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This article was published 18/3/2011 (3483 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Days before the country may be plunged into a federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he has committed Canada to a combat mission in Libya in an effort to enforce a no-fly zone approved Thursday by the United Nations.
Before heading to Paris to discuss the looming mission with allies today, Harper said Canada has pushed the idea of a no-fly zone from the start and would "now take the urgent action necessary to support it.
"The situation in Libya remains intolerable," he said in a statement delivered in the House of Commons foyer.
"One either believes in freedom or one just says one believes in freedom. The Libyan people have shown by their sacrifice that they believe in it. Assisting them is a moral obligation upon those of us who profess this great ideal."
Harper's meeting with French and British counterparts will also involve other leaders from the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union. The group is expected to discuss how to implement the no-fly zone as well as issues related to arms, travel and economic sanctions already imposed against Libya.
As part of the mission, Canada dispatched the fighter jets along with some 140 support personnel. They join roughly 240 Canadian sailors already in the region aboard HMCS Charlottetown, which was deployed earlier this month to assist with evacuation and humanitarian efforts in Libya. Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the frigate is now patrolling the waters off Libya's coast as part of the same operation.
Although Gadhafi vowed to comply with the UN resolution to halt military operations, Canada, the United States and other European countries, as well as Arab allies ultimately proceeded with plans to make sure he does.
"We are encouraged... that in response to the threat of military action, the Libyan regime has declared a ceasefire," Harper said. "However, for that threat to remain credible, adequate military forces must be in place."
Before appearing in the House of Commons foyer to issue his statement, Harper discussed the issue with other foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron. He also contacted opposition leaders in Parliament to inform them of the pending announcement, which likely will be debated in the Commons next week.
He promised to seek Parliament's approval should the mission extend beyond three months.
In his talk with the prime minister, NDP Leader Jack Layton raised concerns about whether Canada might get wrapped up in a ground engagement, but noted the NDP ultimately supports Canada's participation in the international mission.
"It's appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do and as we have seen in past days," he said.
Citing some of the difficulties Canada has faced trying to get its citizens out of Libya, Layton said it's "important that we get (this mission) right."
It's also important, he said, that proper parliamentary oversight be established.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he'll be calling for a motion in the House of Commons to formally approve the mission and called on the government to be fully transparent in terms of what Canada's military responsibilities in Libya are.
"This is an air interdiction operation, it is not a ground troop commitment, and that principle must be maintained," he said, adding he also supports the initiative to protect innocent civilians.
Fen Hampson, director of Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, argues co-ordinating all these military assets from various countries will be difficult and speculates rebel-held Benghazi may fall to Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces before the international community is able to get its act together.
"I think there's obviously a lot of questions about whether this is too little, too late," he said, adding that getting rid of Libya's megalomaniacal leader would not resolve the fact that his opponents consist of a "ragtag" and divided group with no government or leader-in-waiting.
Despite assurances by Canada and the U.S. that their involvement will not include ground forces, Hampson suggested such statements may be premature. The tribal nature of Libya, he said, may call for "troops on the ground. I don't think we should be under any illusion that it's just a matter of no-fly zones and nothing comes after it," he said. "A lot more may come after it. This is the beginning of what could be a longer commitment."
Under the command of Col. Alain Pelletier, pilots from Canadian Forces Base Bagotville left Friday afternoon on a 12-hours-plus journey to the area, accompanied by support personnel from Trenton, Ont. Canadian officials haven't said exactly where in the region they're going, but Italy has offered countries involved in the no-fly zone the use of its airbases.
Canadian Forces chief of air staff Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps described Canada's contribution to the mission as "significant." He didn't rule out the possibility that more jets could be deployed and noted the support team may be scaled back once a better sense of what's needed is learned.
"The no-fly zone will involve certain risks because the situation is still somewhat unstable in Libya," he said.
"Our people and our aircraft will be prepared to take any steps necessary to defend themselves and to enforce the sanctions imposed by the United Nations."
The UN resolution authorizes the use of force to protect civilians in civilian-populated areas and the enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country.
"It does not intend for members of the international community to act as an occupying force in Libya," Deschamps said.
-- Postmedia News
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