The Air Force and peacekeeping

By Major Mathias Joost

##MCECOPY##Par le major Mathias Joost
##MCECOPY##Par le major Mathias Joost
##MCECOPY##Par le major Mathias Joost
##MCECOPY##Par le major Mathias Joost
##MCECOPY##Par le major Mathias Joost

When most Canadians think of peacekeeping, they think of soldiers wearing blue berets or helmets. However, whether through direct support or the provision of personnel, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has a long tradition of support to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations. This tradition goes back to among the first UN operations and continues to this day, and includes some in which the RCAF was the only Canadian response.

These peacekeeping efforts have not been solely in support of the UN. Canada and the RCAF have supported individual peace agreements outside of its auspices. The Air Force participated the longest in the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, supporting the Camp David Accord. These efforts have included not only the classic type of peacekeeping, in which troops position themselves between two combatants, but also peace support where observers monitor the cease-fire or peace agreement.

The Air Force’s efforts in peacekeeping fall into three basic categories: airlift and resupply, provision of formed flying units, and individual personnel. In all missions in which Canada has sent formed units, the Air Force has provided resupply support if not also flying the troops to the mission area. The first mission with Air Force participation was the United Nations Commission on Korea in 1950, when one observer from the Air Force was part of a two-officer Canadian contribution. The International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC) – Viet Nam (1954-73) followed, with RCAF personnel providing expertise in assessing potential violations of the ceasefire agreement though the use of aircraft. With the creation of the first true peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in 1956, the RCAF began the tradition of providing formed units. Subsequent units were ad hoc, created specifically for that mission, although particular squadrons would provide the personnel and aircraft.

With more than 100 peacekeeping missions, the Canadian Armed Forces established an enviable record of excellence. The RCAF can stand proud of its part played in this reputation, having been at the forefront of a number of operations. As examples, in West New Guinea in 1962-63 and Yemen in 1963-64, the RCAF provided the sole Canadian response. The Canadian Contingent to the Multinational Force and Observers in 1986 was wholly an Air Force operation, as was the first UN operation in Haiti – Operation Pivot – in 1995-96.

The UN quickly came to recognize the capabilities of the RCAF and in several cases asked Canada for RCAF support. In the Congo (1960-64), the RCAF operated the entire UN air force, which included 13 different types of aircraft and aircrew of 11 nationalities. The Air Force continued to provide the sole air transport capability for many UN operations, including Operation Halo in Haiti in 2004.

All the operational communities have participated in peacekeeping or peacemaking efforts. Originally, the bulk of Air Force personnel involved participating under the broad rubric of peacekeeping originated from Air Transport Command. It was air transport that the UN usually required in operations such as UNEF, the Congo, Yemen, or West New Guinea, and which the UN still often requires. However, Air Transport Command and later Air Transport Group also provided resupply support to the Canadian contingents overseas.

Second to transport has been the rotary wing contribution. Various models of helicopters have served in the Sinai, Central America, Haiti and Somalia. Maritime air personnel have also made significant contributions, whether flying helicopters from ships or land-based aircraft. As an example, in support of the UN operations in the Balkans, CH-124 Sea Kings inspected merchant vessels while Auroras flew from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily. Somalia and East Timor have been sites of Maritime air peacekeeping efforts.

Even fighter aircraft and personnel have been involved in peacekeeping, most notably in the former Yugoslavia. Canadians have flown in NATO and USAF AWACS aircraft, which have deployed throughout Europe and the Middle East in support of peacekeeping operations.

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