History has a way of taking sudden and unexpected turns. As the 21st century opened the most likely immediate future for the Canadian military seemed to be to continue dealing with the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps a more robust form of peacekeeping than we were accustomed to in the 1970s and 1980s would be required, but even that would probably decrease in intensity as the newly independent republics found their places in the world. Most of these, places like Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, were so inaccessible that the possibility of Canadian involvement in their affairs seemed remote.
In troubled areas of the globe that were more accessible, the disputes involved, however bloody and even possibly genocidal the consequences for the local populations, posed no direct threat to Canadian interests. If Canadians were involved in international military operations to attempt to resolve these situations, it would be on a small scale and to fulfil our UN obligations. Captain Dave Vernon of the LER took part in one such mission in 2001. The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea was established to bring an end to a border war between the two East African countries that had brought the deaths of more than 200,000 people since 1998. Canada had originally supplied half a battalion of troops but by 2001 others had taken over the armed part of the mission and our commitment had been reduced to half a dozen officers of the 41 country Military Observer Group. Captain Vernon was one of these.
September 11, 2001 abruptly changed the military situation for Canada and the rest of the world. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon using hijacked airliners were almost immediately identified as the work of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization operating from Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban government of that country. In less than a month American and British forces moved in to assist the anti-Taliban forces and establish the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai. By the end of the year, the United Nations established the International Security Assistance Force to continue the work of defeating the Taliban and train Afghan security forces. Canada signed on to the international effort in Afghanistan almost immediately, although troop commitments were initially small. A decade later it seems clear that almost everyone underestimated the resilience of the Taliban and their allies. Certainly even the most pessimistic observers in Canada would not have predicted that Afghanistan would become the longest war in our history.
The situation in Afghanistan would come to dominate Canadian military policy in the first decade of the 21st century, but at first it seemed to have a minimal impact on the operations of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, although in late summer 2002 Maj Jack Binns deployed to Afghanistan, one of the very first Reservists to do so, as part of the earlier Operational Mentor and Liaison Team under British command. The LER, in early 2002, was focused instead on preparing for deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Op PALLADIUM. Later that year the Regiment sent thirty soldiers to the former Yugoslavia as part of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The whole of Delta Company was made of reservists from across the country, resembling the scheme attempted fifty years earlier when the LER had supplied a Company to 27 Canadian Infantry Brigade in Europe. Major Paul Bury from the LER commanded the Company. His selection and the fact that the LER provided the largest group of soldiers for the Company was a tribute to the Regiment’s standards of organization and training. In addition to regular patrolling as part of the NATO Stabilization Force, the Company distributed humanitarian supplies and escorted Civil-Military Cooperation teams. On the initiative of Major Bury, the Company undertook joint training exercises with elements of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation Army. This initiative was a first for NATO forces in Bosnia.
The year 2003 marked the high point of the Regiment’s activities in the former Yugoslavia. After the troops from ‘D,’ Rotation 11, returned in April, a slightly larger group went off to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the Combined Reserve Company with Captain Eric Gilson as Company 2IC. Back in Edmonton, Major Bury, now promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, took over command of the Regiment from LCol G.R. Rice in June at a ceremony attended by Lady Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who presented the Regiment with the camp flag for 4 PPCLI. Regular training through the summer was interrupted in August when 35 members of the Regiment went to British Columbia to help fight a severe outbreak of forest fires, often working 12 to 14 hour days. Op PEREGRINE lasted 45 days and involved 2600 CF personnel of which approximately 900 were Reservists. LCol Bury deployed as a Task Force Commander of TF IV. The following year turned out to be a quiet one in terms of the Regiment’s deployment on active service outside Canada. Two soldiers from the LER went to Afghanistan in August on a six-month deployment with the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Team. At home the Unit kept up its usual vigorous training schedule. The highlights of the training year included participation in a brigade exercise at Ft. Lewis, Washington in late March. Exercises at Wainwright and Suffield in June led off the busy summer program. The Unit went back to Wainwright in November for Task Force North Exercise to wrap up the training year. The year 2004 was also marked by significant anniversaries. The PPCLI celebrated their 90th anniversary and the LER participated in several ceremonies marking the occasion. This was also the centennial year for the City of Edmonton and the Regiment Band took part in that commemoration in October.