Canadian general heads NATO’s campaign in Libya
March 28, 2011, Washington, D.C. - Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard is taking over command of NATO's military operations in Libya, a plum appointment that underscores Canada's close ties to the American military.
Bouchard, a native of Chicoutimi, Que., has been designated by NATO as head of the alliance's campaign in Libya. He will work with "naval and air component commands'' to enforce the no-fly zone and the so-called civilian-protection mission in Libya, a senior White House official said Friday.
Bouchard, whose rank is equivalent to a three-star U.S. general, is currently stationed in Naples, Italy, at the Allied Joint Force Command.
"Gen. Bouchard is a formidable leader with tremendous character and ability and experience,'' Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in Ottawa on Friday as the Conservative government was poised to fall on a Liberal confidence motion.
"I have great faith in his experience. Certainly those in the Canadian Forces who have served with Gen. Bouchard have that confidence — as do his colleagues throughout the country and the international community.''
Nonetheless, Bouchard's appointment did not come without considerable debate among the allies.
"There were a lot of egos involved,'' a Canadian government source said.
The source said a British general was touted for the job at one point, but added that the United States wanted to see a face that nervous allies — particularly the Turks — trusted. The tipping point came when the French got behind the appointment, senior Canadian officials said.
There was some political hesitation in Ottawa about the appointment since it represents an escalation of Canada's engagement in Libya just as politicians are hitting the hustings, the source said.
Before his current job, Bouchard was deputy commander of NORAD in Colorado Springs, reporting to an American four-star general.
He studied at the University of Manitoba and joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1974, graduating in 1976 as a helicopter pilot. Among his many postings, Bouchard once served with the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, Texas.
One Canadian military expert praised Bouchard's qualifications but suggested the appointment could turn out to be a poisoned chalice if Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to stand his ground against the military onslaught.
"Gen. Bouchard is very well-qualified, and he has a lot of experience in particular working with the U.S. military in a wide variety of roles — they know him, they trust him,'' said Alistair Edgar, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
"But there's a lot that's unclear and uncertain. There's no mandate or interest in a ground mission to get rid of Gadhafi, so we provide humanitarian assistance, but in many ways we then become the air force for the Libyan rebels. Our mission is to stop Gadhafi from beating the rebels. It's not to beat Gadhafi.''
The success and duration of the mission then become dependent on the staying power of Gadhafi, Edgar added.
"The issue becomes whether his supporters see themselves as isolated — will they stop? If so, Gadhafi loses quickly. But if he can retain control of them and retain resources, it could be a long fight, stretching on for months.''
By mid-day Friday, Libya signalled it might be ready to talk. After a top African Union official called for a transition in the country that would lead to democratic elections, a Libyan government delegation representing Gadhafi said it was ready to implement a plan laid out by the AU.
The delegation said in a statement that Libya's government is committed to a ceasefire, and demanded an end to air strikes and the naval blockade being carried out by international forces.
Canada has 435 personnel involved in the Libyan mission, most of them stationed at air bases in Italy and on HMCS Charlottetown. Six CF-18 fighters, backed up by two Aurora reconnaissance aircraft, are also in the Mediterranean.
"There was one sortie by two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets over the past 24 hours, and these jets have now successfully fired their ordnance at an electronic warfare — or EW — radar site,'' MacKay said Friday.
The U.S. military's Africa Command at first took charge of all military operations against the Gadhafi regime in Libya. Late Thursday, however, NATO agreed that it would take over command and control of the no-fly zone and also the effort to protect civilians.
However, several NATO members, including Turkey, continue to resist involvement by the alliance in attacking Libyan military targets. NATO said today that a so-called U.S.-led coalition of the willing, separate from the NATO mission, is likely to continue to conduct more military operations, including on Libyan ground forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Defence Secretary Robert Gates both said earlier this week that American command of the operations would last only a few days.