Canadian military liaison officers in South Sudan: The eyes and ears of the operation

A member of the Canadian Armed Forces shows his cell phone to young children in The Republic of South Sudan during Operation SOPRANO.

A member of the Canadian Armed Forces shows his cell phone to young children in The Republic of South Sudan during Operation SOPRANO.

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By: Ashley Black, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

When you are contributing to a United Nations mission, it is not uncommon to be the only person from your home nation in a certain area of the operation. It can be a challenge to feel so far away from home, but the rewards of contributing to security in nations like the Republic of South Sudan make it worthwhile, according to one Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member deployed on Operation SOPRANO.

The United Nations has been active in Sudan since 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. Following a referendum in 2011, the Republic of South Sudan gained independence and the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was launched to ensure peace and security in the region.

A Major (whose name is withheld to protect his identity) is one of 10 CAF military liaison officers working with UNMISS. There, he has a variety of jobs.

“There’s no typical day for a military liaison officer,” he explains, “which makes the job interesting as anything. But generally speaking, we have some administrative duties and we will write patrol reports and prepare for patrols.”

The Canadian Major and other military liaison officers conduct river and helicopter patrols in different areas. They meet with local officials, military leaders, and the people of the community. They play a key role in the security of the country. They are the eyes and ears of the commander, and the reconnaissance element of the mission. People will frequently go to the military liaison officers to find out what areas are safe.

“Our job is to find out what the situation is like,” explains the Major. “We either pass that information along or we try to coordinate humanitarian assistance. For example, I visited a village the other day that is low on food supply, so we are coordinating how we will assist with this. The importance of Canadians here is the humanitarian aspect.”

For the deployed Major, a recent highlight was his role in the evacuation of humanitarian volunteers in a nearby village. Fighting took place between two government opposition factions, which resulted in an attack in the village. A representative for a humanitarian group made the military liaison officers aware of their presence in that town and asked for assistance with evacuation.

“It was the military liaison officers that coordinated getting a helicopter into the area to evacuate the humanitarians trapped there,” The Major explained. “We also had two military liaison officers—myself as one of them—prepared to go into the area with United Nations troops to rescue them. We were within a half-hour of going in ourselves, but by speaking to both sides we negotiated them allowing the helicopter to land.”

The Major works exclusively with soldiers from other nations. The military liaison officers are spread out in different locations. Despite being a fair distance apart, he knows that his fellow Canadians are making a substantial contribution to the mission.

“I’m genuinely proud of the Canadians over here,” he says. “Our people have a knack for getting the job done. We do our jobs professionally and when people hear that the Canadians are around, they know that whatever we’re assigned to do, we will do as best we can.”

Nearing the end of his deployment, the Major looks back on his experience as a positive one. “I think overall I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to go and find out what the people in the country need,” he says. “I’m doing my small part and I take my satisfaction from that.”

Image gallery

  • A member of the Canadian Armed Forces discusses with a soldier from another nation during Operation SOPRANO in the Republic of South Sudan.
  • A member of the Canadian Armed Forces shows his cell phone to young children in The Republic of South Sudan during Operation SOPRANO.
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