A Canadian special forces soldier accompanies the Malian soldiers he is training during an exercise in Africa in 2012. (Canadian Forces)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Canada’s special operations forces have expanded training of foreign troops over the past several years, instructing more than 1,300 personnel and laying plans for future missions.
Senior officers of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) told Defense News in 2008 that the organization wanted to move ahead with the training of foreign forces. Since then it has expanded that capability significantly.
In the past several years, CANSOFCOM members have trained spec ops forces and counterterrorism units in Jamaica, Niger, Kenya and Mali. Canadian operators also have conducted training with their Afghan counterparts.
Sources said the training will continue to be expanded.
The Canadian television network, CTV, also reported on April 5 that CANSOFCOM will next send personnel to Malaysia for a training mission, but the Canadian military would not confirm that.
CANSOFCOM spokesman Maj. Steve Hawken said some 800 personnel have been trained in Africa. About 540 Jamaican Defence Force members have also been trained, he added.
Figures were not available for the numbers of Afghan spec ops forces that have been trained.
“We adjust our training to meet the needs of the host nation,” Hawken said. “One of the greatest capabilities of CANSOFCOM is our ability to produce focused, task-tailored SOF task forces and small teams to meet specific mission requirements.”
CANSOFCOM, which stood up in 2006, oversees Joint Task Force 2, Canada’s first-tier counterterrorism and special operations unit; the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron; the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, which deals with weapons of mass destruction; and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.
Depending on the type of training requested, any of those CANSOFCOM units could be sent overseas.
The government has earmarked CAN $13 million (US $12.6 million) annually for its counterterrorism capacity-building program. That provides training in areas such as border and transportation security and legal assistance to countries to help them prevent and respond to terrorist activity.
Although CANSOFCOM will consider all training requests the government receives from allies, there has been an emphasis recently on training troops in Africa.
Hawken said another $10 million annually has been set aside as part of the counterterrorism capacity-building program, specifically for countries in the Sahel region of Africa. That funding goes until 2015.
The Canadian government has highlighted al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as a particular threat in the Sahel region. In 2008, two Canadian diplomats were kidnapped and held by AQIM for 130 days. They were released amid claims by government officials in Mali that four AQIM detainees were set free in return.
In 2010, Canadian special operations forces began coordinating with the Malian military, and over the next several years CANSOFCOM personnel were sent to Africa to provide training.
The training was later expanded to include forces in Niger and Kenya.
CANSOFCOM has also taken part in the US-led Flintlock exercises in Africa, which are designed to train African spec ops forces.
CANSOFCOM personnel were in Nairobi, Kenya, conducting training in September 2013 when al-Qaida-linked gunmen attacked the Westgate Mall in that city.
Canadian operators did not take part in the response to that attack, but Department of National Defence spokesman Daniel Blouin said they were later requested by Canadian Embassy staff in Nairobi to assess security at that facility.
In 2009, a Jamaican counterterrorism unit trained by the Canadian Special Operations Regiment ended an aircraft hijacking in Jamaica, overpowering the mentally disturbed gunmen without any shots fired. Regiment members did not take part in the raid.
But Hawken said the successful conclusion to the hijacking shows the value of such training.
“That is the return on investment you look for from the delivery of this type of training,” he added.
The Canadian special operations forces training teams, comprising 10 to 12 operators, do not go into combat. Instruction involves field craft, communications, medical skills and close-quarter battle. In addition, some of the instruction can focus on staff training and planning for the officer corps.
The training offers the Canadians a new venue to practice their training skills as well as allowing the team to learn about a particular region they had not operated in before, special operations forces officers say.
CANSOFCOM sees the training as not only helping other nations’ militaries, but also building relationships between Canadian spec ops forces and units from other countries.
“One of the greatest lessons learned from a [spec ops] perspective is a confirmation of how we approach our tasks and work with other cultures around the world,” Hawken said. ■