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Multibillion-dollar jets buy 'best value for Canada,' top soldier says

General Walter Natynczyk, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, meets with The Globe and Mail's editorial board in Toronto on Jan. 21 2011.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canada's top soldier is defending a multibillion-dollar deal to buy U.S.-made fighter jets even as the Liberals zero in on the issue as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's potential Achilles' heel in the next campaign.

"From my perspective, the F-35 is the best aircraft with the best value for Canada," General Walter Natynczyk said in a visit to the Globe and Mail editorial board on Friday.

New ads from the Liberal Party of Canada released on Friday question the value of the contract to buy the jets.

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Gen. Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, argued that the state-of-the-art jet fighters are the best deal on the market, given that Lockheed Martin's mass-production lines are about to fill up with F-35 orders from Canada and other U.S. allies.

"The cost per unit is the cheapest for any fourth- or fifth-generation aircraft," said Gen. Natynczyk, explaining that any attempt to buy older jets might actually cost more money.

He also played down war-crimes allegations arising from within the military. A member of the ultra-secretive Joint Task Force Two has approached oversight bodies with a litany of complaints about the Afghanistan mission.

The details are classified. But documents released this week lay out the cryptic complaints.

The JTF2 soldier "feels that more and more of his peers are being encouraged to commit war crimes by the chain of command," read the memos, released under the Access to Information Act.

Asked about this, the general said, "we hold the Canadian Forces leadership to the highest standards." He would not address specifics of the ongoing internal military investigation, which is known as "Sand Trap."

He said JTF2 soldiers are conducting themselves honourably during missions to capture and kill terrorists in Afghanistan. "Man for man, woman for woman, unit for unit - our special forces are as good as the Special Air Service of the U.K. [or]Delta Force in the U.S."

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Gen. Natynczyk said he is also waiting for his subordinates to report to him on how to put together the Canadian Forces' new training mission to Afghanistan.

About 900 soldiers will be sent to Kabul to train Afghan security forces while combat operations involving 2,800 soldiers posted to Kandahar wind down.

U.S. troops have surged into Kandahar province in the past year.

This deployment has started to make Afghan tribal elders feel more confident about taking on the Taliban, said Gen. Natynczyk. He went so far as to compare this dynamic to the so-called "Sunni Awakening" in Iraq.

U.S. operations have spilled over into Pakistan, where special forces have embarked on clandestine missions to kill top Taliban commanders. This strategy includes dispatching unmanned drones on bombing runs, and also sending in special forces-trained Afghan commando teams.

Gen. Natynczyk said Canadian Forces have never operated in Pakistan.

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While upbeat, the general admitted that rampant illiteracy continues to hamper NATO's efforts to train Afghan security forces. Many indigenous police and soldiers are incapable of reading maps, much less calling in co-ordinates for artillery strikes.

Gen. Natynczyk said Canada's loss of a logistics base in the United Arab Emirates should not unduly affect his military's looming pullout of hundreds of combat troops and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware.

Canada is now moving cargo and soldiers in and out of Afghanistan via Cyprus and Germany. The UAE. abruptly kicked Canadians out of the "Camp Mirage" base last fall in a fight over the landing rights of Emirates and Etihad airlines in Canada.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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