OTTAWA - The Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Art Eggleton, announced today that approximately 450 Canadian Forces members serving in Eritrea, Africa, will return to Canada in June after having completed their mission. Task Force East Africa, based on the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, from Gagetown, N.B., served for six months with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). It was part of the multinational Stand-by High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) for UN operations. The Dutch-Canadian area of operations in the Central Sector will be handed over to another contingent on June 11, 2001.
The Canadian contribution known as Operation ECLIPSE was the first deployment of SHIRBRIG. With the SHIRBRIG deployment, Canada has made a significant contribution to the peace process in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
"Our Canadian peacekeepers even took the responsibility for the Eastern Sector of UNMEE for a month pending the arrival of other UN troops. This ensured that operationally ready troops were deployed throughout the country with minimal delay to start the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone," said the Minister. "Accepting this additional commitment while already sustaining a high tempo of operations in Eritrea showed the professionalism and flexibility of Canadian soldiers and the commitment of Canada to peace and security in Africa."
Canada's contribution to UNMEE will continue with six officers; the Military Observers Group Chief Operations Officer to UNMEE and five Canadian UN military observers.
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For one Kingston soldier, the work in Eritrea is just beginning, even as the mission of the Canadian contingent there comes to a close.
Capt. Cary Baker, the close-out team engineering adviser for the peacekeeping mission in Africa, will probably be one of the last Canadian soldiers to leave after the camp is dismantled and personnel are sent home next month.
Baker is one of 20 Kingston soldiers - most of whom arrived last night in Eritrea - who are packing up and shipping out the equipment used during the six-month mission.
The weapons, vehicles and communications equipment will be sent home to Canada and the shelters transported to Italy, where they will be stored for another mission.
"We'll be dismantling all the shelters ... but the roads, fences and underground stuff that was for water and sewer will stay," Baker said yesterday from Dek'emhare, 32 kilometres south of Eritrea's capital of Asmara.
The task of tearing down the camp is an involved and often tricky process, he added.
The site was just a dusty plateau before 100 Kingston soldiers arrived in December to set up the infrastructure for a military mini-base.
"The hardest thing is continuing to provide the basic necessities of life to the remaining soldiers [at the Dek'emhare camp] while we thin out the equipment and the personnel," he said.
"We have to continue providing them with water and electricity."
The work is made more difficult by the area's blowing sand and high temperatures - it was 48 degrees Celsius yesterday.
The Canadian contingent, which includes 650 soldiers, will be replaced by troops from India on June 11. The Canadians, most of whom are from CFB Gagetown, N.B., will begin returning in mid-June.
But the small close-out group of which Baker is part won't return until the end of June or early July.
For some of those soldiers it's their second trip to Eritrea in six months. Many of the Kingston group were also deployed to Africa for a month in December when the camp was first set up.
As a result, the Kingston soldiers know how to dismantle the camp efficiently, said Maj. Chris Lemay, Canadian Forces Joint Headquarters public affairs officer.
"They have to safely bring all the Canadian assets to the seaport or to the airport," he said from CFB Kingston.
YEARNS FOR HOME
While Baker is anxious to get back home to Kingston, he's enjoying the work in Eritrea. Meeting soldiers from other countries has been particularly interesting, he said.
Until the troops from India arrive, Canadian peacekeepers are part of a Dutch-led contingent located in the central area of a temporary security zone or no-man's land that was set up to keep the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Baker, who also completed a tour of duty in Bosnia in 1997, said he's the guy who has to make sure all equipment is removed and shipped properly in order to help preserve "the international reputation of Canada's troops."
"I will be one of the last Canadians to leave."
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In Westmount, Que., a mostly anglophone municipality (and rather nice neighbourhood) completely encircled by the city of Montréal, five mailboxes explode in the hours between midnight and dawn. Each mailbox contained a bomb made of four sticks of dynamite and a detonator wired to a cheap pocket watch. The bombs were planted by members of the Front de libération du Québec.
With five explosions already, and no idea how many bombs are planted around the city, the police call in the Army. Every mailbox in town has to be searched-a massive job-and people have to be kept out of harm's way. Five more bombs are found, and the police set out to disarm them as fast as possible.
One of Montréal's few explosives experts is Warrant Officer Second Class Walter "Rocky" Leja of the 3rd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Engineers. Sergeant-Major Leja has never disarmed a terrorist bomb-few people in Canada have-but he has extensive experience with military ordnance, and he is brave.
Sergeant-Major Leja's first mailbox bomb is near a school, so he tries to hoist it across the street on a hook attached to the aerial ladder of a fire truck. When the clumsy rig knocks the mailbox over, he grabs the bomb and carries it to safety in his hands.
The second bomb is on a crowded downtown street, so Sergeant-Major Leja must either blow it up or make it safe on the spot. He calmly reaches into the mailbox, lifts out the bomb, and dismantles it on the sidewalk.
The third bomb looks just like the second one, and Sergeant-Major Leja decides to treat it the same way. As soon as his left hand touches the package, the bomb explodes, inflicting terrible injuries from which he never recovers.
For conspicuous courage and outstanding devotion to duty, Sergeant-Major Leja receives the George Medal in January 1964. In 1966, he moves to the veterans' hospital at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., where he remains until his death in 1992.
This Fourth Dimension feature courtesy of The Maple Leaf Vol 4 No 18.
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Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Foreman is officially the only Canadian soldier left in Kosovo. As the Senior Military Liaison Officer, LCol Foreman commands a team of five international officers who perform liaison duties between UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) central staff, the Pristina Regional Government and its seven municipalities, and the headquarters for the Multinational Brigade and its five battle groups.
LCol Forman resides in Pristina, the largest city in Kosovo, which has 50 percent of the country’s population. “As an MLO (Military Liaison Officer) we work 24 and 7 for periods varying from 30 to 60 days, followed by a 6 to 12 day out of theatre break,” he said.
Days are very busy for LCol Foreman and any free evenings are considered a luxury. Mornings consist of briefings and staff co-ordination meetings. Afternoons are reserved for liaison visits to the field and working on assigned projects and problem areas. Most evenings consist of more briefings, with the daily routine wrapping up around 7:30 p.m.
“If there are no special activities or operations going on, one can get away for supper and then bed,” he said. “But more often than not, there is a special operation going on and you get home when you can.
LCol Foreman said the most difficult part about his job is communicating with all the different nationalities. With a team consisting of majors from Norway, Finland, Zambia and Bangladesh, plus regular liaisons with a British run formation made up of Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Czechs, daily communications can sometimes be trying.
“On a daily basis we work with all of the 44 nations that make up the NATO contingent and the 53 nations that make up UNMIK,” he said. “Although English is he working language, native English speakers are in the vast minority in the mission.”
Trying to make progress in a society that is completely broken is another challenge. While the infrastructure is at “ground zero”, LCol Foreman’s team is helping return Kosovo to a normalized society.
While members of KFOR are now on Rotation 5, LCol Foreman said many challenges still exist. Quality of life for soldiers has definitely improved but, from a security standpoint, problems persist.
A terrorism campaign by Albanian extremists continues, he said, and
freedom of movement for locals is still an issue, particularly in minority
areas. Ethnic and political violence continues and organized crime is a
major threat to security and UNMIK nation building, he said.
“The inability of the local governments to enforce regulations has led to widespread anarchy and an inability of local governments to generate any revenue,” he said. “Municipal elections have been held, and UNMIK is now working to transfer authority to the local legislative bodies. A Kosovo wide general election is the next step.”
LCol Foreman, a military engineer normally stationed at CFB Esquimalt, is married and has two children.
Kosovo is his first UN tour. “I miss my family and friends, reliable electricity, a hot shower every day, a society that functions and the ocean,” he said.
LCol Foreman will return to Canada in August.
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Coralici, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The Emergency Response Section is prepared to respond at any time of the day to help personnel and recover their vehicles in case of road accidents or mine strikes.
Nine field engineers from 6 Troop, 24 Field Squadron, form the ERS based in Coralici and cover the northern half of the Canadian Area of Responsibility (AOR). A similar section based in Zgon covers the southern half of the AOR during Roto 8 of Op PALLADIUM.
These engineers also spend hours on route recces, rechecking previously approved routes and verifying the safety of new ones travelled by Canadian and other SFOR Troops.
“I try to get them out of camp and look at something every day,” said Sergeant Mike Cotts, who leads the Coralici ERS. He organizes additional training opportunities for his engineers, including section drills and confidence training with mine detectors.
“You learn to be confident in what you’re doing – confident, but not complacent,” said Sapper Mark Boychuck.
Training is taken seriously.
“We practise like we’d do it in real life,” said Spr Brad Hofmann.
The section has been busy since the beginning of the tour.
“We’ve used everything (except cordon and search) we trained for during the pre-deployment exercises,” said Spr Aesop Zourdoumis.
The three sappers, CF members for the past two-and-a half years, are serving on their first overseas tour. They were surprised at the amount of rebuilding that is going on in their part of the AOR.
“I thought it would be more like a war zone, with a lot more wrecked houses,” said Spr Zourdoumis, a secondary driver for the ERS. The Bosnian countryside, although picturesque, can be challenging to travel through. “It’s so mountainous,” he said. “It can be really tight on the roads with a Bison.”
When the section responded to a call one night, it found an AVGP had gone off a country road and into a ditch. None of the soldiers in the vehicle were hurt.
Coralici’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF), ambulance and wrecker accompanied the ERS.
The engineers determined that no mine clearance was needed to recover
the vehicle. After several attempts in the dark, the recovery operation
was called off until morning, when the engineers cleared about 240 m so
the wrecker could get into position to winch the vehicle out.
1.5 million mines in the ground (as recorded in minefield records)
SFOR is not responsible for the de-mining in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Demining
is carried out by the following groups:
They must meet the UN standard of making the ground 99.6% metal free.
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By Scott Taylor ON TARGET
On July 11, 1991, just three months after the Gulf War ended, an ammunition dump exploded in Doha, Kuwait, ripping apart the U.S. 11th Armored (Blackhorse) Cavalry Regiment.
Nearly 100 soldiers were seriously injured in the blast and another 400 required at least some form of medical treatment. Secondary explosions continued all day, disabling more U.S. armoured vehicles than the Iraqi army had been able to destroy during Desert Storm.
On hand to assist their American allies during this incident were 50 Canadian combat engineers. Under the direction of Maj. Fred Kaustinen, they provided first aid to the panic-stricken Blackhorse troopers.
The conduct of the Canadian soldiers earned their unit - the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment - a letter of praise from the American commander. And Maj. Kaustinen's leadership was recognized with a Chief of Defence Staff commendation from Gen. John de Chastelain.
At the time, Canadians never heard about the Doha incident - or of our soldiers' bravery - because National Defence headquarters took the decision to cover up the whole affair up. At the time, Maj. Kaustinen and his men believed that the rationale behind the gag order was to prevent any additional embarrassment to the Americans (their soldiers had panicked and fled in terror) and/or to prevent Iraqi intelligence from discovering the true extent of the damage inflicted upon the American regiment. (The Blackhorse was temporarily rendered hors de combat after the blast.)
The story of the Doha blast was first broken in August 1998 by Esprit de Corps Magazine and the Ottawa Citizen. At that point, Defence Department public affairs officers had been unable to explain why they had covered-up this "good news" story of Canadian soldiers performing heroic deeds in the midst of a major catastrophe: "Things blow up all the time," "This was no big deal," "Soldiers get paid to take risks," "The messages must have gotten lost," etc., etc.
Following on the heels of numerous other scandals and cover-ups, the Doha incident failed to gain much national media interest, and the whole affair quickly and quietly faded back into oblivion.
Fast-forward to January 2001, and the international press were suddenly caught up in a feeding frenzy over the health effects of depleted uranium on NATO soldiers returning sick from service in the Balkans.
Over the following few weeks, startling statistics of the leukemia rate rising among these veterans were met with a barrage of denials from military health officials, claiming that the material posed no risk to service members.
In the middle of this controversy, Esprit de Corps Magazine received a tip that the Doha ammunition dump had contained depleted-uranium-tipped shells. A quick check with U.S. military sources confirmed the information and, with the help of the Ottawa Citizen, we broke the story of how the Canadian engineers had been exposed to vast quantities of toxic depleted uranium "aerosol" during the 1991 explosion.
Canada's senior military preventive health officer, Col. Ken Scott, acknowledged that the Pentagon had only advised him of the exposure to Canadian troops in February 2000. Col. Scott had not told the soldiers of the possible health risk ("It would only increase their stress levels") out of consideration for their collective well-being.
As a follow-up to the story, the Ottawa Citizen, at considerable expense and effort, managed to track down 18 of the 50 combat engineers who had been in Doha. Of those, 10 reported that they now suffered from some form of immune deficiency-related ailments, while others said their children had been born with "congenital anomalies."
Such startling (though unscientific) numbers failed to motivate Col. Scott into making any special effort to contact and examine the Doha sappers. They, like every other Canadian soldier who served in the Gulf or the Balkans, are entitled to submit a voluntary urine sample, but this can only determine the presence of soluble (and relatively harmless) depleted uranium - if tested within the first few weeks after exposure.
Now comes word from an international expert that the Doha explosion produced "the worst DU contamination site on record." Professor Albrecht Schott, a Berlin-based scientist specializing in the health effects of depleted uranium, claims the Canadian engineers were exposed to a "cocktail of cancer-causing substances."
Schott explained that the heat generated by the blast was beyond what the U.S. scientists had believed possible, upwards of 2,000 C. Not only did the depleted uranium shells detonate, creating a radioactive aerosol, but the DU armour on the U.S. tanks also ignited and burned. Schott says the resulting "high-temperature chemistry" created "new" substances.
"These particular Canadian soldiers weren't just exposed to DU, they were exposed to DU plus, " Schott said.
Over the next few weeks, Schott will be examining the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population. Hit by over 30,000 DU rounds during the Gulf War, the civilians in Iraq are suffering from a massive outbreak of leukemia and congenital anomalies among their children. Until now, the United States has prevented any initiatives by the World Health Organization to conduct a full scientific survey of DU-related illnesses in Iraq.
"The Pentagon and NATO officials all purport to have conducted exhaustive studies on DU, yet no one has ever studied the effects at ground zero," Schott said. "The key to assessing DU's harmful potential and finding a cure will only come from a thorough examination of the Iraqis and survivors of the Doha blast."
Unfortunately for Schott and his scientific research, Col. Ken Scott is still far too concerned with the "well-being" of our soldiers to be of any assistance. To date, Scott and his medical officers have made no effort to tell the combat engineers of 1CER what they were exposed to.
God knows, the stress might kill them.
Note - this article also appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. Scott Taylor is the editor of espirit de corps magazine.
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22 May 2001
Mr. Neil Reynolds
Editor, The Ottawa Citizen
Via Fax: 596-3788
Dear Mr. Reynolds:
On several occasions your newspaper has run articles about Camp Doha, the most recent, entitled "Blast exposed Gulf troops to 'DU-plus'" appeared this past week-end. The story, like those that preceded it, contains a number of errors that should be brought to the attention of your readers. When you were provided with our comments on earlier articles about Camp Doha you choose not to publish them. I sincerely hope you will see fit to publish this letter both in an effort to provide some balance to the Citizen's coverage of the Doha incident and to diffuse some of the anxiety this article has undoubtedly caused among some of our Gulf War veterans.
The Camp Doha explosion of July 1991 has been extensively investigated by the Americans and has been subjected to review by a number of expert scientific panels. The investigation of this incident concluded, "The available evidence suggests that these exposures were well below the threshold levels at which health effects occur."
On the 26th of April 2001 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a monograph entitled "Depleted uranium: sources, exposure and health effects." In commenting on the radiation dose received by military personnel within vehicles struck by DU projectiles the WHO concluded, "The radiation dose to military personnel within an armored vehicle is very unlikely to exceed the average annual external dose from natural background radiation from all sources." This information came from detailed modeling of depleted uranium exposures found in the 13 December 2000 "Environmental Exposure Report - Depleted Uranium in the Gulf (II)" produced by the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses. This report also details exposures that would have occurred at Camp Doha.
The illness rate in Canadian Gulf War veterans is the same, no matter what unit they served with during this conflict. Engineers from Camp Doha were not more likely to attend Canada's Gulf War Clinic then veterans from any other unit. No Coalition country, including Canada, has ever found evidence for an "immune-system ailment" despite what your article states. Multiple investigations by Coalition countries have not found an increased incidence of congenital anomalies in Gulf War veterans, again despite what your article says.
Your reporter notes a "rash of leukemia cases among NATO soldiers returning from service in Bosnia and Kosovo that created an international furore last year." In fact, no NATO country, including Italy, has seen an increased rate of leukemia in veterans from Bosnia or Kosovo. This information is contained in the Final Report of the Expert Panel to the European Commission (06 March 2001). A separate expert panel set up by the Italians to look at leukemia rates in their own Balkan veterans was headed by a hematologist and also concluded in March of 2001 that there was no increased incidence of leukemia in Italians. No study has ever shown an increased incidence of leukemia in Gulf War veterans, including our own Canadian studies.
The World Health Organization concluded in April 2001 that "When there is a good reason to believe that an exceptional exposure has taken place, the best way to verify this is to measure uranium in the urine." Your article totally dismisses the value of urine testing. Thousands of NATO and Gulf War veterans have now been tested for uranium, including 160 Canadians. Results have come back in the normal range with isotope ratios compatible with natural uranium. Interestingly, the media is quick to accept claims by advocacy groups that they have found elevated uranium levels in the urine of Gulf War veterans and have found isotope ratios compatible with depleted uranium. Urine testing is 'OK' for the advocacy groups but not 'OK' when done by independent labs for multiple NATO countries. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.
The WHO Report of April 2001 also concludes, "General screening or monitoring for possible depleted uranium health effects in populations living in conflict areas where depleted uranium has been used is not necessary." This statement is certainly in contrast to the alarmist ones made in your article.
Multiple expert medical and scientific panels have concluded that the exposures incurred by Gulf War and NATO personnel to depleted uranium do not constitute a health threat. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report of 13 March 2001 on possible health hazards associated with the use of depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo is instructive. The report states that the risks of widespread or localized contamination is insignificant, and that radiation levels are barely measurable; that even where DU material was found on the surface, the risks to health were still insignificant; that there has been no groundwater contamination or impact on the food chain.
The amount of information currently available about uranium and depleted
uranium is enormous; however, the conclusions reached by scientific experts
and medical clinicians sadly are not reflected in the articles that your
paper continues to publish on this subject. The Canadian public is not
being informed and a disservice is being done to our veteran population.
They deserve far more precise and objective reporting than is reflected
in this article.
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