Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard & Canada's Role
Lt Gen Charles Bouchard: 'We will see this mission through'
He is the other man at the centre of the war against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The military commander who ultimately selects and authorises strikes by Nato warplanes.
Outside the alliance few may know his name. But Lt Gen Charlie Bouchard has been charged with directing this complex war, and political leaders in the West are pinning their hopes on him.
We meet the plain-speaking Canadian lieutenant general at Nato's Joint Command Headquarters on the outskirts of Naples.
The military operation is being run from an unremarkable office block. Men and women, in a surprisingly large variety of camouflaged uniforms and flying suits with the badges of different nations, walk with purpose between rooms closed off for security.
There is a sudden rush of activity as Gen Bouchard enters the building for his first morning meeting.
He asks one of his staff if it's going to be another busy day. He reassures them: "We'll get through it." This is a man who clearly does not stand on ceremony - he quickly places his juniors at ease.
Nor does he much like giving interviews. He has covered his black T-shirt with a camouflaged tunic just for the camera. A helicopter pilot by profession, he has the bearing of a man who would not avoid fighting in the trenches.
His pronunciation of a few words suggest that English might not be his first language - he is French Canadian. But he has spent a lot of his career working with the Americans and they clearly did not mind handing over the mission to him.
My mission is to stop violence against people and I will go all the way down the chain to the man that pulls the trigger”
Gen Bouchard believes the alliance is winning the war against Col Gaddafi.
"We have significantly destroyed his military capacity to the point that he now has no capability to run any offensive," he says.
That might sound like good news to Nato members, but he adds that the Libyan army "is shielding themselves and using civilians as human shields".
The general describes a recent video he watched, where a multiple rocket launcher was driven inside a house. On top of that same house a women with a young child was hanging out the washing. He says such examples make life difficult for Nato, but "not impossible".
With the mantra of this mission to avoid civilian casualties, he says the targeting process is "very rigorous". They first collect intelligence from a variety of sources. Spy planes fly over the target for imagery. An entire team - including lawyers - then assesses the mission and matches the appropriate weapon with what needs to be hit.
At the end of the process a recommendation is made and Gen Bouchard then makes the final decision. He says the questions he asks himself last are: Is this necessary? What will this do and what will be the impact on the civilian population?
The alliance believes that it has largely been successful in avoiding civilian casualties. Nato admits that last week a bomb malfunctioned and strayed. But the general is keen to point out that more than 5,000 bombs dropped by Nato warplanes have hit their target.
'He is the murderer'
I ask about a recent strike on a compound in Sorman to the west of Tripoli in which - the Libyans claim - three children were killed.
He insists that this was clearly a command-and-control centre being used by a senior Gaddafi aide. That aide, he says, would not hesitate to order the deaths of hundreds of civilians. If children were killed - and he seems willing to accept the possibility - he says it's "very regrettable". But the attack, he says, should be seen in the context that this was all about saving lives. The bomb, he said, carefully avoided a mosque and hospital nearby.
It was this attack that prompted Col Gaddafi to denounce Nato on the airwaves as murderers and barbarians.
Gen Bouchard replies: "I believe that he is the murderer. He is the man that's lost the moral authority to command his people."
Does that make him a legitimate target? The general repeats that his orders are not regime change or to kill a head of state.
"My mission is to stop violence against people and I will go all the way down the chain to the man that pulls the trigger," he says. He thinks Col Gaddafi is avoiding military instillation and "hiding" in mosques, hospitals and schools.
As to the strains within Nato, Gen Bouchard seems unperturbed. Does he have the military hardware to carry out the job? Every military commander wants more, he says, before adding that he has sufficient capability to carry out the mission. He will let Nato member states worry about resources.
How long will this take? He says that it's difficult to say, though he does not expect this mission to last years. Calls for a temporary ceasefire, he says, would just give Col Gaddafi's forces the chance to "rearm and reload".
Gen Bouchard ends the interview with an emphatic claim: "We will see this mission through."
He paints a picture of success - a Libya where Nato creates the environment for politics and diplomacy to take root, and with the Libyan people able to decide their own future.
He is clearly relieved when the microphone is switched off. He can get back to the job he wants to do.
Updated: Mon Jun. 27 2011 15:18:40
CTV.ca News Staff
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he was "very impressed" with rebel leaders he met with in Libya Monday as part of a secret visit to the North African country.
Baird spent half a day with Mahmoud Jibril, leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC), in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
He also met with humanitarian aid groups and visited Canadian troops based in Sicily who have participated in the NATO-led bombing campaign against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Canada recently joined other European and Arab countries in officially recognizing the NTC as Libya's legitimate government.
"I was frankly surprised -- pleasantly" by the rebel council members, Baird said. "I was very impressed with them."
But he added: "I don't think we're going to move from Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson." The post-Gadhafi regime, "Won't be perfect," he said.
Baird told The Canadian Press his goal for the trip was to "get the facts" for himself, adding: "We are doing our due diligence because that is what Canadians expect and the Libyan people require."
The NTC has been at a standoff for weeks with Gadhafi, Libya's longtime dictator who has vowed to fight to the death against the rebels.
Baird said he wanted to meet with Jibril and his rebel leaders to see whether they are capable of leading the country if and when Gadhafi is deposed.
"This is one of the many steps that need to happen as Canada and the NTC go forward together," Baird said.
While in Benghazi Baird met with non-governmental organizations to discuss Canada's aid efforts to Libya and how those efforts could be maximized.
He also dropped off a planeload of trauma kits to help treat the many casualties from the fighting.
Canada has committed over $10 million in aid to Libya, with funds going to various groups including the Red Cross and the United Nations Populations Fund.
Baird 'moved' by rebels' courage
During his visit, Baird travelled via motorcade through the rebel-held city, past walls covered in anti-Gadhafi graffiti.
According to Baird, rebel leaders told him of their battles against Gadhafi's forces and their retreat to Benghazi.
"I was incredibly, incredibly moved by the courage and determination," Baird said.
"It is a remarkable accomplishment."
Baird presented Jabril with a letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that extended an invitation to Canada to meet with federal officials and MPs. Baird also met with his counterpart on the NTC, Ali Isawi, who was forced to deny reports that the council had been negotiating a peace agreement with members of Gadhafi's regime.
"We have no direct contact with the Gadhafi regime," Isawi told reporters. "But anything that can bring to an end the bloodshed, we will certainly look at it."
Baird told reporters he will look into whether Canada can transfer frozen Libyan assets to the NTC. However, he acknowledged that such a move presents "a complex legal issue," and said he was not optimistic that he could work out such a deal.
Ottawa has also called for women to play a role in any future democratic government in Libya.
Baird tells troops to ‘be patient'
After hastily retreating to the airport around 4 p.m. local time after celebratory gunfire was heard nearby, Baird travelled to Sicily to meet with Canadian Forces personnel. Canada has seven fighter jets, in addition to a warship and surveillance and refuelling planes in the region.
In total, there are about 650 Canadian Forces personnel taking part in the NATO-led initiative. The bombing campaign began just over 100 days ago.
While the rebels have become entrenched in the east of Libya, Gadhafi and fighters loyal to him have maintained control over much of the west, including Tripoli.
Baird addressed about 60 troops, telling them in a brief speech that he is proud of their efforts.
"We've got to be patient," Baird said. "We are making progress."