OTTAWA - It could take up to 15 days to get the 1,000 troops promised by Canada into earthquake-shattered Haiti, the military said Tuesday as the international relief operation kicked into high gear.
Soldiers from the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and naval shore parties from two Canadian warships anchored offshore have begun delivering aid in the communities of Jacmel and Leogane.
The operation started as military planners in Ottawa struggled with what Defence Minister Peter MacKay described as "logjams and logistical challenges."
Infantry troops from Valcartier, Que. - hundreds of whom just returned from Afghanistan - are being sent to the air force's main transport base in Trenton, Ont., where they'll board flights for Haiti this week. But once on the ground, their movement will be limited by how far they can travel through rubble-choked streets.
The biggest logistical issue to overcome is getting up to 60 vehicles ashore with ports in the island nation wrecked.
In comparison to peacekeeping deployments in Bosnia and even the war in Afghanistan, the Haiti mission has unfolded with uncharacteristic speed, said Lt.-Col. Chris LeMay of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command.
"It normally takes much longer to move 1,000 guys (and their equipment), so this is quick in relative terms," he said.
Beyond just getting there, LeMay said the army needs to be concerned about sustaining the force once it's in the field, and that also takes planning.
A transport ship is due to dock in Quebec City on Thursday, where it will load vehicles. It will be several more days before it arrives in Haitian waters.
Even when the vehicles arrive, the army has to figure out how to get them ashore. Unlike the U.S., British, French and Dutch, Canada does not have a landing ship.
Rick Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, recommended to both Paul Martin's and Stephen Harper's governments that navy be allowed to invest in such a ship.
The so-called "Big Honkin' Ship" would have given the military the ability to land troops and supplies on beaches rather than relying on ports. Haiti was just the kind of mission defence planners anticipated when proposals for the ship were circulated in 2006 and 2007.
In documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, military officials emphasized the potential humanitarian uses for a ship that could carry hundreds of troops, vehicles, supplies and helicopters.
At the time, critics questioned the need for such a ship, as they also wondered about the expense of heavy-lift C-17 planes, which the Conservatives insisted on buying. The ship proposal was eventually deemed too costly.