Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spanner in the works

This UAE situation is remarkable. Developing for a while now but busting out yesterday due to the high profile exclusion of MacKay and Natynczyk from UAE airspace on their return from Afghanistan. Canada has 30 days to get out of the base we have in the United Arab Emirates that is our principal jumping off point for the Afghan mission:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Walt Natynczyk were flying home from a three-day visit in Afghanistan when the wealthy Gulf nation closed its air space to their plane, a military source in Ottawa confirmed to The Canadian Press.

By forcing Canada to vacate its base in Dubai, a once-secret installation known as Camp Mirage, the UAE will disrupt the Canadian military's principal supply line to Afghanistan.

Camp Mirage is Canada's only logistical hub in the Middle East. The only other regular re-supply route for the military in Kandahar is an overland crossing from Pakistan, which to date has been reserved for low-priority items.

Convoys travelling from Afghanistan's neighbour usually hire private security to fend off Taliban attacks.

The impending closure of Camp Mirage has left officials scrambling for an alternative. It was to play a major role in the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan following the July 2011 end to the combat mission.
MacKay and Natynczyk are citing contingency plans to cope with the fallout from this development and no doubt they do have some. But they're called contingency plans for a reason. MacKay did sound a positive note at the end of the above-linked CP report toward the UAE so there might still be hope to salvage this situation. MacKay also seemed shellacked a bit in that CTV report, as if very disappointed, conveying the sense that this is not an optimal outcome for the military. If there's no salvaging of the Camp Mirage/UAE base, this is a huge mess in the making, costly in dollars, costly in terms of the relationship with the UAE and costly in terms of supporting the military's ongoing execution of and upcoming departure from the Afghan mission. That's just become so much more difficult if this isn't worked out.
The UAE invoked a clause in the MOU agreement last Tuesday which gave Canada 30 days to close out its operations at Camp Mirage. This involves moving tons of gear and several hundred personnel out of the base.
Experts said that any alternative farther from Afghanistan than Camp Mirage, such as Cyprus or Germany, will slow down the process by forcing transport planes to travel a much greater distance on each flight.
The UAE's leverage is high given we're scheduled to be departing Afghanistan in 2011. Once that base is not as valuable to us, it's more difficult to squeeze on those landing rights in Canada they're seeking. Maybe that's why the government is saying it's prepared to exit the base. Air Canada's business is important and all but it does seem to be strange that landing rights are taking precedence and causing a major military cock-up.

Surely there must be some way for uber diplomat-in-chief Lawrence Cannon - now that it's reported we likely have enough votes to win the Security Council seat today - to work this out without putting the military into contingency plan overdrive. This looks highly unnecessary.