Canadian army still relying on local hires in dangerous hotspots

at 13:24 on December 30, 2005, EST.

OTTAWA (CP) - As Canadian troops prepare to head back en masse to Afghanistan in the weeks to come, documents obtained The Canadian Press suggest the practice of hiring local translators to help the Canadian military poses a security risk.

"The use of local interpreters as language and cultural advisers is an operational security concern," said a briefing note prepared for the military's head of intelligence and obtained under access-to-information laws.

"Locally engaged personnel do not have a Canadian security clearance or any other credible police or security check when they assist in high-level political discussions, delicate local discussions, or support-sensitive activities such as (intelligence) and counter-intelligence teams abroad."

The military has been using local translators for years. While the army found the practice important enough to flag, there is no indication that the use of locals has led to a leak of military secrets or intelligence.

The February briefing note - which expressed concern about operations in both Bosnia and Afghanistan - lays the blame for the situation squarely at the Defence Department's door, saying it has failed to encourage people to take up a military career in languages.

"The recruiting of Canadian Forces members as language and cultural advisers remains ad hoc, inefficient, problematic, time intensive for national staff and decentralized," said the document.

Indeed, as troops head back to one of the world's most dangerous hotspots, even Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, concedes that the military is falling down in attracting ethnic Canadians.

Hillier said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press that he's confident the military will be able to hit its overall recruiting target of 8,000 regular and reserve members over the next five years, as set out in last February's budget. But he has one qualification.

"Right now, we're meeting all of our goals," he said. "But we're not getting the piece of the demographic from Canada that I'd like to have to change our Forces."

Currently there are about 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan who are helping to move the Canadian command post from relatively quiet Kabul to the more hostile, insurgent-infested southern region near Kandahar.

March, the army will have more than 2,000 combat troops on the ground for a dangerous two-pronged mission that is expected to produce casualties - something Defence Minister Bill Graham has been quietly trying to steel the public to anticipate.

The dangerous mission comes fresh on the heels of a year spent celebrating the achievements of battles long past and following a cash infusion from Ottawa that will mean much-needed new equipment for the military.

The Year of the Veteran feted the victorious troops that swept across Europe 60 years ago and served as a reminder to a new generation of Canadians that a career in the military can be a noble one.

But a generation ago, the Canadians who helped defeat Nazi Germany and Japan were drawn from cities and farms of what was then a mostly white, middle-class English and francophone country, and recruiting wasn't an arduous process.

Today, Canada is a multicultural country, its closest ally is mired in a brutal, unpopular war in Iraq and a booming economy is forcing Ottawa to compete, cajole and outright buy - through signing bonuses and incentives - the raw talent it needs to fill the ranks.

The inability of recruiters to tap into Canada's growing ethnic population in large numbers, especially those from the world's trouble spots, is becoming a source of unease in overseas deployments.

Without properly qualified advisers who are well-versed in local dialects and customs, commanders on the ground are at the mercy of civilians hired on the spot in some of the most treacherous places on Earth.

Hillier says there will be enough Canadian-trained language advisers to fill key roles at headquarters and some combat units in Afghanistan this winter, but 70 per cent of translators will still be local hires.

And a defence analyst said the military can't be blamed entirely for the poor turnout from ethnic communities. "Some first-generation immigrants come from countries where there's a deep suspicion of the military and police," said David Rudd, president of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies.

He pointed out that statistics have shown that those in minority communities who do decide to serve usually pick reserve units over the regular forces.

"Some people are very family-oriented and reserve units are in their communities, whereas regular army bases are often in remote or far-away parts of the country," said Rudd. "And then there's the whole notion of deploying overseas, which can be unattractive."

Separate from diversity, some critics have suggested the military's overall recruiting target of 8,000 regular and reserve forces in five years may be too ambitious, especially given the increasing attrition rate in the aging military.

Currently there are about 52,700 trained personnel who can be deployed around the world. Defence planners aim to have enough troops to indefinitely maintain at least two full-scale overseas operations.

As a reconstruction team goes about the business of trying to rebuild infrastructure and civilian agencies in Kandahar, Canadian patrols will attempt to flush out the remnants of Taliban resistance in the mountainous areas around the city.

To prepare for the hazards of the mission, the Defence Department is spending $234 million on new equipment, everything from light armoured vehicles and reinforced protection for existing ones to new radios and satellite phones.


Some facts and figures about a career in the military, according to the National Defence Department:

-Base starting salary for cadet: $1,328 a month. After three years: $1,412

-Base starting salary for a major: $7,110. After seven years: $7,974.

-Vacation benefits: 20 working days of vacation in each of the first five years of service and 25 working days per year after that.

-Medical benefits include home care, rehabilitation and long-term care.

-Dental care includes major orthodontic and surgical services.

-Sports facilities on bases: fastball, hockey, broomball. Some bases have pools, gymnasium, sports fields, skating rinks, curling clubs, ski hills and golf courses.

-Second-language training provided not only to Forces members but also to their spouses.

This is sad because myself being apart of the military would like to learn different languages and so on some of these assignments.