The Canadian commander of a multinational battle group in Latvia says he is working to ensure his troops have enough supplies and can talk to each other, as tensions rise between the NATO military alliance and Russia feed fears of a new war in Europe.
Canada has more than 500 troops in Latvia as part of a larger NATO reassurance mission first launched in 2017 in response to concerns about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
The Canadian contingent includes about 350 soldiers mainly from Valcartier, Quebec, who form the core of a 1,000-man NATO battle group stationed at Camp Adazi, about 30 kilometers northeast of Riga, the Latvian capital. .
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This battle group also includes military personnel and equipment from nine nations of the alliance, including Poland, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, all of which fall under the command of the lieutenant colonel. Dan Richel.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, Richel said one of his main responsibilities since taking command last month has been to ensure that the various contingents are able to communicate quickly and accurately with each other. others in the field.
“English is a second language for pretty much everyone in the battle group right now,” he said. “They are all NATO countries, obviously, so their tactics are generally the same. We just have to make sure everyone has the same understanding of all the terminology.
Clear communication would be essential in the event of a Russian invasion, which the battlegroup is specifically designed to defend against. It is also important to ensure that the NATO force has fuel, ammunition and other supplies to fight.
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The battle group is designed for conventional warfare, that is, the battle with an army similar to that of Russia. Although Canada’s contribution is primarily infantry with armored vehicles, other partners have contributed tanks, artillery and other equipment.
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“We all come with very different gear, different gear that uses different ammo and requires different support,” Richel said. “It’s a challenge that I think we handle quite well.”
The Canadian commander said the main objective of the battle group was to train and prepare for a possible attack, as it has done since its creation five years ago.
“The battle group itself is already a high-readiness combat unit,” Richel said. “I would say what you see here today is a lot of what you would have seen in the other rotations as well.”
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In addition to those assigned to the battle group, Canada also has about 200 support personnel and a headquarters in Riga responsible for the overall planning and coordination of NATO efforts in Latvia.
Similar battlegroups led by Britain, Germany and the United States were established in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland respectively. The Liberal government has said Canada will lead the mission in Latvia until at least March 2023.
Designed to defend against a Russian invasion, the battlegroups’ small size means they would almost certainly be overwhelmed in a real war. Instead, their primary goal is to deter Russian aggression, with the idea that an attack on one would draw in all of NATO.
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The Russian government has in recent weeks asked the alliance to withdraw all its forces from the region, including those from the Baltic and Poland, after mobilizing around 100,000 troops on the Russia-Ukraine border.
Canada, the United States and other NATO members have rejected the request, sparking growing concerns that an armed conflict between the two sides could start in Ukraine and spread to the rest of Europe. from the east.
Asked Wednesday whether the government would repatriate Canadian troops from Latvia and Ukraine if Russia attacked, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored Canada’s commitment to NATO’s Baltic members.
“We are in Latvia to defend the Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and the states of Eastern Europe – against any incursion by Russian forces,” he said in French during a briefing on the COVID-19 in Ottawa. “We will continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front.”
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