Canadian to command NATO mission in Libya
Canadian fighter jets have dropped munitions on a radar facility in western Libya, as part of the international military campaign that Defence Minister Peter MacKay says will soon be led by a Canadian general.
Updating reporters on the Libyan mission on Friday afternoon, MacKay said a pair of CF-18 Hornets had hit the military radar site in the vicinity of Misrata "over the past 24 hours."
Canada has deployed seven CF-18 fighter jets to the Libyan mission, as well as two Aurora surveillance planes and a frigate, HMCS Charlottetown, which MacKay said had to be temporarily pulled off patrol duties to "investigate a vessel in distress" on Friday.
The defence minister said he did not have much information on the distressed ship other than it was carrying displaced persons and he was confident that the Canadian frigate would be able to help.
MacKay also said that Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charlie Bouchard will lead NATO's military campaign in Libya, which seeks to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians from attacks by the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"I know that Gen. Bouchard is a formidable leader with tremendous character and ability and experience," MacKay said in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.
"I have great faith in his experience. Certainly those in the Canadian Forces who have served with Gen. Bouchard share that confidence as do his colleagues throughout the country and the international community."
Bouchard is currently stationed at the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.
The U.S. had indicated that it would like to transfer command of the Libya mission within days, and retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said Bouchard was "the obvious choice" to steer NATO's operation because there were political issues with France or Britain taking the lead.
"Here's this Canadian that's already in the headquarters, the allied joint forces command in Naples," MacKenzie said on CTV's Power Play. "I don't think it took the 28 members of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels (very long) to say, ‘Hey, this guy's a good choice.'"
Bouchard has previously served as the deputy commander of NORAD. Bouchard joined the Canadian Forces in 1974 and once served with the U.S. Army in Fort Hood, Texas.
A NATO official confirmed the move, saying that Bouchard will be responsible for the international air campaign and the arms embargo being enforced by naval vessels.
He will serve under U.S. Adm. Samuel Locklear, who is the commander of NATO's operations headquarters for the Mediterranean, in Italy.
The Canadian Press reports that Ottawa is likely to send a handful of staff to work with Bouchard in his new job.
MacKenzie said that Bouchard's duties will include "cutting down on the dissention amongst the military commanders" who have differing views on what the UN Security Council resolution permits them to do in Libya.
MacKay said that NATO remains in discussions about the shape and form of the military mission ahead, after agreeing to take responsibility for the UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya.
"NATO continues to plan and we are hopeful that the North Atlantic council will agree to an operational plan and the executing directive in the coming days," MacKay said.
Until that plan is set, MacKay said the NATO's no-fly-zone patrols "will run concurrently with coalition activities" that are being led by the United States for the time being.
At the press conference in Ottawa, MacKay announced that Maj. Gen. Tom Lawson -- who has recently been briefing the media about the operation in Libya -- is about to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general and will take a senior posting with NORAD.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press