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The dangerous game of Peacekeeping

August 2017

On 9 August 1974, Canada suffered its greatest single-incident loss of life in peacekeeping operations when a Royal Canadian Air Force DHC-5 Buffalo aircraft, assigned to the second United Nations Emergency Force mission in Syria, was shot down by three missiles fired by the Syrian Army.  All nine passengers and crew were killed.

Until the Afghanistan War, most Canadians thought of Canada as a peacekeeper nation and frankly, began to view peacekeeping as the Canadian military’s only function.  Besides the fact that no nation can have peace unless it has a military ready to defend that peace, peacekeeping itself can be very dangerous.

Approximately 130 Canadians have died in in peacekeeping missions since the first United Nations Emergency Force in 1956 and many more have suffered physical and mental injury.

Somalia was originally envisioned as a peacekeeeping mission, but became a peace-making mission.

In 1991, Somolia was in the midst of a civil war, as warlords battled each other for control of the lawless country.  The United Nations launched three missions, United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I), the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), and UNOSOM II.

These missions were responsible for upholding the ceasefire and maintaining a safe environment for the humanitarian relief efforts.  Over 160 peacekeepers from several countries were killed and many more wounded on the three missions.

During the Yugoslavian Civil War of 1992-1995, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was formed to to ensure conditions for peace talks and provide protection in  three demilitarized “safe-haven” zones, designated as United Nations Protected Areas.

During Operation Medak Pocket in September 1993, soldiers with Canada’s 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), exchanged heavy fire Croatian troops in the area.  This 14-day battle, in which 27 Croatian Army members were
killed or wounded, was the first time Canadians had been in sustained combat since the Korean War, something the Canadian government downplayed at the time and failed to give it the proper attention and recognition as it didn’t fit the narrative about Canada being a peacekeeper nation.  Medak Pocket became known as “Canada’s Secret Battle.

It would be the American government who would acknowledge the bravery and fighting ability of the 2 PPCLI Battle Group, by awarding the regiment the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation in 2002 for its actions in the Medak Pocket, the first Canadian regiment to be so honoured.

Peacekeeping, like world peace, is an ideal situation, but the reality is wars are waged and even if peace is achieved, it is often held together by militaries prepared to go to
war to defend that peace.  Peacekeeping does come with a price, as evidenced by the memorial walls at Peacekeepers’ Parks in Calgary, Alberta, Angus, Ontario, and Gander Newfoundland.

In Canada, the 9th of August each year has been designated as National Peacekeepers Day.

 

Sources:  http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/canadian-armed-forces/peace, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Medak_Pocket, “Remembering Canada’s Secret Battle,” Ipolitics.ca, www.ppcli.com, www.militarybruce.com/peace-defended-by-those-willing-to-wage-war.

 

 

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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