Major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan might be long over, but Western countries—including Canada—are still buying services from the infamous company formerly known as Blackwater, a company often described as a mercenary army.
VICE Canada has recently learned Academi, the latest iteration of the private defence contractor linked with a string of war crimes and atrocities in Iraq, is still training Canadian soldiers from the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM)—a wing of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) overseeing all commando operators.
"Yes, the Academi does provide a small portion of CAF members with highly unique and specialized training," said Ashley Lemire, a Department of National Defence spokesperson, in a statement to VICE Canada. "CANSOFCOM personnel conduct precision shooting and defensive driving training at the Academi facility in North Carolina. This type of training is a critical component of basic special operations training."
Part of the reason for using these services is cost benefit, according to DND. Not only do the many types of Academi facilities not exist in Canada, the CAF, at times, takes advantage of the company's instructors because Canadian personnel are often "not available due to a high operational tempo."
"Utilizing facilities such as the Academi for short periods of time is the most cost-effective alternative to meet the training requirements necessary in order to maintain CANSOF's high level of proficiency and readiness," said Lemire, adding it is a positive impact on CAF to prepare for some of the most hostile environments in the world. "This type of [Academi] training is a critical component of basic special operations training."
Joint Task Force Two (JTF2) is Canada's version of Delta Force, while the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) is the Green Berets of the CAF—both falling under the command of CANSOF, the users of Academi services.
Aside from training, government contract sites show Canada recently spent over half a million dollars to purchase what's described as a "Portable Mechanical Target Trailer system" to "support simultaneous training of up to ten (10) individuals" from Academi.
The latest contract records indicate CANSOF was the end user of the technology, and the government confirmed that Canadian special forces soldiers requested up to five different units, helping them "gain and maintain the highest standards of marksmanship."
VICE Canada also found another separate DND contract from last year, worth nearly $50,000, for miscellaneous items.
"The Portable Mechanical Target Trailer is a steel target system designed to help develop pistol and carbine shooting skills at ranges up to 300 metres," said Lemire. "The trailers contain a number of targets including steel 'Pie Plate,' 'Turner,' and a number of fixed targets. The trailers are designed to be towed behind a vehicle or can also be used in a static location."
It's expected Academi instructors will train CANSOF personnel on the safe-use of the target trailer and "best practices in order to maximize the benefits of the various target systems."
In the past, Canada sent soldiers to Blackwater for training before deployment in Afghanistan, something the government defended as appropriate to properly train soldiers before a dangerous mission.
CANSOF is the same army wing responsible for overseeing the current training mission of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers in Iraq, which has resulted in one casualty and gunfights between Canadian commandos and Islamic State militants.
Academi did not respond when asked if CAF members were still trained by their mercenaries, or whether or not the Canadian government buys security services for its officials on foreign tours.
The company, which still resides in North Carolina, didn't provide details on the military items purchased by the CAF, either.
In recent years, Academi was controversially hired by the Greek government during the domestic turmoil following harsh austerity measures—while it continued to be in service in places like Afghanistan, even after its third name change.
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