OTTAWA, March 9 (Reuters) – Canada’s top general said he was concerned that his country’s armed forces, already stretched thin by support for Ukraine and NATO, do not have the capacity to lead a possible security mission to Haiti.
Haiti’s government and top United Nations officials have called for an international force to support Haitian police in their struggle against gangs, which have become the de facto authorities in parts of the country.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in January said it was critical to identify a country to take the lead and said Canada had expressed an interest in that role, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not committed to it.
Canada over the past year has spent more than C$1 billion ($724 million) in military assistance to Ukraine. Now Canada is preparing to nearly double its presence in Latvia, which shares a border with Russia and Belarus. Ottawa announced new procurement for the mission on Thursday.
“My concern is just our capacity as we rebuild, as we move to brigade level in Latvia,” Chief of the Defence Staff Wayne Eyre told Reuters in his office in Ottawa on Wednesday. “There’s only so much to go around. … It would be challenging.”
Canada last year budgeted a slight increase in defence spending over five years, but it still spends far less – about 1.3% of annual output – than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization asks, which is 2% of gross domestic product.
The armed forces are struggling with recruiting and donations to Ukraine have cut into some military stocks, Eyre said.
Officials in Ottawa say the United States has lobbied hard for Canada to take on the role, and President Joe Biden may carry that message again when he visits later this month.
Haitian gangs have expanded their territory since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The resulting violence has left much of the country off-limits to the government and led to routine gun battles with police.
Haiti has a long history of foreign military footprints on its soil, including a 1915 U.S. occupation that lasted 20 years, and more recent U.N. and U.S. troop deployments following political turmoil and natural disasters, some of which led to allegations of abuse.
Trudeau has repeatedly said a solution rests in the hands of Haitians, a position Eyre reiterated.
“The solution’s got to come from the host nation itself,” Eyre said. “They have to own the solution.”
Canada has sent armored vehicles to Haitian police, and it has two small ships patrolling the coast. It has also sanctioned several former politicians and gang leaders.
Canada’s military is “actively planning” expanding to brigade strength in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s defense mission in Latvia, called Operation Reassurance, which it leads, Eyre said.
That will mean participation of about 2,000 Canadian soldiers, alongside those from other countries, Eyre said, up from its current deployment of 700 to 1,000.
Canada Defence Minister Anita Anand on Thursday announced plans to purchase portable anti-tank missile systems, counter uncrewed aircraft systems, and air defence systems for the Latvian mission.
($1 = 1.3803 Canadian dollars)