon.

"My response is as long as we're ready and we're at a high readiness we could be deployed on all sorts of scenarios," said Lt.-Col. Hammond.

The regiment is part of a significant expansion in the Canadian military of its special forces capabilities.

Earlier this year, the military created the country's first special operations command to oversee such units. That command is responsible for JTF2, the special operations regiment, a special operations aviation squadron and an expanded nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological response unit. Eventually the command will have about 2,300 personnel under its control.

American defence analyst John Pike said Canada and other nations are following the example of the U.S. in expanding special forces, a move almost exclusively driven by the war on terrorism.

"The U.S. certainly sees such forces as important, but since we haven't won (the terror war) yet we won't know how big a role they've actually played," said Mr. Pike, director of the Washington-based

But, he said, Canada's expansion of such forces will be seen in a positive light by U.S. military officials and could provide Canada with a way to further strengthen defence relations between the two nations.

The special operations regiment started with $25 million, but it hopes to receive approval in the fall for a $400-million project that would include new equipment and infrastructure. The Defence Department expects to build new training facilities and offices at CFB Petawawa.

The military put out the word in December it was looking for volunteers for the regiment. The troops were put through a 16-week selection course; of the original 178 candidates for what is being called a direct-action company, about 130 are left.

The regiment will have equipment and training similar to JTF2. Military officers say it is important the two units are interoperable since the regiment will be used at times to provide combat support for JTF2.

The expansion has been embraced by various Canadian governments. The program was launched under the Liberals shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when it was decided to double the capability of JTF2. They later approved the creation of the special operations command and regiment.

The Harper government has added to the expansion by announcing the $2-billion purchase of Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, some of which are expected to support special forces.

At the same time, the Conservatives have announced they will create a 650-strong airborne regiment, but it is not known whether that would be brought into special operations command or stay under control of the army.

The Chinooks will give JTF2 and the regiment more ability to move around the battlefield in places such as Afghanistan, although the regiment still expects to use the Griffon helicopter for domestic missions and on some specific overseas operations, Lt.-Col. Hammond said.

The new regiment could also provide a recruiting pool of highly trained personnel for JTF2 in the future.

"I hope the best move up to JTF2," Lt.-Col. Hammond said.


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