Task Group Fights War on Drugs & Terror
PATRICK LENNOX
© 2008 FrontLine Defence (Vol 5, No 3)

As the only civilian member of the ship’s company, I wait patiently to board HMCS Iroquois as families watch their loved ones deploy for six months to fight the Global War on Terror. Separation anxiety is already evident on their faces.

Lieutenant Commander Bowen shows me to my cabin and then back out on the quarterdeck to watch Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson and General Rick Hillier send us off in style. Two rousing speeches, a prayer from Padre Liam Thomas, and the national anthem completes a moving ceremony befitting the magnitude of what Iroquois and crew are setting out to accomplish on behalf of the Canadian people.

General Hillier’s parting words remind everyone that “Canada is the greatest country in the world,” and our that Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the envy of those who suffer under the oppressive forces of dictatorship, crime, poverty, and chaos.

The destroyer Iroquois is ultimately bound for the Arabian Sea to take command of a dimension of the War on Terror known as Combined Task Force 150, which seeks to put a dent in some of the oppressive forces mentioned by Hillier.  Cdre Bob Davidson will take command of the multinational task force in June 2008.

Before sailing across the pond, Iroquois (the flagship destroyer of the task force) must join up with its west coast colleagues Calgary (a frigate) and Protecteur (a supply ship) on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal – making a quick contribution to the War on Drugs while in the Caribbean.

Once Calgary and Protecteur arrive through the canal, the three Canadian ships attempt to spend a few days contributing to Joint Inter Agency Task Force South’s efforts to combat the flow of narcotics into North America from places like Mexico, Panama, Columbia, and Honduras.

As it turns out, there are both technical and political difficulties with this. Technically, it is a challenge to establish the ­necessary encrypted communications between JIATF and the Canadian Task Group. Politically, the Americans seem ­hesitant to give the Canadian ships orders. According to the US Navy exchange officer who joined Iroquois in San Juan, Puerto Rico, JIATF may be trying to avoid crossing the sensitive bounds of sovereignty.

Regardless of any glitches (technical or otherwise), the presence of Canadian warships nevertheless acts as a deterrent to drug runners and helps with the construction of a common maritime operational picture through the use of the ships’ range of surveillance capabilities. Canada’s presence in the region is certainly noted.

Later, off the coast of Columbia, ­Iroquois is “buzzed” by a blacked out helicopter. I happen to be on the bridge, and the helicopter is hailed three times as it flies approximately 500 ft above us. After the third hailing, it descends to approximately 75 ft, and flies straight at Iroquois’ bow, shining a light at the bridge before vanishing into the night. Rumors around the ship the next morning suggest that the Columbian military had ventured out to take a closer look at us (that was never ­confirmed, of course).

The purpose of being here is to pick up – if only momentarily – where HMCS Fredericton left off last summer in the US-led War on Drugs, demonstrating Canada’s continued capability, and to reaffirm the fact that Canada takes the Caribbean ­seriously as an area of strategic interest. Conducting this operation has the added benefit of warming up the Canadian crews for what will be a very long, and very hot, contribution to the War on Terror.

Participating in the War on Terror, HMCS ­Iroquois will conduct surveillance patrols and maritime interdiction operations, controlling sea-based activity in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. ­Iroquois will monitor shipping, escort commercial vessels, and help detect, deter and protect against terrorist activities to bring long term stability to the area. 

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Dr. Patrick Lennox (shown below) is  Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary. He was embedded on HMCS Iroquois from 19 April to 2 May 2008. The Security and Defence Forum in conjunction with the Canadian Navy facilitated this opportunity.
© Frontline Defence 2008

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