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Canada's General, America's Deputy Commander in Iraq PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Monday, 10 January 2005 04:34

Canada's General, America's Deputy Commander in Iraq

"A high command role in Iraq is an odd role for a Canadian general -- not because he's ill-trained or unqualified, but because his country, Canada, has opposed U.S. policy in Iraq. And that's putting it mildly."

While it's not exactly a secret, not many Canadians know that the second top-ranking soldier fighting "insurgents" in Iraq is a general in the Canadian army.

Maj. Gen. Walter Natynczyk, once Commanding Officer of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, is now deputy commander of the U.S. Army's III Corps in Iraq.

The corps, at 138,000 troops, is roughly seven times as large as the whole Canadian army. No Canadian general since WWII has commanded so many troops in a combat zone.Yet here is Natynczyk, comfortable in the field and involved in operations -- with the approval of the Martin government and supported by Chief of Defence Staff, General Ray Henault.

How did this come to be?

Until ordered to Iraq, III Corps was based at Fort Hood, Texas -- one of the largest army bases in the world. It was responsible for North American defence, if such was needed, and traditionally a Canadian general has been deputy commander, along with a U.S. general as deputy commander.

A high command role in Iraq is an odd role for a Canadian general -- not because he's ill-trained or unqualified, but because his country, Canada, has opposed U.S. policy in Iraq. And that's putting it mildly.

In fact, there may be 20 or 30 Canadian soldiers involved in the Iraq war and its vicious aftermath -- soldiers attached to British or American units who've stayed with these units. At least one officer has been wounded.

A Canadian general as deputy commander of a legendary body like III Corps is also a considerable honour.

Formed in WWI, III Corps was then known as the "Phantom Corps" for its surprise attacks and liberation of 100 French towns and villages while taking 225,000 German prisoners.

During the Korean and Vietnam wars, III Corps trained more than 150 units.

Winnipeg-born Gen. Natynczyk was in the news recently, hammering a symbolic gold spike in the new 1,000 km paved highway through Iraq from the Turkish border to the Persian Gulf.

Today, III Corps is officially a multinational corps, comprising the military coalition trying to bring peace and order to Iraq, and working with the new Iraqi military and police.

Still, it's unusual that the Americans would trust a foreign national with the responsibility of deputy commander.

When one looks at the organizational structure of III Corps, it's intimidating, even for an experienced Canadian tank soldier. Apart from support "battalions" of military police, signals, medical and intelligence units, the corps includes the 1st Cavalry Division, artillery and engineer battalions, the 4th Infantry Division, an armoured division and several mechanized brigades.

No Canadian general has dealt with anything near the command structure that Natynczyk accepts as routine.

He joined up in 1975, attended Royal Roads and College Militaire de St. Jean, and served in Germany as a leopard tank troop leader in the Royal Canadian Dragoons -- the unit he later commanded in 1995.

As a brigadier-general, Natynczyk commanded the Canadian contingent in Bosnia, 1998-99, and before that had various command and liaison appointments, including a tour of peacekeeping in Cyprus. In the Balkans he was a sector chief of operations, in Bosnia and later in Croatia. After graduating from the U.S. Army War College in 2002, he was appointed deputy commanding general of III Corps.

With this background, and especially in the combat zone of Iraq, Natynczyk seems likely to vault over rivals to be appointed Canada's Chief of Defence Staff when Gen. Ray Henault takes up his new post in NATO -- especially if the Martin government wants to restore credible as well as cordial relations with the U.S.

On the other hand, to anti-Ameriks, this close relationship may argue against Natynczyk.

The U.S. and Canadian armed forces have a closer bond than exists in politics, but Natynczyk's experience commanding large numbers of troops in the field has to make him an attractive choice for CDS.

Last Updated on Monday, 10 January 2005 04:34

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